From the Editor’s Keyboard

In Bed with the Devil for Political Power.

26 July 2007 at 17:01 | 774 views

"So, in spite of the honest admission by the Sierra Leone Police that it is not well-equipped to provide security for the August polls, the international community should step in immediately with some urgency so that the state security personnel could provide security for our political leaders rather than by some semi-literate, notorious ex-khaki boys if only to ward off any potential animosity between this crop of hooligans and the regular state security apparatus that would have the potential to undermine the credibility of the much publicized August 11 polls."

Commentary

By Abdulai Bayraytay, Deputy Editor, Toronto.

As both Sierra Leone’s presidential and parliamentary elections slated for August 11 this year get closer, the recent spate of violence in particularly the south-eastern parts of the country are sending worrying signals to the electorate that the essence of democracy through the ballot box seems to be potentially undermined.

Not peculiar to elections in Sierra Leone and other countries in Africa, the concern in Sierra Leone this time comes up because the country is in the process of recovering from a bloody and devastating civil war that left scores of innocent and unsuspecting civilians dead,and thousands of others had their limbs amputated.

However, what seems to send a deadly signal, reminiscent of the pre-1996 elections that ushered in the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) to power was how the then leader of the notorious National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) headed by Julius Maada Bio and his cohorts were hell bent on thwarting the democratic aspirations of the electorate for a change of the political spectrum from rule by the gun to rule through the ballot box.

Indeed, the military was sorely disappointed by the resolve and resilience of the people! People should not forget that Maada Bio and his friends tried to stop the 1996 democratic elections!

But it seems our political leaders (or rather apprentices) have completely forgotten the overzealousness and brutality of a cross-section of the military who would stop at nothing to grab and cling to power, a sure means of accumulating ill-gotten wealth in poor mother Sierra Leone.

This is clearly evident in the roles Maada Bio, Tom Nyuma and ex-junta boys like Idrissa Kamara aka Leatherboot are playing in the new democratic dispensation. If for anything, the gross human rights violations perpetrated by these people including the killing of innocent figures like Salami Coker formerly of Ports Authority and palm wine tappers from Waterloo on what later came out to be trumped-up allegations of a coup plot, through firing squad, committed under the supervision of some of these notorious names during the NPRC junta days should have made them(Bio, Nyuma, Leatherboot, etc) fine candidates for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

But since this is an illusion, if not a figment of social justice activists, the Bios and the Nyumas roamed the world with impunity until the recent deportation of Nyuma from the United States. These characters, among others, should really thank their stars, to say the least.

Tom Nyuma, who made a name for himself by prosecuting the war against the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) albeit allegations of collusion with the rebels hence the tag of “sobel” (soldier by day, rebel by night)attached to him, his name was particularly tarnished by an incident I witnessed during my days as a cub reporter in 1994.

Coming from covering a story of some university students’ involvement in illegal diamond mining in Tongo in the east of the country, I witnessed Tom Nyuma, then Eastern region strongman under the NPRC tying up some traffic police officers in uniform on allegations of taking petty cash bribes from commuters and drivers at the Hangha checkpoint.

The beatings unleashed on these officers left some with swollen eyes and raw wounds. I had the opportunity to publish the story with the photos of the officers at the now defunct New Breed newspaper. This incident not only made Tom Nyuma a "Son of Satan", it also made him the epitome of the brutal face of the NPRC regime. That is why even though I vehemently condemn any act of violence that has the semblance of undermining the electoral process, the recent beating of Tom Nyuma in Bo made me recall the brutal Sibthorpe street beatings of innocent civilians in broad daylight in central Freetown by the NPRC junta of which Nyuma was a leading figure.

It could also be recalled that part of the reasons advanced by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) coup in 1997 was the marginalization of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone by successive governments. However puerile an excuse this might mean to ordinary Sierra Leoneans, the emergence of the civil defence forces at the height of the war sparked some animosity that later translated into very bad blood.

I could recall a remark made by the late deputy Defence minister Sam Hinga Norman that he felt much safer with the civil kamajor militia guarding him than the regular state security personnel. Norman may have good reasons for saying that but that statement, among others, angered the regular military that later culminated into the deadly rift between the civil militia and the army. Here then is another vindication of the old saying that history teaches us that history teaches nothing!

So, in spite of the honest admission by the Sierra Leone Police that it is not well-equipped to provide security for the August polls, the international community should step in immediately with some urgency so that the state security personnel could provide security for our political leaders rather than by some semi-literate, notorious ex-khaki boys if only to ward off any potential animosity between this crop of hooligans and the regular state security apparatus that would have the potential to undermine the credibility of the much publicized August 11 polls.

Indeed, a cross-section of our politicians will even befriend the devil if only that would ensure their victory. What a Machiavellian way of capturing political power!

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