By AL- Aziz Turay, A.P.C. –North America Chairman and Investigative Specialist, Arizona, USA.
During my recent visit to the country, I was fortunate to listen to different radio stations as well as individual discussion programs wherein fellow citizens expressed their concerns over the purchase of a large quantity of arms and ammunition by government for the Sierra Leone police force. Most citizens believed the purchase of arms and ammunition is unnecessary at this time calling it a waste of state funds. Others believe the timing is wrong especially as we approach the November 2012 elections.
As a fellow Sierra Leonean, I want to join others in making my voice heard and at the same time provide my personal but professional opinion on this sensitive matter. I am not a spokesperson for the government or the police department. I am not an expert in this area or an advocate for any entity in Sierra Leone. However with my twenty two years of law enforcement experience in different capacities i.e. Intelligence, Presidential Guard, Investigations, Counter-Intelligence, Corrections, Background Investigations, Court Services, Probation etc. and as one of you, I just want to render my opinion because I have some knowledge about security matters and care about security issues as they relate to the national interest.
Sierra Leoneans, like any citizens in a democratic country need to know the activities of their government especially when it comes to spending state funds. Therefore, citizens have the right to raise concerns and even question their government on issues of national interest. However, when doing so, let it be in the best interest of our beloved nation and not in any way to demean the government due to political aggrandizement.
At any rate, if I am to play the devil’s advocate on this particular issue, I would like to start by drawing the attention of my fellow Sierra Leoneans to the fact that in a free and democratic society, we the people have to be concerned about our protection and security, remembering what greedy politicians heaped on us for some years.
Therefore, a responsible government will do all it takes to plan, prepare and then, protect its citizens with any means possible. Various concerns were raised regarding those weapons ranging from the way and manner in which the transaction was done, the quantity of the arms and ammunition, the amount of money spent, the reason behind the purchase, the intended use etc. As we speak of democracy, these are legitimate concerns and this issue made me feel more proud and amazed that we, the citizens, are no longer gullible on the notion of bait and switch.
In my humble and professional point of view on this issue, the doubts people have are due to the conflicting and misinterpreted statements of two government officials. The issue is therefore politicized and has created room for much more speculated interpretations by the public and the media in general. If I may paraphrase, one of the statements says:
The purchased arms and ammunition might be used to quell potential violence during the upcoming elections; another statement indicated that the purchase of those arms and ammunition was to fight against terrorists. Their statements are being manipulated and seen unreasonable or insufficient to answer the questions raised by the public. However, as good citizens, we should not misinterpret their statements wrongly to fit a particular situation for unreasonable attention through the media.
Indeed, even the great nations ensure protection and stability in times of instability especially war-wearied like Sierra Leone where some insane political pundits and confusionists still believe in the barrel of the gun instead of democracy and the ballot box. However, with the trend of democratic governance in Sierra Leone, I personally believe those arms could be used in a responsible manner because we have a professional police force that knows its duties when it comes to protecting the people they serve.
Furthermore, the arms and ammunition could definitely be used in situations that threaten the peace of our beloved country and I have no doubt they might be used only when deemed necessary to protect and save innocent lives and vital installations. As a professional police force in a responsible government, one is confident those weapons would not be used to brutalize political opponents as already speculated by some concerned citizens.
Please let us take a rational look the statement that the arms and ammunition could be used to fight against terrorists and agents of instability. I know muany people view this statement as aggravating and annoying because they perceive we are not associated with any terrorist activities like Al-Qaeda. In clearing the air, Al-Qaeda is not the only known terrorist group in the world bombing buildings and killing innocent people but there are home grown terrorists that are bent on creating anarchy and chaos.
There are several forms of terrorism and they vary in activities. Different cells of terrorists and acts have been discovered today although not many people may be aware of this fact. For instance there are foreign terrorists, home grown terrorists, domestic terrorists, international terrorists, religious fanatics and the list goes on. Now if we take a look into the threat to terrorism as a way to discipline our actions then, let us try to define the term correctly but for the sake of this topic let me use these definitions:
A) - Terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in the furtherance of political aims.
B) - From a Webster University Dictionary: It defined the term as: the systematic use of violence, terror, and intimidation to achieve an end.
C) - Now let us look at the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ definition of terrorism as: the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civil population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives. In most cases, people are sometimes interested only in political motivation; however terrorism is usually a violent manifestation of subversion.
As Sierra Leoneans, we know and have witnessed many incidents in the country that have elements or an element from the above definitions. I think it is worth knowing that the mere linkage of an element to the definition could be associated with the definition as an act of terrorism. If that is the case, should the police respond in like manner in an effort to protect innocent and vulnerable people especially women, children, the old, the sick, the disabled, the blinds etc.? So based on some element of the definitions of terrorism, can we rethink the way we wrongly analyzed the statement of these two government officials? Sure, I think we should. Nevertheless, my personal observation and opinion from the statements is that: it is not actually what they said, but how they made the statements that created the room for public concerns.
During one of the radio discussions, I heard some people saying, we do not need arms and ammunition especially as we approach the elections. In their own right to freedom of speech as citizens, they can say so but remember the saying; “if you wish peace, you must as well be prepared for war.” On the quantity of arms and ammunition, let us remember that the police force has grown from its original size we knew then, to what it is today. I believe not many people know this fact at all. Now on the amount money spent, I will say to my fellow Sierra Leonean the price for freedom is too high as a matter of fact; no freedom is actually free. Freedom is always regulated especially when it infringes into our national security, and that is just the plain truth even for some nations.
I want fellow Sierra Leoneans to know that our country’s need for those weapons is long overdue. We may believe, that we are enjoying a peaceful atmosphere right now as such we do not need a large cash value arms and ammunition, but we should not make any mistake that our forces are ill equipped. Our nation is less secured in term of defense mechanism compared to other African countries. Furthermore, the decision to purchase that quantity of arms and ammunition for our country did not happen in a split-second decision. I know it took some time to complete such a transaction. If we look at the government’s press release, it indicated that the plan to purchase those weapons was made in 2009. It took some three years to complete the deal and receive the finish product in 2012 which happen to be our election year. Can we take this time frame into consideration?
While in the country, I further came to understand from several speakers that what frustrated them the most is the quantity, other are not happy about the cash value for those weapons and others are angry about how sophisticated the consignments is. Again as an individual, I will repeat that their concerns are legitimate but, please let us go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves: what price are we willing to pay for our protection? What price are we willing to pay for our freedom? What can we do if one of our neighbors occupies a territory or a portion of our land?
Many expressed concerns that the arms and ammunition are too sophisticated for the police to handle, I only hope we are not losing sight that the now OSD is a wing of the police force whose training in weaponry has been and still exceptional. We have seen them operate different types of weapons while executing the rebel/civil war alongside the Sierra Leone Army. During that time they were not seen as police officers but partners in executing the war. I also want some of you to bear in mind that this unit of the police was created by the late Dr. Siaka P. Stevens (May his soul rest in peace) and they were then called the Internal Security Unit (ISU) and later transformed and named the Special Security Division (SSD). This unit is always trained in handling riots, crowd control, open VIP protections, maintaining security protect to vital governmental installation and most paramount, to save lives at all times and maintain order during internal conflict for which; the general duties police officers cannot handle. Therefore, their need for those tools to aide their daily work is long over-due in my opinion.
In making my points on this sensitive issue, I want others to also know that those police men and women (ODS & General duties Personnel) partnered with our military personnel, were there to maintain security at our porous border towns and other crossing points when the Revolutionary United Front R.U.F. and their counterpart; the National Patriotic Front of Liberia N.P.F.L. rebels marched into our country through Bumaru and Malema. The rebels over powered our security forces so easily due to the fact that we lacked arms and ammunition. We had the man-power then, but unfortunately all we had then were old fashioned second world war Mac-4 (Cock ‘N’ Fire) rifles. How do we expect our men and women to stand the fire power of the rebels who had Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), Anti-Aircraft (AA) machine guns to name but a few? Can we learn from that mistake? Let use put the politics aside and deal with reality here, because Sierra Leoneans and the country as a sovereign state need adequate protection. Therefore if there is a need to plan and prepare, we better do so before it is too late and now is the time.
The attack of March 23rd1991 at Bumaru and Malema/Zimmy were successful on the side of the rebels because, our security forces did not have the (tools) weapons needed at that time. Our security forces were prepared because then rebel leader Charles G. Taylor, indeed warned that Sierra Leone and its people will taste the bitterness of war. So our forces were prepared but they never had what it takes to defend the country. Despite the warning, the then government of late President Major-General Joseph Saidu Momoh waited and in deed, we saw, felt and tasted the bitterness of war. Today, those memories are indelible in the hearts and minds of many of us forever.
In concluding this article let me render another observation I made on this arms ammunition issue, that it seem to me the nation was not given additional details by explaining why the government purchased the type of weapons and the quantity they saw etc. Taking into consideration all the mistakes and misunderstanding, we should understand that the arms and ammunition should not be the only dependable tools to calm down all security threats. In some situations the mere presence of an officer in full gear makes a lot of difference. We have witnessed such a situation many times especially during international soccer matches, the mere presence of military personnel in full gear had prevented much chaos and thereby diffused many violence tendencies. As far as I know, the military had maintained several security perimeters without firing a single shot at anybody. So the police having those weapons should not be misunderstood or misinterpreted as preempting future violence during the upcoming elections.
We should be confident that if our law enforcement officers are given the tools they need for their day to day operations, you and I including our visitors in the country will always go to sleep, walk freely in the middle of the night without any fear of being attacked. We can also breathe an air of assurance that our borders are secure. Please let us compliment a government that thinks about protecting its people as a priority, because that is one of the main reasons we as people gave up some of our rights in return for protection. Let us compliment a government that helps to protect our freedom, democracy and our way of life.