October 1, 2022

Since New Direction Government came into governance in April, 2018, the main opposition, All people’s Congress has failed to hold accountable government on strong terms and constructive criticism.

APC’s failure runs contrary to one of the most basic democratic ideals of constructive opposition to government.

Owing to the weak opposition, key figures in the APC notably Dr Sylvia Blyden, former Minister of Social welfare, has on several occasions called for the resignation of APC leadership in Parliament.

Executive officials of the party were also demanded to go by Dr Blyden since she believed that they are quite unable to offer the opposition the party wants.

APC, she said, had never provided any form of aggressive opposition that portrayed the party as one that is ready to take up governance in the near future.

Owing to what was referred to as lacklustre and moribund leadership, Dr Blyden and others demand that the Chairman and Leader of APC, former President Ernest Bai Koroma, his Deputy, Minkailu Mansaray and the Secretary-General, Foday Osman Yanssaneh to take the back seat.

The former minister became reasonably suspicious of a marriage between the main opposition and the ruling party owing to the weak opposition shown by the main opposition.

The views express by another key APC stalwart (name withheld) seems to be in agreement with those of Dr Sylvia Blyden. The APC stalwart told this press that the weak opposition provided by the APC made the ruling party, SLPP (Sierra Leone People’s Party) to lord it over the opposition.

He said APC started to show signs of weakness when the party’s members of parliament were physically assaulted by security operatives. The assault of parliamentarians came after a stalemate developed between parliamentarians of the ruling SLPP and the main opposition, APC.

The stand-off traced its roots to a court injunction slammed on 16 APC parliamentarians following petitions by SLPP parliamentarians. The petitions cited numerous electoral irregularities and violence that marred the elections in several constituencies.

The main opposition similarly filed Petitions against SLPP members of parliament. The courts which have now fastly relegated to an appendage of the executive arm dismissed the opposition’s petitions.

Suffice it to say the content and merits of the petitions were never looked into, a move that put the judiciary in bad light.

Actions of the judicial organ of government seriously the rule of law principle, one of the corner stones of democracy. The partiality displayed by the judicial arm of government was enough for the APC to put up the strongest resistance so that democracy could be protected.

But, the APC allowed the matter to pass off, but pains in the minds of APC supporters and sympathisers remain. Although police action was widely condemned by society, the main opposition, the stalwart said, did not provide the type of opposition desired by the people.

After the assault, Sierra Leoneans in several constituencies called on the APC to persistently boycott parliamentary meetings until the perpetrators face justice.

However, the APC acted contrary to the general demands of the populace. Police brutality to the parliamentarians aroused the anger of Sierra Leoneans and hence resentment of the New Direction Government.

They had thought it prudence to avenge for the party by taking to the streets. It was strongly believed that the main opposition has the number to embark on such action and to even disrupt state governance.

They also believe that the ruling party only won the presidency, but did not win the people of Sierra Leone.

Despite calls made by Sierra Leoneans, the matter was swept under the carpet, and it died a natural death. The brutality meted to the APC politicians became the genesis for several acts of cruelty by the SLPP towards the APC.

Most times, SLPP does away with it, a move that ingrains a culture of impunity in the ruling party. The like of what happened in the well of parliament also showcased itself in May, 2019 when ten parliamentary seats were unjustifiably stripped of the main opposition by a court action. The judges, Komba Kamanda and Momoh Jah Stevens said the parliamentarians were not properly elected.

According to the Public Elections Act, 2012, the court was supposed to order a re-run of the elections. But, the ends of justice were defeated on that day when the Clerk of Parliament, Paran Tarawallie swore in SLPP runners-up as parliamentarians.

The move by Hon Tarawallie was one that struck the conscience of Sierra Leoneans especially supporters who were ready for a sustained protest to bring back democracy. The executive of the main opposition and the parliamentary leadership were also expected to show leadership by putting up the strongest opposition to government’s vagaries, excesses and illegalities.

In a press conference held at SLAJ (Sierra Leone Association of journalists) Headquaters on Campbell Street in Freetown, the opposition Leader in Parliament, Hon Chernor Maju Bah assured the affected parliamentarians that their case would be challenged in the courts.

He also said the party would follow the matters to their logical conclusions. Hon Bah also assured that he would appeal to the international community for foreign judges sit on the matter.

The hearts of APC membership were filled with joy following the assurance by the opposition leader, but the promise was a mere hoax. Nothing came out of it as the affected parliamentarians remain outside the well of parliament to date.

Hopes of coming back to the house are already dashed as the life parliament would soon end when the mandate of the New Direction fades away. Of the ten disrobed parliamentarians, only Hon. Khadija Davies was robed again after she emerged victor in a tightly contested re-run election in a constituency in the Western Area Rural district.

On the day the verdict was handed down, APC Headquaters on old Railway Line in Brookfields community was placed under siege by armed personnel of the Operations Support Division, the military wing of the Sierra Leone Police.

Indeed, the policemen trigger-happy frenzy, fired teargas canisters into the party offices to smoke APC top officials who were there. The party’s secretary-general was caught in the fire.

It was one of the greatest policing disasters of the 21st century as no APC member was armed talk less of targeting the security opeartives.

A fundamental conventional rule of discharging firearm was nakedly violated by police officers who sacrificed professionalism for political rewards.

The rule says that only armed men must be targeted. It is great violation or abuse of human rights when unarmed or defenceless citizens are targeted by armed personnel.

Apart from these major abuses of rights of opposition parliamentarians, the New Direction Government also embarked on several waves of arrest and detention of key APC figures, most times, without explaining any valid reason or on concocted allegations.

The arrest of Dr Sylvia Blyden on allegations of incitement is a strong case in point. Sylvia’s arrest was widely condemned because it failed to follow legally established procedures and principles of arrest.

Sylvia at the time of her arrest was never informed of any reason, and on to the time she was held in a police cell at the Criminal Investigation Department on Pa Demba Road in Freetown.

She spent close to three weeks in detention, contrary to fundamental constitutional provisions that specified maximum detention periods for felonious and minor offences. Several other APC politicians were also arrested and detained in like manner.

Former Minister of Internal Affairs, Alfred Paolo Conteh was also similarly arrested and detained on made-up allegations. A verdict handed down by a High Court in Freetown after the former Minister had spent months at the main correctional facility exposed government’s frailties, lies and false allegations.

Although Mr Conteh is out of the prison walls, the traumatic experience he went through remains and would be told for years. These blatant abuses of rights and disregard for the laws of the state are grounds for serious resistance and opposition by the main opposition.

But, the humiliation of APC politicians by the ruling SLPP parliamentarians is treated with levity by the party executive. The move is almost equal to APC campaigning for SLPP by its failure to oppose, criticise and in, most respect resist, the dictatorial inclinations of government.

See next edition.