September 28, 2022

It is not unusual for political parties in Sierra Leone to have thugs that unleash violence to political opponents. Thuggery and violence in electoral periods is cardinal future of a government who has failed on its mandate of delivering social services to the people. SLPP (Sierra Leone People’s Party) has however taken political thuggery to a new level to secure its political existence against the will of Sierra Leoneans.

The syndrome will continue and reach its climax in 2023, the date Sierra Leoneans will go to the polls to take back control of their future. A reliable source has told this press that Sierra Leone’s oldest political party is secretly recruiting gallant youth into a special security force whose main duty is not yet known.

But, the reason for their recruitment is known only to SLPP since the party’s intention to win elections at all cost is clearly showing out. Forms are out and grabbed by those ready to do the party’s bidding. It could be a risky venture, but tokens, pittances and stipends offered to the men in the street will lure them. The source also informed this press that the security men would be deployed in strategic parts of the country to provide information to SLPP politicians.

The thugs, the source went on, would not only provide information but also paly the role of security personnel to protect SLPP’s interest using whatever means available. The trained men, no doubt, would be active in the elections to ensure SLPP’s survival in the elections. Having men to protect the party during elections is a continuation of thuggery for which SLPP is known in recent past.

Thugs within the ruling party have, on countless times, perpetrated violence beyond measure to opponents and even staff of the electoral body, National Electoral Commission (NEC). The name of a notorious thug, ‘ARATA stood out for the destruction of election   materials in police presence.  The ruling party however has recently fallen out with most of its violent men owing to disappointment. The thugs were never offered what they were assured of during the 2018 elections.

The worst part of their relationship became visible few months back when the party leadership ordered the men to leave party offices across the country.  “Party offices are not dwelling houses,” the order says.

A large number of these unfortunate men were parachuted into the city from the provinces during SLPP’s fabricated one-million marches in Freetown during campaign trails. Having nowhere to go, the thugs now live in slums and other shanty communities in the capital’s outskirts.  It is the outcome of SLPP’s ingratitude to men who used the fist for them to secure a victory.

 What a horrible future has SLPP plunged these men into?

SLPP did not only drive the thugs away but also used the police and the courts to get rid of them. A good number of the thugs ended in the courts with ‘ARATA,’ the lead thug, as a bright example.  ‘ARATA’ is now answering to charges relating to violence in a magistrate court in Freetown.

Left alone to face APC in the forthcoming elections, SLPP’s chance of making it in the polls is slim. Public opinion does not favour the ruling party as a result of what many will describe as bad governance characterised by discrimination based on tribe, political affiliation, abuse of human rights, intimidation, harassment indiscriminate killings and use of widespread terror tactics to govern.

Since the old thugs have departed the party in power owing to SLPP’s ill-treatment, the party’s only option is to recruit fresh men to do the bidding. The Recruitment by the party in power of forest guards who bear features of armed forces is an indication of SLPP’s secret recruitment of thugs.

A batch of forest guards, sometime last year, had it hot with police officers with whom they battled. The guards ran out of luck when they were over-powered by police officers who arrested a large number including their bosses. The incident sent shocking waves to the conscience of Sierra Leones who were lost in wonders.

The people of Sierra Leone thought greatly about how a government-employed force could easily turn their barrel against the police which is the principal law enforcement agency within the state. By its nomenclature and role in the law, the forest rangers must complement police effort. They should turn to the police for a back-up when the need arises.

It is therefore a misnomer for the newly trained force to be at the throat of a force they are supposed to work with in close partnership if they are to achieve their goal. Experienced opposition politicians have told this press that Bio’s move is a bit akin to former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor who ruled Liberia between 1980s and 1990s started off as a notorious despot before he became a warlord.

The Liberian President, in his days, recruited thugs who constituted the Anti-Terrorist Unit led by his son who is serving a 97-year imprisonment in a US prison facility. The ATU gained notoriety for widespread unlawful killings, use of terror against civilian population and abuse of human rights of Liberians.

ATU’s military activities became one of the greatest episodes in the Liberian conflict that spilled over to Sierra Leone in 23rd March, 1991. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, 2004 explained how Taylor’s ATU built a strong alliance with fighters of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone.

Like his son, the former Liberian President who is the first sitting head of state to be indicted by a war crimes court is now in a British jail after he was found guilty in April, 2012. SLPP’s move to have a special set of thugs for its protection is a clear sign that it does not trust the police and the army.

The ruling party’s trust in the security agencies is always at an all-time low. The distrust which continues to date was showcased on the election result of 2018 was announced in favour of SLPP.

The swearing-in ceremony of President Julius Maada Bio in a private hotel in Freetown instead of State House which is the usual venue testifies the party’s lack of trust in the forces of law and order. The party’s strained relationship with the security forces worsened quite lately after the demotion of quite a large number of policemen and women.

The reduction of ranks was camouflaged by the pretence of bringing back old ranks, and good pay packages. Insults were added to injury when the money government promised the men in uniform did not reflect in their salaries for successive months. Government has cited a global economic meltdown as the cause.

An opposition politician (name withheld) has told Nightwatch that the ruling party’s current move is reminiscent of the early days of 1997 when SLPP which was the party in power banned the national army over suspicion of disloyalty to the state.

A civil militia group, the Kamajors replaced the disbanded army, a situation that never augured well for the country’s peace and security. The move did more harm than good to the country as the soldiers fought back. They knew quite well that their mandate is enshrined in the constitution, and the President had no power to dissolve them like the way he did.

The nullification of the armed forces set in motion number violent acts between the two rival forces. The Kamajors were at loggerheads with the army symbolised by frequent skirmishes.  The civil defence force’s aim is to wipe off the soldiers and take over their function.

But, with little training an experience, the civil fighters could not survive in the face of trained soldiers under the command of military officers. After they were stopped by the army, the kamajors turned their barrels against innocent and defenceless civilians against whom they committed unquantifiable crimes. Leader of the Kamajors, Captain Hinga Norman was arraigned at the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes his subordinates committed. Norman’s case was closed when he passed away during trial.

Political commentators continue to explain why SLPP resort to violence to win elections. The analysts assert that the government, to a large extent, has reneged on its promises including its flagship project, the free quality education. A government, they say, that wanted a second coming should not abuse public confidence.

SLPP indeed has always wanted to come as it could not afford to rule once while its rival ruled twice.