February 8, 2023

The proposed construction of Lungi Bridge by the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) seems to have become a campaign tool for the 2023 elections.

But, some well-informed Sierra Leoneans are of the conviction that the Lungi Bridge construction project would not save SLPP from defeat in the pending elections.

The promise of the Lungi Bridge came after SLPP has spent close to three years in office without much to show. As the promise continues, a great many Sierra Leoneans have come to see the promise as a sinister cover-up of SLPP failings.

The promise of Lungi Bridge construction started with Late President Ahmed Tejan Kabba of SLPP as a form of poverty reduction strategy in Sierra Leone. At that time he made the promise, he did not show how the construction project would be funded. Sierra Leoneans who have waited for long to see the bridge were ecstatic. They were highly hopeful that the promise would be transformed into reality.

After many years waiting in vain, Sierra Leoneans finally concluded that the bridge will not come as Tejan Kabba rode into the sunset in 2007. President Ernest Bai Koroma appeared on the political scene with the All People’s Congress ticket but without the promise of the Lungi Bridge.

However, towards the end of his tenure, he spoke about it, but with no definite promise and plan. The President was much more focused on the toll gate between Freetown and Masiaka in the North-west region as well as the Mamamah International Airport. With these two projects, President Koroma was highly hopeful of building a sound economy with visible improvement of livelihoods.

In 2018, President Julius Maada Bio took over state command in a tightly contested election without any promise of building a bridge from Freetown to Lungi. The main promise of President Julius Maada Bio is the education flagship project known as the Free Quality Education.

The thrust of the education project is to ensure that children of school-going ages access quality education free of cost.

However, the project has been fraught with many problems which tend to defeat its purpose. The ‘New Direction’ Government which has now foreseen failings in the FQE project has turned its attention to the construction of a 7.6 Kilometre Bridge that will attract between US$1.8bn to US$2.1bn.

The bridge, if constructed, hopefully has the potential to raise an estimated revenue of US$11.2bn within 25 years. It is also hoped that the project will create 5, 350 jobs for Sierra Leoneans.  By the Statements of SLPP politicians, the project is about the transformation of Freetown as about 60-acre of land would be reclaimed from squatters along the coast.

The first meeting of the proposed Lungi Bridge project was held on 19th June, 2019 at State House where President Julius Maada Bio and potential investors were present. Head of Presidential Initiative on Infrastructure, Dr John Tambi chaired the meeting.

Tambi takes pride in a quality blend of academic credentials in Aerospace technology, Aeronautics, Engineering and Transport and planning. With all these beautiful qualifications, Sierra Leoneans expect the best service from infrastructure Unit at State House.

Dr Tambi predicated the Lungi Bridge project on the Slogan: ‘Land that we love.’ After a day’s deliberations with the bidders, they left and no one came again for further discussions. It took a considerable period before another publication was put out on 20th July, 2020 that the Lungi bridge project would commence in the third quarter of this year.

Inconsistencies in respect of the Lungi Bridge abound as the proposed six-lane has been reduced to four-lane. Another marked difference is also seen in the initial cost of the proposed bridge to the current one.

The delayed construction project has been attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic. The inconsistencies and long delay surrounding the Lungi Bridge construction has raised questions about the success of the project. Some Sierra Leoneans say SLPP will hardly make it in the ballot box through the construction of the long-awaited bridge.

They say the failings in the governance of the state far outweigh that of the Lungi project even if actualised. The SLPP administration has failed miserably to revamp the economy of Sierra Leone which was their key campaign promise.

At the time, SLPP was in opposition, their thematic point of argument about the country’s economy was that of wastage and leakages that stagnate the country’s economic growth and development. The allegation of wastage of the country’s funds was made clear by the current Commissioner-General of National Revenue Authority, Dr Samuel Jibao.

Via power point presentation at the conference hall of the Ministry of Finance, Mr Jibao made no mince of words when he accused the past government of a 5% wastage of state funds through administrative activities in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government (MDA’s). President Julius Maada Bio had, on several occasions, when he was flag-bearer of SLPP, then in opposition, accused the past government of leakages evidenced by wastage of state funds through unchecked and reckless spending. It was against the backdrop of such wastages and leakages that the SLPP took over power with a firm promise of reversing the trend.

But, the coming to power of SLPP has not curtailed leakages and wastages they promised the people of Sierra Leone.

Documents seen by Nightwatch especially publications by Africanist Press, an international media institution, indicate that the present government has embarked on public expenditure bigger than that of the previous government. The bloated expenditure is evidenced by the economic hardship the country is going through in the face of a devastating pandemic.

Apart from the hardship, Sierra Leoneans have been disturbed by the rampant killings of citizens by security operatives. The Pa Demba Road Killings of 29th April, 2020, the Makeni killings of June of the same year and the Yoni Bana killings of 2018 deserve specific mention.

Circumstances that resulted into the killings are most times provoked by state security agents and they share one feature in common: they are carried out in opposition strongholds. The feature of impunity is also very clear. In all of the instances mentioned above, no police or military officer has been made to answer before a court of law for the reckless killings.

Rather, those who called for justice for their dead compatriots in the form of a protest have been slammed with criminal charges. The Mayor of Makeni City was threatened with a charge of incitement leaving the killers to walk as free men.

The culture of impunity which is today deeply ingrained into the Sierra Leonean culture is disastrous to the country’s democracy.

The rule of law, in all its forms, has been thrown out of the window as the judiciary has been reduced to a mere stooge of the executive arm of government. The judiciary is ready to dance to any tune dictated by the executive arm.

The stripping of the main opposition, All People’s Congress, of ten parliamentary seats without a re-run election is a case in point. The most disturbing question is: why the judiciary, a branch with intellectuals allowed to be influenced by other arms of government.

A large number of weaknesses of the current government cannot all be mentioned in this piece.

In the midst of such failings, government came up with the bogus project of Lungi Bridge with the hope of diverting the people’s attention from the political realities. As failings in governance persist, no Lungi Bridge project will save SLPP from taking an exit in 2023.