September 28, 2022

The object of the mid-term census suffers a fatal blow after plans of resuming mining operations in Lunsar and other parts of the north were made clear.

Northern towns of Lunsar and PortLoko prepare to see again another economic windfall with large populations in the face of a proposed mid-term census. One of the biggest Iron Ore miners, SL mining is sure to take back the Gafal Hills that host ‘Marampa Blue.’

‘Marampa Blue’ is the popular name of the Iron Ore in Lunsar. The Company took over mining from Timis Corporation after it went into a 25-year agreement in 2017 with government of former President Ernest Bai Koroma. The company halted mining operations following a lawsuit by the Bio Administration.

New Direction Government alleged that the mining agreement contained major flaws. The erroneous nature of the agreement made SL Mining a victim of circumstance. A government press release, few days back, has confirmed that the Bio Administration has preferred an out-of-court settlement after it had lost twice.

The press release says mining in Lunsar would start soon. Credible sources have indicated that mining resumes next month. It is no gainsaying that mining boom in any community facilitates population explosion.

The resumption of mining, no doubt, would bring about high population figures in Lunsar, PortLoko, Pepel and surrounding communities in northern Sierra Leone.

It is hoped that the communities would soon host large population as it was under London Mining Company, the Predecessor of SL Mining. The expected rise in population in the north comes at a time a mid-term population census is pending.

The census, government officials say, seeks to establish the exact number of people living in Sierra Leone for effective planning and national development.

But, opposition parties did not agree with government. They have described the proposed census exercise as one of gerry-mandering. Gerry-mandering in politics is about interfering with boundaries for political advantage. Media reports have accused the New Direction of a clandestine move to create more districts and constituencies in the south and eastern regions of the country, heartlands of the ruling SLPP.

Allegation of gerry-mandering has been reinforced by the main opposition leader, Chernoh Maju Bah. Hon Bah believed that the main object of the mid-term census is to alter boundaries in favour of government.

He was perplexed when government announced a mid-term census. He argues that a census is usually held after every 10 years. A national census was held in 2015 implying that another one was supposed to have been held in 2025.

To him, this is the first time for a mid-term census to be ordered by government. Government has however insistently dismissed the allegations saying the object of the census is for proper planning.

But, suspicion still reigns high owing to the insistence of government to have the bill passed into law at all cost. Slightly above three weeks, tabling of the census bill in parliament led to physical confrontations between the main opposition APC (All People’s Congress) and the ruling SLPP (Sierra Leone People’s Party).

The confrontations prevented normal debates which usually take place after the introduction of bills in parliament. Since the situation could not permit the normal procedure, government resorted to the 21-day tactic.

The document was however laid under controversial circumstances and a huge police presence.

The bill, by law, is now a law. The certificate of maturation has been presented to President Julius Maada Bio by the Clerk of Parliament. The census exercise kicks off anytime from now. But, members of the public have argued that a national census would count against government. Ibrahim Bangura, a resident of Freetown says reopening of mines in Lunsar is his happiest moment.

Bangura who is a son of PortLoko is happy not for the creation of jobs in his hometown but the swelling of population. He seems particularly concerned about political advantage a large population would bring to his community than the jobs to be created.

“The mining boom would even bring about migration of persons from South and East to Lunsar, PortLoko and other towns in the north,” he said.

Bangura made reference to the huge population Lunsar and PortLoko towns had during the mining boom. Apart from a high population of businessmen, the company created jobs for over 2,000 able-bodied men and women.

Such huge population, Bangura said, were responsible for the emergence of districts and constituencies in the northern region. Bangura was one of the strongest critic of the mid-term census, but his belief in the huge population the mining boom brings to the north has made him think again. Instead of Bangura opposing, he now calls on the main opposition to allow the census.

He however cautioned the opposition to be cautious in monitoring the exercise so that results would not be diverted. The Bio administration has previously embarked on a depopulation ploy in the north of the country after he shut down the mines in Lunsar town.

Responses from previous interviews conducted by this press shows that government had no strong reason for the closure of the mines. Abject poverty, economic hardship and depreciating social services was not uncommon in Lunsar, Freetown and Pepel.

But Lunsar which hosts the hills was the hardest-hit. Most construction projects stalled, surface rents withheld, energy supply denied owing to the absence of the company.

Glowing testimony of projects being stalled is visible in the centre of Lunsar town where a clock tower construction project has stopped half way through. House owners no longer collected rent as residents have fled.

The Chiefdom Speaker, Alhaji Bangura confirmed to this press that the perennial hardship had driven people away from the town. Those who remained became disgruntled with local authorities.

Almost over a year ago, irate Lunsar youths hit hard by hardship the hardship allegedly attacked and ransacked the residence of Paramount Chief, Koblo Queen.  Property and other valuables were allegedly carted away.

The loot, court records show, ran into Le5Bn. A previous interview shows that it was a way of venting out their long-held grudge against the paramount chief who was suspected of collusion with government to shut down the mines.

The cumulative effect of negative factors renders Lunsar town in a situation of all but name. The town became a shadow of its glorious former self after SL Mining left.

An immediate spill over effect of the economic malaise in Lunsar is felt in PortLoko. Although PortLoko does not own the hills, its effect of the mines shut down is more apt than Lunsar. PortLoko District Council (PLDC), the highest political institution in the district, experienced a shocking revenue fall.

PLDC revenue dropped sharply from roughly Le480M in 2019 to Le60M. Council’s Public Relations Officer, Morlai Bangura recently told this press that the drop considerably reduced council’s capacity to deliver services to its people. The hardship in PortLoko caused brutal crimes notably armed robbery.

It is in the midst of these dire economic circumstances that government pronounced a mid-term census with expectations that population figure in the north would be low.

But, and the ‘but’ part of it, the reopening of mines will bring back the people to Lunsar and PortLoko.

It is now safe to say complacency on the part of government is now far-fetched. The results of the census would be counter-productive as the people seem determined to protect the accuracy of the result. Government must think again about the mid-term census.