Sierra Leone President's Acolytes Trumpet Campaign To Ditch Constitutional Term Limits

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Says President Koroma's equivocation on term limits fuels tension and violence

[Africa: Commentary]


Writer Fears Creeping Return To Bad Days Of Violence

As the majority of citizens in the tiny West African nation of Sierra Leone continue to voice their unequivocal opposition to any attempt by President Ernest Bai Koroma to circumvent the country’s constitution to make way for an extension of his term, evidence suggest that certain state security apparatus may be preparing to intimidate and oppress citizens that oppose the president's agenda. 

It does not appear that a recent statement reportedly made by Honorable Mustapha. B. Attila, a disabled Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, threatening that government will arrest anyone who dare demonstrate against the third term or term extension campaign is an isolated one.

The statement seems to serve as a prelude to what may be part of a well-orchestrated plan to secure presidential term extension for Koroma at all cost.

Reports from Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown suggest that over the last week, Memunatu Conteh, the Assistant Inspector General of Police responsible for the east of the capital has led police officers in raids which have left many youth arrested and beating. Such violent intimidation tactics was clearly manifested on May 3, 2014 during the bi-election conducted in Ward 372.

Eye witnesses reported that at the instruction of Memunatu Conteh, many opposition youth were beaten and arrested for simply standing their ground to prevent what they perceived as an attempt by the ruling party to rig the bi-election. One opposition youth who served as an observer during the bi-election has this to say: “I was the first person to be beaten up by the police because of the way I became vigilant and proactive in ensuring that no malpractice takes place in the pooling station I was observing. AIG Memunatu Conteh said that we do not have the right to be going around the polling station but I told her that it was my right as an accredited observer and I showed her the National Electoral Commission (NEC) issued badge that was on my neck.  She became angry with me for expressing myself boldly and standing for my right, and she ordered her police officers to beat me.”

News coming out of the east of Freetown claims that AIG Memunatu Conteh has been instructed to suppress any groups opposing the president’s bid for term-limit extension and to disrupt any gatherings by citizens who intend to oppose the extension agenda. As information about AIG Memunatu Conteh’s new enterprise spread across the east of Freetown, many youth have demonstrated commitment to continue their opposition of term-limit extension and vowed to defend themselves violently if provoked by the police or thugs loyal to the president.

Politically motivated police brutality has become a serious concern under the Koroma administration. Overzealous and trigger-happy partisan police officers have heavy-handedly brutalized citizens in the recent past including the shooting death of a bike rider at close range during a riot that left opposition leader Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio injured in the second city, Bo.

A more recent case in point is the shooting death of several workers who were protesting peacefully against working conditions at mining companies. The gains made by the re-training of the Sierra Leone Police force by the country’s former colonial ruler, the United Kingdom in collaboration with other international partners immediately after the war, seem to be lost as the force is slowly becoming an instrument of oppression as opposed to a force for the greater good.

It must be remembered that recent calls for presidential term-limit extension have been made by government officials close to President Koroma including his Minister of Transportation, Logus Koroma and Ambassador to the United Nations, Wilfred Kabs Kanu. While the president has denied any interest in third term in an undated press release, he fell short of addressing the issue of extension of his current term which many believe is a more critical issue.

The president is also on record for sharing podiums with and defending the rights of those calling for him to seek term-limit extension. Many see this as an insincere attempt by the president to exploit the situation. Many citizens still believe that President Koroma needs to make an unequivocal statement about his intension.

Citizens are now urging the current Constitutional Review Committee to listen to the voice of the majority by not even considering an amendment to the section of the constitution that has to do with term-limits. Sierra Leone has a bloody history of civil war which raged on for more than a decade. Many of its citizens are wary of any move to undermine the country’s young democracy at the detriment of its hard-earned peace.

Koroma’s presidential term-limit extension bid is seen by many as an attempt to take Sierra Leone back to a one-party dictatorship; a move similar to that which led to the civil war that ended in 2002.



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