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Retreating in the face of lawlessness

By Isaac Massaquoi

The annual Inter-Secondary School athletics meeting for this year has been cancelled. The official in charge at the Ministry of Education was on radio last week saying that the schools are not ready and that the Conference of Principals is not quite warm to the idea.

I think the real reason the competition didn’t take place is that the Sierra Leone Police under Francis Munu wrote to the Ministry of Education telling them that because of "the ugly incident that happened on the 13th day of April as a result of the Kao Denero show, we advise that the sport should not go on".

I am sure Munu went to be bed on the evening he dispatched the letter thinking he had done all of us a favour. The truth is that once again the Sierra Leone Police have given a very bad account of themselves and that informs the title of this piece. Francis Munu has led the whole nation in a shameful retreat in the face of mindless violence and criminality by a small group of hard care anarchists known to them.

I wonder how Munu would have responded if he were the head of the New York Police Department when the 9/11 mass murder occurred.

The American government and people didn’t close down the country and so tell Osama’s band of killers they’d won. They proved their determination to fight off any attempt by anybody to restrict their civil liberties, not even by violence on the scale of 9/11.

In Sierra Leone, the Police are telling us that just because less than one hundred criminals assaulted and robbed people on the streets during a rally organised by Kao Denero, the annual inter-secondary school athletics meet must not go ahead.

I know that a lot of people in Freetown really hate the way pupils behave at such events in recent times but why do we have a police force and the other layers of authority in such matters like the Parents-Teachers’ Association and the school authorities themselves.

Are we now being told by Munu that every time people like those who were part of the Kao Denero squad misbehave, we must all run home and lock down the doors?

I see a lot of contradictions in the way the police have behaved in recent times and they should never underestimate the ability of the people to see through their cynical manipulations and the consequences for their erosion of our civil liberties during periods when every citizen of a decent democracy expects their police force to stand up, attack and defeat the forces of lawlessness and violence.

How can the police stop the inter-secondary school sport because of the Kao Denero debacle when just last week the musician went ahead with the show at the same venue, attended mostly by the same secondary school pupils?

Between that 13th of April incident and the show itself, how many times did the police grant permission to mask devils to parade the streets of Freetown? Consider the huge crowds mask devils bring onto the streets and all the criminal activities that accompany those parades. How can the police justify all that on grounds that mask devils are part of our culture and then basically order that inter-secondary school sports meets be cancelled without thinking about the importance of the event in the school calendar because of recreation and the obvious fact that almost all our international athletes discovered their talent at such events – Eunice Barber who is now based in France is one such person.

English football suffered appalling hooliganism for many years going back to the 60s. It got so bad that lives were being lost and the reputation of the great English game was in serious decline. But that didn’t cause the authorities to send all the millions of law-abiding fans home for fear that the foolish ones would harm them. England fought football hooliganism with all its intelligence and might. Today, even Francis Munu takes delight in watching the English Premier League every weekend.

So why is Francis Munu allowing himself to be led down this path of deliberating interfering with our civil liberties all the time, or selectively choosing which incident to be tough with and which ones to allow free- for-all punch-ups and thieving?

How many people are now being tried because of the Kao Denero parade madness? How many are being tried as a result of all the thieving and violence that took place during the last Independence Day mask devil parades? How about those musicians whose high speed chase and gun violence caused the death of at least one person at Lumley Beach recently?

Come on Mr Inspector General, the people are not fools. They know why things are happening the way they are.

Our Inspector General is the typical Sierra Leonean who never confronts any issues either for fear of reprisals or loss of powerful friends, income and a “comfortable” lifestyle.

Here’s my idea of the typical Sierra Leonean: He graduates from college and lands himself a decent and reasonably well paid job and is living comfortably in a house bequeathed to him by his family at Jenkins Street for example. He soon begins to grumble about the noise, filth and general hopelessness and crime in the area. He hangs in there for a while but soon acquires an expensive flat in the relatively affluent western parts of the city with high walls and private security guards to keep thieves away. At Jenkins Street, he would have refused to be part of any community initiatives aimed at improving living conditions in the area leaving that to the politicians.

If there is no electricity in his new place, he buys himself a generator. When there is no water, he pays big money to get supplies from Sorie Guma’s water Bowsers. He would even boast about all this instead of putting pressure on state actors to provide these vital services. Is that real security? This is what I call the culture of retreating each time people are challenged by difficult circumstances and questions.

From time to time I come across friends who tell me they appreciate the manner in which we confront issues in Politico. They would thank us and urge us to continue because they are very much with us. Some even offer bright ideas for us to deal with in subsequent editions. I am used to this sort of thing since my days at SLBS.

There I tried, along with other courageous colleagues like Albert Momoh to tilt the news agenda deliberately away from the president, his ministers and commercial interests in the direction of the people. The progress we made has been reversed in the last five years.

A lot of pressure was brought to bear on me in particular and there are many people in government today who in their days in the opposition encouraged me to keep pushing in the interest of the people. Ask them now, they will tell you the opposition is behind some of the positions people like us take on national issues. They do it so convincingly that they take a lot of people along with them.

For them holding a government to account when they are in opposition is the sacred responsibility of the media. Once in government, any effort in that direction is opposition-led. And they really believe some of us are so afraid of being labelled “opposition supporters” that we will simply drop journalism and join the long queue of Spin Doctors. Tough Luck!

So back now to our Force for Good. I believe they are approaching the challenges of modern policing like policing in those days when Keatu Smith was Commissioner of Police. Many of them have been trained in the most prestigious intuitions all over the world and they can hold their own very well anywhere. But how come their overall performance is so below par?

All the criminal gangs causing misery for the people of this city are very well known to the police. The spokesman for the police has said that on radio many times. Why can’t they put the miscreants out of action? That’s the least we can expect from our police force.

To defeat football hooliganism and marginalise racism in English football, serious studies were done to help inform police in that direction. This gung-ho policing where our police go to some community and destroy a so-called criminal base, arrest a few people only for all of them to walk free the very next day and rebuild the settlements, has failed. It’s not intelligence-led and it doesn’t answer all the questions that follow those raids and arrests.

The other day, the police raided the Belgium Market after some theft at the premises of a football club. Everybody in Freetown knows that Belgium is a market for second hand goods but that stolen goods end up there too. Why has it taken so long to deal with the criminal element there to allow legitimate trade to continue? Collecting protection money will not work.

If Sierra Leoneans are not careful by the end of this year criminals would have expanded their spheres of influence across the city to the extent that the rest of us will find it difficult to operate without crossing their paths and the consequences are well known. If the police think this is alarming, let them do a survey around Freetown and people will tell them which areas of the city they have avoided for fear of criminals even in broad daylight.