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Commending the ONS for its Frank Talk to Security Personnel
By Sayoh Kamara
May 22, 2009, 17:06
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There is no gainsaying that Sierra Leones security forces and indeed most of its personnel, especially within the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) have been politicized and are being misused by unscrupulous politicians as agents of repression, intimidation, harassment of political rivals.

This unfortunate condition of the countrys security forces; especially the Police, can be traced to the early post independence era.

History has it how the army first intervened in the countrys politics and how the military/police political melodrama which ensued ended with the restoration of President Siaka Probyn Stevens the Founding Leader of the All Peoples Congress (APC) party. Once Stevens was restored, history also has it how he manipulated the army thus reducing it to a mere ceremonial security outlet with responsibility limited to staging parades at presidential functions. History holds as well how Sheki ensured that Southeasterners were denied access and promotions in the army while Northwesterners enjoyed the relative preferential treatments. History has it how Siaka Stevens placed the police on top of the army; whilst the Guinea/Cuba trained Special Security Division (SSD) the paramilitary wing of the police, was put in absolute control of internal and external security.

These legacies have remained with our security forces and have in varied forms been unscrupulously used to satisfy the political whims and caprices of their godfathers even if it were against the human rights of the people. Because of the political proclivity of the SSD and the acts of impunity it conducts its self o he people which in most times were perpetuated in poignancy, it became dreadful and the sight or presence of a single member of the force anywhere, was a sign of trouble for the people. Against this background, the popularity of the SSD and indeed the Sierra Leone Police plummeted to an all time low, as ordinary citizens lost confidence in the entire police force. It was therefore no surprise to therefore when it came out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report that the irrational attitude and conduct of the police was one of the major causes of the rebel war which started in 1991.

When the war ended therefore in 2002, there were calls for a transformation of the security forces, more so the police so as to reflect the needs of the countrys post conflict security needs. In the interim, the long time bad blood between the army and the police had reared its head as was manifested by the number of fracas that occurred between police and military personnel when ever they met. It was this unfortunate development that mostly encouraged the international community through the Commonwealth and the International Military Assistance Training Team (IMATT) to come and restructure the army as well.

Perhaps as governments own contribution to very crucial peace consolidation mechanism, it set up the Office of National Security (ONS), to coordinate the activities of the two state security forces as well as all other matters which have security relations to the country socio-economic development. And indeed, as a matter of exigency, the ONS in consideration of the fragility of national peace at its inception in July 4th, 2002 by an Act of Parliament, the National Security and Central Intelligence Act, established the Military Aid to Civil Power (MAC-P) and the Military Aid to Civil Authority (MACA) respectively. The MAC-P was aimed at harmonizing certain aspects of the activities of the police and the army to collectively serve the people of Sierra Leone, and the MACA was aimed at taking the army to the people through corporate social community works.

Things seemed better off with the army. As for the police, it is as though it is afflicted with a curse as a result of its legacies. In spite of the huge material and financial resources put into it by the Commonwealth, in order that it reforms and transforms, it has once again descended to its former notoriety and decadent character-an agent of the political party in power. This is an embarrassment to the security family, it is an embarrassment to those British taxpayers whose hard earned funds were put into their reform, and the current actions of the police is very much an embarrassment to President Koroma. The SLP except it once again undergoes a radical structural reform has become a haven of sycophancy, political patronage and political idiosyncrasy, traits that have sent its professed force for good philosophy into the gutters.

Let me make a point very clear at this juncture. Police officers should know and note that serving the government of the day should not in any way be misinterpreted to mean supporting the party in power. As state functionaries, they are obliged to serve the state and its government of the day only and not be seen to be overtly and or covertly supporting the party in power and by extension doing things that are disadvantageous to opponents of the party in power. The police are expected to be neutral and must serve the overall interest of the people.

Observers of Sierra Leones security forces have opined that giving the present state of growing disenchantment against the police force; a serious surgical restructuring need to be performed on its rank and file if it is to avert any relapse into another round of chaos and anarchy.

This is why the proactive remedial steps taken by the Office of National Security (ONS) recently is very much welcome. This initial alarm by no less a person than the National Security Coordinator and Head of the ONS, Brigadier Kellie Hassan Conteh underscores the dangerous nature of such sycophantic and irrational attitude some personnel of the national security forces are indulged in. By telling those security personnel indulged in deeds that undermine the neutrality and fairness of the security forces to stop forthwith is a move in the right direction. Because we have shied from calling things by their real names especially when they are very bad, we have invariably been encouraging miscreants to continue undermining the national interest for their selfish and parochial ends.

The ONS has a national mandate to fulfill and must not be seen to be compromising the performance of that mandate because of sycophancy and sheer parochialism. Security being a core prerequisite for socio-economic and political development need not be toyed with. It should be handled robustly in high vigilance with capability to bell the cat in order to give early warnings to the citizens it is so deservedly serving. The ONS demonstrated this proactive quality over national security in the 2007 general election. When it smelt the rat, it gave the alarm, and that was when campaigns were about to take a militaristic dimension. A national stakeholders conference was convened by the ONS and in no uncertain terms laid bare the role of the contesting political parties in the then ongoing violence. They were also made to know that they would be held responsible for any act of outright violence during and after the election. Because they felt the heat from the institution with authority over Sierra Leones security, they all kept their cool and behaved themselves. Imagine what would have happened, had the ONS kept quiet and or complacent that nothing would happen? Indeed, Sierra Leoneans have not learnt anything from the rebel war. People are merely paying lip service to the ravages of the rebel war. It is not in their hearts. For our national security forces, there is every need for an attitudinal change in their outlook of their responsibility to the state and the government. They must be made to know that loyalty to the state and the government of the day does not mean being a sycophant, a bootlicker and a hypocrite.

Meanwhile, to those who have been troubled or incensed by the ONS early warning mechanism and have started throwing salvoes of irrational postulations and assertions, I want to say to them that the ONS has done nothing wrong. Their assertion in the context of logic with regards allegation that the ONS is Southeastern dominated, has no basis of truth since it has not been empirically proved to reflect what is on the ground at the ONS. This is why it is said that journalists, particularly so, those who have attributed media expertise to themselves, should verify their information before making sweeping statements with a generalized favor. Translating thoughts and emotions into terms that are intelligible to us and others is very much appropriated when these thoughts are factual, fair and balanced other than those thoughts that are haphazardly stated with reckless abandon.

Lets leave the ONS to sanitize the security forces. The ONS is not interfering with anyones human and constitutional rights. As individuals, each member of the security forces has the right to be political. The emphasis of the ONS as the national security coordinating institution is that, while security personnel are in uniforms and working in their official capacities, they refrain from politics in all its manifestations. Security personnel cannot be referees and players in a match at the same time.

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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