From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Misguided Military/Police Actions Deserve Outright Condemnation!...As they send worrying signals
By Theophilus S. Gbenda
Jun 21, 2010, 14:32

The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Cooperation (SLBC) Tuesday June 15 2010, reported that a joint team of armed military and police personnel raided a village in the Moyamba District situated in the south of the country, over rumours that Kamajor militias were being recruited and trained there.

Onboard military and police trucks and obviously in a warlike mood, the personnel numbering close to 100, ransacked the entire village in search of the training base, suspected recruits and whoever was behind the unlawful act.

A number of able bodied looking youths and men were physically manhandled and detained on grounds that they were planning to undermine the authority of, or overthrow the government of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.

The whole thing however turned out to be one of the falsest rumours ever heard of in modern military and police operations...especially in peace building settings such as Sierra Leone which was until eight years ago engulfed in a bloody 11-year long civil war that claimed the lives of over 75,000 Sierra Leoneans, mostly innocent civilians.

The soldiers and police are reported to have fired live shots in the air, while systematically looting anything they could lay their hands on.

The ill-thought raid saw villagers running helter skelter for their lives into nearby bushes and neighbouring villages. Some of them are said to be too scared to return from their hiding...even now.

Just over three months ago, armed military personnel including recruits at the Benguema Military Training Camp raided a settlement within the Waterloo general area, destroying houses and beating up residents. Gun shots were fired in the air to scare away the armless residents.

The soldiers claimed that the raided settlement was within the Military Firing Range used for training and testing weapons. This again turned out to be an unwarranted action, as the area in question was later proven to be out of the Military Firing Range. When questioned, the Commandant at the Benguema Training Camp stated categorically that the said action of his men was not sanctioned by him.

Despite widespread media and civil society condemnation of the said unauthorised military action, nothing has been done to hold the ring leaders responsible for such a lawless and indiscipline act.

The two mentioned instances of military and police acts of unprovoked barbarism are pointers that the country is still in a very volatile state, wherein the very ones undermining the peace process are those entrusted with the responsibility of securing it.

The military and police are two very important instruments of peace and stability, and at the same time, it could be turned the other way round. If the soldiers and police live up to their sacred tasks of maintaining law and order and at the same time ensuring peace and stability, the country and its people are safe.

If they act contrarily, there are two things involved: Either the country slides back into chaos or a whole government set aside. The reason why we should never allow either of these to happen is because the people will suffer unnecessarily.

We all saw what happened during the war, when the security forces betrayed the confidence of the people by proving incapable of securing them against advancing rebel fighters. While much progress has been recorded over the years in terms of building back the country’s politics/war-shattered military and police forces (courtesy of millions of dollars of donor funds and direct military intervention such as the deployment of a whole contingent of professional military trainers operating under the banner of IMMAT),  the actions herein referred to send a worrying signal that there is still much job left undone insofar as injecting professionalism and discipline into the country’s security forces is concerned.

Worse of it, the country’s security forces remain openly politicised as they have always been. In fact the situation has reached an alarming proportion, with premium now given to recruiting police and military officers based on regional consideration.

Travelling onboard a commercial vehicle to Sierra Rutile recently, an armed military officer having begged for lift from the driver and sitting on the very top or carrier of the vehicle, reacted angrily to criticisms by some perceived pro-opposition passengers inside the same vehicle by stating that “We would have gone to the bush if our party had not won”.

He was proud to introduce himself as Private Mohamed Conteh from the north of the country, the stronghold of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC).

Rather than trying to regain the confidence of the people on whose behalf they were enlisted into the security forces, the military and their police counterparts continue to openly misbehave.

A senior police officer, while his colleagues were fighting day in and day out to combat incidences of armed robbery, was busy renting out or selling arms and ammunition to the very robbers. He was exposed by an apprehended armed robber and was subsequently arrested and charged to court.

Only recently, three military personnel dressed in military camouflage were caught red-handed in an act of armed robbery by a police patrol team and were detained at the Congo Cross Police Station in Freetown.

Recently also, the official operational vehicle of the military commander in Makeni was apprehended in Kambia, loaded to the brim with bags of dried leafs believed to be marijuana.

The much talked about cocaine saga at the Lungi International Airport did not go without the involvement or connivance of certain unscrupulous police officers. What about the occurrence at Lungi in which a soldier on guard broke into the armoury and stole a quantum of assorted arms and ammunition?

While all these anomalies are taking place, there seem to be no indication yet as to what practical steps have been taken to make officers in our security forces become responsible and professional. The situation is quite worrying, considering that elections are just behind the corner.

The biasness displayed by the police during the unprovoked violent attacks on the headquarters of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) situated at Wallace Johnson Street in Freetown, rings a bell. Rather than arresting the assailants believed to be thugs associated with the ruling APC, the police ended up reportedly firing tear gas right inside the building under attack, thereby suffocating the SLPP stalwarts taking refuge inside it.  Also, rather than arresting the attackers, the police were seen forcefully removing people inside the attacked compound and throwing them into awaiting trucks.

Of course it is no news stating that Leather Boot, a close protection presidential guard, was named as one of the police officers who actually forced their way into the attacked compound, beating up entrapped opposition supporters and overseeing the spate of rape perpetuated against women found inside the building.

We also saw what happened in Kenema recently, when overexcited and ill-placed presidential guards stormed the Bo/Kenema Power Station, mercilessly beating up workers and arbitrarily arresting some. This was when blackout struck the presidential lounge in Kenema, where President Ernest Bai Koroma was said to be having a grand dinner with VIPs. No guard was punished for that unprofessional conduct. Just about that same time, four premature babies under observation in hospital died courtesy of blackout. No one took responsibility for that.

Charles Francis Margai, leader of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), suggests that the need for an independent body to provide security for the crucially important 2012 elections cannot be overemphasized. I agree with him entirely, because left as they currently are, the military and police forces cannot be trusted insofar as professionally securing the electoral process by way of ensuring fair play is concerned. 

Taking into consideration the amount of people killed during the war and the huge amount of money spent by the international community in peace building efforts, it would be foolhardy for any politician to take pleasure in using personnel of our security forces for political gain.

I rest my case!!!

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.