The Report titled: ‘Study on Police Response to Protests Bombali Human Rights Committee’, done by one of Sierra Leone’s sober legal luminaries Lawyer Valnora A.C Edwin, is finally out and was officially launched over the weekend in Makeni.
According to the Report, on the night of 17th July, 2020, gun shots were heard throughout Makeni as a result of decision made by the Ministry of Energy to remove a standby generator to Lungi airport which led to protests and clashes between the youths and security forces.
The morning of 18th July was relatively calm and people going about their normal business, but this calm was interrupted with more clashes between the youth and security forces.
It is alleged that six people were killed, 56 people arrested including school kids, 43 later released, 13 imprisoned.
Prior to these events, the MoE had engaged with the Mayor of Makeni about the intention for the removal of the generator. Further discussions were to be held but did not take place.
Additionally, the removal raised further suspicion when the team arrived after 9.00pm with armed personnel to do the transfer. The youth resisted the transfer on suspicion that it was an attempt by MOE to disrupt the uninterrupted power supply of Makeni.
The Consultant, Valnora A.C Edwin in the Report came up with key findings that in Bombali, the pick-up and transfer of the generator was undertaken at night and this raised the level of suspicion of the youths.
The Report further states that there was a complete breakdown in communication between the various structures of government and a lack of follow-up by Central government (M of E) to the local administration (Mayor and Council) and lack of feedback from local administration to central government after the first meeting to discuss the removal of the generator.
The traditional authority (Paramount Chief) according to the Report, were never informed about these meetings and there was disregard for the required procedure.
The lack of inclusive governance especially with the youth; mistrust and lack of confidence with local authority or with the local youth council structure and the issue of no government or local council engagement with the youth; the abandonment of duties by council officials (phones were off during the incident) among others were blamed for the ugly incident.
Also; the comments by the resident minister was not helpful prior to this incident; gun shots and teargas was used by the security forces yet no one has taken responsibility for the deaths of the 6 individuals who died of gunshot wounds; the use of social media was evident in the conspiratorial political narrative for the removal of the generator spreading misinformation that the relocation of the generator was to be Bo the SLPP stronghold and the absence of local leadership during the crisis were other bad factor according to the Report.
In addition, the report pointed out the allegation that certain groups hijacked the protests with the intention to burn down the power house, SLPP office and the resident minister’s house, which was denied by the youth groups; the allegation made that petrol bombs were used by the youth, which was also denied by youth groups as other factor that flamed the incident.
The Report reminded that Sierra Leone is a signatory to a number of international treaties and conventions that protects the civil and political rights and obligates states to create the environment for the economic and social rights to thrive.
For peace and social cohesion to thrive, justice must be seen to be fair. These incidents creates a stronger call for the recommendations of the Justice Cowan Constitutional Review Committee to be speedily adopted and for CSO’s to partner with required state institutions (the National Commission for Democracy (NCD) and the Human Rights Commission), to educate the public on the rights and responsibilities contained therein.
More importantly state institutions at both local and national level must always maintain a regular chain of communication utilising all available means of engagement for ownership and legitimacy.