Freetown is the capital of Sierra Leone. It is also the economic, cultural, financial and educational hub of Sierra Leone. Like any other city around the world, it serves as the administrative center of the national government, the resident of the president, government officials, foreign investors, diplomats etc.
You might be curious to know why I deliberately started with stating the importance of this old settlement that was established by the British in Sub-Sahara Africa in this piece. I'm just two weeks old in Freetown after my academic sojourn.
As I arrived in Freetown, I was greeted by waves of shock as to how this old city has become an eye sore with consistent filth, lack of clean water, intermittent electricity supply, cholera outbreak, armed robbery, numerous potholes in the streets, lawless 'Okada' riders, and high prices of basic commodities. Go to the Lumley/Aberdeen beach and see for yourself. It is still littered with sea weeds, hospital waste including syringes among others. What I have witnessed since I left Sierra Leone three years ago shows that this nation is going down faster than a bullet train.
I ventured it out on my third day to have lunch in a restaurant in downtown Freetown. A plate of rice cost me Le15, 000 and a small bottle of pure water was Le 3,000. The dish was supposed to be a decent meal. My goodness, how can an average Sierra Leonean afford to have three square meals at that cost when the salary is less than Le 500,000? I have seen it; I felt it and I'm now living with it.
One can see the frustration on the faces of Sierra Leoneans who are anxious to transform their lives. The story goes on and on. This deplorable state of Freetown has drawn widespread attention of every well meaning Sierra Leonean. This is our only country and the only Sierra Leone we have. Be it a president, journalist, minister, the Freetown mayor, civil servant, politicians you name them, will one day be judged by posterity for the indecent manner in which this country's revenue is used.
The politicians are not our master but servants that we elect to man and judiciously utilize the revenue collected within and outside Sierra Leone for the benefit of every Sierra Leonean. In our own eyes and by our own acts, this nation is degenerating in this era of the 21st Century. While other nations with fewer natural resources as compared to Sierra Leone are climbing the development ladder to improve on the living standards of their people, we are busy pilfering ourselves. What a shame!
I had challenged and disbelieved relatives and friends who were benefitting from my meager allowance whenever they approach me for assistance. They always complained that the amount I transferred was not enough because the price of goods have skyrocketed. Please forgive me for my bad judgment at that time.
As a journalist, I had relied on the media for news from home. The issue of 'hardship' in the country or the awful economy relayed to me by friends and relative was taken with a pinch of salt by some sections of the media, especially those on the world wide web, which were and are still busy portraying the country as if all is well with the poor Sierra Leonean with the slogan: "Di Pa dae wok".
I became susceptive as to what is really happening back home. Look at how the contract for the emergency electricity for Freetown was awarded and managed. I could remember the publicity that the electricity project got when those generators arrived in Freetown. With barely few months of work, news broke out about the shabby deal under the watchful eyes of the President who was the chairman for the emergency electricity committee for Freetown. Thanks to the government and people of Nigeria for their swift response to pay the debt owed the contactors.
Then news came about expanding the Congo Cross -Wilkinson Road and the Wilberforce-Spur Road with the promise that those roads will be accessible for the 50th independence anniversary celebrations. I received the news with loud applause and commended the government for the effort to ease the traffic congestion. But from what I have seen with my naked eyes, I would not hesitate to state that the roads have not been completed and the construction is not up to standard as compared to other roads I have witnessed during and after their expansion. Yes, we need the 'Pa' to work because he was elected by Sierra Leoneans to lead them and to expend the nation's revenue for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans without fear or favour.
I could recall vividly when I heard about rebranding Sierra Leone before I left the shores of Freetown. The idea was such a laudable one especially for the indelible scare the war left in the minds of the outside world and their discernment about the barbaric act those Sierra Leoneans in the bush and their collaborators who were busy maiming their own brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. Curious as any news hungry journalist, I was always awake to read the news from home hoping that what is reported is not a white washed news to praise sing the government but report the news as a true story.
To the media, I would say we longer stand to be admired in Sierra Leone. This noble institution has been carved into being praise singers after being invaded by politicians especially after the 2007 elections.
I was taken aback in 2007 while I was in Uganda covering the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting when I got the news that President elect-Ernest Bal Koroma has appointed some journalists as press attaches to different parts of the world. I was shocked because under the watchful eyes of the president as opposition leader then, criticisms were levied at President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah for appointing journalist Sorie Fofana arguing that the latter was not a civil servant. Sorie Fafona was recalled by President Koroma after his election as president replacing him with his own 'RIGHT MAN'. To our greatest surprise one of the appointed journalists of President Koroma was later investigated for allegedly soliciting money from other Sierra Leoneans who were eager to migrate to western countries for greener pasture. He was refused a visa by his assigned country .Guess what? Instead of taking action against the journalist for such an indecent conduct, President Koroma relocated the said journalist to another country. Your Excellency, that was a bad precedent.
I will not sweep this under the carpet because with the then Hon. Ernest Bai Koroma staging a walk out of parliament chambers and hurriedly organizing a press conference in protest of the appointment of the Kemoh Kanji Daramy as Commissioner of NATCOM by President Kabbah to inform the people of Sierra Leone and the world that Kanji's appointment was unconstitutional because the Kabbah government had previously issued a whitepaper on the former after a commissions' report on how Kanji contributed towards the demise of the postal service.
Today, backed with facts, I can say that President Koroma stands not to differ from previous governments as he stands to do the same unconstitutional act with impunity. My pick on the president has always been and will remain to be that he has failed the people of this country for not standing upright to practice or effect in his own words what he had earlier criticized others for doing. Mr. President I would say for fact that I am not an admirer of you.
Whilst away from home, I had read with dismay how journalists in this country are at each other's throats for either criticizing the government or praising the government. Nobody says we shouldn't praise sing or criticize the government of the day as journalists but let's do it with fairness and objectivity.
What I have seen, heard and read from the media over the past two weeks leaves me in a state of quagmire that the future of this country remains to be shrouded. As you go through this piece some of my colleagues after making a read will judge me as not being fair to the' Pa' and his government. Trust my judgment, instead of constructively criticizing and pointing out the lapses of the government, they would want to throw their spanners at me because I haven't praised sing the works of the Pa. I give it a damn because I am feeling the pain of my people.
While taking a walk in central Freetown, I took some pictures of Siaka Stevens Street with infested reckless 'Okada' riders and posted them on Facebook for us to debate the issues and come out with suggestions to address them. To my greatest surprise, a colleague journalist has this response to my post." At least they are putting on HELMETS. You should see the ones in downtown Monrovia!" In other words, my colleague is saying that if Liberians are doing bad, Sierra Leoneans should also do likewise.
Writer Walter Lippmann and American philosopher John Dewey debated the role of the journalist as a mediator or translator between the public and policymaking elites.
The journalist, they said, is the middleman. Pointing out that when elites speak, the journalists listen and record the information, distil it and pass it on to the public for their consumption.
As journalists, we are required to maintain maximum possible transparency in all news reports by impartially analyzing the reality of an issue and ultimately give the news to the readers/audience with sustainable accuracy not to mislead the people but to quench their real thirst for genuine news.
It is believed that in Africa, journalists are constantly working in environments replete with oppression, corruption, favor from politicians, violation of press freedom, exploitation, lack of respect and understanding, lack of freedom of expression, lack of job security, and an inability to engage in collective bargaining.
As journalists, we owe the people of this country for failing to conduct ourselves as mediators and translators between the public and the governors just as the politicians, civil servants and trade unions for their unpatriotic, selfish and greedy behavior which has deprived the people of Sierra Leone their fundamental human rights.
It is time for us as journalists to say no to these indecent politicians and stop accepting pittance from them because it has not helped the profession or the people of Sierra Leone. We should hold them accountable for their indecent behavior in fairness. This country belongs to us all as Sierra Leoneans. Let's emulate the good examples of good nations around the world.
I will soon venture out to the provinces to see for myself the development that has taken place after I left the shores of Sierra Leone with all fairness.