23 November 2012

Sierra Leone: November 17 2012 Elections, What an Event in Sierra Leone - the Lamentations of a Don


Saturday, 17 November 2012 started at Fourah Bay College with a very fine morning. The sky was clear and blue; the usual Mount Aureol breeze was cool and gentle. I left home along with my wife and niece at 8AM-ish and comfortably worked the approximately 2 kilometre distance to the main campus to cast our votes. On arrival on campus we were amazed at the long queues at the polling stations; we, however managed to navigate our way and voted at the Solomon Caulker lobby polling station without any hassle.

On our way from the male hostels area towards the Mary Kingsley theatre we came across a group of intending voters who had been refused the chance to vote because although they claimed they'd registered (as evidenced by the registration slips some of them showed me) their names were not present on the voters register and were not issued their voter ID cards. The group I saw was fairly cosmopolitan in terms of political party affiliation (going by my local knowledge) and I naturally pitied them. I, however, argued that much as I was in sympathy with their plight I support the action of the NEC officers in not allowing them to vote. In trying to pacify them I further argued that the key criterion of eligibility to vote was that one's name must be in the voter register which they'd not met and that the process will not only be open to abuse were they to be allowed to vote but the credibility of the elections at our centre could be challenged by an aggrieved party. I further stressed that had I known about their case much earlier I would've used whatever means available to me to highlight their case via the media our through some of the elections stakeholders I have contacts with. I ended by advising that they highlight their case to all the Elections Observers that visit our poling centre.

As I left and walked my way towards the Senior Common Room en route to my residence at Kortright, I came across the Station Manager (the LUC) of the FBC Police Station - Inspector? Mary Bangura - who, like me, expressed surprise as to the huge number of electorates that had come to vote at FBC. Yes, the campus was awash with inhabitants of communities (Kamanda Farm, Moyiba, Leicester Road, Tree-Planting, etc.) that have mushroomed on the borders of Fourah Bay College; the voters from FBC itself were a sprinkling among these "invaders". It would appear that the students that had registered on campus expecting that the college will be in session during the election period but which did not happen could not return to Freetown from their towns and villages to vote.

After spending some time outside the Senior Common Room I eventually managed to hitch a ride to Kortright and then to "Cassada Farm" on the Leicester axis of the campus. While we were having a round of drinks someone called from the FBC campus to report that those intending voters whose names were not on the voter register had started voting; this was between 4 and 5 PM. Concerned about the implications of such development on the validity of our votes, this information caused us to abandon our drinks and head for campus. Since we had been told we could use our vehicles on our rural roads around Mount Aureol, I decided to go get my vehicle, but before leaving home I took along two of my giant battery-powered Chinese lanterns in case they became needed as FBC had the tradition of having power-outages during counting segments of elections. These lanterns eventually became needed when there was power-outage during the counting period.

When I arrived on campus I discovered that some of the "ineligible" voters who had been agitating to vote had indeed voted as seen from the indelible ink on their fingers and from their own admissions. I wonder how the young NEC officers treated this irregular case.

An unfortunate incidence I walked into on my arrival on campus was a fracas between the wives of two of our senior academic colleagues. From what I saw and heard and the information I gathered from those who witnessed the entire incidence I was able to put the following together. When those "ineligible" voters (i.e. those with registration slips but whose names were not on the voter register) who'd stuck to their guns and stayed around the polling centre all along started voting, an (almost certainly) erroneous information went round (mainly by telephone) that the NEC Chairlady had giving the green-light that all those with registration slips but whose names are not on the voter register should be allowed to vote. This caused more people to flock to the polling centre from the neighbouring communities demanding to vote. Shortly after 5PM when by law no voter was to be allowed to join the queue and a police officer had placed himself in the queue to indicate this fact.

In spite of this a number of these ineligible voters attempted to join the queue at the back of the police officer but they were not allowed to vote. Naturally this caused frustration and anger among these people who were prevented from voting and their supporters that had sent to call them. It was at this juncture that Mrs Eve Nonie was quoted to have accused Mrs Florence Fofana of telephoning people to come and vote even though she knew the election rules do not allow them to vote. Mrs Fofana took umbrage followed by a barrage of invectives and even attempted to physically assault Mrs. Nonie but both women had to be restrained from fighting. Imagine, these two ladies are immediate next door neighbours whose husbands have known each other since the mid 1960s when they lived in the same Njabgoima community as school boys in Bo Town but could not only agree to disagree but verbal and almost physical violence had to be used. One of those frustrated electorates whom I founded seething with anger sitting in the car of Mrs Bah (wife of the Minister of Education Science & Technology) was a very senior colleague of the FBC administration. Now this is a man that has not been well and has not been at work for a very long time, so when I saw him in such angry mood I became worried and went near to help calm him down.

However, as I drew nearer I heard him say words to the effect that he was prepared to die for his right to vote; the sock of what I heard made me take out my camera and attempted to record what he was saying. He, however, requested that I do not record him but I explained that I wanted to be able to remind him when all the election hullabaloo was over and we were back to being beer drinking pals. Indeed elections in Sierra Leone have a way of bringing out the worst in us and this appears to be more the case when the stakes (the material rewards that go with electoral victory) are very high. I recall during the 2007 elections it was the same Mrs Florence Fofana who falsely accused my innocent son and Prof Joe Alie on air (at Radio Mount Aureol) of involving in election malpractice when in actual fact the poor chap was far away from the scene sleeping in his bed and Prof Alie was far away in Moyamba. Had the Presidential Candidate of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) refused to accept the results of that election and the mayhem we feared had followed my son and Prof Alie would certainly have been targeted. I am told Mrs Fofana eventually apologised for that act in the presence of my wife.

On Sunday, 18 November 2012 I was in church as usual to worship and give thanks to God for His enduring mercies. The programme was the annual Ethnic Sunday which enables us at King Memorial to underscore our unity in diversity as our church is a real melting pot of virtually all ethnic groups around the country. The preacher on this occasion - Rev Dazi Gbloh - admonished her congregation to take pleasure in doing those things that glorify God. We are all ambassadors of Christ, she reminded us, and must therefore always thrive to portray the attributes of our Lord and Master; that we must love one another as Christ had loved us; that we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us, etc. etc.. Incidentally Mrs Fofana, one of the strong pillars of our church, was in the congregation sitting in her front pew right in front of me. I have argued in another of my pieces that the mission of all Christians is embedded in the Great Commission which calls on all of us to work in the various parts of the vineyard to win souls to Christ. Consciously or unwittingly we must all be evangelists - those who have the gift of preaching must do so from the pulpit; those with the gift of singing must do so in their songs; but all of us in our dealings with our fellow beings must live such exemplary lives as to captivate and cause non-Christians to emulate us and join our fold. This must be so even (perhaps, especially) in the vortex of a political contest. I confirmed in a conversation with a Muslim friend that this doctrine also applies to them. In fact I believe all the great religions do possess the same virtues and preach the same values. With these as our goals the religious bodies in Sierra Leone can help sanitize and transform this nation into a more tolerant and peaceful one.

From the trend of election results announced by IRN as well as those received by the main party headquarters it is absolutely clear that this country is deeply polarised along regional lines. My fear is that whoever takes over the reins of power will have a serious challenge in managing national cohesion. Yes, the streets may all have been paved with gold and may be flowing with milk and honey but if we do not have a real father of the nation that is God-fearing and genuine about reconciling the various factions and about working fearlessly to unite this nation, I am afraid we may be heading towards another war and I fear this one will be more devastating because unlike the past/RUF war, which essentially defied description, this one will be regional. I cannot help recalling those teeming young men and women with hope written in capital letters on their faces rallying in support of Maada Bio as their only way out of their miseries. It is difficult to imagine how those young people will put up with another 5 years of marginalisation in the cold.

As I write this piece I'm told one of my nieces called Betty Brewa is behind bars at the CID. Her crime, I'm told, is that as a NEC officer her voter register contained two Mariatu Dumbuyas? with different particulars (address, age, occupation, etc.); the first Mariatu Dumbuya that arrived at her station was not literate and with poor supervision she signed/thump-printed against the particulars of the other Mariatu Dumbuya. When the second Mariatu Dumbuya eventually arrived at her station she discovered that someone had signed against her name and would not listen to the explanation that the signing against her name was an error and that the signature space against the other Mariatu Dumbuya was still blank. As a result I'm told this woman went berserk and claimed that my niece was a supporter of the SLPP that she had sold her voting right to someone else. As usual the police who came to the scene arrested my niece and two of her co-workers and as of morning of 21sth November 2012 they were still at the CID; 4 days since their arrest. Several calls to the Local Unit Commander (LUC) Lumley to independently cross-check this information went unanswered. Another uncle that went to the CID on Tuesday 20/11/2012 was told the case files were with the Attorney General & Minister of Justice as the crime was a state/government one. These poor young women remain behind bars as I write. I wonder whether all similar electoral lapses will be similarly handled by the police.

While writing this piece I got a call from the former Chairman of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) - Bishop J.C. Humper - and he told me in passing that during the 5-year reign of President Koroma he made three attempts to have an audience with H E the President but none of the appointments were honoured. Is this a case of marginalising the TRC Chair in order to down-play the contents of his report - akin to shooting the messenger for delivering unpalatable message?

Last night I had cause to recall the lamentations of an uncle who was a very senior minister in the All Peoples Congress government of President Siaka Stevens. The old man had been so badly let down and duped by a class of Sierra Leoneans that he had cause to cry to God for a revelation as to why He destined that he shares this country with other Sierra Leoneans of such creed. As young boys at the time we could only laugh at the old man's distress. I must admit that sadly, and unfortunately, flashes of such thoughts have lately been engaging my mind; I am yet to fathom whether this is simply a sign of a passing state of depression. My sincere hope is that the inhabitants of this set of GPS coordinates known as Sierra Leone will elect a leader that will inspire us to learn to equally own this country and live in peace..

Dr. T.B.R. Yormah is Associate Professor of Chemistry at Fourah bay College, the University of Sierra Leone

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