PONDER MY THOUGHTS
ORDERS FROM ABOVE; RUMBLINGS FROM BELOW
The topic of the week is undoubtedly the ban on street jogging which has featured even in international media reports. The Inspector General of Police, Francis Munu sounded earnest when defending the ban on street jogging. The Police press release referred to "the habit of jogging in large numbers along the streets with a hint of menace, raining insults, obstructing traffic, pounding on vehicles, playing loud music, and snatching property from other members of the public”. Public opinion is divided, with considerably more people opposing the ban.
As an aspiring politician, who when he comes to a fork in the road goes both ways, I am not going to proffer an opinion, but merely ask the Inspector General of Police Francis Munu a few questions. Could not the rogues who congregate around the Lumley roundabout, snatching bags and forcibly opening the back of cars not be a better group to target? Can Police not increase their presence at funeral services and repasts which now seem to attract professional pickpockets? Is the disruption of traffic by moving joggers worse that the stalls erected on Rawdon Street over weekends? Are joggers more dangerous that some okada riders who now snatch bags and move off with speed? Do joggers play louder music than some bars and all night Churches in residential areas? Hint of menace and raining insults? -One could name more than a few spots that could better occupy IG Munu's efforts.
Whatever gains that may be made appear so marginal and rank so low in the order of priority for tackling lawlessness that people can be excused for questioning the IG's real motive which they attribute to muzzling political dissent. It is no secret that political flagbearers aspirants have included jogging of supporters into their campaign arsenal and groups of youths have also started chanting anti government songs. "This ban is nothing but "orders from above"", says a critic.
Orders from above? The police have always been under suspicion of being too susceptible to "orders from above". In fact many openly boast about this. The erudite young lawyer, Francis Ben Keifala captures this phenomenon well in an exceptional article a few years back from which I quote verbatim:
"But they (orders from above) can be anything from the refusal of bail for a petty quarrel, incarceration of alleged offenders for misdemeanours, to civil servants refusing to do their lawful duties, and a general disregard for the Rule of Law by those in authority. Furthermore, this magical expression could lead the person it is addressed to into a labyrinth of uncertainty as to who to seek clarifications and redress from or where to look next. As a matter of fact, with all my respect, the “Above” could be any one between the Traffic officer in the Street and the Head of State. Therefore, when the expression is used, like Harry Potter’s magical wand, it throws one into a whirlwind of oblivion he may spend the next several days, weeks or months trying to unravel who next to turn to while the injustice, mischief, harm or omission in question is being perpetrated unabated. The CID in particular, and the police generally, care very little when they send away lawyers, journalists and family members of those incarcerated with this simple expression."
A cursory examination of political events over the past few years indicates a host of events mainly affecting opposition politicians and other vocal government critics in which "orders from above" are said to have been used either by the judiciary of police to put the brakes on their endeavours. I will cite just a few.
In 2010 Usu Boie Kamara-UBK (then aspiring for the SLPP flagbearership) and his supporters travelling in a convoy to Kono to campaign for the SLPP aspirant Mr. Safoa Matturi in the Kono District Chairmanship Bye-election were refused entry into Kono by the police who claimed they received “orders from above".”A newspaper report at that time said "UBK called IG Munu in Freetown but this could not change the “orders from above".”
Veteran journalist David Tam-Baryoh of Monologue fame was arrested and detained at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in Freetown in November 2014. The detention order stated that Tam-Brayoh was arrested for incitement but many detractors believe the authorities wanted to prevent him from further criticizing the government on its handling the Ebola crisis. Baryoh became a guest of the correctional centre.
PMDC's Charles Margai warned recently after the shooting of Njala students by Police: “We are at the eve of the election and I am a firm believer that this is a warning to us that will be going into elections..be it presidential, parliamentary and local council. What is likely to happen in 2018 is what we are seeing now.”
Jesmed Suma of the National Progressive Democrats, was arrested for incitement, tantamount to sedition and acting in a disorderly way. After a lengthy detention, interspersed with adjourned court hearings and stiff hard-to-meet bail conditions, he was finally released. He had collectively spent some 37 days behind bars. His case was not helped by his brush with the Magistrate which earned him "extra time" at the correctional centre.
Alliance Democratic Party leader Mohamed Kamaraimba Mansaray, no strange victim of "orders from above" also spent several weeks behind bars. He was tried in Kenema and Segbwema, rearrested and had his charge changed and locked up again. His treatment for having a stun gun, with total disregard for several attacks on him for which the Police had stood silent, could probably have been better for someone else who may have committed murder. The stun gun he was said to possess was deemed an offensive weapon. The statement in Segbwema Magistrate court by the "Ballistic expert" attached to the Forensic unit is legion. The Ghana trained Ballistic expert's findings could have been read off the instruction booklet for the device:
"The Zap enforcer has three buttons. The first button serves as the switch to put the zap enforcer on, the middle button is responsible for controlling the lightning system which produces high and slow strobe lights and, the third button produces a sound to tell you that it was working and producing current." The Magistrate should simply have read the book!
With all of these arrests and spate of incarcerations, supporters and defense lawyers have met with the usual explanation of "orders from above" from authorities, though nobody could name who "above" gave the orders.
At least in the Bible we know who gave orders. It is obvious that it was the Almighty who said: "Moses, Moses take off your shoes for the place where thou standeth is Holy ground". There is also no doubt who said the words: "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased". Lawyer Keifala is right-No one seems to know who exactly gives these "orders from above".
Even President Koroma claims not to know who gives "orders from above" and has urged this phenomenon to be investigated. In 2015 at a meeting with the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) held at State House, he "frowned at views expressed by SLAJ and some CSOs on the issue of “orders from above” and urged them to investigate such issues and report to the appropriate authorities....
.....The President urged journalists to follow the phone calls and check whether they are actually "orders from above" and prove whether some people are not hiding behind orders from above to do the wrong things or not do certain things."
Regarding this, an observer remarked wryly. "Is this a case of physician heal thyself? When the "guy from above" asks for "orders from above" to be investigated, this is very serious. The only people left to finger are probably "angels from on high".
In fairness to IG Munu, he tried to clarify the meaning of "orders from above " in a recent interview. According to him the Police is a hierarchical organisation and subordinates always receive "orders from above" from those higher up. The ones below are operational people who carry out instructions based on the orders of the ones above who do the "thinking". The ones above would be held responsible if the instructions they give contravene the law.
What a convenient explanation! Not many people buy the IG's explanation however. There is little doubt that many an assembly of people-political or otherwise (all they have to do is give the semblance of being remotely anti government) have been stopped by Police. Over this issue of the of obtaining a permit from the Police in order to engage in a peaceful protest, the Executive Director of Amnesty International Sierra Leone, Solomon Sogbandi has said that “we are mortgaging our right to one person, the Inspector General of Police.”
"Many complaints against the Police have gone unheeded", he said.
The Independent Police Complaints Board (IPCB) which has the mandate to investigate complaints about potential police abuses against civilians, including deaths in police custody, fatal police vehicle accidents, the excessive use of force involving injury or death, allegations of misconduct involving an officer of the rank of superintendent or higher and the use of firearms by police officers, has been largely ineffective.
Meanwhile the government seems to be satisfied with the Police. At this year's independence anniversary awards ceremony four senior commanders were honoured. Nearly all the top brass have now been honoured including IG Munu himself and the head of SSD, T.T. Kamara.The government is undoubtedly patting them on the back for " a job well done".
Meanwhile civil society groups have started putting the heat on the Police for the ban on jogging. Ngolo Katta of CCYA has been very emphatic about this on radio, insinuating it may be meant to stifle dissent. He said jogging was normal and had been practised for a long time. Whatever problems there might be associated with this pale into significance when compared to other social problems faced. Besides jogging has a good health value. Deputy Information Minister Deveaux, when put on the ropes defended the ban saying that obtaining Police permission could in fact enable ambulances to be provided for joggers that may collapse whilst running! What a compassionate government! It would seem like excuses are coming in left right and center. I rather like the suggestion made by someone that perhaps the pot bellied traffic Police along the toll road to Waterloo who are no longer required for traffic duties could be attached to jogging groups to run and watch out for thieves at the same time- a fairly tall order but I must admit this will keep them fit!
As we approach 2018, the Police and judiciary would have to go to great lengths to convince a skeptical public that "orders from above" will not be the order of the day. The multiplicity of activities by political parties are bound to increase exponentially. Social media groups present another source of headache for our vigilant Police who now have Cyber experts (probably better trained than the ballistic expert). The political fever is bound to get frenetic. The Police undoubtedly have a lot of work on their hands. Giving the excuse of "orders from above" to stifle political dissent may not however bode well for peace and safety in this country. We need to be careful that "orders from above" do not lead to "rumblings from below" with dastardly unintended consequences.
Ponder my thoughts.