It must be with great relief that the nation of Sierra Leone is gradually putting to bed, or so it seems, the recent saga about pastor Ajisafe that potentially and nearly plunged our country into a civil mess. It sounds like flogging a dead horse, but a reflective view and an expression of appreciation of the wonderful job done by the nation won’t go amiss. In life, it makes sense to acknowledge the good and the bad. It is one thing to criticise the government, but when due, we should be honest to praise where it is due. It goes without saying that when the issue surfaced on social media, the reactions were not only highly emotionally charged, but presented our fragile democracy with an apparently political and social grenade.
Thankfully, the most recurring theme in the whole saga was that “Sierra Leone is a religiously tolerant country.” Irrespective of people’s take on the issue, the common denominator here was issue of tolerance. There were some people who may have concluded, rightly so, that it is this same tolerance that was abused by the pastor. Pastor Ajisafe had also had his fair share of trial by the media, but his unreserved apology to all those offended was a welcome gesture to all. If Ajisafe had uttered the same or similar views in his native Nigeria, the repercussions would have been unthinkable. It would not have been a case of who was right, but who was left between the Igbos and Hausas, the Christians and Muslims, North and South. And all that, against the backdrop of Boko Haram would have led to a blood bath. Thankfully, may be, just maybe, Sierra Leone has set an example to the rest of Africa and the world. This is in no way meant to minimise the issue or suggest a carte blanche for such behaviour. Instead, it is an attempt to acknowledge the understanding, patience, tolerance and display of the national maturity that was on display.
As a nation and as a people, we should therefore give ourselves a big pat on the back, for collectively managing such a volatile situation. This was VICTORY FOR COMMON SENSE. But special mention should also be made of the government’s role in how the situation was well managed. Under the auspices of Sylvia Blyden, the Ministry of social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and in collaboration with the security and law enforcement agencies, swift steps were taken to quell the situation. The licence of the church was suspended, the church doors were closed and the offending pastor placed under lock and key. Although some people saw this as a violation of the rights of a particular group to worship freely, patience and common sense prevailed too. Revenge and retaliation always perpetuate the cycle of anger, fear and violence.
In another environment, there would have been protests all over the place. The restraint shown by our Christian brothers and sisters was remarkable. At face value, the rights of the majority appeared violated and their freedom to worship restricted. There are some who may have concluded that the government had used the threat or fear of violence as an excuse or justification for restricting freedom of speech or worship. But as we all know, this was not the case in this situation. It was obvious that, these steps, though as unpalatable as they were; were the right things to do at the time. So a big bravo to the Christian communities up and down the country, for their patience, common sense and the tolerance to see this through. Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit (Gandhi). And with this entire issue taking place under the watchful eyes of the Attorney General, together with its inherent judicial gymnastics was a job well done.
The Muslim community across the length and breadth of the country has also been instrumental in this process. There is no doubt that pastor Ajisafe had riled many Muslim followers at home and abroad. If this had happened in Iran, you can bet your last dollar that a fatwa would have been issued against his person. But the role of the Imams, the clergy, and the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone has been laudable. Bravo to all. Reports have it that The Ministry had been working in conjunction with the Attorney General’s office throughout to manage the situation. The pastor has repented and asked for forgiveness in a written and video apology for his misdemeanour. Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them. By forgiving, we cannot change the past, but we can change the future. There
is a general consensus that following his apology, we should all forgive, move on as a country and live happily ever after. But what lessons have been learnt here.
This episode shows that if we come together as a nation, as a country and as a people, irrespective of our differences, we can work together in the interest of Mama Salone. It goes without saying that the overriding element in this saga was the interest of the country. Pride, ego, beliefs, rights etc. were all shelved to one side, in the interest of the country. That is what I call PATRIOTISM. We should learn to give our Loyalty to country ALWAYS, and loyalty to a government, when it deserves it.” Logically, it means that if we all put our mind to it, we can make things work favourably for the country. It also shows that when the government takes the lead in the interest of the country, the citizens will readily engage and follow; in the interest of the country. In short, where the interest of the country is at risk, it shows that we have the wherewithal to come together as one. Another lesson we may have learnt is that, even if we do have inclinations toward violence, we also have inclination to empathy, to cooperation, and to self-control.
With the elections looming round the corner, there can be no greater need for this kind of patriotism. The last election in 2012 was largely reported, even by the International Community as free, fair and peaceful. There are some who would beg to differ. I am sure that Sierra Leoneans would be hoping for a peaceful, free and fair elections come next year. But events last week have left many people fearful and expressing serious concerns. It was reported that a serious riot broke out in Magburaka-Tonkili District last week. It does not make it better to note that this was between various intra faction members of the APC party. This was like a house warming party that went badly wrong. There are reports of shooting and machetes used.
Sierra Leoneans would be hoping that the government would step in and ensure that these kinds of occurrences are nipped in the bud. We will be hoping that it would show the same kind of leadership it showed in managing potentially explosive situation weeks ago. There is no intention here to masquerade as a doomsday merchant, but if this is anything to go by, we urge the government to put in measures to manage such future situations. The government has shown that it has the ability and the tools to prevent or at worst manage such potential situations; I don’t mean by dislodging bullets into anything that shakes or moves. The government has demonstrated its capability to manage a potentially volatile situation and I am sure that it can do the same. Sierra Leoneans just want to see the same motivation to ensure a free, fair and peaceful election. If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence. If we desire a society that is democratic, then democracy must become a means as well as an end.
I know that we keep banging on about our young democracy. One of the most important tasks we can collectively make is to transform our consciousness, so that violence is no longer seen as an option in our lives. We need to understand and accept that as a nation, peace is possible if we relate to one another as peaceful beings. We are all aware that national politics and elections are dominated by emotions, by lack of self-confidence, by fear of the other, by insecurity, by infection of the body politic and by the virus of victimhood. But as we go about planning to vote in the coming elections, let us remember that we are all patriots, if our hearts beat true to our country.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).