Liberty Means Responsibility: Many People Dread It.

Abdulai Mansaray, author

The attention of the public was drawn to one of the headlines, “Sierra Leone Police accused of stifling freedoms”. There are others stating that “Sierra Leone is gradually becoming worse than North Korea”. According to some papers, these accusations are coming hot on the heels of the an opposition politician-Mohamed Kamarainba, who “was arrested by the police, following comments he is thought to have made on radio, criticising president Bio and his government for the implementation of policies many describe as inimical to the country’s liberal democracy”. While the police have reportedly “denied the report, saying that Mr Kamarainba was not arrested but invited for interview at the CID”, a senior SLPP official has told the Sierra Leone telegraph that “the opposition APC are determined to cripple and bring down the SLPP government. They are refusing to accept defeat at the polls” (The Sierra Leone telegraph, 23/07/18).

Abdul Malik Bangura- a member of the APC, said “I have read with total disgust, a press release from the Inspector General of Sierra Leone police, claiming that the police now monitor activities of the media in the country. He describes this as “disrespectful to our democratic credentials as a country”. Some may say that this is rich, coming from an APC stalwart. I would say that this is refreshing, that opposition members are ready to question the behaviour of our sitting government. Nevertheless, many would wonder where was Malik, when the likes of Jonathan Leigh, Ali Kabba, Brima Labor Fofanah, Tam Mbayoh, Bai Bai Sesay  and many other people were frogmarched, not to the CID but straight to Pademba Road prisons for speaking out of turn. However, it is right and proper for the opposition to serve as the people’s referee in this case.

This looks like a far cry from the days when the sitting SLPP government was in comatose state while in opposition. It is worth noting that some of us are not privy to what kamaraimba is alleged to have said, invited or arrested for. This discussion will be largely based on theory and from a common sense point of view. I know, common sense is not common, and common sense is like a deodorant. It’s hardly used by those who need it most. This issue has brought into sharp focus one of the building blocks of our democracy, and our society; Freedom of Speech. Sadly, the concept of FREEDOM OF SPEECH appears to have undergone a serious metamorphosis.  If liberty is to have any meaning in our society, we should have the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. In such circumstances, we could disapprove of what others say, BUT as meaningful and well intentioned citizens, we should defend to death, their RIGHT to say it.

Kamaraimba is no stranger to controversy and many people believe, for the right reasons. While some may regard him as the voice of the voiceless, others have come to see him as a thorn in the flesh, or for nuisance value; including the erstwhile APC government. Some would recall how his office caught fire, allegedly in mysterious circumstances, or how he was attacked in Lunsar and other areas, after he allegedly made political inroads into some political party’s turf last year. The rest is history but today, he seems to be in the same trench with some familiar faces. This time, it is more about friendly fire. The most difficult choice a politician must ever make is whether to be a hypocrite or a liar. This is not a tit for tat affair, but there are many ways to kill the cat. Stifling opposition voices can take various forms, which can be direct or subtle. When Mohamed Bangura, the former Minister of Information and Tam Mbayoh were seen as too noisy for comfort, they were made to change their political persuasions. They became champions of their former adversaries, as the hunted became the hunters. And that was not muzzling freedom of speech, right? Sometimes, people can be equal in error, and can be seduced by different delusions. 

But back to the topic of freedom of speech, Kamaraimba like any other citizen has and should have an unadulterated and unfettered FREEDOM of Speech. But honestly, such freedoms also come with responsibilities. If kamaraimba and all of us should cherish and practice our freedom of speech, it is naturally imperative that we enjoy it with RESPONSIBILITY. That sense of responsibility cannot be overemphasised, considering his position in our political blood stream today. If kamaraimba and others want to be treated with the utmost respect and taken seriously; which they deserve, their role as the self-anointed voices of us the voiceless should be treated with all the seriousness their positions deserve. This means that their observations, allegations, criticisms and opposition should be grounded in FACTS, not falsehoods for cheap popularity. I am not saying that kamaraimba is lying or otherwise (I can’t afford a solicitor komaneh). But if kamaraimba is free to say as he wishes, he should also be free to defend what he says, if some people find it uncomfortable, or want clarifications or otherwise.

While many would see his invitation to the CID as intimidation, others would see it as the law of the land at work. Firstly, he was not summarily locked up in Pademba, refused bail and later appears in a court. It is difficult to second guess the discussion he had, but he was reportedly not detained. The rest is for the courts, if required. As citizens, we should be ready to defend the right to free speech. But equally, we should be ready to defend our right to peaceful existence. Freedom of speech does not guarantee anyone the right to promote unrest, at the expense of the majority. I am not suggesting that this is what kamaraimba did, but like him, we all have the right to peace. This is not to say that facts should be convoluted. If kamaraimba accused the government, made any false allegations or otherwise, and if such utterances, especially when on a public medium have the tendencies to cause instability, then he should be able to substantiate whatever was said with facts and proofs. If the government feels aggrieved or maligned, then it should also be able to prove kamaraimba wrong or guilty. And the only place that this should take place should be OUR LAW COURTS; if that is the case. This is where every well-meaning Sierra Leonean should aspire to protect; THE RULE OF LAW. When a government fears its people, it is democracy. When the people fear a government, it is tyranny.

So what was wrong with inviting kamaraimba to CID, if the government wanted say, seek clarification or further explanation? If kamaraimba was sentenced before being tried, that would have been something else. Does it mean that because of freedom of speech, one can falsely shout “fire”! “Fire”! In a packed cinema hall? The police reportedly denied accusations of intimidation, and that he was only “invited”. But if it’s true, according to the Institute for Good Governance (IGG), that the  “invitation” was carried out by a truck load of police officers, and without a warrant of arrest, sorry Inspector General Dr Moigbe, THAT IS NO INVITATION. Many would plausibly see that as INTIMIDATION. Not many people would like to be the guest of honour to such a party. Most invitations to parties are preceded with invitation cards. But this “invitation” reportedly did not have an invitation card; a “warrant of arrest” at the time.

If that was the case, should the government be surprised by allegations of intimidation? Many people saw a lot of that in the last decade; and no wonder many are surprised at this newfound role of the APC, as the defender of civil rights; Phew. But again, we need a vibrant opposition, as long as it is patriotic and not another party political broadcast. It looks like some people should get 2 Facebook accounts; one for each face? Sylvia Blyden unleashed a litany of attacks and revelations of APC government corruption when she was sacked. Those who said crucify him, are today shouting Hosanna. The axe forgets, but the tree remembers. Sometimes, ashes fly back into the face of him he throws them.

But again, Facebook is fast becoming the midwife of most of our problems. Oh yes, Freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is our inalienable right. Freedom of speech is a gift from God. But Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn’t misuse it. (Pope John Paul II)
Ernest is accused of massive corruption; but never kept a political prisoner as a pet project. Let’s give him that. Hmmmmm.

As for the SLPP and the New Direction, don’t set sail on someone else’s sail. DON’T BE THE SAME, BE BETTER.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).

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