The Sierra Leone Web


"The Role of the Sierra Leone Police in the 2007 Elections"
Wednesday 30 August 2006


Mr. Chairman
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I thank the organizers and sponsors for inviting me to this seminar relating to the 2007 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The elections are still a long way off - eleven months to be exact. I had already explained why we deviated from the tradition of announcing the date of general elections when Parliament is dissolved.

Today's event should be considered as an essential phase of the process of strengthening the capacity of all the relevant institutions of the country to ensure that the elections are fair, transparent and violence-free. The seminar is also consistent with the assurance I gave the nation recently that "we are determined to maintain a safe and secure environment in which free and fair elections can be held…" In this preparatory phase we are in fact creating an environment that will be conducive to peaceful elections.

I am therefore pleased to be here, and to take this opportunity of sharing with you some of my thoughts on the important and timely topic of "The role of the Sierra Leone Police in the 2007 elections."

With your permission Mr. Chairman, I should like to replace the word "role" with the word "responsibility". One can, for example, speak about the role of civil society, the role of women, and the role that the international community can play in the forthcoming elections. However, I believe that when it comes to formal and functional institutions established under the Constitution, such as the National Electoral Commission, the Political Parties Registration Commission and the Police, we need to emphasize, not just their respective roles, but their responsibilities. So, it is more appropriate for me to speak today about the responsibility of the Sierra Leone Police in the 2007 elections.

Mr. Chairman, under normal circumstances in any society, it is the responsibility of the police to protect civilians, to act as guardians of their safety, their right to live without fear while conducting themselves within the laws of the country. Special large-scale public events such as football matches impose greater responsibilities for the Police in the maintenance of law and order. It stands to reason that national elections which involve countywide political rallies, long queues of voters at hundreds of polling stations, and the safe and timely transportation of ballot papers and hundreds of ballot boxes would certainly create even greater responsibilities for the guardians of law and order, namely the Police.

Now, it is relevant to ask whether the Sierra Leone Police has the ability and capacity to fulfill their responsibility for the maintenance of law and order or adequate security at all stages of the electoral process that is before, during and immediately following the elections. Before delving into the capabilities and capacity of the Sierra Leone Police, let me first of all review our country's position in the immediate past.

At the time I became President, I reflected on the situation in Sierra Leone, particularly the decline and decadence in the institutions of government and of the good values for which this country was renowned and of which I as a young man had personal experience. On my return home after my various periods of stay abroad, I could still compare favourably the level of social, political and economic development in this country with what prevailed in other West African countries. In some noticeable areas Sierra Leone was even doing much better. The situation continued so for some years after independence. By the time I returned home finally in 1992 to have a quiet retirement after some twenty-two years abroad in the UN system the entire social fabric had deteriorated to such an extent that all that remained were dysfunctional institutions of governance and government. The buoyant economy, which this country enjoyed at independence together with the bright prospects of a prosperous nation held out to the people, had disappeared to the point that Sierra Leone became classified as the poorest nation on earth. Even the basic facilities and amenities such as electricity, potable water, health care and road infrastructure became luxuries that were no longer available to the average citizen in even the Capital city, Freetown, let alone in the rural areas. Therefore when I became President in 1996, I had no illusions or misgivings about the daunting nature and magnitude of the social ills and problems that I had undertaken to address in addition to the imperative and urgent need to end the war which was then raging as well as to restore peace and security to the country as a precondition for successfully embarking on any meaningful reform. The only hope for success I entertained came from my knowledge that the people were yearning for peace and they earnestly desired to ameliorate their situation and restore the country to its pristine glory.

One of the casualties of the then prevailing decadent society was the Sierra Leone Police Force. It then had no proper direction or motivation. It lacked the appropriate training, logistics and necessary equipment which make for an effective modern Police Force. It was very much a political arm of the Government of the day, owing allegiance only to it, ensuring it stayed in power and serving only its interests, and not the interests of the general population. It displayed no element of professionalism in the conduct of its police duties. Even the command structure was weak. The level of obedience by junior officers to orders and commands of senior officers depended on how well connected the particular junior officer was with the political authorities of the day. There was no effective and independent procedure for enlisting able recruits or for awarding promotions or imposing discipline in the force. Recruitment and promotion were largely through political patronage. The entire transportation facility consisted of not more than 15 vehicles most of which were old and derelict. There was also total lack of communication equipment support. The Force was under-resourced in many other respects. The officers and men could not even boast of decent uniforms or boots.

In those circumstances, it was unnatural to expect the Sierra Leone Police Force to perform what could be regarded as core police functions, namely, maintaining law and order, and protecting life and property. It often acted in flagrant violation of the human rights of the population whose legal and human rights it was its duty to protect. Stories are told of the Police of those days arresting the spouses, aged parents and children of suspects who were the subject of police searches in the event that the suspects in question could not be traced or found. They proceeded on the basis that the suspects would surrender themselves to Police arrest on hearing of the predicament of their families. The families had to endure the arrest even though they were completely innocent of any wrong doing.

The Police Force of yester years could not be relied on to play an effective and an impartial role in such important state functions like policing the conduct of elections. With the assistance of our development partners we have gone a long way since 1996. We have been able to turn the Sierra Leone Police Force round from the situation just described to a Force For Good. It is well equipped and capable of performing normal police functions and duties with the requisite professionalism that is found in any efficient modern police force. For example, the Force now has in its fleet over 700 vehicles including motor bikes, over 1000 hand-held communication sets, mobile HF communication sets (in vehicles) and some 80 VHF base sets. In the performance of its duties within the law and with respect to matters relating to the general administration of the Force it now has freedom of action and it is not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.

The personnel of the Force are now well trained, motivated and properly directed. They know that their duty as Police is to ensure compliance with the law by all and sundry and to act impartially in all cases and independently of political interests or consideration. In this situation the Sierra Leone Police Force can now has an effective responsibility in ensuring that the integrity of the up-coming elections is beyond question. In its present form the Police have displayed professionalism and impartiality in elections on previous occasions in the Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 2002 and in the Local Government Elections of 2004. They have shown their determination to jealously guard, protect and defend their independence; discipline is now enforced on erring members who may attempt to go out of line. They have demonstrated their resistance to the interference by any outside authority, however high, who may wish to demean their integrity or reputation. An example here exists in the insistence of the Police to prosecute a very senior politician for an assault allegedly committed against a Police Constable on duty. The politician was then held in high regard nationally. He was the majority leader in Parliament on whose support Government relied greatly for enacting Government Bills in Parliament. In spite of his exalted position, the politician was prosecuted for that offence to conclusion and there was no interference from any quarter whatsoever.

It may be asked how was it possible for the Police Force to achieve such transformation to the extent that it is now regarded as a "Force for Good" and has gradually become a force respected and admired by the citizenry. Can these changes be sustained? Why has the Force now been able to attract competent and highly educated young Sierra Leoneans who are now craving to make a life time career in the Police Force? All this did not happen by accident but by design, careful planning and determination by my administration which saw the need to re-create a force that will serve the best interest of the people of this country.

I am sure that many people may look for the answer from the perspective of the 2002 elections and the presence of UNAMSIL. It should be no surprise if they observe that these will be the first Presidential and Parliamentary election since the departure of UNAMSIL. They will obviously recall the support, especially logistics that UNAMSIL provided in connection with the 2002 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. At the same time we should not be surprised to hear derisive remarks such as "now that UNAMSIL has left, let's see what they do. Let's see how the Police can perform and maintain law and order in connection with the 2007 elections".

I do not believe we should link, at least in a derisive manner, the capability of the Sierra Leone Police to handle law and order in the forthcoming elections with the departure of UNAMSIL. However, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I would strongly recommend that the Police see such remarks as a challenge. The Police should accept that implicit challenge with the determination that come what may, they are prepared to fulfill their responsibility to the nation. They also owe it to themselves to meet the challenge because they are committed citizens of this country.

For my Government's success in this area we owe a debt of gratitude to our development partners particularly the British for their generous input of resources and logistics including their making available to us capable personnel to lead the reform process. We shall with gratitude remember Mr. Keith Biddle and his colleagues for their immense contribution in making our Police Force what it is today.

In the new Police Force my role is confined to the appointment of the Inspector-General. The Police Council headed by the Vice President determines only broad general policies and the direction the Force should take and considers appointments and other related matters in respect of ranks from Assistant Superintendent to Deputy Inspector-General. Appointments, promotions and discipline relating to all ranks below Assistant Superintendent have been duly delegated to the Inspector-General and the operational control and administration of the Force are the sole responsibility of the Inspector-General. To perform effectively this function, the Inspector-General has put together a Management Board comprising senior Police Officers. The day-to-day management of the Force is now therefore collectively carried out by this Board with the Inspector-General as Chairman.

There is now in existence in the Force a self-regulatory body, the Complaints, Discipline, and Internal Investigation Department (CDIID). This organ deals with complaints relating to the misconduct of Police Officers within the Force itself. It also deals with complaints made by members of the public relating to the misconduct of a Police Officer. By this mechanism the Force is now able to discipline its own erring members who may wish to step out of line.

The whole process of reform started in 1998 with the promulgation by my Government of a "Policing Charter" with the following aim, namely "to create a Police service which will be a credit to the nation". That Charter was aimed at creating a reborn Sierra Leone Police Force that will be a force for good in our nation. It also assigned a new role to the transformed Police Force as follows:

"The Sierra Leone Police will assist in returning our communities to peace and prosperity, by acting in a manner which will:

" Eventually remove the need for the deployment of military and Para-military Forces in our villages, communities;

" Ensure the safety and security of all people and their property

" Respect the Human Rights of all individuals

" Prevent and detect crime by using the most effective methods which can be made available to them

" Take account of local concerns through community consultation and
" At all times be free from corruption

A Mission Statement derived from the Policing Charter provides among other things that the duty of the Police will be to provide a professional and effective service which:

" Protects life and property
" Achieves a peaceful society
" Takes primacy in the maintenance of law and order

The Mission Statement aims at achieving such values as respect for human rights, freedom of the individual, honesty, impartiality and freedom from corruption.

Another offshoot of the Policing Charter is the establishment of Local Police Partnership Boards in every district, region and large communities. Membership of these Boards include respected individuals in the respective communities who deliberate with the local Police on law and order matters which may be of interest to the Police in the particular community. The existence of these Boards helps to build necessary confidence between the Police and the Communities they serve and to forestall and prevent any potential security problem that may be imminent. In this way, the peace and security of the particular community is further enhanced. It will be noticed also that the reborn Sierra Leone Police Force places a lot of emphasis on local needs policing as a means of providing more effective and relevant police service to the communities in any police district.

You will observe that I have gone to some length to give a brief account of the state of the Sierra Leone Police Force as at 1996 and the transformation it has gone through since that time. I have done this in order to affirm that the Police are now an important national institution well equipped, manned, well disposed, and capable of contributing positively to the sustenance of our democracy, and thus able to assist in enhancing the credibility and integrity of the forthcoming elections. I have also put here on record the ills that beset our Police Force before 1996 and the efforts made since then to bring it to its present level of professionalism. I have done so deliberately in order to commend the Force to a succeeding administration so that the professionalism, impartiality, independence of action and public spiritedness now instilled in that Force should no longer be tampered with. If anything, these standards only need to be improved upon. I will then leave office with the satisfaction that I would have bequeathed to this nation a Police Force of which all Sierra Leoneans will be justly proud.

I wish to take this opportunity to say a word or two on some other matters which are in some respects connected with the promotion of a proper democratic culture and national cohesion in this country. It is my view that there is an obligation on all persons who claim to be entitled to be treated with any amount of seriousness or who are in a position to influence public opinion in any way to ensure that their public utterances or statements are not deliberately and for personal reasons couched in a way as to mislead the public on matters of public interest or to cause fear or disquiet among the population. This applies particularly to those aspiring to high public office. The people should now be allowed to live with hope, and not in fear of any doom awaiting them. They have suffered enough. They now deserve to be spared from living under any imagined threats. Those holding or aspiring to hold positions of responsibility should avoid making false emotional or inflammatory statements with a view to instilling fear in the people. Such conduct is unacceptable and my Government wholeheartedly condemns it. My Government will not hesitate to expose such people and their real motives for the public to know them and their true intentions.

I will refer here to a few of the types of behaviour which I believe deserve to be deplored as they aim at or at least have the tendency to unnecessarily promote disharmony among the people and unduly cause disaffection against the Government. This is a trend which a responsible Government can ignore only to the detriment of the peace and security of the people.

I will refer here to the Biriwa Chieftaincy elections. The Government's conduct in those elections has been variously described as unjustifiable, unconstitutional, a usurpation of the powers of the National Electoral Commission, tribally biased and ill-motivated and lacking in support from historical events relating to elections in that chiefdom. All these insinuations and allegations have been made in spite of the fact that the Government in two public written Statements has explained the constitutionality of its conduct in those elections and the historical basis or justification for that conduct. I give a few examples here:

That the elections were unconstitutional because -

(i) Government proceeded with those elections after the National Electoral Commission had refused to render assistance or support to the process as indeed it did in the case of other Paramount Chieftaincy elections. This has been blown out of all proportion and treated as a usurpation by the Government of the constitutional duties of the National Electoral Commission. Support for this unfounded allegation is sought not from the Constitution or the law, but from a legal opinion issued by the Vice President to a Government Minister. I will not refer here to the type of construction put on that legal opinion or the effect of it vis-à-vis the express provisions of the law or the Constitution. Suffice it to say that in all the several pronouncements by politicians, the media and even lawyers whose role it is to advise properly on legal or constitutional issues there has been no reference to that part of the Constitution or the law which the Government is alleged to have violated or infringed in the Biriwa elections to properly warrant describing the Government's conduct in those elections as unconstitutional or illegal. If anything Government has complied strictly with the Constitution and the law, and has in no way attempted to exercise or perform any of the functions or powers of the National Electoral Commission as clearly stated in Section 33 of the Constitution. I reproduce here Section 33 for the purpose of giving accurate information to the public of the correct constitutional mandate of the National Electoral Commission:

"The Electoral Commission shall be responsible for the conduct and supervision of the registration of voters for, and of, all public elections and referenda; and for that purpose shall have power to make regulations by statutory instrument for the registration of voters, the conduct of Presidential and Parliamentary or Local Government elections and referenda, and other matters connected therewith, including regulations for voting by proxy."

All the activities stated in section 33 in so far as they relate to the mandate of the Electoral Commission cannot conceivably be regarded as activities touching and concerning Chieftaincy elections; the voters' list, for example, which is compiled by a procedure which the National Electoral Commission cannot constitutionally supervise and in respect of which elections NEC has no powers either by the Constitution or otherwise to make regulation on. Section 33 of the Constitution went further to clearly define what "public elections" in that section relate to, namely, parliamentary, presidential elections and referenda, and also Local Government elections which are governed by the Local Government Act 2004. It follows therefore that the fact that Chieftaincy elections, though conducted in public, are not public elections the conduct of which falls within the mandate of the NEC as provided for in section 33 of the Constitution. The request to NEC to use its expertise in elections to assist in the process does not in any way alter the nature of those elections so as to bring them within the ambit of section 33 of the Constitution. NEC's refusal to continue to give its assistance to the process should not prevent those elections ever being held. The appropriate authority proceeding to conduct those elections notwithstanding does not render the elections unconstitutional or illegal.

Another unfortunate tendency which appears to be emerging from the Biriwa elections is the attempt to promote tribal sentiments and tribal disharmony. Contrary to the evidence that the Government has already produced, those elections are still viewed from some quarters from a tribal perspective, namely, that the winning candidate does not hail from a ruling house, that he was allowed to contest only because he belongs to a particular tribe favoured by the Government, and that the rightful claimants were deliberately excluded from the elections in order to make way for the present winning candidate. All these allegations which have become the subject for public pronouncements by politicians and some lawyers are a complete distortion of the facts as they occurred during the process leading to the elections in that Chiefdom. They are totally untrue, having regard to the history of chieftaincy elections and the established ruling houses in that chiefdom including the right of the present winning candidate to be elected Paramount Chief of that Chiefdom. The Government Notice published on the 15th August 2006 on that matter in a painstaking manner gave enough material which could have put to an end all the malicious allegations and insinuations on that matter. But alas! It is now clear that the motive has been not to ascertain the facts relating to those elections as a matter of objective inquiry, but to create disunity and destroy the harmony which has prevailed among the different tribal groups in that chiefdom for so long. I am taking this unprecedented step to quote below in extenso from the Government Notice on the matter published on the 15th August 2006 as follows:

"The last point was the legitimacy of the "Sheriff House." According to the protesting women, this was a new ruling house created by Government and they claimed that the Madingos were foreigners from Guinea. The Minister referred them to the opportunity provided in the Guidelines for candidates who are considered illegitimate to be challenged. This is provided for by Section 4(1) of the Government Guidelines which states "Any Aspirant or Chiefdom Councillor can object to a claim of an Aspirant. The Aspirant whose claim has been objected to, shall only qualify and be accepted as a candidate to contest the paramount chief election if the Aspirant's claim is supported by two-thirds of the Councillors present and voting by public show of hands."

"Also, according to official records, the Sheriff ruling house had always contested elections since 1952. For example, Alhaji Sheku Sheriff contested Paramount Chieftaincy election with Saspo Conteh for Biriwa Chiefdom on the 3rd February 1952. And in 1957 Alhaji Sheku Sheriff and Alhaji Borbor Sheriff of that same ruling house contested paramount chieftaincy election against Pongo. These two contests were before 1961 and in conformity with the Presidential declaration of November 6, 2002 which states "The position of Government is not to create new ruling houses but to continue with established ruling houses that were in existence at independence in 1961." It is interesting to note that even after 1961, the Sheriff ruling house had continued to be acknowledged by the people of Biriwa chiefdom during subsequent paramount chieftaincy elections. For example, in 1963, Alhaji Borbor Sheriff contested against Sheku II. In 1995, Alie Sheriff contested against Foday Kalawa and Palmer with the following results at first ballot:


1) Alie Sheriff - 149 votes
2) Foday Kalawa - 147 votes
3) Palmer - 70 votes

All of the Sheriffs were Madingos from the Sheriff Ruling House.

The Madingos, at this stage, of the contest staged a walk out and the contest continued with Foday Kalawa against the Government box at which election, Foday Kalawa got the majority of the votes and was declared duly elected as Paramount Chief of Biriwa chiefdom."

In 2006 elections in that chiefdom the history of 1995 elections repeated itself in reverse order, namely, that this time it was the Limba candidates who boycotted the elections which proceeded with one candidate, this time the Madingo candidate from the Sheriff ruling house.

"Additionally there is in existence a copy of the treaty signed in 1890 by Commissioner G.H. Garrett, representing the British Government and one Foday Moseray Sheriff of Karina representing the people of Karina in the Biriwa Chiefdom. This treaty of friendship conferred chieftaincy rights on the Sheriff House in the same way in which other families in the country became ruling houses. This legitimacy of the Sheriff ruling house has subsisted up to this day. The present winner Dr Issa Mohamed Sheriff hails from and contested under that ruling house.

Section 5(i) of the Government's Guidelines promulgated in 2002 for the election of paramount chiefs state as follows:

"Only those Aspirants who are genuine and direct descendants of recognized and established Paramount Chieftaincy ruling houses that have been in existence as at independence in 1961, and descendants of the original signatories to the protectorate treaty signed with the colonial administration will be qualified to stand as candidates in the paramount chieftaincy election.

In the face of the above, there was clearly no basis or justification for denying the Sheriff ruling house from contesting the Biriwa chieftaincy election. In the same vein, there was no justification for the protest or demonstration mounted by the women as it clearly contravened existing precedents and was clearly aimed at depriving the Sheriff house from contesting the paramount chieftaincy election in that chiefdom."

The issue of the Biriwa Chieftaincy elections needed to be raised in a forum such as this. It helps further to explain the role of NEC if any in those elections, the propriety of the Government's conduct in that particular election and the desire of some people in this country to persistently harp on and accentuate non-existent issues with a motive other than to promote and protect good governance. Such approach to our national situations hardly helps to promote democracy and enhance peace and security which this country needs to sustain so badly.
The proper thing a person aggrieved with the conduct of that election should do will be to resort to the courts for whatever redress he might think available to him. It is certainly not part of democracy for an aggrieved party to resort to the issuing of ultimata threatening violence or the disruption of elections towards which the nation is now geared. Government will not sit idly by and allow such trend to continue.

I also hope that those who may have misunderstood the non-pivotal role of the National Electoral Commission in the conduct of paramount chieftaincy elections are now in a better position to understand what transpired in the Biriwa Chieftaincy election.

With regard to the history of Ruling Houses in Biriwa Chiefdom, those who are interested in the subject may in addition to what I have said above wish to refer to a research document in the University College, London entitled "Limba Deep Rural Strategies" by Richard Fanthope. Pertinent extracts from this document read as follows:

"External origins were claimed for every Limba ruling family and this was emphasized by their Manding clan names. For example, a British Intelligence Report dating from 1907 states that the Biriwa ruling family had been established half a century earlier by Woseya who succeeded in claiming land from the Manko Limba. Later sources identified Woseya's clan name as Konte and his original home as Sankaran, a Madingo region in the Upper Niger Plain."

The same document states as follows:

"Suloku was ratified as Paramount Chief soon after the imposition of British Colonial rule. It was his death in 1906 and the question of finding a successor which prompted the previously noted intelligence report. In pre-colonial sources Suloku is always identified as a Limba ruler or at least as a ruler over Biriwa Limba. Even so, a Sierra Leone Frontier Police Officer reported in 1893 that Suloku had stated that he was by birth a Sankaran, thus implying Madingo ancestry."

Several hundred years ago, there was believed to be no one in present day Sierra Leone. All Sierra Leoneans must recognize that our ancestors migrated to this place. African migration is a subject on which scholarly historians have worked extensively. The Bantus of South Africa, for example, came from the Cameroons.

Everybody knows that the United States of America is a land of immigrants. People have migrated into this vast land from a diversity of regions and ethnicities to form the melting pot of America. This diversity has been used to great effect to build a very cohesive nation of Americans that is today the envy of the world.

America is therefore regarded as a nation of immigrants and the citizens of this great country are proud of this. This is one of the secrets of their success. The other is their total commitment to America, and their attitude towards work. They are prepared to do everything positive to sustain this situation. This is one lesson that we Sierra Leoneans can learn from our American friends, and this explains why I have always pleaded for national cohesion.

Finally, I should like to reiterate my confidence in the Sierra Leone Police Force's ability to provide all the policing functions needed for the forthcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

I thank you for your attention.