By Lawrence Williams
As the president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (Photo) has urged national players to “pipe down” their rivalry for power, stating that “too much politics promotes hate, hypocrisy, and undermines patriotism, nationalism, peace, and cohesion.”
Nasralla was speaking at a civil society and media dialogue forum convened by President Bio following the ugly events of August 10 which left several people dead and dozens more injured, with some public buildings either completely vandalized or razed.
He advised the president to not get angry over the situation and instead take on a conciliatory approach to addressing the issues at hand. He said “we are playing too much politics” and that is splitting us apart.
Nasralla said the law should “take its just course” in addressing the incidents of August 10 and that SLAJ supports a fair, transparent, and credible investigation.
Nasralla advised members of the opposition to rethink how they approach political, governance, and security issues. Also, he expressed deep disappointment that the opposition did not condemn or rather tacitly condone the incendiary remarks and other inciting messages made by Adebayor and his ilks.
Since the media reflect society, they are also part of the problem, Nasralla said, adding that investing in public interest media would prevent the Fourth Estate from being used to destabilize the country. He ended by calling on both government and citizens to ensure the stability of the state remains intact. Read the full statement below.
Remarks By SLAJ President at the CSOs and Media Dailogue with His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio on Reflections on the August 10th Violent Protests In Sierra Leone
Mr. Vice President,
Ministers of Government,
Colleagues from CSOs and the Media,
Sierra Leoneans watching us live,
Let me start by re-echoing our condemnation of the unfortunate incidents starting from August 8th to the violent protests of August 10th 2022.
Our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives, including police officers, as a result of those incidents.
Your Excellency, we all should take responsibility for what has happened- the government, the opposition, the security sector, the media, CSOs, our traditional and religious leaders, Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora- all of us are responsible.
If we have a correctional center as big as Freetown, I would have recommended that we all spend some time there to go through some form of mindset rehabilitation before we are released back to our respective communities and society at large.
But since we don’t have that, these engagements you have started with key stakeholder groups in the country can suffice. This is the way to go, Your Excellency.
We need to pipe down as a nation. We are playing too much politics. The politics is dividing us across the middle.
The politics is diverting and distracting Government from focusing on the NEW DIRECTION that you promised Sierra Leoneans.
The too much politics is promoting hate and hypocrisy; it is undermining patriotism, nationalism, and peace and national cohesion.
The too much politics is eroding our core values of labour and expect, dignity in labour, excellence, dedication to duty, integrity and trust.
Let us please de-escalate.
As Father of the nation you should be the last person to get angry, if you want to get angry at all. Your approach in response to this unfortunate incident in the country should be conciliatory in tone and in action. Tell your people that you understand the problems of this country and you are doing something about that. Tell them in the language they understand. And stressed that that doesn’t mean people should take the law into their hands.
Let us sit down and talk about these problems and let all of us play a role in addressing them. As you are doing now with various stakeholder groups in the country; this is the way to go. And at the same time punish law breakers using due process.
In the midst of our problems let us sit down and talk. Lek we kin say pa krio- mek we sidon talk man to man.
Let us engage. It is not a sign of weakness. It is STRENGTH. You break down recalcitrant and ill-motivated people when you talk with them rather than talk to them or talk at them.
As leader of a smaller but very troublesome community within the bigger Sierra Leone community that is the approach I am using and it is yielding good results for the media in Sierra Leone. Under your leadership, we have achieved great things for the media in Sierra Leone. I cannot solve the problems of the media because they are many. They are like onion shells, you peel one layer another layer appears. I can only do my best.
The same with you, Mr. President. You can only do your best and posterity will judge you.
SLAJ calls for independent and impartial inquiry into the incidents of August 10th to get to the bottom of the underlying issues and let the law take its just course.
Images of the August 18th violent protests were shown on international media screens across the world; and now they are also showing images and reporting news stories of extra judicial killings and unlawful arrests and detention of civilians. This is not good for our country. This is not good for your leadership. Those are the things the international community will use to evaluate us and that is not the Sierra Leone we all know and love.
Now to the Opposition:
I say to the opposition: please change your approach. As opposition your responsibility is to provide an alternative to government. You are a shadow government; a government in waiting.
If government say they are going to build a bridge from Freetown across to Lungi and it cost us X amount and it will take Y years to complete, we expect our opposition to give us an alternative. Yes, it is good to have a bridge to Lungi but it is a long term project with huge capital. As an opposition, and if we were in government, we will focus on the immediate needs by procuring 2 or 3 ferries; it will cost us less, and it will ease the transportation challenges to and fro Lungi in the interim. This is the kind of opposition we want. ‘Nor to Opposition wea just de go en hol meeting all over the place and fan ethnic rivalry and say den wan ya we de pull dem na power by all means’.
I don’t remember the opposition condemning and calling on the public to disregard the invectives, inciting audios and videos coming from Adebayor and his likes, all of which basically makes the elected Government unpopular and favors them as Opposition.
The Government is stretching its hand for dialogue, reach out and grab it. The role of the Opposition is not to undermine the Government of the day but to work with it in the interest of the general good.
Now to Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora
To our compatriots in the Diaspora, you also need to pipe down. Before now you were a blessing to our country through your endless and much needed remittances to family members and loved ones to help cushion the difficult economic situation.
Nowadays, some of you have become something else. All you seem to be doing now is to share vulgur and inciting audios and videos far and wide because you have unlimited data. You open unregulated online TVs, radios and facebook live programs to talk about issues happening at home that you know very little about.
What are you actually doing out there?
When you succeed in burning this country, then you will not have a motherland to come back to and you will spend the rest of your lives as slaves in other people’s countries.
Now to the media
I have responded as if the media is the only Saint left in the country. We are absolutely not. We are equally liable for what is befalling our nation. The media, we usually say, is a clear reflection of our society called Sierra Leone. So we are part of the problem.
Let me share this with you; we have a newspaper called NIGHT WATCH, which is notorious for criticizing Government. During the sit down strike it carried the banner headline on its front page: ‘Adebayor is Popular than President Bio’. The day after the President gave his stern nationwide address in response to the August 10th incident, the newspaper got the message correctly and carried the following headline: ‘Maada Bio is in Control’.
I am not sure I am the right person to evaluate the media. I leave it to you the people. Help us become better placed to safeguard our democracy and promote peace and national cohesion.
We have been meeting with the international community to see how we can work together to strengthen the media to play our part in the coming elections in a professional and responsible manner.
We all need to invest in public interest media to prevent the media from being used as a tool to destablise this nation.
Now to the Sierra Leone Police (SLP)
We are all mourning with the SLP. We have lost loved ones. But we should also be concerned about the living.
We encourage the SLP to show concern for civilian lives lost and for those that have been arrested and detained. Respect their rights to legal representation and justice.
Finally, Mr. President,
I say to all of us that the responsibility to ensure the security, stability, peace and national cohesion does not only lie with the State, or the Police or the Army but all of us.