I was in the Sierra Leone Parliament last week to witness the approval (or not) of various Presidential nominees including the Inspector General (IG) of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) designate Fayia Sellu (pictured), and our colleague journalist Sorie Fofanah.

Members of Parliament on the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) side repeatedly intimidated the proposed IG that today (Monday 8th August 2022) would be a test case of his leadership if the House were to approve him, which they eventually did.

Apparently, there was widespread news of a planned demonstration by ‘concerned citizens’ to take place on August 8/9 2022. The SLPP MPs described the people behind the planned demonstration as ‘faceless’, while the SLP stated that they have received no request for police clearance for the planned demonstration as prescribed by law.

Now, three or four times prior to this planned demonstration, the SLP has turned down requests by groups of Sierra Leoneans to exercise their fundamental right to protest peacefully to express their grievances about issues affecting them. In all previous instances, the SLP turned down the requests, citing the volatile situation in the country (from an economic perspective) and the possibility of ill-motivated citizens taking advantage of the protests to cause unrest. So one could understand why the ‘faceless’ people may not have written to the SLP to request permission but instead capitalized on the gullibility of social media to spread the news of the planned demonstration.

This is nothing new. It happened with the previous government as well. The people coordinating these planned protests have come to realise that every Government is afraid of demonstration/protest. And so they will plan more protests, they will spread the news on social media, and will ignore the SLP.

However, today’s (August 8, 2022) planned demonstration is unique. The ‘faceless’ coordinators of the planned protest have assured their followers and the general public that they were going ahead with it, clearance or no clearance from the SLP. In fact, there was a letter circulated on social media dated August 5, 2022, addressed to the IG from a group of women calling themselves Grassroot Women of Sierra Leone requesting permission for a peaceful protest.

On the other hand, the SLP under the leadership of the new IG Fayia Sellu has put out press releases assuring the public that no demonstration is taking place today and calling on the general public to go about their normal business.

Morning of Monday, August 8, 2022: Freetown seems to like observing a public holiday as I ride in a my usual taxi cab to my office at SLAJ Headquarters, Campbell Street, Freetown. Few vehicles plying the streets.

It’s 11:00am as I write this piece, and the situation is still the same. Shops are closed. I learned from my colleagues that the infamous Abacha Street is deserted and young people are playing football on the usually very busy, noisy and crammed street at this time of the day.

Across the city, I learned from the news that there are pockets of people at junctions and roundabouts discussing the situation not actually knowing what happens next. No one (or group of persons) has come out to process the streets in protest, but this is a huge protest in itself.

The ‘faceless’ people behind the planned demo may not have succeeded in getting people to the streets to protest but they have triumphed in getting the majority of the people, including workers and business people, to stay home today out of FEAR of a DEMONSTRATION not APPROVED by the SLP/GOVERNMENT.

Even with the assurances given by the security umbrella body, the Office of National Security (ONS), the people have been won by the UNCERTAINTY around this whole episode.

I understand the decision of business people to not open their shops for business as usual. If anything were to happen out of the ordinary they know very well that the Government of Sierra Leone will not be in a position to compensate them for their losses. Nobody actually wants to take the risk.

Yet, today, with this state of affairs, we have all incurred some financial losses: the Government and its Agencies, the private sector, and the people.

Actually, I want to believe this situation could have been avoided if the SLP had been strategic in their assessment of the planned demo. Now, I don’t know whether there is a security hymn book at the SLP that every IG is required to sing from when it comes to protests by citizens, but if I were IG Fayia Sellu I would have given this first task of my leadership some critical thought and try something different.

I would have respectfully called on the ‘faceless’ coordinators of the planned demo and encouraged them to come forward and request police clearance by assuring them that their request would be granted and that the SLP and the Army would provide them the security to ensure that it is peaceful and safe. That would have diffused all tensions and misinformation around the planned protest.

Sometimes do the right thing and see. What hell will come down if the SLP were to grant a request for a peaceful demonstration of a group of people who claim they feel aggrieved about certain issues? When they grant permission, the job of the SLP will now be to ensure that such a protest is peaceful and safe by preventing ill-motivated people from using it to cause trouble. Except the SLP want us to assume that they cannot provide such security.

Going forward, I encourage the SLP under the new IG to grant permission for peaceful protests from citizens, even if there’s a request coming from ‘Blacker’, and then be proactive by informing the general public that they have granted such requests, and outlined the routes and other security pre-conditions.

Once you do that, then you will begin to see the faces of the ‘faceless’ people behind these planned demos.