President Julius Maada Bio has held a very constructive meeting with heads of Sierra Leonean school associations in London, just after a successful Global Summit on Education during which the president championed the call for girl’s education.

Speaking at the Millennium hotel venue in Knightsbridge, HE president Bio started by recognising the good work being carried out by members of the Sierra Leonean alumni associations while imploring them to consider doing even more for their schools and for the country.

“Nobody is going to build our country up for us, except ourselves”, president Bio reemphasised.

During this engagement, which was facilitated by the Sierra Leone High Commission in London, the president lamented the dire state of our educational institutions and the severe drop in standards which, he said, had been borne out of many years of total state neglect. The task to rebuild the glory and the substance of our proud scholastic past “is huge”, he pointed out, adding “but we are determined to achieve our goals”.

Even more concerning, the president stressed, is the daunting prospect of competing with a global community that is already bristling on the cusp of the 4th industrial revolution using the waves of an expanding digital revolution. The president warned that for Sierra Leoneans to function effectively in this emerging world order we must properly position our youths to propel themselves forward and work to adjust our systems to the demands of the emerging era.

Running through the president’s speech was the theme of “Girls’ Education” and “Women Empowerment”. “No country can rise if it fails to protect and project the female sector of society”, he warned. Protecting young girls from what he referred to as “secondary victimisation” was repeatedly hammered home to the audience.

President Bio explained that he was initially amongst those opposed to allowing girls to go back to school following pregnancy. He said that he had to completely change his stance on this subject because “it is not fair to victimise the victim,” the president underlined.

With the “Radical Inclusion” policy, the country’s school census last year recorded the return to school of a thousand schoolgirls who had earlier left because of pregnancies. He also revealed that, perhaps due to the urge to overcompensate, the statistics is suggesting that these girls are doing better in their exams. President Bio also mentioned the efforts being made to protect young girls from sexual predators including the establishment of the “one stop courts” to facilitate prosecution. To strengthen this effort, he revealed,” we would need to build up the forensic capacity of the prosecutorial bodies”.

While strongly condemning those who prey on young school girls, President Bio praised the efforts of the First Lady Mrs. Fatima Bio for her tireless efforts in bringing the issue of rape and molestation of young girls to the centre of the national debate. The ‘Hands Off Our Girls’ campaign, president Bio maintained, has helped many girls to continue classes even during their menstrual period and has also given a lot of confidence to many more girls around the country.

While acknowledging that we are far from achieving the ultimate goals the president however maintained that “we are doing very well as a country” pointing out that we are being internationally “recognised for our good work and the great efforts that we are making in many areas”. He made glowing references to the nation’s exemplary fight-back against the Covid-19 pandemic and the country’s MCC Compact eligibility stride.

In a speech that came across as frank and fervent, the president did not just acknowledge the enormity of the task on hand but also gave his listeners a lot of hope. “I don’t just want us to stay as a democracy, I want us to be a liberal democracy”, he challenged. Alluding to the two prominent instruments that past governments had most relied upon as tools to cow and kill their opponents, president Bio said that expunging the Criminal Libel law and the Death Penalty from our national law books were both a reflection of what he personally values and represented the right steps in the right direction for the country.

The school association heads, representing over 30 schools from all over Sierra Leone, spent hours listening to and exchanging views with the president. It was an interactive engagement which left the audience visibly impressed with the level of passion and the dept of candour displayed by the president in pointing out the problems and discussing the solutions.

From follow-up conversations, the mood of the audience was roundly captured in the words of Mr. Philip Selati Koroma, President Magburaka Old Boy’s Association (MOBA), who also happens to be the Vice President Tonkolili Association and Chairman of the MABBEN Family Association (comprising of six chiefdoms including Magbonto, Bumbuna and Bendugu): “This was fantastic! The president looks and sounds extremely appealing when you see and hear him in person. He comes across as sincere, purpose-driven and very convincing.”

Once upon a time, he helped to redeem Sierra Leone from the shackles of an autocratic cult, now President Bio is on a journey to reclaim our long lost status as the centre of learning. An increasing number of Sierra Leoneans are beginning to appreciate the full extent of his vision and more and more are prepared to march in step with his endearing aspirations for our beautiful nation.