The Special Investigation Committee (SIC) set up by President Julius Maada Bio to probe the August 8-10 violent protests in Freetown and other parts of the country has today, Thursday 13 April 2023 released their findings.

President Bio appointed the Committee on 24th August 2022, and it comprised various heads of Government institutions and professional bodies that were to investigate who were the organisers, planners and funders of the protests, identify the root causes and make recommendations to the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) on what needs to be done to prevent a re-occurrence of such incidents.

In the Executive Summary, the SIC states that meetings were held in Lungi, Port Loko, Lunsar and Kamakewie, Makeni,  Binkolo, Magburaka and the Western Area; and in selected locations where the protests did not take place – Kono, Kenema and Bo. In order to gather empirical evidence, the Committee disclosed that met with various other entities and persons of interest and asked questions related to the events.

The Committee’s findings were that though there were incessant complaints of youth  unemployment and marginalisation, substance abuse, economic hardship and food insecurity, these were not a justification for the level of violence perpetrated in the country.

The indications  are that they may have genuinely contributed to the August 8th to 10th incidents with rogue politicians exploiting this reality to their political advantage. Social media was awash with hate messages and tribal bigotry perpetrated by one Will Kamara, alias Adebayor, and his cohorts under the umbrella of the People’s Power in Politics (PPP),” SIC stated.

Therefore, from the evidence gathered, the SIC will not attribute the activities of 8th to 10th August 2022 solely to socio-economic problems confronting Sierra Leone but that the incidents connotated an insurrection against the central government, underpinned by strong political vendetta exhibited on social media and other platforms.”

According to the Committee, the insurrection was well-planned, financed, well-orchestrated, timed and geared towards destroying public property and undermining the peace and stability of the state by removing the legitimate and democratically elected President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, from political power.

This was exemplified in words like “Maada Bio must go!”. Additionally, in Lungi in particular, the Committee found out that protesters attempted to enter the airport (critical national infrastructure) to dig out the runway to prevent the President from returning home from his overseas travel,” the SIC stated.

They added that several Police stations were vandalised with some looted, torched and weapons carted away, noting that the use of dangerous weapons including machetes, guns and sticks against state security personnel, to a point of murdering six (6) of them in cold blood (injuring another who later died), and about twenty-one (21) civilians losing their lives, could not be considered a peaceful protest.

While at the national level, there was no evidence that the leadership of the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) supported the insurrection based on their public condemnation of the incidents, at the subnational level it was found that the ringleaders of the insurrection were all active members of the APC,” the Committee stated.

The SIC noted that in Lungi, Port Loko, Kamakwei and Makeni they were provided with names of individuals who were involved in the planning and execution of the incidents by providing PPP T-shirts, placards, water and food to protesters.

Senior members of the party were also seen publicly associating with rioters who were arrested and detained at various police stations, and some even provided free legal services for them giving a semblance of tacit support for the insurrection,” they stated.

According to the SIC, the Security Sector was relatively prepared but was not proactive enough to forestall the infamous incidents. This, the Committee said could be attributed to a myriad of factors key amongst which was command and control both within the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) during the period of the incidents.

A new Inspector General of Police (IGP) had just been appointed and the Chief of Defence Staff and his Assistant Chief of Defence Staff Operations and Planning were out of the country. Furthermore, the Committee found out that the intelligence provided by the security sector was inadequate to effectively support the preparedness of the sector for operations during that critical period,” they stated.

The SIC found out that whilst in areas where no incident took place, the Provincial and District security committees were proactive the same cannot be said for areas where the incidents occurred.

Moreover, the security sector was seriously challenged by the paucity of resources, including vehicles, communication equipment, riot gear, etc. to adequately respond to the threats facing the nation at that time,” the Committee added.

According to the SIC, the Emergency Military Aid to Civil Power (E-MACP) was invoked by the National Security Council (NSC) on 9th August 2022 but was only operationalized on 10th August 2022 when the insurrection was already underway. They added that, however, the RSLAF was professional in providing support to the SLP to quell the insurrection.

The SIC found out that the authority of the traditional leaders has been eroded in many communities across the country.

Complaints of a severe disconnect between them and the central government were rife, which left a lacuna for politicians to manipulate their subjects, thus undermining their authority. There were also lamentations about the lack of information on key governance issues that impact the lives and livelihoods of their subjects,” the Committee revealed.

The SIC further noted that the Telecommunications Sector seems to be largely unregulated and is reported to be using outdated equipment that does not meet the standards of contemporary telecommunications operations in the country. Thus, the Committee found it impossible to trace monies that were transferred electronically for the organization of the insurrection.

This is due to the fact that the National Telecommunications Authority (NaTCA) does not have the capacity to comprehensively monitor electronic activities conducted by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). Where it has such capacity, it is undermined by various interests within and outside of government that are related to and benefiting from telecommunications companies. The banks and money transfer businesses were also not helpful to the SIC in providing information on financial transactions that may have been related to the insurrection. The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) with its numerous challenges assisted the investigation by providing names of some numbers of interest that did not give any significant information for the purposes of this investigation,” the Committee explained.

The claims of extra-judicial killings following the August 10th protests could not be ascertained based on evidence collected from engagements with various stakeholders, including the security sector in all the areas visited by the SIC. According to the SIC, there was no information provided on either missing persons or summary executions despite repeated enquiries, but noted that public allegations of extra-judicial killings especially during curfew hours following the insurrection should further be looked into.

The Committe revealed that 24 children who directly participated in the riot were arrested by the police from different parts of the country, particularly in Freetown, Waterloo, Lungi, and Makeni.

Apparently, children were used as human shields by the adult rioters. Some children who were arrested in Freetown reported that they were recruited from Makeni and Portloko and brought to Freetown to participate in the riot. These children were already living in the streets and recruited from there,” the SIC stated.

Whilst the Committee recognises the rights of children to protest, it equally recognises their rights not to be engaged in perpetrating violence and hostilities. The children arrested were however handed over to the Ministry of Social Welfare and a task force of Child Justice actors including UNICEF, Defence for Children International, Don Bosco, and Family Homes Movement in Freetown. The task force members and the Ministry of Social Welfare traced the families of these children and reunified them in Freetown, Lungi, Port Loko, and Makeni.”

Despite the fact that children who participated in the incidents were under the influence of the adult organisers, the Committee noted that there are limited opportunities and spaces for children to communicate their views and opinions with the government and also participate in governance processes and decision-making. The lack of such spaces may also trigger child-led protests that may lead to violence and loss of lives and property.

The SIC documented that the insurrection of 8th-10th August 2022 had devastating consequences, firstly on individuals and their families who lost their loved ones and on the State of Sierra Leone, in general. The wanton destruction of lives and property has created a spectacle to the world that Sierra Leone has not learnt any lessons from the conflict it went through two decades ago (1991-2002).

The August incidents will significantly affect Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the country which will subsequently affect the country’s developmental strides as outlined in the Medium-Term National Development Plan (2019-2023). More worrisome, is that the deep tribal, regional and political divide manifested before, during and after these incidents will continue to further undermine national cohesion and stifle socio-economic development,” the SIC concluded.