The Executive Director of the Attitudinal and Behavioural Change (ABC) Secretariat, Dr Ivan Ajibola Thomas patriotically made several presentations across the board on politically motivated violence and its effect on the democratization process of Sierra Leone. During his presentations, he described politically motivated violence as an illegitimate use of force either through physical, verbal or psychological means by one political party or its supporters meted upon political opponents in order to gain grounds at the expense of the others.
Dr Ivan Thomas explained that political violence occurs during political rallies, political parties processions, campaigning in the strongholds of political parties or in swing communities, during polling day and after announcement of the electoral results. He told attendants that the Secretariat may not like to see a situation where lives and property will be lost just because of an election that is a one-off thing.
He said that political violence took the forms of intra and inter political violence, and it has been manifested in the past bye-elections, presidential ‘flag bearer’ contests and in the ongoing nominations which he described as very inimical to the electoral process. “The Attitudinal and Behavioural Change (ABC) Secretariat is discouraging all forms of politically motivated violence in the forthcoming march elections,” he pointed out to them.
The Executive Director told participants that there are so many negative effects associated with electoral violence, amongst which he said, an election that is marked with violence will affect the credibility of the election, it will also belittle the government in the eyes of the international community and many citizens, and thus it will not get public support for the implementation of most of its programs.
He revealed that the youths are the ones who are directly involved in political violence while political parties are indirectly involved, adding that it is the duty of political parties and their supporters as well as institutions concerned to ensure that Sierra Leone records a peaceful 2018 elections. Dr. Thomas also disclosed that fast-track electoral courts have been formed to deal with electoral offences, where offenders will be made to take personal responsibilities for their actions.
He encouraged every Sierra Leonean to refrain from actions that will lead to political violence such as tearing or distortion of banners or posters of political parties and candidates, the use of inflammatory words and the making of provocative statements against other people and their parties, and called for all candidates to be accorded equal respect.
During the morning sessions of the tour, the Secretariat held meetings with religious leaders in all of the regions and implored them to import in their sermons and kutubas messages of political tolerance and nonviolence.
The Program Manager for the Secretariat, Mr. Ishmael Cole, beseeched religious leaders to preach political tolerance and urge their congregations to stay away from violence in the forthcoming 7 March elections. “Your words are true reflections of the voice of God, when you speak people can listen and heed to them,” he told them.
Mr. Ishmael Cole noted that religious leaders have the largest constituency drawn from all facet of the society, adding that Sierra Leone is known for religious tolerance and it would be good if that same tolerance is imported into our political arena. He reiterated that change does not come like a dream, so he therefore encouraged religious leaders not to relent in agitating for political tolerance and non-violence if we are to hold peaceful elections in March.
Pa Alhaji S. Kanu, representative of the Interreligious Council in his presentation asked all the religious leaders to take the campaign against politically motivated violence very serious and ensure that it is always part of their sermons. He stressed that politics should be kept separate from religion and that they are going to frown at any party or anyone that may want to use religion to come to power.
During the campaign, the Secretariat stressed on the need for Sierra Leoneans to be politically tolerant as it is the hallmark to any peaceful election and the key to a cohesive society after election, and emphasized that political tolerance comes into play where people accept themselves despite belonging to different political parties or sharing different political opinions or ideologies.
Mr. Gerald Alex Sesay, Lecturer University of Makeni, who unequivocally presented on political tolerance in Makeni, told participants that tolerance is a situation wherein people accept and encourage others despite their beliefs or associations, noting that political tolerance is the willingness to extend basic rights and civil liberties to persons and groups whose viewpoints differ from one's own; while intolerance is the lack of toleration, unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect contrary opinions or beliefs, persons of different ethnic group or backgrounds. He noted that in the face of political polarization, citizens must have opportunities to practice how to engage with people and ideas with different belief systems.
Mr. Sesay stated that there are many ways to become politically tolerant which ranges from accepting people for who they are or for the political parties where they belong, respect and value political differences, respect the political ideologies of other people to allowing other political parties to campaign to you or where you are. He stated that by being politically tolerant, it creates an avenue for one to choose from the shades of ideas presented to him or her.
The Eastern Regional Commissioner for the National Commission for Democracy, Mr. Momoh Bockarie, brilliantly presented on the importance of political tolerance in an electioneering process and nation building. He told participants that political tolerance breeds peaceful election and that it is important for it to be preached as elections are near the corner. He said, there have been situations where people have not been tolerating themselves because of their individual differences. “If you do not tolerate the other person because he is a member of a different political party or his views are different from yours that is a recipe for violence,” he stated.
He accentuated that people should allow others to campaign for their political parties and candidates without fear of any form of intimidation or violence. By doing so, he said, it will create an opportunity for people to have enough knowledge about the policies of political parties and the intentions of candidates and at the end they will be able to make better choice. Mr. Momoh stressed that without enough information the electorate will not be able to know who to vote for and what to vote for.
Mr. Alimamy Kargbo, a civil society activist, who spoke on behalf of the youths in Port Loko, noted that a lot of youths have been involved in politics now more than before and most of the political parties have awarded symbols to them for council and parliament. “The youths have decided to take their destinies into their own hands, therefore we should be politically tolerant if we want to succeed,” he said. He emphatically advised the youthful population to stay away from violence or things that have the tendency to cause political violence.
The attendees in all the regional headquarters applauded the ABC Secretariat for such a venture. They said that the message of political tolerance and non-violence reached them at the right time, especially when political campaigns will soon start. They said that their minds have been prepared by the Secretariat to think positive and act positive in the 2018 general elections.