The commencement of a construction project for the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) in the eastern regional headquaters of Kenema marks the fulfilment of a promise made by President Julius Maada Bio a year ago.
The promise was borne out of the President’s desire of ensuring empowerment of journalists by creating a conducive media atmosphere. He made the commitment in a cocktail held at State House in December, 2019, just close to a year when he took over reins of state command.
No doubt what Kenema is seeing now is one of the glowing success stories of the President’s New Direction dispensation. Plans also exist for more accomplishments for the media in Sierra Leonne owing to His Excellency’s belief that democracy and good governance can take root only in a country with a free press.
The construction project has attracted donations from dignitaries in diverse spheres of life as a show of support for the President’s media vision.
A two-town portion of land has been allocated to SLAJ by the people of Kenema for the worthy and noble cause. If Completed, Kenema would go down in history as the first to host such office. SLAJ is the umbrella body for all journalists in Sierra Leone, but still struggles for a foothold in the provinces owing to the absence of the necessary infrastructure.
However, the project in Kenema marks the beginning of a pilot phase for the strengthening of the media in Sierra Leone. It is also hoped that other regional headquater towns would benefit from the New Direction project of media empowerment. In a ceremony marking the construction of the SLAJ office in Kenema, several important personalities were in attendance with a number of valuable donations to ensure that the project becomes a reality.
One of the key speakers during the ceremony is a one of the industrious and committed sons of Kenema, Ibrahim Brima Swarray, Head of National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA). The NPPA Chief donated 10 trips of sand, 300 bags of cement, 2 tons of iron rods and the sum of Le10M to the building project.
In his address to journalists and important local stakeholders In Kenema town, Mr Swarray conveyed President Bio’s beautiful greetings to the people of Kenema noting that “the President has Kenema at heart.”
He also explained the stance of President Julius Maada Bio towards media empowerment to journalists and the people of Kenema.
“For Sierrra Leone to grow, the fourth estate has to stand on its own,” The NPPA Chief quoted President Julius maada Bio. The quoted statement, NPPA Chief said, had been the dream of His Excellency before he became President Of Sierra Leone.
His Excellency’s statement, NPPA said, implies the creation of an atmosphere where journalists have a free hand to practise their trade for democracy to prevail.
It is towards the realisation of such an objective that part five of the Public Order Act of 1965 was repealed by President Julius Maada Bio. Part-v of the criminal libel law was seen as bad law by media practitioners, academics and other stakeholders as a mere infraction could to unpredictable consequences and imprisonment is one of them.
The law has been there for decades, and successive governments have come and gone, but none has attempted to set it aside owing to the fear of the lash of the media.
President Bio promised the repeal which he delivered, and the delivery signalled a new dawn and new era of press freedom in Sierra Leone. The NPPA Chief went on to state that it was Kenema that first supported the PAOPA ideology, and it is also now the first to support the President Bio’s campaign for a viable media.
“President Bio has Kenema at heart and that is why he gave the people of Kenema jobs so that they can improve their community,” he said.
Mr Swarray is not a journalist, but has endeared himself to media practitioners through passion and love for the media and cooperation with journalists.
“I am not a journalist, but I have a passion for journalism. My doors are always opened to journalists,” he stressed.
Taking the podium during the ceremony, Mayor of Kenema municipality, Thomas Baio called on journalists to show unity among themselves. As a sign of ensuring success for the project, Mr Baio donated 100 bags of cement to the journalists, and urged other local stakeholders to do the same.
While appreciating the effort of journalists, the Kenema City Father emphasised the need for politicians to partner with the media noting their relevance to the country’s development.
“Any politician that goes far away from the media is missing the point,” he stressed.
He however urged journalists to maintain integrity in the practice of their profession, adding that integrity is about behaviour and character that reflects the ideals of the organisation. His Worship, Mr Baio also called on journalists to monitor the project from beginning to end so that the materials could be used only for the project.
Speaking during the occasion, SLAJ president, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla expressed elation for the commencement of a building project for journalists in Sierra Leone.
“I feel accomplished for the progress I am seeing, I am very proud; I commend the people of Kenema especially the stakeholders for the donation of the land,” he commended.
After 49 years of SLAJ existence, Mr Nasralla said, we had started seeing a wonderful day that marks the beginning of an infrastructural project for the media.
He also appreciates the effort of the people of Kenema for ensuring that SLAJ office exists there.
“The People of Kenema have written their names in the books of history,” he said.
The NPPA Chief was also singled out for praises by the SLAJ president for his love and admiration of the media by accepting their “constructive criticism.”
He sees the NPPA Chief as one that fits into any position of trust noting that he cares more about achievement than the accumulation of wealth in the service of the state.
The SLAJ President assured Journalists in Kenema that the land would be registered by the Ministry of Lands so that it becomes the official property of SLAJ.
He concluded by urging the media to perform its role efficiently and effectively regardless of any party in power.