By Allieu Sahid Tunkara
It is clear that there are no lockups in a lockdown pronounced, few days back, by government, but rush and intermittent waves of stampedes at various lorry parks in Freetown are rife.
It is 6am, an uncontrollably high number of commuters converge at the Shell Lorry Park rushing at vehicles bound for the provinces.
The commuters are escaping an imminent lockdown that will last for three days. It was pronounced few days ago in a speech from the throne.
Since the number of commuters far outweighs that of the vehicles, there can be no question about stampedes and uncontrollable queues at parks.
One of the commuters, Rugiatu Conteh was heading for Bo town, southern Sierra Leone where she hailed.
She is a mother of three and sells at Abacha Street, the traders’ hub and heartland of Freetown.
Her three children stay in Bo town where they attend primary and secondary schools. Rugiatu has been away from them for some time, and now intends to join them during an uneasy period.
She says she feels comfortable staying in Bo during the lockdown than staying in Freetown.
“I can have food and other basic needs for my children and dependants in Bo town while it is extremely difficult for me to do so in Freetown during the lockdown,” she said.
The three-day lockdown scheduled to commence Sunday 5th and end 8th April is reminiscent of the Ebola Lockdown in September 19 to 21, 2014.
However, fear is rife that the three-day lockdown would be extended to 14 days as recommended by the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) through a position paper dated 1st April, 2020.
The SLMDA’s recommendation is closely linked to the two positive Corona Virus cases recorded so far and one of them involves a medical doctor.
Freetown residents have also taken the rush to market centres as the lockdown draws near so that they can stockpile on their food supplies in their homes.
As usual, traders have resorted to their dubious and exploitative trader tactic of price hikes, a situation that is more threatening than the lockdown itself.
Kadiatu Bangura sells cooked food at a cookery shop in Allen Town Community, east of Freetown.
She spoke about the increase in prices in the market immediately the lockdown was announced by government.
“A bag of rice now is Le248, 000 instead of the usual Le245, 000,” She says.
Apart from the price of rice, Kadiatu says, prices for other condiments are bound to shoot up.
In such a situation, the consumers bear the brunt as the traders seek to maximise profit.
It can be expressed without fear of contradiction that the cost incurred from the markets would be indirectly transferred to consumers.
Kadiatu sums it all as she says: “If I buy the condiments at an expensive price in the markets, there is no way I cannot sell at a high price to recover my money,” she says.
At Kadiatu’s cookery shop, some youths seem worried about how the lockdown would look like. Their worries stem from the consideration of the right to freedom of movement set to be restricted in the lockdown.
One of the customers, Allieu Kamara wonders about how they can survive if they cannot move from their houses to cookery shops.
“Some of us don’t have food at home now, and we are not sure to have it during the lockdown period,” Kamara says.
Kamara strikes a balance between Corona Virus prevention and survival in a turbulent period.
But, the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), the country’s chief law enforcement agency provides the answer through its spokesman Superintendent Brima Kamara.
Kamara says nobody is allowed to move from one point to another throughout the lockdown.
“The Sierra Leone Police is ready to enforce whatever policies and rules from government as the job of the police is law enforcement,” he said.
Kamara also asserts that the three organs of government operate independently during normal times.
But, in a state of public emergency, the powers of the other two arms of government are subjected to the executive arm.
However, the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual matter most in normal and abnormal times.
The importance of the rights of individuals is recognised in the country’s supreme law as well as international treaties and conventions. One of these rights is freedom of movement.
The police spokesman made no mince of words for people to surrender their rights to the government until normalcy is restored.
“Extra ordinary measures are needed to mitigate the spread of the Corona Virus,” Kamara advised.
Supt Kamara also told Nightwatch since the state of emergency was proclaimed by government, some members of the public have been flouting the orders contained in the proclamation.
He singled out taxi and tricycle riders as the most deviant, but says the police show a human face in the period preceding the state of emergency. Kamara made reference to the “soft” and “hard” approach being the two tiers of law enforcement in peace time and emergency situations.
He said, since the pronouncement of the state of emergency, the police had been applying the “soft” approach of law enforcement to put situation under control.
“In the soft approach, we remove one passenger from the tricycle or the taxi which carries three at the back, and warn the rider or the driver not to do it again,” Kamara says.
This model of law enforcement, he explains, is what has been applied throughout this period before the lock down was pronounced.
In the “hard” approach, Kamara continues, the driver or the rider is charged to court to face penalties if found wanton.
“The hard approach is what we will embark on to effectively police the lockdown,” he says.
The pronouncement of the lockdown, according to the Police Spokesman, means the Military Aid to civil power (MACP) will be invoked and operationalized.
The policy requires the army to back up the SLP in national security operations.
The policy spells out standing and emergency tasks which, according to the Police Spokesman, directs the army to work side by side with the police although internal security primacy belongs to the SLP.
However, since the pronouncement of the state of public emergency, Metropolitan Police also known as Freetown City Council (FCC) Police have been raiding petty traders and hawkers who sell at night.
Traders’ goods have been seized, during such raids, and sometimes destroyed in the process. The traders are not spared too. They are, most times, arrested and loaded in congested vehicles and taken to police stations.
It is not clear whether the traders are charged to court, and if, charged, on whose law the police agencies rely on.
As a result of the persistent raids and lack of legal clarity, traders have come to see it as harassment meted to them by the Metropolitan police agency.
But, a source at FCC says, it is a bye-law that should be respected by the traders.
“Traders are supposed to sell on the streets from 7am to 7pm,” the source says.
Traders, he continues, who breach the rule are arrested and prosecuted.
Rugiatu Conteh, the commuter at Shell Lorry Park who runs to Bo town is a petty trader. Her escape to the provinces as a result of the lockdown could not also be divorced from the tight restrictions enforced by FCC.
By Allieu Sahid Tunkara