By Ragan M. Conteh
The Executive Director of the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA), Joseph Ranto Musa, has expressed dismay over what he perceived as police brutality and inhuman treatment meted against his person and the newly recruited Forest Game guards.
The Executive Director made the assertion during an interview at his residence, Kamayama, Lumley in West of Freetown. Explaining what happened on Wednesday he said the NPAA received reports that people have encroached the Ramsa Site of International Importance, Mafengbeh and Thompson Bay Communities where the authority have earlier demarcated.
Joseph Ranto Musa pointed out that, upon receiving the news, the NPAA sent a team of Forest Guards to ensure that all the structures marked with an X be demolished and there should be no further construction.
He furthered that the team met structures at the swamps. In the process the Forest Guards demolished those buildings. However the community called upon the police who ended up taking sides with the people.
Ranto Musa pointed out that, because of this development, the people started pelting stones at the Forest Guards at the Congo Cross Police Station.
According to Joseph Musa, when the community earlier reported the Guards to the Local Unit Commander, Chief Superintendent Hanciles, at Congo Cross Police Station, the police also confronted the Forest Guards.
What is more confusing was that, even when the community people were inflicting injuries on the Forest Guards at the police station, the police did not come to the aid of the Forest Guards. Mr. Joseph Ranto Musa said he put his Guards under control and repatriated them to their office.
He revealed that, after sometime, the LUC went to their office with a truck loaded with police personnel, who began firing live bullets and teargas, beating staff of the NPAA and Forest Guards and made several arrests, including 48 guards, and 8 seriously wounded.
Mr. Musa also disclosed that the police entered their offices and vandalized properties worth millions of Leones, stole other properties like private computers worth millions of Leones.
He said, in front of the Guards, LUC, CSP Hanciles, and other personnel, openly accused the Forest Guards as Kamajors who have been trained to unleash mayhem on peaceful residents.
The Executive Director view this act of brutality by the police as gross violation against them, adding that some staffs have run out of the office leaving all their property at the mercy of the police. He concluded that 8 Forest Guards were seriously wounded and they are now hospitalized.
One of the affected residents of Mafegbeh and Thompson Bay Communities, Mr. Johnson K. Koroma, said the manner in which the Forest Guards behaved is a clear manifestation that they are prepared to unleash mayhem on the country.
According to Mr. Koroma, his newly constructed structure was vandalized, and properties worth millions of Leones catered away.
“We were not even noticed, we just saw Forest Guards into our premises with machetes and other offensive local weapons. They vandalized our structures; this is a sign of terror unleashed on us at a time everyone is battling with poverty. Forest Guards have added more misery to our souls,” Mr. Koroma said.
Memunatu Kamara of Thompson Bay community said the Forest Guards are a product of the Kamajors from the east of Kenema. She said the manner in which they exhibited themselves, against poor community people, is worrisome, adding that it requires stakeholders’ intervention because such behavior has the tendency to undermine President Bio’s hard earned reputation.
“What more bothers us more is the Kamajor Forest Guards’ standoff with the police, who merely wanted to quell down the situation, but they behaved prematurely,” Memunatu expresses disgust.
Memunatu Kamara informed that if it were not for the intervention of the Local Unit Commander and his police personnel, the situation on Wednesday would have degenerated into bloodshed.
“They trained Kamajors to attack us in our community; we are going to resist any move that tries to disturb our peaceful coexistence in our communities. The LUC did extremely well to protect the armless civilians,” Kamara said.
Many youths who spoke to this medium expressed thanks to the Sierra Leone Police for preventing bloodshed that fateful day. “The Sierra Leone Police are now a Force to reckon with,” Kamara added.
It could be recalled that the Vice President, Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, on Saturday 24th October 2020, during the passing out of the 500 newly recruited game guards at the Peace Mission Training Center (PMTC), admonished all the graduating Game Guards to showcase professionalism, respect for law and order and, above all, the community where they will be deployed.
“You are serving the people and therefore you must respect them. Treat them with the highest standard of professionalism. We will be monitoring your activities, and, make no mistake, this government will not tolerate any act of behavior that is outside broader expectations,” VP Jalloh warned.
In conclusion, the Vice President said that Government did not send Game Guards to sell land and beat people. He informed that the institution responsible for maintaining law and order is the Sierra Leone Police.
According to VP Jalloh, if Game Guards have difficulties with people in the communities they would be deployed they should alert the authorities concerned, adding that government expects them to work closely with the Sierra Leone Police and other community leaders.
“The people you are serving are Sierra Leoneans, you need to respect them and respect law and order,” he had said.