Reign of terror in Bendugu Bye-Election,: worrying prognosis for 2023

There are disturbing reports that a reign of terror is being unleashed in Sambaia Chiefdom, Constituency 056, Bendugu town, North-east Sierra Leone. The terror comes ahead of the Parliamentary bye-election in that constituency slated for June 24 2022. Scores of supporters of the All People’s Congress have been wounded with machetes, houses vandalized, burnt down and ransacked, motor bikes set ablaze, businesses looted and other supporters chased out. One of the houses burnt down belongs to Mr Ibrahim Saccoh, on Saccohia Street.   Saccoh is an APC supporter, who also offered his land to Jalloh to build a fuel station in Sambaia Bendugu town, something the newly crown PC was opposed to.

On top of that, Rtd Lt Col. Joseph Sheku Jallah, the campaign manager for the APC candidate, and nine others were arrested on Wednesday June 8, and detained at the district headquarter of Magburaka. The detainees were later moved on Thursday June to Makeni, the regional headquarter, before finally whisked to Freetown on Friday June 10 2022.

Eyewitness accounts blame the violence on police complicity and bias in favour of the ruling party. The bloodletting and vandalism unleashed in Sambaia Bendugu is not isolated; rather, it is part of what many observers describe as the ruling party’s grand plan to have its way with the 2023 multi-tier elections, through violence and intimidation. In Constituency 110, in the Western Area, Constituency 046 in Koinadugu and several places where bye-elections have taken place, Sierra Leoneans and the international community have been exposed to what appears as rehearsal of what 2023 would be: violence and bloodletting.

The Sambaia violence started, when on Monday, March 14, 2022, the Electoral Commission Sierra Leone (ECSL) announced the date for a bye-election in Constituency 056. It follows the resignation of the then Member of Parliament, Musa Baimba Foray Jalloh. Jalloh held the seat under the ticket of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), following his surprising victory in the 2018 elections. His narrow victory was a surprise, because the North-west region is widely regarded as the stronghold of the then ruling All People’s Congress (APC); therefore an SLPP victory there was completely unexpected, even to the SLPP.

Constituency 056 is one of only 2 seats the SLPP has in this region, the other being constituency 039, Falaba district.  Therefore, when Jalloh expressed interest to contest for Paramount Chieftaincy (PC), reports indicate that the SLPP were apprehensive of a bye-election in an area, where a victory for them is not entirely assured, despite the fact that they are in power. But reports indicate that Jalloh assured his party that once they facilitate his election as PC, he would do everything for the SLPP to retain the seat. What that meant could be the violence that is unfolding now at Constituency 056.

Since the announcement of the date for this bye-election, two of the APC ‘Campaign Days’, as prescribed by the ECSL campaign calendar, have now been violently disrupted. The first was on April 16, when several APC supporters were attacked and wounded, and a couple of houses burnt down. Among the victims of the April 16 incident were Saio Sesay, who whose house was burnt down; Senise Mansaray, former APC Parliamentary aspirant for Constituency 056, who threw his weight behind the current APC candidate, Mr Bockarie Sheriff, was also injured during the April fiasco.

On June 7, another campaign day for the APC, the violent disruption of the APC campaign was replayed all over again. As at Friday June 10, hundreds of residents have been forced out of the town, many of whom are reportedly hiding in nearby bushes. Mohamed Fofanah, a brother of the Rtd Col. Sheku Jalloh, explaining the circumstances leading to the arrest of Jalloh and the nine others, denied the allegation that the police found a gun at the resident of the campaign manager.

“They had conducted a search in his presence and found nothing of police interest. Satisfied, they even signed an undertaking to that effect. So it is completely shocking that in his absence, another set of police officers, with known SLPP operatives, went back to search and then claimed to have found a hunting gun. It just doesn’t make sense,” Fofanah said.

Adama Thoronka, a native of Sambaia Bendugu and sister to one of the people hacked with machetes, said she was worried about the ongoing violence in her community, which she said is being perpetuated by the newly crowned PC, commonly called Musa Bendugu. Eye witnesses are also united on the point that all of this is happening with the complicity of the police.

Appealing for the unconditional release of her nephew, 71 years old, Mrs Chernor Sheriff, said that the retired military officer was harmless, peaceful, and very helpful to the community. The aunt and all other distraught family members, who witnessed the whisking away of their loved one from the Mena Police station in Makeni to Freetown, said Jalloh is the breadwinner for several families. They said they are worried about his health and welfare while in the hands of the police. “We want the people of Constituency 056 and Sambaia Chiefdom to know that the Campaign Manager, Rtd Lt. Col JS Jalloh, has been arrested together with other strong and consistent supporters of the mighty APC Party,” said Alusine Jalloh, another member of the Jalloh Clan in Bendugu. According to Jalloh, this is a clan feud that has been transposed into an already volatile political space. It follows therefore that Lt Col. Jalloh and P.C Jalloh are actually blood related, belonging to the same clan, but different ruling families. The retired military officer was a candidate in the just concluded PC election, which many believed he would have won, if it were not for the manipulation in favour of the current P.C. The rivalry between the two worsened when a greater part of the Jalloh Clan openly declared their support for the APC. The PC is reportedly upset because such a declaration of a large and influential family portends a clear danger to his aspiration to retain the Parliamentary seat for the SLPP. Hence the disruption of APC campaign through a reign of terror to intimidate away from polling day.

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