Matthew Kanu reports:
On Wednesday 17th May 2017 the University of Makeni Library held an awareness raising session on the electioneering process in Sierra Leone. This awareness raising session is aimed at schooling students of UNIMAK on the electoral conduct of the Sierra Leone general elections on 8 March 2018. This is the pre-election process that is directed towards building the confidence of Sierra Leoneans to participate in the 2018 elections. Over 200 students attended the session with support from the Embassy of United States of America in Sierra Leone.
Since its inception in 2005, UNIMAK has been very proactive in building a stronger governance system in Sierra Leone. During the 2007 and 2012 general elections UNIMAK trained paramount chiefs on their responsibilities in the electoral process, trained youths on non violence campaigns and also trained local community radio reporters across Sierra Leone on election reporting .
First year Mass Communication student Bintu Sudan Sesay admitted that this is her first time of listening to a detailed explanation of the electoral laws of Sierra Leone and consequences of violating them. “Before this time I knew nothing about the Sierra Leone electoral laws . Now I can stand anywhere and explain them to colleague students and people outside the university” she explained .
First year accounting student Abibatu Tarawalie said explaining the NEC calendar and its challenges and successes to them showed that the 2018 elections will be run in a transparent and accountable manner. “Coming down to our level as students to explain the electoral laws is the beginning of a transparent electoral process in Sierra Leone because I know most colleague students are within the voting age and can contribute a lot in ensuring a clean electoral process nationwide” she noted .
Addressing students in the auditorium during the session UNIMAK Director of Academic Affairs Rev. Fr. Dr. Francis Sehdu Sesay said this session is part of the university core values. These values include teaching. research and community engagement . He said UNIMAK is organizing these sessions because students have the right to vote and be voted for in Sierra Leone.
Facilitators of the session included the Bombali District NEC Voter Education and Training Officer Manty Daboh Turay, Makeni Panlap Police Division Local Unit Commander Gibril M Turay and UNIMAK Dean of Students Foday Augustine Bangura.
The Bombali District NEC Voter Education and Training Officer Manty Daboh Turay informed the students that NEC is aware of the students’ role towards the conduct of a successful election in 2018. She also noted that violation of electoral laws is punishable by law and liable to imprisonment . “These violations include spreading false rumors, ballot stuffing, attempting to disrupt the peaceful conduct of the electoral process, provocation, intimidation, destroying your voter ID card and not displaying political tolerance”. Madam Turay advised students to be role models to others because their contribution to the electoral process is key to sustainable development in Sierra Leone. She also noted that public engagement is very important for a successful conduct of the elections. “Please disseminate peaceful messages, undertake mass campaign rallies to ensure peaceful elections within and outside your campuses”.
Community policing is key in all elections in Sierra Leone. Even though the current police population is small to police a population of over seven million people, the country’s police hierarchy said they are ready to police the conduct of the 2018 elections. About 1000 newly recruited police officers will be ready .
Explaining the police role and public expectations the Makeni Panlap Police Division Local Unit Commander ASP Gibril M Turay said section 2 of the police act of 1964 guaranteed the duty of the police to provide security for citizens of which NEC is no exception . “UNIMAK students should make the difference in the dispensation of the election process within the framework of the laws “he explained .
ASP Turay noted that for peace and tranquility to prevail students and members of the public as a whole should not insult or do any action that will disturb the conduct of the elections in 2018. “Breaking these laws makes one liable to imprisonment. If you misbehave during the election the police will arrest and charge you,” he explained.
The UNIMAK Dean of students Foday Augustine Bangura encouraged students to be responsible in disseminating information. “Don’t hold on to messages. Ensure messages are disseminated and not distorted, and avoid the issues of fake news on social media” he noted .
Mr. Bangura further explained that the students are the potential leaders of this country and that they should not be part of anything that is a threat to the elections process. He advised them to ”vote wisely, and don’t say politics is not my business” .