By Solomon Sesay of the New Daily Nation :
When the Minister of Defence of a whole sovereign nation is set upon publicly , beaten up as some newspapers reported and his suit torn from his back, what you would expect in any normal country is that the association of journalists in that country will come out very strongly with a statement condemning the lawless act in no uncertain terms and prescribing solutions that would avoid a recurrence.
When two citizens of a country, whatever their rank in society , become victims of brutality by whomsoever, whether by the Police, standing army or former combatants, you expect the journalists union to express outrage at the manhandling of both citizens because they are both entitled to human rights, sympathies and protection under the law. One could be a government minister and the other a journalist, but both of them are human beings and any lawless and physical attack on them threaten the foundations of our civilization and our respect for fundamental human rights.
After all, the media are the fourth estate of the governance architecture and are supposed to seek the interest of all parties and even private citizens.
However, when you have an association of journalists that is part of the problem in the nation, it would be sheer idealism and over-optimism to expect such an organization, like the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ ), to perform such a noble task.
The handling of the scuffle at the Ministry of Defence has once again exposed SLAJ as a one-sided and partisan organization. SLAJ did not make any comment about the act of lawlessness by the former combatants . It did not express any shock and dismay that the ex-combatants impudently and dangerously attacked and tore the clothes off the Minister of Defence.To all right-thinking Sierra Leoneans, for the ex-combatants to have had the guts to attack and manhandle the Defence Minister was a clear demonstration that politically-motivated lawlessness has become so enthroned that public officers and political opponents are not safe in the country. This could have been an opportunity for SLAJ to demonstrate its neutrality by strongly condemning the attack on the minister and suggesting the way forward . At least, that is what a non-partisan and patriotic Association of Journalists would have done. But SLAJ’s silence was deafening , and this was not the first time. In the past, SLAJ had only spoken out when the APC is deemed the aggressor. If government soldiers had attacked the combatants, be assured that you could have heard a strong condemnation against the government from SLAJ. Now that the government is the victim, SLAJ is very silent. Yet, the Association ably made a public statement attacking government soldiers for allegedly manhandling two journalists working for the Awoko newspaper. Why ? Why ? Why ? This is the stinking hypocrisy going on in the SLAJ Organization. Are the lives of the two journalists more important than the Defence Minister’s ? Is Hon. Palor Conteh ‘s life unimportant ? Why did SLAJ express concerns for the two journalists but remained silent about the attack on the minister ?
SLAJ, by its hypocrisy , double standards and one-sided politicking, is showing that it is definitely partisan and the Association is an anti-government organization that is even believed to be strongly supporting the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) Presidential candidate , Brig. Maada Bio, who has bought many of its members living in Sierra Leone and the U.S. They are in Maada Bio’s pockets. It is no secret that the President of SLAJ, Mr. Umaru Fofana, is a fond admirer of Brig. Bio and an SLPP fanatic. Umaru Fofana has degraded the integrity of SLAJ and little wonder that one of the most strident voices in the nation, the only female publisher in Sierra Leone , the Awareness Times’ Dr. Sylvia Blyden, describes Fofana as a disgrace to independent journalism. Fofana, unfortunately the BBC Correspondent in Sierra Leone, has not only degraded the once-noble reputation of SLAJ through partisan politicking but has long destroyed his own credibility by always sending false and negative stories about his own fatherland to the BBC.
Let it be said here that is not the entire SLAJ that has been corrupted by money and partisan politics. There are many journalists associated with SLAJ that are men and women of integrity and credibility .But we know that when the head of the fish is rotten, the whole body is deemed rotten. And when a fish starts to get rotten, it is the head that rots first. It is a fact that many members of SLAJ are strongly opposed to the direction the corrupt, unprincipled and unpatriotic SLPP stooge Umaru Fofana is leading the organization . But when fifth columnists predominate an organization, you must always expect unprincipled members like Umaru Fofana to slip through the cracks to get elected as President.
If Umaru Fofans feels that I am wrong about him, I want him to explain why his organization was completely silent over the attack on the Defence Minister, Major Palor Conteh, but was quick to release a statement condemning the alleged manhandling of two staff of Awoko. I strongly condemn the action against the Awoko reporters, if it is true but I think the attack on the Defence Minister should have ALSO been given its desired soptlight and condemnation by SLAJ. Not to have said anything about the near-fatal attack on the minister while being quick to make a statement about the two journalists once again demonstrates that SLAJ under Umaru Fofana is biased and one-sided .