“I pledge my love and loyalty to my country Sierra Leone. I vow to serve her faithfully at all times. I promise to defend her honour and good name. Always work for her unity, peace, freedom and prosperity. And put her interest above all else. So help me God. So help me God”.
So goes our National Pledge. Or what should be it. It was that identity that rang the call of and for patriotism in us. It was those lines that made my hair stand on end each time I heard it. It was that chime that shot up the patriotism in me each time I listened to it. Thanks to the National Commission for Democracy (NCD). If anything it seems to be the only thing reminiscent of the NCD. But not quite any more! It is only to those who care to remember it. How our conscience has sunk! How our sense of responsibility and duty to country has evaporated! How we have sat down and allowed our needed institutions to decay for wanted even if meaningless ones.
And I wonder how many of our public officials think about or even know the wording of the pledge. I wonder how many of us ordinary people even remember it once existed. Excepting that Radio Democracy still uses it to close their daily broadcast. It is testament to our over-concentration on lust for self aggrandisement and damnation for country. And we can only continue to slide. The ramifications are all too obvious.
But this piece is not about the National Pledge. It is about its creator. Is it not ironic that when there is so much talk about and probably belief that the roots of democracy are taking hold in our country, the very institution set up to capture, nurture and sustain them is weakening if not already. It would seem the level of democracy we enjoy and sometimes endure depends on the magnanimity, or pettiness, of our leaders. Hence, it is making more of a splash than a drip as we seem to be behind the curve in efforts to strengthen those roots of democracy. Intolerance is swallowing us up. People take the law into their own hand almost at will. Politicians and their agents intimidate their opponents. Security forces are largely compromised depending on who is in power and when; as they seem to serve those in power at the expense of the ordinary man and woman. No indigenous institutions consistent with impartially reminding them of their cardinal responsibility exist.
Times there were when the teaching of democracy and good governance was all over the place. It could be heard. It could be seen. It could be felt. Kids in schools were beginning to imbibe that sense of nationalism with the daily recitation of the National Pledge reminding all of their obligations to the country. Adults in their offices had copies of the Pledge dangling on the wall and pricking their consciences. All thanks to the National Commission for Democracy headed then by Dr Kadie Sesay. In those times, government would pump money into the running and operations of the commission which was visible both in words and in sight. Now that has ebbed considerably. Donors would come flocking with funds to help build our democratic culture. Now, all that has disappeared! All thanks to the ineptitude of the commission and the ambivalence at best, or even complete neglect of the NCD.
Like with most things and institutions caught in the line of fire of partisan politics, political disingenuousness, party affiliations and self-seeking fulfilments, NCD is crumbling. Even though what Government gives to the commission is far from what it needs to function effectively, the question is as much what can it do with Le 200 – 300 million it receives annually as it is what does it do with it. Going to the state broadcaster and hosting those drab uncreative and ostensibly directionless discussion programmes?
The Government has to take a bold step. It should either scrap the commission altogether, or pay more attention to it by reconstituting it to serve the crucial role I maintain it still has to. Where are their regional offices? They should be there embarking on innovative programmes and not getting sucked into partisan politics. They should be holding programmes in schools with a view to re-orientating the budding ones. They should think about writing materials for civic education that will be introduced into the school curriculum especially at the primary school level. They should be using radio and TV more creatively. All that will not happen if the commission is not reconstituted and resources pumped into it. And all the huge sums of money injected into it over more than one decade will be in vain if the commission is allowed to die.
Government institutions must not be set up just because those in power want to create jobs for their cronies. Nor should these institutions be neglected – even strangulated – because those who man them are not their political allies. And people must learn to resign their positions when they know they are no longer useful there, cannot function, or are compromised from functioning desirously.
I have spoken to some workers at the commission, past and present, who believe Government has neglected it over the years. They also believe that appointments to the commission were mainly based on cronyism. Invariably, I have spoken with some Government officials who have told me that the commission cannot function well in its present arrangement. Yet they will not move to revamp it even though they believe there is a lot it can do. I have spoken to some UN officials who were blunt to tell me they are not interested in putting a dime into what one referred to as a “visionless commission”. But they all agree there is a lot it can do in re-orientating especially young people about democracy but also “the political bigots” as one referred to them, who do not have in them any semblance of tolerance for the other view.
It would be a great favour to the country if the commission ceased to exist so the meagre resources being spent on it would be used on more meaningful projects. Alternatively, it should be reconstituted without the job-for-the-boys/girls in mind so it can help strengthen, through civic education, our democracy especially the intolerance level which seems to be fraying at the edges on every passing day. By Umaru Fofana