To ascertain the various claims pointed out by the public, this medium went out to have firsthand information on the whole exercise in two sister districts, Makeni for Bombali District and Magburaka for Tonkolili District.
At Magburaka Town in Tonkolili District, I caught up with the Deputy Minister of Works and Infrastructure in one of the exhibition centers at Beckley Street Court Barry and she referred to the entire exercise as sour and disappointing.
Kadija Olaymatu Sesay made reference to the registration exercise and stated that, the National Electoral Commission did little in terms of awareness raising in Tonkolili District; stressing that the bulk of the sensitization process was carried out by political parties especially the ruling All People’s Congress.
On the area of the exhibition process, Kadija Sesay lamented that no sensitization campaign was done in the district to inform a population she referred to as less privileged in terms of radio listening as most of the locals are subsistence farmers who spend most of their time in farms.
She further expressed that, even for the elites they received little information on the exhibition process especially on the duration of the exercise as herself traveled from Freetown on the 28th August but later realized that, the exercise ended a day before she came to Magburaka.
Another person to be interviewed in Magburaka is the Court No. 1 Clerk – Idrissa M.A Kamara who highlighted several irregularities he sensed during the exhibition process; and these include early closure of exhibition centres by NEC officials, low sensitization campaigns by officials’ responsible and limited time frame on the entire exhibition process.
In the Northern City of Makeni, similar reported instances were made by the public. Mammy Samura a business woman said, she knew nothing about the verification exercise. She went on to say that she was only informed by a relative on the end date of the process and by the moment she arrived at the center no NEC official was found on the ground.
Abdulai Jalloh a Masters Student at the University of Makeni expressed his disappointment over the poor sensitization campaign on the entire exhibition exercise. He further stated that, he was opportune to know about the exercise on social media – WhatsApp to be specific. Jalloh added that many Sierra Leoneans are left out in the process and if NEC is to only issue identification cards to the very few that did the verification of their personal details the bulk of general populace will be disenfranchised from their civic rights as citizens.
Responding to these claims, the Voters Education and Training Officer -National Electoral commission Bombali District said, a well coordinated and participatory mass sensitization on the exhibition process was conducted wherein several stakeholders including traditional leaders were involved. Manty Dabo Turay affirmed that, various means of communications including social media, mainstream media and town crying were applied to inform the general public on the just completed exercise. She reiterated that, she engaged almost all the radio stations in the Municipality of Makeni to inform registrants on the verification exercise.
Commenting on the limited duration for the whole exercise, Manty Turay stated that time is not at their disposal especially when a date has been fixed for the next general election. Turay added that extension of time to any of the concluded activities of NEC including the exhibition process will alter the date for the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections slated on March 7th.
To allay the fear of those who didn’t exhibit at the various centers, Manty Turay said that, they could verify their personal details via NEC app that is available on Google play store. She also confirmed that even though many did not participate in the process their ID cards will be issued to them.
Discussions of these clams by the masses remain lively among many residents who didn’t know anything about the beginning and ending of the exercise. Many expressed that too much of resources have been apportioned to NEC and a lot is expected from them in terms of best practices in all its functions.