My school days friend who is now a university Don of international clout would see no reason why the Freetown City Council (FCC) marked the 225th anniversary of the founding of Freetown on 11th March amidst so much fanfare.
Insofar as he was concerned, there was nothing to celebrate – not even the fact that the occasion itself aside, the country has in the last for as many years continued to enjoy uninterrupted peace and stability.
Incidentally it occurs to me that when it comes to celebrating capital cities milestones worldwide, SierraLeoneans are the only nationals that do not take pride or see any value in the historical heritages of their own capital city, not even for the pivotal roles this ancient and loyal city of Freetown played in various fields – from the abolition of slavery to religion, education, its contributions to the resolution of various global conflicts right unto to it at one time being the headquarter city for the entire Anglophone west African sub-region. So even as foreigners flocked into the country from as far as Canada to join in those FCC celebrations, as far as my school days friend was concerned, there was nothing to write home about.
I did not have difficulty understanding his negative sentiments because like me, this old school acquaintance was born and bred in Freetown and again like me, he still holds vivid nostalgic recollections of those days when parents – subject to good behavior throughout the week of course – would occasionally walk their children at evenings through clean and sanitized city streets to “window shop”, or when the entire by-pass from left side facing the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) through the back of Law Courts right unto the Victoria Park gate opposite the Sierra Leone Library Board(commonly called “Governor “Mangro” (Mango) because those fruit trees were the more plentiful within Government (State) House perimeter) was not the thoroughfare it is today, or when because the ecology permitted it then, children passing through that route could clearly see roaming wild life within the Government House compounds.
My friend’s ire about not seeing anything for the FCC to celebrate also stems from the fact that unlike our childhood days, very few social services delivery system now appear to be functional.
For example; everywherein the city is chuck-a-block now and is either a market, a public toilet or a thoroughfare – whether or not it holds a proximity to sacred or some high government establishments.
As a matter of fact these days government offices within the Central Business District (CBD) streets are converted into overnight lodgings for our hordes of homeless youths whose proclivity to procreate surpasses even rodents(and we must use our taxes to support them on top of that) or they are used as brothels by the families of messengers and watchmen (recruited over time by their siblings who had at some time in the past served there), and whose spouses openly run thriving nocturnal cookery enterprises along the sidewalks.
But unlike my friend however, I hold a totally contrary view, because for me I am trained to see a silver lining I every dark cloud. Accordingly in my view insofar as it relates to commemorating national, city or even individual historic milestones such as was observed by the FCC there was, and will always be valid reasons for celebrations, because each such event can be used as either a wakeup callor a fresh starting call or at worst, a closing call.
Let me try to dilate on those two scenarios, beginning with the wakeup or starting call point.
The wakeup or starting call aspect would allow the celebrants to make critical and introspective assessments of their current deplorable situations and, juxtaposing it against their historical past glories, should be able to analyze gaps and genuinely map the way forward in order to extricate ourselves from the present social quagmire we inadvertently allowed ourselves to have lapsed into.
Thankfully a highlight of that 225th anniversary celebrations was a “March Past” led by brass bands (much like we’ve been doing since colonial days) through major routes that terminated at the forecourt of our Law Courts.
So one can safely assume that either when marching to the Law courts or homewards, the celebrants (especially the older Krios who joined in it) would no doubt have seized the opportunity to reflect much on the current social decline and depravity that has engulfed our capital city, and possibly put them in a better stead to help younger minds strategize how to map the way forward in addressing some or all of the following ills-:
– The city lacks a recreational public square.
– The William Johnson-Cole Gardens has long lapsed into private ownership. The Taylor-Cummings Gardens have been extensively reduced in size.
– A whole “Terrace”right next to the CID named after a famous Governor General of this country and which is of much historic relevance to the very city they purport to have been celebrating:“Slater Terrace” has disappeared and its junction now hosts a “public latrine”– with tenants. (I wonder how many amongst them knew a “Slater Terrace” pathway even ever existed).
– Many houses now do not have toilets, so black polythene bags daily strewn along many city streets are a common sight, often mistaken for abandoned shopping wares at their finders’ peril.
– A perennially cash-strapped City Council has outsourced its major revenue base (City Rates Collection) to exploiters (PET) and now depends on handouts from them, even as properties rents within the CBD continue to skyrocket. And as you read this piece, FCC salaries for February were only paid last Monday 27th March
– What should otherwise have been a supplementary revenue basefor the FCC from vehicular parking within the CBD steadily goes to city touts.
– Many garbage collection points within the city have disappeared over time and our two major dumpsites (Granville Brooke, kissy and King Tom) continue to shrink in sizes at every change of Council administration. And if things continue this way we’ll soon run out of garbage dump sites within the city.
Though reversing the social ills of the city will involve a lot of honesty and hard work, there is no better time to strategize for such a bold action plan than immediately after the observance of a significant milestones like the FCC recently did, especially as the celebrations involved every shade of opinion reflecting a cultural and tribal microcosm of our entire country. The benefit there was that at least, some or most of the malaises bedeviling our ancient municipality would be addressed from a consensual standpoint than as in the past when the city was believed to have been owned by a particular minority ethnic group
Accordingly it behooves us all to join hands together in righting the many wrongs of the past that is consistently making people to question the logic of ever celebrating milestones of the city or even the naming our capital city as “FREETOWN”.
But like I’ve always said, there is nothing wrong in the name; especially as ours is not the only FREETOWN in Africa. If the other FREETOWN – LIBREVILLE in Gabon – can be a healthy, thriving, industrial and prosperous city, what is holding us (one time Athens of West Africa) back from replicating and even surpassing their administrative examples?Enough of this persistent reference to “Kigali” in Rwanda as a model city!! It is their government that did it; and we have always had one in placesince 1961too!!!
On a personal note the starting, wakeup call or silver lining aspect in those FCC celebrations for me was that after over eight (8) years of branding me a fraudster, incompetent and useless, the Freetown City Council discreetly extended two separate invitations to me personally to join in both the Law Courts celebrations and their Civic Cocktail at Sierra Light House in the evening of the same day. That could only have been the handiworks of God.
But I equally discreetly chose not to honour both invitations for twogood reasons-:
1. The names of my spouse, Consort and the Lady Mayoress of Freetown throughout my tenure as Mayor of Freetown (2004 – 2008) who even had an official pendant depicting that factwas not included in the invitations.
Commemorating milestones must begin with respect those who contributed to the milestones of the history being celebrated.
2. The City Council inadvertently omitted to enclose my Cheque for Le17,310,179 (Seventeen million, three hundred and ten thousand one hundred and seventy-nine Leones –excluding interest at 10 per centum per annum of course) being outstanding salaries and allowances due me since 2008 PLUS a formal official letter of apology for sidelining me all these years.
The original debt was Le36,910,179 (approximately Thirty-seven million Leones) but an initial tranche of Le19,600,000 (Nineteen million, six hundred) was paid me in October 2010.
Meantime as a capital city, Freetown is and has for long been in a terrible state. So clearly there is certainly need for improvement. To me however, the plethora of challenges facing our capital city of Freetown is not the problem.
The real problem will lie in where to begin and how committed or prepared those to be charged with the responsibility of rectifying the many wrongs will be ready to sacrifice greed and corruption – and most of all tribalism – on the altar of loyalty and service to the city and country in order to achieve the desired results.
The tribalism aspect to me is most important because no man can serve two masters.
So it is either we believe our capital city belongs to every ethnic group comprising this nation and should be well maintained, or our dreams of ever transforming Freetown into a functionally administrative citywill remain what it has always been-: an illusion. And that will be the “closing call’aspect.