BY AMARA THORONKA
On Sunday 4th July 2021, the former head of state of Sierra Leone under the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) military regime (1992-1996), Captained (Rtd) Valentine E.M Strasser returned home after a successful medical surgery and physiotherapy in Ghana. The expenses of his traveling and medical treatment were covered by the incumbent government of President Julius Maada Bio who was Minister of Information and subsequently second-in-command in the aforesaid military government. Welcoming his erstwhile boss, President Bio handed over keys to a newly constructed and fenced modern three-bedroom house with a range of facilities.
There has been mixed feelings as to whether President Bio is worthy to take such glory as the medical bills were settled with state money and that the said house was reportedly built by foreign businessman. Even though people have right to their opinions, what has been a norm in governance circle is that the incumbent takes the glory and blame for all positives and negatives under its purview. Thus, it is reasonably justifiable to eulogize President Bio for restoring the dignity of the former head of state. It is essential to note that neither the 1991 Constitution nor statutes/acts of parliament of Sierra Leone make provision for junta head of state to be accorded with official emolument or gratuity. It is therefore proper to say that any kind gesture extended to Strasser is voluntary and out of goodwill.
However, I wish for similar kind gestures to be extended to others who have diligently and patriotically served our nation in thick and in thin. Some months ago, I wrote an article titled, “Sierra Leone: Is the flag worth dying for?” In that article, published by Beyond Borders Newspaper and some print and online media outlets, I cited some instances of Sierra Leoneans who served our country tirelessly in various walks of life but are living in misery and despondency because they are not being properly cared for by the state. It is very unbearable to see former diligent public service officials who contributed immensely to the growth and development of the country languishing. President Bio, his government and all those who contributed in restoring the dignity of Captain (Rtd) Strasser deserve praises because no matter what Strasser is a human being and has served this nation in uniform and in governance. Equally so, the government and its partners should understand that there are many Strassers out there who are vulnerable and hopeless to the extent that they lack the essentials to keep live moving. Whenever they look at their current deplorable condition and reflect on how they passionately served their country, they become frustrated and somehow regret such nationalistic service to their nation.
Granted that President Bio has done well in restoring the health and dignity of the former junta leader; but it will be apt and prudent if government could establish a mechanism to properly care for people who spend all the active part of their lives in serving our beloved Mama Salone. The said mechanism should be devoid of nepotism and status. As long as one has served our country with a long history of commitment and dedication he/she should be cared for by the state and not left to languish.
Putting smiles on the faces of retired service personnel has enormous benefits for the nation. In the first place, it can heighten the level of commitment of current public service personnel. Second, it might also drastically reduce corruption in public institutions. If someone is serving with the evident reality that he/she will be properly taken care of by the state upon retirement or otherwise, he/she can give his/her very best and imbibe an incorruptible character. But however, if that same person continues to see people who sacrificed for and/or served our nation with integrity and patriotism but now experience excruciating and unbearable socioeconomic conditions, that person will be seriously demotivated to serve and might encourage corrupt practices to save for his/her post national service welfare. Again, it is good that Strasser’s dignity has been restored; however, the government should try to identify and carter for the other Strassers out there who served Sierra Leone throughout their active lives, but are now suffering excruciatingly.