A former Chairman and Leader of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) and flag bearer aspirant for the 2018 presidential election has said Statistic Sierra Leone in cohorts with the Ernest Bai Koroma led administration deliberately manipulated the Sierra Leone Population and Housing Census Provincial Report in the interest of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) as strategy to influence boundary, constituencies and wards delimitation process across the country so that the APC will continue to govern.

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Oponjo Benjamin, speaking yesterday in a press conference at his Campbell Street office in Freetown, hours after President Koroma launched the provisional census result, accused Statistics Sierra Leone of deliberately excluding opposition political parties from the entire census process, adding that the provincial report should be vigorously monitored by civil society activists, political party representatives and the citizens of Sierra Leone, as the data failed to present a clear picture of the actual population of the country.

“This statistical report is cooked in the interest of government and it will not be acceptable by us as opposition parties in this country. I am calling on all and sundry to critically examine the report and protest against it.

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We have questioned the process from start; I knew it was going to come out like this. I have said times without number that the APC is not doing all of these in the interest of the country but for their selfish personal gains,” fumed the firebrand opposition politician.

He said: “In the first place, I was Minister of Finance and Economic Development during the SLPP era; my administration never interfered with issues dealing with statistics, but when the APC administration took over power they immediately removed the Statistician General, Professor Laurence Kamara. This was done by the former Deputy Minister of Finance, Dr. Richard Conteh.”

He also alleged that, “while the census process was ongoing, one of their [Statistic Sierra Leone] staff in the eastern region was sacked because of corrupt practices; he was alleged to have collected money from people ahead of the census process.”

He also alluded to a report by an independent think tank, which questioned the independence and qualification of some of the personnel at Statistics Sierra Leone. “Again the Institute of Governance Reform (IGR) raised concern as to how politicians were been recruited by this same government to manipulate the process, but nobody listened to their calls,” he said and further noted that government was now contemplating on creating a new city council for Koinadugu district on the pretest that Bonthe District has two councils, the reason he said the figures were sexed up in the northern region, more than all other regions in the country.

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“Bonthe district has two councils for a very long period, this is actually not good for us and that is why I want to bring it to the attention of all Sierra Leoneans to step up and challenge the provincial report so that serious actions will be taken to address some of the gaps,” he said.

Statistician General, Mohamed King Koroma, however said the census targeted all residents in Sierra Leone as evident in the outcome of the data collection.

He said census has three distinct phases, which includes preparatory phase, enumeration and post enumeration phase, adding that his institution did a diligent work to produce the provincial report.

“The implementation of the census is being carried out within a robust governance framework that involves committees like the National Advisory Committee, UNFPA, DFID, Irish Aid and UNDP,” he said and added that all the aforementioned international bodies are in agreement that the census was credible.

According to the provisional result released by Statistics Sierra Leone yesterday, which was launched by President Koroma, Sierra Leone’s population increased from just over 4million in 2004 to 7,075,641 in 2015, with 49.1% representing men and 50.9% women.

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The northern region, stronghold of the ruling party, reportedly has the highest population in the country, with 2, 502.805, ahead of the densely populated Western Area, which has 1,493,252. The eastern region recorded 1,641,012, while the southern region registered 1,438,572.

Meanwhile, ahead of the enumeration process, an independent research institute, IGR, maintained that if swift actions were not taken the census would pose serious challenges to peace and security in the country as “there are a lot of credibility challenges including seeming political interference”.

Their report, titled “The credibility of the 2015 Census in Sierra Leone: will all heads be counted?” noted that: “It was vividly observed that some officials of Statistics Sierra Leone are fully conscious of the political dynamics of the country but have allowed strong partisan interest in the census process that favored the ruling All People’s Congress (APC).”

Executive Director of IGR, Andrew Lavalie, said by allowing one political party to take an edge in the process would undermine the credibility of the census. He said one of the most crucial issues in the population census was reflected in the political mobilisation of District Census Officers who were responsible for the implementation of the census activities in the district.

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“Background checks on the staff revealed that Statistics Sierra Leone has given absolute control to officials of the ruling party to manage the data collection and census management process. District stakeholders interviewed identified 9 out of the 14 district officials as active ruling party politicians who can potentially introduce party political bias in the process. For example, in Pujehun district, Sheku S. Tarawally was the APC parliamentary candidate for Constituency 87 in the 2012 election,” Lavalie said.

“Raymond Saidu, who heads the Bo district process, was also APC candidate for Constituency 73 in the 2012 election. Mohamed S. Kamara, the District Officer in the Port Loko district contested for APC parliamentary symbol for Constituency 49 in the 2012 election; Sana Samura in Koinadugu district is the former APC district party chairman.”