With placards in hand, pupils of Malen Junior Secondary School have called on the government and chiefdom authorities to dialogue with Green Scenery in the interest of peace and development in the restive chiefdom.
It is not immediately known who mobilised the school pupils, but as they held placards last week, they told visiting journalists they were tired of unrest in the southern chiefdom.
They urged the government and local authorities to prevail on ‘critics that are propagating negative accusations to the international community’ to desist, in an apparent reference to an alleged speech by President Ernest Bai Koroma during a recent visit to Malen, Pujehun District, where he was quoted to have said that an unnamed local non-government organisation had been saying all sorts of undesirable statements about the country in relation to land dispute between the agribusiness company and local land owners, known collectively as Malen Land Owners Association (MALOA).
Leader of MALOA, Hon. Shiaka Samu, and five other land right activists were recently convicted of various offences and slammed with heavy fines or alternate jail term by a judge in Bo.
However, environmental groups and human rights organisations, led by Green Scenery, raised funds to pay the fines to secure the release of the men.
Brima Koroma, a teacher at the school, highlighted what he described as contributions the French company has made to the school, including providing a hostel for teachers, stipends for teachers and other facilities for the pupils to have better learning environment.
“Development is what we need in Sahn-Malen. We say no to detractors,” the school children chanted in choreographed voice.
Some of the posters read: ‘We want Socfin for Development, Green Scenery join hands with Socfin for development, ‘MALOA don’t mislead the people of Malen’, ‘The People of Malen need Socfin’, ‘MALOA Go Away’, ‘Red Card to Detractors’, ‘Red Card to MALOA’.
A certain Ms. Farma, who identified herself as the only female teacher in the school, said the company had brought tremendous development to the chiefdom.
She said that includes yearly scholarship to pupils taking the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) to inspire the pupils for excellence in the academia.
However, the government pays examination fees for all pupils who write the BECE, which is a prerequisite for admission into senior secondary school.
Ms Farma further said that the school now boasts of a standard library, infrastructure, water supply, sanitation and quality teaching materials.
She added that the 27 scholarships provided to girls who attend the school and got aggregates of 18 to 30 would continue until they attain university or college education.
Perhaps fearful that the current conflict between the company and land rights activists could undo benefits they are getting from the former, the placard holding pupils urged a détente.
“They [SOCFIN] will provide buses, food and financial assistances, amongst others, whenever the need arises,” Said Ms. Farma.
Haji Lahai, a pupil of the school, said she was elated that Socfin had embarked on massive development in the chiefdom. She asserted that water supply and toilet facility were big challenges in the past, but that with the intervention of the French company the rural school could now boast of a borehole and good sanitation.
We couldn’t get a reaction from either Green Scenery or MALOA as we went to press.