Reflections on the 1955 Riots, Ezekiel Alfred Coker | Fantasy History 6

In his memoir, “Reflections on Sierra Leone by a Former Senior Police Officer: The History of the Waning of a Once Progressive West African Country” (published by iUniverse in April 2016), Ezekiel Alfred Coker, provides a living history, discussing the social and political landscape of Sierra Leone before, during and after its independence.

Coker was born and educated in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He served for many years as a senior assistant commissioner on the police force, where he later headed the special branch. Retiring in 1981, he acted as commissioner of police from 1978 to 1980.

Below is an excerpt on the February 1955 Riots from “Reflections on Sierra Leone by a Former Senior Police Officer”:

In February 1955, very serious riots and looting occurred in Freetown – the worst in Freetown in living memory up till then. Sierra Leone was in transition to independence. The top minister at that time was Chief Minister Dr. Milton A.S. Margai, who was leader of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). The minister of mines and labor was Siaka Stevens. But the country was still effectively under British colonial rule. The police force and the army were still under the control of British colonial officers.

The riots and looting occurred between Friday, 11 February and Saturday, 12 February 1955. The riots and looting started following a pay increase request by Marcus Grant, the secretary general of the Sierra Leone Labor Congress a coalition of several trade unions.  Member unions included United Mine Workers Union, Railway Workers Union, and Mercantile and General Workers Union. Grant was asking for an increase of six pence in the daily wages of workers in the various trade unions. But the government’s minister of labor seemed to be stalling, insisting that negotiations with the Sierra Leone labor Congress should continue.  

In exasperation the secretary general of the Labor Congress called for a general strike, apparently in the hope of exerting pressure on the government so that it might relent and grant the wage increase. Unemployed youth and hooligans, who then spread mayhem throughout Freetown, quickly hijacked the strike. Substantial parts of the city were seriously vandalized.  Telephone and radio rediffusion wires were cut.

Widespread looting of Lebanese as well as Foullah shops followed. But by late Saturday, 12 February 1955, the police and the military had the situation under control. Several people, all of whom were suspected looters and other hooligans, were killed and several were wounded.

During the riots, assistant superintendent of police, Everett, a young British colonial police officer, was in charge of a riot unit in the eastern part of Freetown. The mob overwhelmed the forty-man unit in Everett’s charge. He himself was captured and then lynched. Several police personnel were seriously wounded. Ironically, Everett had just been transferred from Malaya (now Malaysia) during the violent and bloody insurgency in that former British colony. Sierra Leone, which had hitherto been considered peaceful, was the place where this young British colonial officer was to meet untimely and gruesome death at the hands of the violent t mob.  The riot was finally brought under control by late Saturday with the intervention of the army.

During the peak of the riot and looting on Friday Deputy Commissioner of Police Anthony S. Keeling, a British police officer together with a handful of policemen fought their way along Kissy Street, where many Lebanese were being looted.  After considerable difficulties battling their way through violent mobs along Kissy Street, they finally arrived at Eastern Police Station, where a few policemen were based. By then the mob had almost surrounded Eastern Police Station and had set part of the building on fire. Keeling and the handful of policemen inside the station had no way to escape.

Just then, a contingent of soldiers under a British officer arrived and dispersed the mob. Keeling and other policemen who were inside the station were rescued from what may well have turned into lynching. The deputy commissioner was therefore saved from meeting the same fate as the young British officer Everett who had earlier in the afternoon been captured and lynched not too far away at Upper Kissy Road.

I did not personally witness these incidents. But the details were in the report of the commission of inquiry, which was set up by the government after these disturbances in Freetown. Particulars about the incident involving Keeling were also in one of the files at Special Branch headquarters.

However, a customs officer at the time, I did not personally witness some of the rioting and looting that spread through Freetown on those two fateful days.

The Freetown riots were followed a few months later by very serious revolts in the protectorate. From 1955 to 1956, people, mainly in the northern province, were rising up against the chiefs. The revolts were centered mainly on Lokomasama Chiefdom.
Several causalities among police officers resulted from these riots as well. Those killed included three CID personnel who had smuggled themselves into a meeting organized by the rebels in Lokomasama chiefdom. These policemen, who were young recruits fresh from training school, wore plain clothes, but people in the crowd identified them. They were captured and brutally murdered, after which their bodies were dumped into a nearby river. By early 1956 the disturbances in the protectorate were brought under control by the police force. 

“Reflections on Sierra Leone by a Former Senior Police Officer”
By Ezekiel Alfred Coker, MR, JP, BEM
Softcover | 6 x 9 in | 324 pages | ISBN 9781491791028
E-Book | 324 pages | ISBN 9781491791035
Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble


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