“For the first time in the life of this brave and fearless journalist, the right to reply does not apply.”
By Alpha Kamara in Washington D.C.
I was not that close to Mr. Philip Neville. Years ago, he told me that he was disappointed in me for supporting Umaru Fofana against him for the SLAJ presidency race. I told him Umaru was more familiar to me at the time as a broadcast journalist. I also told him it was nothing personal, just SLAJ politics. He accepted that fact with a smile, stressing he can still do more for the media without being the president of SLAJ. Neville, demonstrated I that. I interacted several times with Mr. Philip Neville during my time at the BBC Media Action in Sierra Leone as a program producer and trainer. Star Radio had a vast coverage, and it was therefore one of the stations we used to broadcast our governance and human rights radio programs (Forod and Tok Bot Salone).
As producers, we sometimes discuss with radio partners about terms of payment, programs content, issues and airing schedules. Mr. Neville gave us the airtime we needed, hence we were willing to pay.
Some station managers, were concerned with some of our BBC programs content, which were very strong with issues affecting the common man. This was between 2010-2013 during the EBK era. Neville was very supportive. He would even remind us to produce new episodes with ideas as a man always close to events.
I later increased the respect I have for him due to the investment he made at Media One Center at Mammah Street in Freetown. The center is a multimedia complex that accommodates Star TV, Star Radio, Standard Times Newspaper, and other offices. At that time, he was the only one with that kind of media investment in the whole of Sierra Leone until AYV Radio and TV joined the line later.
In a country like Sierra Leone where wealthy people are afraid of investing in the media, it takes extra courage to do so much in a profession considered one of the poorest in Africa. Even journalists who have made it in the business like Philip are afraid to because of several reasons. But Mr. Neville invested in the trade made him who he was, journalism.
Tributes and Philip’s death
When I heard the news of Mr. Neville’s death in late December last year, the first question that came to mind was, how did he die? Colleagues on ground told me that he was knocked down by a commercial bike rider on December 28th during a festive season event in his village.
My next question was -what has the police done to investigate? That question was in a way answered today at the SLAJ funeral book of condolence signing ceremony.
Veteran journalist who has practiced for over 50 years Unisa Sesay described Philip Neville as an uncompromising and fearless journalist. Sesay also reminded journalists to continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death.
“The way Philip Neville died should stretch our critical thoughts as journalists in Sierra Leone. He was having fun with friends, he received a call, then a motorbike from nowhere ran on him and sped off. He died few hours later just like that,” he said.
I understand the police has not issued any statement yet on the incident. Are the mobile companies saying they can’t trace the last call Philip received that led to his death ? He asked.
SLAJ President Ahmed Sahid Nasralla captured the solemn moment in his words.
Philip is dead, he said. He doesn’t even know whether he died peacefully in a hospital, or he was a victim of a hit-and-run okada before being taken to a hospital. He doesn’t even know whether he is now being called Philip the Devil and Philip the Bastard I, II and III, and even more. He doesn’t even know whether we are holding this service in his honor.
Because when you take in your last and final breath from this world, you partake of it no more. So, for the first time in the life of this brave and fearless journalist, the right to reply does not apply, Nasralla ended by paying his tribute to a media professional who impacted the lives of many.
The Neville family on its part, referred to the death of Mr. Neville as an unanticipated shock. “A mighty wind has broken-down a cotton tree. Philip had no barrier when it comes to helping people. He was a good man. Now, our hope is after this storm, there will be hope and calm for all of us,” a family rep said.
Is Philip’s death a conspiracy?
Philip Neville was hit by this motorbike on the 28th of December 2022. As I write this article on January 20th, 2023, there has not been any press release from the police on the incident that led to the death of this high-profile citizen and journalist.
Upon listening to the family of the late man’s comments on how their relative has been spoken ill of in death, I now strongly believe in a conspiracy theory to kill Philip Neville by some powerful people in society.
The family said “Philip has been called many names. Philip the ba**ard, Philip the devil. Others even say he was hit during a hunting parade with opposition candidate Samura Kamara. With all these, we continue to stay strong to make sure the man is remembered the right way, Philip the fearless journalist”
May be this is the reason why there has not been any public statement from the police on the incident. The Sierra Leone police I know that has killed a lot of innocent citizens for either protesting or raising issues of rights, will do anything possible to cover up circumstances surrounding the death of a critical journalist who has fought many battles with very powerful people.
Philip exposed many corrupt politicians, bankers, businessmen, and corporations in society. Many people in the current ruling circles are not comfortable with Philip’s publications. His paper also published all the articles of the Africanist Press which identifies corruption and financial lapses worth millions of dollars in the current Sierra Leone Government.
For me, Philip Neville was a journalist who used his profession, journalism to expose a lot of corrupt people in society. He also committed mistakes just like any other human being. He opened the media landscape to employ hundreds of local journalists. He was a humanitarian. But above all, he was strong and as a result, he was killed by the same corrupt system he fought against all his years on earth. Come to think of it, the motor bike that hit him has no license plate. The name of the rider plus his motive have still not been made public.
The way he died should be a concern for all critical journalists in a country where those speaking up on critical issues are seen as enemies of progress. Rest well Philip Neville. Your life was a puzzle. Hence, many understood you differently. The corrupt officials your pen lashed at are calling you names. But those whom your generosity saved will continue to sing your praises for the world to know. The ordinary people in the streets will surely missed your generosity and your publications, while your staff at Media One continues to pray you to rest in peace and send them another Moses to continue pushing the agenda of free press.