By Sorie Fofana………………………………….
I had a father/son relationship with the late President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Even though he gave me a job, he never considered me as one of his employees. He always referred to me as his son. I have fond memories of President Kabbah. He had a wonderful sense of humour.
President Kabbah was a very modest and inspirational leader. He was a leader of exceptional quality. He had an infectious personality. His loss is a national loss.
Between 1998 and 2002, I travelled with President Kabbah throughout the length and breath of Sierra Leone. He always insisted on travelling with me.
It was during one of those travels upcountry that I got involved in a road accident in Kenema. The convoy in which we were travelling was halted and Pa. Kabbah had to order the then Chief of Defence Staff, the late General Tom Carew to get the military gunboat then stationed somewhere around Mile 91, to fly me to Freetown for urgent medical attention.
When we landed at the Cockerill Military Headquarters, it was the then Inspector General of Police, Kande Bangura who was instructed to ensure that I was treated urgently. He took me to the Connaught Hospital and ensured that I was given a VIP treatment, all on the orders of President Kabbah.
President Kabbah called from Kenema to sympathize with me and to also assure me that he was personally going to take responsibility for all my medical bills.
When, finally, he visited me at home, he gave me US$100 (One hundred US Dollars) and said he was very sorry for what had happened to me. He came to see me at night with one of his top security details. He stayed for almost an hour before he bade farewell and left. We stayed in regular touch.
After the 2002 elections, President Kabbah made an open-ended offer to me. The decision to go to London on a diplomatic assignment was purely mine. Pa. Kabbah had in mind something bigger than that. I pleaded with him to allow me take a break outside Sierra Leone.
Pa. Kabbah gave me all the support I needed and I learnt a lot from him during the time he was President. He was a good human being.
Pa. Kabbah was a very cautious man. He protected the resources of Sierra Leone as if they were his personal resources. He was never an extravagant man. He chose to live a very modest life.
When he retired as President, he had only two vehicles for his personal use. He never built any house in the whole of the Western Area (from 1996 to 2007). He never acquired a single parcel of land in the whole of the Western Area (from 1996-2007).
After he retired as President, I travelled with him extensively, both in and out of this country. I once accompanied him to Mile 91, where he went to see an old friend. On our way to Freetown, his vehicle broke down at IMMAT, Hill Station at night. He remained calm and stayed in the vehicle.
I telephoned my driver who was already waiting at Pa Kabbah’s house in Juba to pick us up at IMMAT. When my driver arrived, we jumped into my vehicle and drove off. We dropped him off at home.
On arrival at Juba, he telephoned his driver to ensure that he was okay. I got my mechanic to rescue Pa Kabbah’s driver. He thanked me and my driver and told me to invite the mechanic to his house for him to personally thank him for fixing his vehicle. That is the man we have lost.
In June 2010, he asked me to accompany him to South Africa for the FIFA World Cup. On arrival at the Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, we checked into the residence of one of his very good friends. We had daily live match tickets already waiting for us.
After watching three live matches, Pa. Kabbah gave up and said he wanted to concentrate on reading his manuscript for his memoir. I stayed with him at home and we went through the manuscript dutifully.
Pa. Kabbah was a very meticulous man. I checked his mail box regularly and replied to urgent emails with his consent. Most of the emails came from some of his former colleagues at the United Nations.
I had unlimited access to his Juba residence. I live very close to his residence at Juba. He once visited me at home but, unfortunately, I was not in. He telephoned to say he was waiting for me at home. I drove straight to his house only to be told that he was out. I came home to find him parked in my compound. I greeted him and he said, “I’m sorry for any unwarranted intrusion… but I thought I should share a joke with you before I leave”. He told me of how a swarm of youth gathered around him when they saw him buying a charger for his mobile phone at Lumley. We laughed over it.
When he fell ill, I visited him, at home and in the hospital. I stopped visiting him the day I realized that he was no longer able to recognize me. That was at Choithram Hospital. I met him in a condition that made me wept tears. I held his right hand and he just turned and smiled at me. He did not utter a word to me. I prayed for him and wished him an early departure. I did not want to see him suffer any further. That was the last time I ever saw him alive.
The death of Pa. Kabbah should be celebrated. He lived a good life. He died peacefully at home. He lived a fulfilled life. To attain the position of President of any country is not a mean achievement.
The world has lost a great leader and statesman. Sierra Leone has lost one of its greatest leaders. Like the First Lady, Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma said in her tribute to the former President, “Those who do not miss President Kabbah now, will one day miss him”. President Kabbah was a very decent man. He put the interest of Sierra Leone above his personal interest.
The Madingos have an old proverb which goes like this, “It is not the years in your life that matters, but the life in your years”. Pa. Kabbah lived a very productive life. He changed the lives of many people across the world. He enjoyed the flora and fauna of life. Let me end by saying that, only the heart that loves knows the sorrow of parting.
Rest in peace, Pa Kabbah!
You lived a very good life!
Good night and goodbye!