By Sorie Fofana…………………………..
Dennis Skinner, a veteran Labour Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, once advised Prime Minister Tony Blair not to openly endorse any of the candidates running for the leadership of the Labour Party. He feared that, any such endorsement will split the party right in the middle.
Blair had favoured David Milliband to succeed him as Party Leader. David was challenged for the leadership of the Labour Party by his younger brother, Ed Milliband.
After Gordon Brown failed to retain the post of Prime Minister, he resigned as Labour Party Leader thus, leaving the race open for the post of Party Leader.
David, who had enjoyed the support of several party heavy weights was defeated by his younger brother because of the backing he (Ed Milliband) got from the powerful Trade Union, the TEC.
Ed Milliband became Labour Party Leader but failed to defeat the incumbent Conservative Party Prime Minister, David Cameroon in the last General Elections.
After his re-election in 2002, President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah quietly consulted a good number of his friends and political allies on the issue of succession in the SLPP. A lot of names came up including but not limited to Charles Margai, J.B. Dauda, Momodu Koroma and Dr. Prince Harding.
In his final shortlist, there were only three people left-J.B. Dauda, Charles Margai and Solomon Berewa.
By 2004, Kabbah had made up his mind to conduct an early election for the leadership of the party. The party’s National Chairman, Dr. Sama Banya advised Kabbah against rushing to elect or anoint a flagbearer when he had three more years to complete his final term in office.
One of the people who advised Kabbah on the issue of succession in the SLPP was Dr. James Jonah. Even though he never joined the SLPP, Dr. Jonah served both as Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York and as Minister of Finance and Economic Development in the Tejan Kabbah led SLPP administration.
Kabbah, after scrutinizing the list of possible successors, decided to back his right hand man, Solomon Berewa against the party’s favourite candidate, Charles Margai.
Margai was (and is still considered) as a natural leader of the SLPP. He made a serious political blunder by leaving the SLPP to form the PMDC.
After he lost the leadership position in the SLPP to Mr. Berewa, in Makeni in 2005, Mr. Margai left the SLPP in anger and disappointment. He had thought that, after Kabbah would have ended his final term, the party would have elected him as Party Leader. But that never came to fruition.
Charles Margai’s PMDC got a huge chunk of its votes in the 2007 elections in the South/East of the country. In fact, all the Parliamentary seats won by his party were seats that would have naturally gone to the SLPP.
A lot of South/Easterners supported Margai’s party because of the Hinga Norman factor. They believed that, the SLPP Presidential candidate in 2007, Solomon Berewa was the man who played an integral role in the setting up of the hybrid Special Court for Sierra Leone which later indicted their war hero, Chief Norman.
In the view of this writer, Berewa was unfairly treated on account of this. The Special Court was an international court that was set up on the insistence of some hardliners in the US government of President George W. Bush.
Kabbah told this writer that, his hands were tied. He said there was no way he could have blocked the setting up of the Special Court because the Americans wanted it that way.
It is still believed by many people (including Berewa himself) that, he (Berewa) did not lose the 2007 Presidential elections. He won the elections but lost the results. Thanks to Christiana Thorpe!
In the interest of peace and stability in the country, Berewa was invited to State House by Tejan Kabbah and told to concede defeat after the results had been announced.
Both Kabbah and Berewa proceeded to a quiet and dignified retirement. Until Kabbah’s death in May 2014, Berewa continued to tell people that, if Kabbah had not remained neutral, he would have been President of Sierra Leone.
It is fair to say that, President Koroma has not properly managed the issue of succession in his party. It is very rare for a ruling party to be embroiled in a messy succession fight like what is happening in the APC Party today.
The President would have presided over an orderly succession if he had made his intention of not extending his term of office beyond the cut-off period of five years, known to everyone. But, his indecision on the issue of succession has led to a floodgate of flagbearer aspirants in the APC party.
Some of the flagbearer aspirants in the APC have nothing to show as their contribution to the party. Some of them never identified themselves with the party until they got appointed by President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma to serve in his government.
On a recent visit to the Provinces, Koroma told party faithful (party leaders) not to take sides in the flagbearer race until the whistle is blown. He admonished them to support any candidate that the party chooses as its standard bearer for the 2018 elections.
Koroma carries a heavy weight in the party. His support for any of the candidates will prove to be very crucial. But, will he get the entire party to back any candidate that emerges from such a bitter fight?
Koroma’s supporters in the APC believe that, their man’s greatest worry is his personal security after the Presidency. Who in the APC is capable of withstanding both local and international pressure not to go after Koroma after he would have stepped down gracefully from State House in 2018?
Koroma is a very tactful man. He has always proved his detractors wrong, by continuing to lead his party without any public dissension.
Without any shred of doubt, Koroma would like his successor to naturally come from the APC Party. But, will he be overtaken by fast moving events in the SLPP? Will Koroma strike a deal with the SLPP Presidential candidate in the 2018 elections for his personal protection?
Having dealt with Koroma on many occasions, this writer can safely say that, he is a man that does not underrate his opponents. He is a master political tactician and a consensus builder.
The issue of succession in the APC will, to a very large extent, define Koroma’s legacy in time to come.
Dennis Skinner once said in the UK House of Commons, “In Politics never underestimate the strength of your opponent”.
May common sense prevail!