With George S. Khoryama.
For the prophets of doom the just ended Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) national delegates’ conference held in Kenema from September 15 – 17, 2017 was going to be not only a failure but equally a free-for-all mayhem of the 21st century. One of my ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party friends asked me: “George, are you going to Kenema?” I answered: “As surely as daylight, but why ask?”He said sarcastically that I will return to Freetown with a cotton wool head on bandage. In short he meant that it was going to be bloody.
Like my APC friend many other doomsayers settled on the same foreboding premise for the SLPP convention. Thank God they were all left in the cold as the three day parley proved nothing short of remarkable. And here is where the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) come in for the best of commendations. The SLP was on top of the security details for the conference iron-clad; no grass was shaking; no compromise no matter who you were. It was truly ‘Police for Good’ this time round, yes.
Hundreds of thousands of party officials, supporters and well-wishers had turned out for the conference against a background of a wretched provincial city of Kenema. These men, women and youth have for ten years remained the butts of unthinking disadvantages, discrimination at work place and many other insidious cruelties and treatments under the APC government of President Koroma; a showcase of the extent of deprivation of the south-eastern provinces and the backwater at whose borders national progress stops.
Nonetheless the people swallowed their frustrations and anguish in a high spirit of festivities and jubilation to elect their new executive. There were singing, applause, dancing and merry making in, out and around the Trinity conference hall, reminiscent of a festive atmosphere of a Roman holiday.
Very observable though was the dominance of paraphernalia– T-shirts, face caps – and other miscellaneous items that were required to promote flag bearer aspirant Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio and newly elected Chairman/Leader Dr. Prince Harding respectively, adorned by a host of their supporters. Except for the newly elected Secretary-General Lawyer Umaru Napoleon Koroma, whose supporters stormed the conference center with his elephant size banner, most others’ did not capture much attention.
The conference kicked off in earnest as late as between 5 and 5:30 p.m Friday. Conspicuously absent was the former Chairman/Leader of SLPP, Chief Somano Kapen, who was to chair the proceedings of the convention and to deliver the state of the party address. Those roles were performed instead by then Deputy Chairman/Leader Dr. Harding. The high table was set and occupied by party dignitaries including flag bearer aspirants, Mayor of Kenema Kelfala Samba and others.
And then entered Mr Bio, wife and body guards which moment turned the hall upside down with songs of praise, dancing, shouting and hugging while camera, television and mobile phones light bulbs were popping to capture the momentum. In sharp contrast though, other flag bearer aspirants entered and walked up the high table without ceremony and without their wives and security body guards.
The former Chairman/Leader of SLPP, John Oponjo Benjamin commonly called JOB, did go to the conference but stopped short of identifying himself with the official proceedings. The controversial flag bearer aspirant had all along remained indifferent to the manner in which the affairs of the party had been handled by the former executive. In no uncertain terms he continued to express his misgivings about the party and the conference while addressing journalists on the fringes of the conference.
With the formalities approved but apparently not openly blessed by some delegates, Day 2 on Saturday September 16, 2017 featured the election of the new executive officers by over 600 delegates beginning from the lower echelon up to the Chairman and Leader. This exercise had to last until Monday morning. The arrangement of the convention was not without some hiccups such as the late and/or non- accreditation of some conference delegates and aspirants. Some were heard openly complaining of poor arrangement. The press also had to grapple with the problem of accreditation for hours.
By and large the conference was a huge success defying every anticipated misgiving and apprehension: no walk-out, no fighting and no quarrel. Praise God.
A singular important symbol of loyalty to a cause is one being demonstrated by some five flag bearer aspirants. The courage of Alie Kabba, Dr. Tengbeh, Alpha Timbo, Umaru Bonde Wurie and Munda Rogers to remain in the flag bearer race when it is a foregone universal acknowledgement that Maada Bio is the choice of many is nothing short of a remarkable feat. Their courage goes beyond the sheer thrust for political power to that of the extraordinary. Have they seen another side of the race to stay put that the likes of the Yumkellas, the Kellis, the Rogers and others didn’t appreciate and therefore called it quits? Have they discerned some kind of prospects as to have them stay put in the race that JOB had failed to equally discern?
The guess is anyone’s but the love and popularity of Maada Bio from the last flag bearer election in 1913 which he won has remained formidable on to the momentum of the just ended delegates’ conference.
The course of ascendancy of Dr Prince Harding to the Chairmanship/Leadership of the SLPP is reminiscent of how former Chairman/Leader Somano Kapen also got on to the job. Somano Kapen and his former boss, John Benjamin, were proven ill bed fellows. Kapen and the former Secretary General BanjaTejan-Sie helped in no small way to estrange JOB from the party. After the Bo convention where he was elected, Kapen had had no kind choice words about JOB during his familiarization nation-wide tours and other interviews. He did not rest until JOB was dishonourably evicted from office.
What goes around comes around. Former Deputy Chairman/Leader to Somano Kapen, Dr Prince Harding similarly never rested until his boss was more or less disgraced. Dr Harding at some point overthrew Kapen and took his seat briefly at party headquarters. He once had Kapen locked up and detained in his own vehicle for hours. Finally Harding performed the duty of his boss Kapen as Chair of the Kenema convention and went on to succeed him.
How Harding will fare in office as Chairman/Leader of SLPP especially at this critical time with elections pending remains to be seen. By all indications very few people will envy his position as he had stepped on many heads and toes on his way up. The search for the prospect of peace and unity that had evaded the party for so long now rests on his shoulder. Poor child; I wish him good luck.