By Sorie Fofana.
As President of Sierra Leone and Leader of the SLPP between 1995 and 2007, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah embraced all those who contested against him for the Leadership of the Party in 1995. In fact, after emerging as Party flag bearer in 1995, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who understood the essence of working together, called on all Party members and supporters to unite behind his leadership in the interest of the Party.
It is understood that after he emerged as the winner of the run-off Presidential election in 1996, Tejan Kabbah brought everyone together and tried to unite the country, after a bitterly contested Presidential run-off election with Dr. John Karefa-Smart of the UNPP. In fact, most of the people who contested against Tejan Kabbah for the Leadership of the Party in 1995 were later appointed as Cabinet Ministers in his government. Charles Francis Margai, Dr. Sama Banya (Puawui) and Dr. S.B. Saccoh were later brought to the Cabinet as a way of uniting the Party.
In 2005, Tejan Kabbah was succeeded as Leader and flag bearer of the Party by his right hand man, Solomon Berewa. Berewa was challenged for the leadership of the Party in 2005 by some well-known personalities in the Party including Charles Margai, Julius Maada Bio and J.B. Dauda.
After they lost the flag bearer election, Charles Margai and J.B. Dauda left the Party to try other options in politics. Charles Margai formed PMDC and J.B. Dauda joined the APC Party and was first appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs and later Minister of Internal Affairs. Julius Maada Bio stayed in the Party and campaigned vigorously for Berewa in the 2007 elections. The SLPP lost the 2007 elections and went into opposition for almost eleven years.
In 2011, the SLPP elected Julius Maada Bio as party flag bearer only. The position of Party Leader had been fused with the position of Chairman in 2009. The first person to occupy the position of Party Chairman and Leader was John Oponjo Benjamin.
Julius Maada Bio lost the 2012 elections to the incumbent President, Ernest Bai Koroma. A bitter fight to replace Maada Bio as flag bearer erupted in the Party.
At the SLPP Convention in 2018, Julius Maada Bio was challenged by some very influential candidates including Alie Kabba, John Benjamin, Ambassador Umaru Bond Wurie and Munda Rogers.
Third Time Lucky
The SLPP elected Julius Maada Bio as their standard bearer for the 2018 elections. His main challenger, John Benjamin lost the flag bearer elections but stayed in the Party.
Maada Bio won the 2018 Presidential run-off election by defeating the incumbent APC Party candidate, Dr. Samura Kamara.
Uniting The Party
After being declared winner of the run-off election on 31st March 2018, President Bio embarked on uniting the Party, by appointing some of his political rivals into his Cabinet. Alie Kabba was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Alpha Timbo as Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Ambassador Umaru Bond Wurie as Senior Adviser to the President at State House.
One notable person still missing in the government is John Benjamin. Whether one likes it or not, John Benjamin is a big hitter in the SLPP. He has a vast administrative experience, both in governance and in the public sector. Since joining the SLPP in 2004, John Benjamin has been a household name in the Party. It is highly likely that at some stage, he might be given a major role to play in the government. He was the last SLPP Finance Minister before the Party was defeated in the 2007 general elections. He also served in the NPRC administration of Valentine Strasser and Julius Maada Bio
President Bio has been very magnanimous in victory. He, more than anyone else, understands the importance of Party unity.
In the run-up to the 2018 elections, a lot of major defections took place in the Party. Some prominent members of the Party defected and formed a new political party. Some of the major defectors include Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, Ambassador Alie Bangura, Brima Keita, Ambassador Fode Dabor, Mrs. I.J. Kabbah, VP Dr. Albert Demby and Andrew Keili. All of them came together and formed the NGC Party.
With all the media hype, the NGC performed badly in the 2018 elections especially in the Western Area and in the South/Eastern Region. The party’s Vice Presidential candidate, Andrew Keili hails from a chieftaincy home in the East of the country.
Social media platforms are awash with stories of plans by some defectors to return to the grand old Party. One prominent name that has so far surfaced is Brima Keita, the former SLPP Regional Chairman in the West/West Region. It is understood that his return to the Party is being welcomed by some senior Party officials.
Press reports indicate that John Benjamin has been playing a key role in bringing back all those who left the party before the 2018 elections.
It is understood that Brima Keita who joined the NGC after leaving the SLPP actually voted for the SLPP Presidential candidate in the run-off election on 31st March, 2018. Many of his supporters have confirmed that he did campaign for the SLPP Presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio during the run-off election on 31st March, 2018.
SLPP-A Broad Church
When Solomon Berewa was elected party flag bearer in 2005, he brought a lot of new faces to the party. When he was accused of encouraging new faces in the party, Berewa reportedly told party supporters that the SLPP is a broad church. Looking at the history of the SLPP, one can safely conclude that the Party has always been stronger when it opens its doors to new comers.
When multi party democracy returned to Sierra Leone in 1991, J.B. Dauda who was still APC at the time, reportedly remarked that, “All those leaving the APC to form new political parties or returning to the SLPP are not free-born”. He later left the APC to return to the SLPP when Tejan Kabbah appointed him as Minister of Local Government.
The SLPP was formed by prominent families especially from the Northern Region. The Party has always been a family Party. If those who left the Party have demonstrated genuine interest in returning to the party, why not embrace them? After all, all those who are clamoring to return to the Party have, in one way or the other, served the Party both in government and outside of government.
After all, politics is a game of numbers. The Party should embrace everyone instead of rejecting people who want to return to their family Party. The Madingos have a saying, “Never cut your tongue because your mouth stinks”. Food for thought!