SLPP Presidential candidate – Maada Bio speaks to
Abdul R Thomas
Editor – The Sierra Leone Telegraph
5 September 2011
When the Sierra Leone Telegraph proposed just hours
after Maada Bio won his Party's presidential
candidacy election, that he speaks to the nation at
the earliest opportunity, in order to "clear the
air", we expected that speech to be the speech of
his life - and he did not disappoint.
Julius maada Bio
He was passionate and honest. He spoke
like a president in waiting.
"I see the 2012 elections not as a
battle to be fought or won by violence,
but as a contest that can best be fought
and won by ideas, values and beliefs,"
says Julius Maada Bio.
There is little doubt that the people of
Sierra Leone and the international
community – to whom so much gratitude is
owed for their timely and costly support
in bringing the war to an end - must
have breathed a deep sigh of relief,
when Bio for the first time, spoke
publicly about the alleged atrocities
committed by the NPRC.
pre-2012 election campaigning strategy adopted by
the ruling APC, which is seen by many as an attempt
to deny the people of Sierra Leone the right to
choose who governs them, has been taken head on by
Maada Bio himself. He has set the record straight.
This issue was the main highlight of his speech -
and this is what he said:
"The coup of April 29, 1992, that toppled the
decade-and-half long repressive and corrupt APC
one-party rule, was embraced overwhelmingly by the
people of this country and recognised by the entire
"That NPRC junta has been held collectively
responsible by the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission (TRC) for the extra-judicial executions
of 26 persons during its administration."
"For my part, I had made it clear, in my testimony
to the TRC, that I bear neither personal involvement
nor personal responsibility for those executions nor
was I in any position to prevent them from
happening. I was neither the head nor the deputy
head of the NPRC junta at the material time. I stand
by that testimony."
When the international community, including the US
and the UK, and most recently – former Nigerian
President Olusegun Obasanjo, called upon President
Koroma and his government to refrain from pursuing
'any strategy that will incite, encourage or promote
violence or instability in the country', the
response of pro-government media was swift.
"Do not interfere in our country’s internal
affairs", they naively told the international
community, who gave up so much to save the lives of
the people of Sierra Leone, during the ten year
carnage caused by a brutal civil war.
The international community has every right to
intervene in the affairs of Sierra Leone, whenever
it is deemed necessary to do so, in order to help
the country maintain its hard won peace and prevent
a return to bloodshed.
If it was acceptable for the people of Sierra Leone
to hold the international community morally
responsible to intervene in the country’s internal
affairs in order to stop the war and save life, why
should they not now be expected to have the same
moral obligation to intervene, so as to prevent the
nation from falling off the cliff once again?
The freedom that Sierra Leoneans enjoy today must be
owed to the international community, and this must
not be forgotten. For this, the international
community must be regarded as both partners for
development and stakeholders and guarantors of the
peace in Sierra Leone.
Hence, Maada Bio’s offer of unconditional apology,
and his attempt to bring closure to the country’s
awful past – for which politicians of all shades are
responsible, will be regarded by most Sierra
Leoneans and the international community as
"As a member of the former NPRC junta, I feel morally
bound to express, on its behalf, deepest regret for
the wrongs committed by the NPRC and to also express
profound apology and sympathy to the families of the
victims concerned. It is my sincere hope that we, as
a nation, can now consign that regrettable incident
to history and agree to move on", says Bio.
The SLPP presidential candidate went further in
extending an olive branch, by calling on the
international community to facilitate and broker a
cross-party peace initiative.
He said that; "By the same token, with the help of the
moral guarantors of our country’s peace, I would
like to invite President Koroma to join me now in
issuing a joint statement. In that statement we
would agree to bury permanently in their tombs the
horrors of past conflicts and past political
The cross-party peace initiative proposed by Bio in
his speech on Saturday, will be underpinned by three
Firstly, that "there is no political capital for any
political party from letting the ghosts of the
horrendous human rights record of the 1970s through
to the 1990s to return to haunt our body politic. We
should set our gaze ahead of us instead of behind
Secondly, "we also agree that everything possible
would be done to ensure that the National Electoral
Commission conducts the 2012 elections in a manner
that is fair, transparent and credible".
And thirdly, "once that condition is met by the NEC
that we agree to accept the results of the elections
and ensure that power is transferred peacefully.
This demands of all of us, as leaders of our
political parties, a willingness to bury the hatchet
and let the past be the past in the true spirit of
national peace and reconciliation and of moving our
Maada Bio’s maiden speech was not only diplomatically
and maturely crafted, but will go down in the
country’s history as the first to be delivered by
former military leader - bidding for power through
the ballot box, rather than the barrel of the gun.
There is certainly something – no matter how little
- for everyone to take out of that speech, most
especially his adversaries and faithfuls within the
SLPP, after a long and bitter fight for the
Speaking about the much talked about SLPP leadership
election, Bio was reconciliatory, as he attempted to
put soothing balm over wounds, opened up by months
of backstabbing and brutal verbal assaults, as 19
candidates fought to lead the Party into the 2012
With the leadership election now history, Bio sees
his victory as "the triumph of internal party
He told his large audience – made up of international
diplomats, Party members, civil society groups and
the country’s media that; "no other political party
can boast of elections as free, fair, credible and
transparent as the ones held by our Party. Whatever
feelings one may have about the officers elected, no
one can deny legitimacy to the decisions of the
National Delegates Conference or the distinguishing
character of the SLPP as a truly democratic party."
As Bio accepts the enormous responsibility of
leadership that has been bestowed upon him as the
Party’s presidential candidate for the 2012
elections and the challenges ahead, with humility
and magnanimity, he commended the 18 aspirants that
"To all my colleagues, former aspirants, I pay special
tribute. Not only did they put up a valiant and
fierce contest, they have also demonstrated without
a shadow of a doubt that their loyalty to the Party
remains strong and they have all agreed to come on
board so that our Party can bounce back to power in
"My victory, therefore, is not a victory for me
alone; it is a victory for all of us, for our
intra-party democracy and for our great Party, the
SLPP," says Bio.
Turning to the task ahead for 2012, Bio has set his
stalls and laid down his marker clearly. He said
that his fight for State House will not be based on
negative campaigning, but on policies.
And for the first time in four years, it would seem
that President Koroma is going to have a tough fight
in his hands to retain the presidency in 2012. He is
faced with a much younger, vibrant and politically
"The 2012 elections are going to be about issues, not
about personalities. After my election as
Flag-bearer, the APC leadership used the ploy of
diverting public attention away from their appalling
economic record by throwing everything in their
kitchen sink at me."
"Disappointingly for them, the dirt didn’t stick,
because the people of this country have become much
too aware, much too discerning to allow the APC to
get away with that ploy; instead they are insisting
that the 2012 elections should be wholly about the
national development agenda whether at the front,
centre or at the back of that contest."
"The APC and SLPP: Is there a difference?" asked
Although the people of Sierra Leone may not be able
to answer this question until Bio’s SLPP outlines
their Party manifesto, he spared no time in mapping
out key areas of policy differences.
"If the differences are not too apparent now, they
will become so after 2012, because we plan to return
the SLPP to state governance as a democratic
reformer. We have no illusions. Democratic reform is
never easy, because there are always vested
interests ready to use their power and resources to
resist change; and villains ready to use lies to
defeat change. But persevere we shall: we have the
guts and intelligence and the right people and
policies to make it happen" - Bio told the nation.
Not surprisingly though, Maada Bio could not resist
turning his stinging attack on the government’s poor
record in office. But not before promising the
people of his plans to unveil his Party manifesto
for the 2012 elections.
He said that; "In the coming weeks and months, the
principles and programmes upon which we shall base
our electioneering will be fully articulated and
elaborated in our manifesto."
And with almost surgical precision, Bio incisively
dissected the government’s poor handling of the
country’s economy, health care, poverty, and youth
"It is Time for a New Direction" he told the
"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, after 50 years of
independence, the elections in 2012 are about
putting the youth at the centre of development and
in the driving seat to seek a New Direction for
Sierra Leone. We live in a country that started
mining diamonds in 1930, rutile in the 70s and gold
and bauxite for ever so long. Yet our heath care and
education are largely funded by foreign donors."
"For years our education was the pride of West Africa.
Now 50 years later, less than five per cent of our
children pass the West Africa School Certificate
Exams (WASCE); while universities postpone exams for
lack of paper."
"Many families are today not sure where the next meal
is coming from; the low wages of workers, promised
to be changed by the APC, have perpetuated poverty
and hopelessness. Our youth continue to be the most
deprived and unemployed in the world, just as our
country is the most unsafe to give birth to
So much for the analysis of the country’s problems,
but what about solutions? Many may ask.
Bio did not feel it necessary to look over the
country’s horizon for solutions to the myriad of
problems faced by the country. The solution he
believe, lies in the changing of guards at State
"I know that Sierra Leone did not get to this state of
misery by accident; it is rather the selfish
decisions of some of our leaders that has taken our
country to where it is today. The same State House
that squandered opportunities from diamonds in the
70s and 80s is the same State House that has denied
Sierra Leoneans the opportunity of scrutinising the
Bills that touch and concern our natural resources."
"The same State House that widened the gap between the
rich and the poor in the 70s and 80s is the same
State House in 2011 that is dividing the North from
the South and spending billions of Leones on the
media and other unpatriotic individuals to lie about
"I don’t think any Sierra Leonean is proud of the
condition we live in. There is therefore every need
for a New Direction for Sierra Leone. For the sake
of the young men and women who finish college and go
jobless for years, we need a government that cares."
"We need a State House that cares about the basic
needs of our people. We need a leader who does not
blame our economic woes on the global crisis but
sits down and solves them."
"We need a leader who teaches our youth honesty and
hard work and not bribery, intimidation and vote
buying; a leader that works to give a secure and
healthy future to our youth. And we need a leader
who brings Temnes and Mendes, Fullahs and Lokos,
Madingoes and Limbas, Krios and Sherbros etc, etc,
to live and work together as one nation in one
country. This is the new direction we need."
Maada Bio on The Economy
"Our country is resource-rich but policy-poor. We have
a vast sore running through the population: five
million people stuck in desperate conditions of
poverty amidst the growing affluence of a few.
Lifting them from those conditions is the struggle
we must wage, and it is a struggle we must win" –
says Bio emphatically.
"Various strategies for poverty reduction and for the
other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are in
vogue. We talk about them every day. However, what
the MDGs don’t get us to focus upon, is the rate of
economic growth. True, growth is not a cure-all, but
the lack of growth is a kill-all. This failure of
the growth process over the past 30 years is, for
us, the overarching problem that must be cracked if
this country is to escape from the poverty trap."
"Nowadays, stagnation and decline have become bywords
for our poor economic performance. So whereas
President Koroma pays scant attention to the issue
of growth, we shall make it a core challenge.
Development is about giving hope to ordinary people
that their children will live in a society that will
catch up with the rest of the world. And catching up
in Sierra Leone can only mean raising growth
"We see our future as one of collaboration with our
partners in designing systematic, co-ordinated and
coherent policies and programmes that make our own
development commitments more credible not just to
investors but to our own people as well, and so get
a surge in private investments."
"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, not that we devalue the
importance of aid, only that the impasse we have
reached in our country’s development demands of us a
new and higher level of consciousness, a greater
degree of innovation, and a generous dose of honesty
to acknowledge what works and what does not, as far
as our development is concerned."
"So, therefore, the development roadmap we shall be
crafting after 2012 is more in the realm of
collaborating to build a modern market economy for
this country along pathways that our development
partners have themselves successfully traversed for
their own economies."
"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, when President Koroma came to
power in 2007, he promised to run this country like
a business. We didn’t know then he was going to turn
the country into a family business. Under his watch,
the prices of most things have more than doubled -
from rice, our national staple, to fuel, flour, fish
and other essential foodstuffs."
"His cronies are making huge profits whilst the masses
are suffering under the harshest conditions in
living memory. We used to think that life in the
1980s was the harshest. For those of you who can’t
remember that period, President Koroma has made life
under President Momoh’s misrule look like Paradise."
"Mr. President, the citizens of this country are
crying; the economy is killing them and they are
crying for a change of direction. Even more serious,
there is a mounting crisis of confidence. The people
are losing confidence in the ability of government
to look after their welfare. Living conditions are
deteriorating so fast they can’t bear the hardship
any more. I say to them, just hang in there for a
little while longer."
"After 2012 the SLPP Government I shall lead will
definitely not run Sierra Leone as a family
"In other words, our policies and programmes shall be
people-centred. We will not engage in dubious
contracts to fleece this country and squirrel the
loot away in foreign bank accounts or buy luxury
homes abroad. Nor shall we pass mining and fiscal
laws to be adhered to by some and not by others. Nor
shall globalisation mean our natural resources shall
be turned into an arena for bribery competition
between foreign mining and oil companies."
"Under my watch, no mining company, big or small,
shall be allowed to operate above or under the law."
"Another area completely skewed since the APC assumed
power is in resource allocation and distribution.
Appointments to public office, dismissals of public
officers, distribution of limited resources,
selection of projects and beneficiaries, have mostly
been done along partisan, ethnic and regional lines.
These are all anti-development tendencies, the stuff
of which internal conflicts are made."
Speaking about what he sees as the country’s
"rocketing cost of living", Bio reminded the nation
of the previous Kabbah led SLPP government’s
He said that; "no problem has blighted the lives of
citizens of this country more than the
bread-and-butter issue of the rocketing cost of
living under President Koroma."
"The last SLPP Government left as reserve billions
of Leones in the national coffers to cushion any
possible shocks from global price increases of rice,
fuel and other essential commodities. The Koroma
Government wasted no time in squandering all this
under the pretext of giving this country ‘clean and
affordable electricity’ in 100 days through bogus
and dubious contracts."
Maada Bio takes the view that "corruption is an
enemy of development".
He said that; "Our fight against corruption,
therefore, has to be robust, complete, transparent
and non-political; and we must leave no stone
unturned. This fight is about ending impunity; it’s
about probity, about holding public officials
accountable; about compelling them to obey the law
and to do things according to the law."
Bio had this advice for President Koroma: "Mr.
President, you really have to get more serious in
your efforts to tackle corruption. And you can start
right now by removing the immunity you have placed
around the sacred cows from amongst family, friends
and business partners, and allow the anti-corruption
laws to bite. Do this and you will soon see the
difference in public attitude and perception about
corruption in this country. Fail to do this, Mr.
President, then nothing is going to change and it
will all be business as usual."
"Fellow Sierra Leoneans let me make this solemn
promise. Where President Koroma fails to act to end
corruption in this country, I shall act. So those
involved in corruption, be they citizens or foreign
nationals, be forewarned. The SLPP Government I
shall lead after 2012 will not compromise corruption
that harms the interests of the people of this
"We give this advice as an essential aspect of the
rule of law. We believe that where the rule of law
takes hold, it creates stability, predictability,
trust and empowerment. The rule of law stabilises
government and holds it accountable. It creates a
predictable environment for both government and
investor. It creates confidence in the public to
seek change, if necessary, within a framework of
continuity, and empowers all economic actors to
optimise their returns" – Bio reassures the country.
Bio’s Social Agenda
"The Government I shall lead will invest heavily in
the health care delivery. We will improve upon what
exists now by providing the infrastructure,
equipment and trained personnel necessary for a
robust health care system. We will introduce a more
sustainable heath care financing mechanism."
"The next SLPP Government will progressively provide
universal free and compulsory basic education to all
and will endeavour to achieve 100 per cent primary
school enrolment within the first years of my
administration. We will reinstitute the girl child
education programme which the present Government has
callously abandoned. We will also ensure that
teachers and lecturers are paid a decent wage and on
"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, it pains to note that our
disabled have been left to fend for themselves in
the most unsavoury manner. It is not uncommon to see
our disabled compatriots hanging out at the gates of
State House for crumbs. This is most dehumanising
and unacceptable. We shall move beyond the enactment
of the Disability Bill and put in place a more
effective mechanism to cater for the social and
economic welfare of our physically and mentally
Bio’s Gender Policy
"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, the women of Sierra Leone
have been asking for 30 per cent representation in
state governance. I believe they deserve more than
that. By affirmative action programmes we shall give
women equitable access to decision-making positions
at all levels."
Bio’s Youth Policy
"Youth empowerment will receive the utmost attention
of the Government I shall form after 2012. I have
already mentioned that attracting foreign direct
investment as the engine for economic growth and for
creating new jobs will receive high priority, But
much more than that, ample provision will also be
made for skills training, especially for the youth,
to empower and equip them for meeting the challenges
of a modern economy."
"To the young men and women of this country, I say
help is on the way. I understand your problems
better and can feel your pain more. So allow me to
be your Redeemer. As young people, we gel better and
together we can make a difference. If President
Koroma imagines he has fixed the youth problem in
this country merely by creating a Youth Employment
Ministry, with no jobs, he had better do a reality
Capitalising on the huge age gap between himself and
the now tired looking President Koroma, Maada Bio
told the youths of Sierra Leone; "And no political
leader understands your problems better than I,
because I consider myself one of you and you can
connect better with me than with any other. And this
is why the next SLPP Government I shall lead is the
one best able to address your problems."
Bio's views on Political Violence
Turning to the thorny issue of politically motivated
violence, Maada Bio strongly rebuked the ruling APC
Party for their record, as he reassures the country
and the international community of his anti-violence
"The history of elections in this country shows how
under previous APC rule, elections and youth
violence became not uncommon bedfellows, almost like
inseparable companions. There was never an election
under APC watch that was completely free of
intimidation and youth violence. I hope and pray
that the 2012 election, again to be held under APC
watch, would be different" – says Bio.
And he made this solemn promise to his fellow
countrymen and women: "For my part, I give to the
youth of this country this solemn promise. I shall
be the last Presidential candidate who would ever
want to put your life or liberty in harm’s way."
But what most Sierra Leoneans and the international
community would find refreshing and most reassuring,
is his statement as to how politics and elections
should be run in this poverty stricken country.
Bio said; "I see the 2012 election not as a battle to
be fought or won by violence but as a contest that
can best be fought and won by ideas, values and
beliefs" – and few would disagree.
"The SLPP is the oldest political party in this
country. It was founded on the pedestal of
non-violence. Our abhorrence of violence therefore
is both a sacred trust and a legacy. We can’t change
that now, for to do that would be tantamount to
betraying our sacred trust and our heritage."
Bio’s thoughts on Decentralization
Most serious policy analysts in Sierra Leone, not
least the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph, have
argued passionately for a major change in the
country’s Constitution, so as to allow sweeping
devolution of power and decentralisation of public
Bio believes that; "decentralizing state governance is
another key policy area that has always been a
tussle between the APC and the SLPP."
"Decentralization is not just about local councils.
The present location of certain central government
ministries and agencies also needs to be critically
examined and evaluated to determine whether the
citizenry is deriving the optimum benefit."
But will Bio take the bold step to include in his 2012
manifesto - a new devolution plan, or is this just
Bio calls for Electoral Reform
Much has been said about electoral reform,
especially after the nullification of hundreds of
thousands of SLPP votes at the 2007 elections, by
the country’s National Electoral Commission. Efforts
must therefore be taken to ensure that this is not
repeated in 2012, in order to avoid the political
chaos and destruction we saw recently in Ivory
Bio made his views known. He said; "today we are
living with the consequences of an electoral fraud
committed in 2007 – the cancellation of the ballot
by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in 477
polling stations, mostly in SLPP-strongholds.
Despite strong protests, those cancellations were
made to stand with the final result of the
presidential election going against the SLPP. The
Supreme Court is now seized of the litigation that
that cancellation has engendered. Whatever the final
verdict of the Court, we know its value would be
essentially for the record."
"Looking at things from that perspective alone, one
would have liked to draw a line on the past and
focus only on what lies ahead of us in 2012."
Although Bio’s reconciliatory tone would give much
comfort to the people of Sierra Leone, there are
serious mistrust and crisis of confidence over the
ability of the current Chairman of the NEC –
Christiana Thorpe, to impartially officiate at the
Bio said; "As if to add insult to injury, Miss
Christiana Thorpe is now asking for a new law to
empower NEC to cancel ballots in future elections.
By inference she is admitting she didn’t have that
power when she cancelled the ballot of those 477
He went further to say that; "if she was not afraid to
cancel when she didn’t have the power, what if she
is now given such a power?"
"What safeguards do political parties have against the
arbitrary use of such power?"
"Perhaps it was time our international moral
guarantors stepped in to ensure that any new rules
for the electoral game are credible, fair and in
consonance with universally-accepted democratic
principles and agreed to by all parties. Otherwise,
NEC, as referee, will not enjoy the confidence of
all the political players" – Bio warns.
Looking ahead to the forthcoming elections in 2012,
Bio said; "we have forebodings about any election
held under the watch of an APC Government."
"These shameful abuses of human rights were
commonplace in the days of the old APC. But they
have been happening again and again since 2007 under
the watch of the so-called new APC. The new APC has
been severally accused of unabated vandalizing,
brutalizing, intimidating and victimizing of
opposition supporters with deafening impunity."
But how would Bio and his Party react to any
violence perpetrated by supporters of the APC in
"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, against this backdrop, a
question often asked is: if, like the old APC, the
so-called new APC decides to lead the country in
electoral violence in the run-up to 2012, should we
in the SLPP follow suit?"
"With respect, I say No. The strength of our Party
lies in our capacity, not in trading violence with
the APC or any other party, but in upholding the
sacred values for which our Founding Fathers had
fought so hard and which today constitutes our
But while clearly asserting the Party’s policy on
politically motivated violence, Bio warned that this
policy must not be seen as a weakness. "Eschewing
violence as an instrument of political change,
however, should not be misunderstood or misconstrued
as cowardice or timidity" – says the former military
leader - Bio.
"We fear no party and we are ready to protect our
supporters at all times. Only that our creed is
freedom, not despotism; democracy, not dictatorship;
the rule of law, not the rule of the jungle; human
rights, not power; inclusiveness, not alienation."
"Spreading these values is the bastion of our
security, our first line of attack and our last line
of defence. And if the APC decides to divide the
country in violence, so our resolve to unite it
around our common dislike of violence must remain
unshaken and unbroken. And we must send this message
out to the country now."
In concluding what many Sierra Leoneans and indeed
the international community would agree is a well
thought out maiden speech from the main challenger
for the office of presidency in 2012, Bio made this
rallying call to the country’s youths.
"So my clarion call is to all the youth of this
country, young men and young women alike. Come
forward and join my campaign to take me back to
State House in 2012. It matters not which political
party you belong to or voted for in the last
election; my campaign for the presidency is on
behalf of all of you."
"We are tired of unfulfilled promises and fed-up
with empty hypes – de Pa dey wok! We, the young
people of this country, should now come together and
empower ourselves and our elders through the ballot
box in order to transform this country for the
"Wherever you are – in the country or in the
Diaspora, in the farms or in the mining pits, on
land or at sea, in the city or village, in the
ghetto or ataya base, in the street or in the house,
in college or in school – I beckon on all of you to
come forward and let’s start a new direction, a new
revolution, for a better Sierra Leone."
"Ernest is tired; Ernest has failed us; Ernest can
simply not deliver. He must give way peacefully for
a new person to take over the seat of power in State
House in 2012. And that person is yours truly,
Julius Maada Bio."
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