Yusuf Keketoma Sandi
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 April 2017
I listened to the recent interview of my friend, lawyer Sulaiman Banja Tejan Sie on Mamba TV about the injunction granted against the SLPP. I was more disappointed when he spoke as a party member than on the legal issues, as he helped to clarify for his “Alliance” supporters who might have misunderstood the scope of the Court of Appeal injunction.
He sounded strenuous to clarify that the court cannot stop the SLPP from performing its functions as the main opposition Party; a truism which to many Party members devastated by the injunction, that may be irrelevant.
Perhaps the most striking thing my good friend said throughout the interview was what he believed to be an “opportunity” which his injunction application has given the Party – to go back to the drawing board to negotiate with those he referred to as “his clients”.
I know my friend may not be a trained negotiator but the idea that few members want to negotiate by effectively blackmailing the Party, writing barrage of insults against other Party members on social media, holding the Party hostage with court cases, portraying the Party as divided and weak and discrediting National officers is preposterous.
Interestingly, while the lawyer was calling for “opportunity to negotiate”, one of his clients, Victor Sheriff, was writing about the injunction on a whatsapp forum called SLPP United: “…..this is the beginning of a bitter fight”.
When the lawyer calls it an “opportunity” and his client describes it as a “bitter fight”, it shows even the lawyer and the client do not speak from the same script and nothing could be more disingenuous on the motive of the appeal.
For Victor Sheriff it was not just about the “bitter fight”, he was also very provocative and excited about the inconvenience which the injunction has caused to many SLPP Members especially those in the diaspora, some of whom have already arrived and others on their way.
These Party members have taken time off work and spent huge amount on travel and other arrangements just because of the love they have for SLPP. How can anyone negotiate with someone so callous and without the slightest remorse to at least be regretful for the inconvenience and losses caused to other party members?
So for him this is a “fight” and whatever inconvenience and losses to majority of Party members both at home and abroad he cares less.
Funnily, when Victor Sheriff and others went to Port Loko and announced they were leaving the Party, majority of the Party members were happy because we thought those who want to fight as Victor Sheriff claimed will leave the Party in peace but we were deceived.
Now it appears Victor Sheriff and others have decided to stay to undermine the stability and success of the Party. It is deliberate, calculated and self-serving and as a Party we must show zero tolerance to this destructive mentality by very few members.
Also, just to put into context, my good friend, the learned lawyer is not neutral in this Party impasse. It appears he supports a certain flag bearer aspirant and it is conceivable that he is pushing the political agenda of that aspirant by representing people who are supporters of that aspirant.
On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with that because as a Party member he has the right to choose who to support and as a lawyer he is only doing his job. However, where I disagree, very vehemently, with him is that the injunction he refers to as an “opportunity”, majority of the Party members will refer to it as a “distraction” and a very unnecessary one.
It is a distraction not just because it exposes the Party to public ridicule but at a time like this when the Party is concentrating on voter registration it undermines the success of the Party and demoralises the membership.
And if my good friend really cares about SLPP victory in 2018 as he claimed in the interview then as a Party member the only thing that should have preoccupied his mind now is to support the Party’s effort to mobilise people to register and monitor the process.
The same old and overused rhetoric about “creating a level playing field” for now cannot transport or mobilise people to travel seven or eight miles from their homes to registration centres.
It will be naive for anyone to think that an illusionary “unity” can secure an SLPP victory in 2018 if the Party cannot effectively monitor the electoral processes leading to voting day. During the interview, it was also a bit disingenuous from my good friend that in his deliberate attempt to portray the Party as “divided” and “ineffective”, a status quo which if he claims is true, he significantly contributed towards during his tenure.
The learned lawyer failed to admit at least on a critical issue as the present voting registration process the Party has shown leadership as the main opposition Party, by creating an effective coordinating structure, initiating national debate on the plethora of concerns with the voting process. And so far, the Party is doing well in ensuring registration in its stronghold, while effectively monitoring the APC stronghold.
These have all been possible because the Party was not distracted with the issue of “39 constituencies” which has been settled by NEC and majority of the flag bearer aspirants. Therefore, any attempt to restart a conversation about “39 constituencies” or engage in what Victor Sheriff described through ill-motivation as a “fight” will be unproductive and a distraction.
And for the majority of ordinary Party members who were looking forward to the Delegates’ Conference so that the Party can start focusing on the national elections which are less than a year away, I know many will be angry. But anger is not a solution. We all belong to a Party which prides itself in upholding the Rule of Law and constitutionality. We must respect the decision of the Court delivered by the respected Justices.
We know there are certain flag bearer aspirants and their supporters, when court decisions don’t go in their favour, they attack the court and judges. But as supporters of Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, we have to follow the good example of our Aspirant who has always respected the courts and the Justices.
The worst outcome of the Court of Appeal decision will be to redo the lower level elections in the 39 constituencies. And as a group, we have the organisational strength and support of the people to win those elections any day and anytime.
As an aside, I also heard my good friend during the interview attempting to discredit the process, whereby registered affiliate organisations of the Party are giving the privilege to select certain members to serve as delegates, provided the affiliate organisations meet set criteria. Sometimes it can be really sad when people who ought to know better use mere political opportunism to create mischief and unnecessary problems.
For two consecutive elections, my good friend, Sulaiman Banja Tejan Sie was voted as National Secretary General, by the same process which awards delegate status to registered affiliate organisations of the Party, because that is part of the Party constitution.
He also knows it is not the duty of the Party to choose those who represent the affiliate organisations as delegates but exclusively the duty of the organisations. If it was not opportunistic, my good friend would have at least commended the Party for its transparency by publishing the lists of Party’s delegates complying with the Supreme Court judgement.
It was different from his tenure as Secretary General when the delegates’ lists he prepared were only seen the night before the voting day as was in the case of the August 2013 convention.
And with all that was revealed regarding the “delegates’ lists” during the Alie Bangura Case at the Supreme Court, when my learned friend was National Secretary General, he should only praise the present Party secretariat for the transparency and democratic accountability on the published delegates’ lists 21 days before the date fixed for elections.
Therefore as a Party, we are now in the last seven days of the voter registration process. Across the country many well-meaning Party members have made unimaginable sacrifices.
In the face of great challenges, we have shown a unity of purpose, organisational strength and national leadership through the National Registration Committee. Young and old, our Party agents have shown enthusiasm to return our Party to governance.
Despite the many concerns of the voter registration process including faulty machines, long distances to centres, long queues, shortage of forms, etc. many citizens are still determined to participate in the process.
The Party cannot be distracted now to stall or ruin the progress we have made so far. All party members who care about SLPP victory in 2018 regardless of flag bearer allegiance, we must all focus our energies on the registration and don’t be distracted by the distraction. We all believe in a united SLPP, but there are better ways to achieve that UNITY than the blackmailing and holding the Party hostage in court.