Are we putting Sierra Leone first – asks SLPP veteran Yvonne King Odigboh

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 November 2016

Members and supporters of Sierra Leone’s main opposition party – the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) UK and Ireland branch, celebrated the party’s 65th anniversary last Saturday, 5th November 2016.

More than 300 people attended the dinner dance, which was held at the Dalston Epic Hall in North London. (Photo above: SLPP UK and Ireland Regional Executive)

The keynote address was delivered by Mrs Yvonne King Odigboh, who had previously served the UK and Ireland branch in the capacity of Publicity Secretary, and Secretary – General respectively. This is what she said.

Today is about the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, its origins, its history and most importantly its future. Brothers and sisters we cannot talk about the Sierra Leone Peoples Party without first talking about Sierra Leone.

So we shall put Sierra Leone first – this is a common theme across party lines and aspirants for leadership in all the main parties.

yvonne-kingMy question is: Are we putting Sierra Leone first?

Let’s start putting Sierra Leone first by singing the national anthem. Our forefathers chose the “One country, one people’’ motto which reflects its mission to unify the country and its people. (Photo: Mrs Yvonne King Odigboh – Left).

Where is the unity?

Today 5th November, 2016, the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) UK and Ireland, celebrates the sixty-fifth anniversary of the grand old party of Sierra Leone – the SLPP.

History tells us that there were initially three groups agreeing to act together as one to form the Sierra Leone Peoples Party. They believed that was the best way they could overcome British intransigence and win freedom for their people.

The First group was the People’s Party – and this is where the PP in the SLPP comes from. This group had some very influential personalities – Lamina Sankoh (Rev Eldred Jones), Alhaji M.S Mustapha, A. G. Randle, Abdul Fattah – Rahman, R.G.O King, J.C.O. Crowther, Mrs. Constance Cummings John, Mrs. Zainabu Kamara, and Haja Kai Dumbuya … to name a few.

The second group was the Sierra Leone Organising Society (SOS) which comprised mainly of Sierra Leonean graduates from American universities – John Karefa Smart, Doyle Sumner, Frank Anthony, T.M Williams, J.D Manley and William Fitzjohn. They were later joined by Kandeh Bureh, the Temne Tribal Headman in Freetown, Siaka Stevens and Albert Margai.

The third group was the Protectorate Educational and Progressive Union (PEPU) with personalities like Milton Margai, H.E.B John, A. J Momoh, Benka Coker, Amadu Wurie of Gbinti, Y. D. Sesay, R. B. Kowa, and Reverend Paul Dunbar; and an impressive list of Paramount Chiefs which included R.B.S Koker, Bai Farima Tass 11, Bockarie Samba, Kenewa Gamanga, Alkali Modu, Jaia Kaikai, Bai Kurr, Shebora Yumkella, Kai Tungi, Julius Momoh Guluma, and Koblo Pathbana. These were the founding fathers of the SLPP.

The SLPP is the coming together of brothers and sisters from every ethnic group and from all corners of Sierra Leone – north, south, east, west; a non-tribal party – a national party.

A Party that will promote the core values of our dear country: unity, freedom, justice and equality of opportunity for all Sierra Leoneans.

We should be proud as our forefathers were at the centre of the making of our country. They were there when it all happened – they championed and won independence for Sierra Leone from our colonial masters Great Britain, through peaceful negotiations.

But where are we now?

65 years – in existence; yes we dominated the politics of Sierra Leone from 1951. And with Sierra Leone gaining independence in 1961, we have had 55 years of the freedom our forefathers strove to gain for us.

In that time, Sierra Leone has had pretty much two main political parties and a prolonged period of one-party rule. However we have only attained 17 years in total in office – between 1961-1967 and 1996-2007.

rebels enter freetownYet still, I can say our party has been credited for doing great things. When our party came to office in 1996, that government was credited for ending a decade long rebel war in the country, restoring peace and implementing Sierra Leone’s peace consolidation strategy – the results of which we are enjoying today as a nation.

Some of us here would recall that moment when our government was disrupted in May 1997 by the AFRC. That proved to be a very challenging moment for all of us.

Yes it has been said that I held various offices within this branch in the UK and Ireland. However, another big moment was when I was asked to chair the cross party committee formed to highlight the plight of Sierra Leone and to restore the democratically elected President, Dr. Ahmed Tejan-Kabbah, back into office.

All UK based branches of the Sierra Leone political parties came together; and in a very rare show of unity, appointed me – then a fairly young person to take a lead.

We took to the streets, organized demonstrations and courted leaders in various international offices in the UK, finally getting the attention of Tony Blair. There were so many of us involved – APC, PDP, SLPP. We were all there, all colours, fighting for our country.

president-koroma-speaking-at-un-2016That was unity – and our future.

We currently have an APC government. I am not going to stand here and criticize the APC government. I am not going to stand here and criticize President Ernest Koroma and blame him for all the terrible things that have happened in Sierra Leone.

Governance is a big job. It is our duty, our responsibility to put the right people in place to do the big job. When things happen in my private life I question myself, examine, reflect, blame myself.

I must have done something wrong, or how could I have done something better, or what have I done to allow that to happen? These are some of the questions we should be asking ourselves – how did we allow that to happen? How did we fail our people by allowing an APC government in?

And on reflection the biggest question is: Are we prepared for governance? What have we learnt? Are we going to make sure that does not happen in 2018?

We have been plagued by political infighting at all levels – local and national. Let us unify from within, and then we will be able to unify our country.

As the next elections scheduled for February 2018 draw closer, we must pull together, be united to regain rule of the land that we love, our Sierra Leone.

Our party is divided, embarrassingly so. We sometimes put our personal ambitions before all else. Open your eyes and make a judgement. Our people are looking to us for help.

We are here in the west and we are witnessing history in the making day by day in the American elections. Let us learn something from that.

Hillary Clinton with Liberian presidentIn 2008 when Hillary Clinton formally ended her presidential campaign and backed Barack Obama, she said: ‘The way to continue our fight now to accomplish the goals for which we stand is to take our energy, our passion, our strength, and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama.’

Because she put her energy, her passion and her strength behind the Democratic candidate, the election was won by Obama. It’s now her turn in 2016. Yes, we await the outcome of the US elections.

Whatever that outcome, it will go down in history. Mrs Clinton has put her personal needs aside and put party and country first to fight for what she believes in – a dream for the Democrats to be in government.

The dreams that we share are worth fighting for. We form our little groups and alliances; draw close to that person or aspirant we feel will be the next president, sometimes not stopping to think and assess their credibility or suitability. I am proud of my country and want to be proud of that person who will lead me.

To lead is to be a servant to the people. They should be vying for our attention and our votes.

So brothers and sisters, let us bring all these groups together, let us line them all up here and let them talk to us. Let us understand what they have to offer our people, bring their policies and let us decide.

But we must agree that we will respect and accept whoever emerges as the victor. It may not be someone’s time in 2018, but it could be in later years.

Act now – united, we can stand strong against a common enemy. As I close, let us not forget how blessed we are to have this legacy, our heritage, the Sierra Leone People’s Party, a foundation laid down by remarkable men and women – our forefathers.

Happy 65th anniversary to the Sierra Leone People’s Party – long may you live, happy anniversary to us all.

Finally, with words from another remarkable lady, Michelle Obama… similar to those of Hilary Clinton in 2008…

We need to pour every last ounce of our passion and our strength and our love into electing a Sierra Leone People’s Party Government for our people come 2018.

SLPP – one country, one people.

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