19 January 2013
The increasing threat of mutiny in the opposition SLPP, which could – if allowed to continue, destroy the party, appears to have been nipped in the bud by the elected party chairman and leader – John Oponjo Benjamin.
He has read out the Riot Act to sections of the party, who are scheming to usurp and undermine his authority.
Benjamin is angry that a few senior party Executives, are attempting unconstitutionally to confer party leadership role on the 2012 presidential candidate – Julius Maada Bio and his running mate – Dr. Kadi Sesay.
John Benjamin was elected at the last SLPP national conference as chairman and party leader, and now his leadership is under threat.
But has John Benjamin done enough to bring sanity to a party that is yet to re- invent its national image and regional character, after losing last year’s general and presidential elections?
With the overwhelming majority won by the ruling APC party at the 2012 elections, Sierra Leone now needs a strong opposition party or coalition of active citizens and civil society groups that will prioritise the task of holding the government to account.
Senior party executives of the SLPP it seems, are now preoccupied with the political survival of key players within the party, rather than promote cohesion and further the constitutional mandate of those elected to serve the party.
Julius Maada Bio was elected by the members of the party as their presidential candidate for the 2012 elections, not as chairman and leader. He is therefore expected to have relinquished all powers conferred upon him, once he had lost the presidential elections.
What appears on the surface as an internal wrangling, is now brewing into a very serious political storm, if the Constitution of the party is not respected and John Benjamin fails to assert his authority.
A press statement issued on the 17 January 2012, by John Benjamin, clearly conveys the depth of feelings in the party and Benjamin’s anger.
In an attempt to set the records straight, and in reference to the outcome of an executive meeting held at the party’s head office in Freetown to discuss the way forward, John Benjamin said that:
“You will recall that on 6th December 2012, the National Executive Council (NEC) held an emergency meeting primarily to discuss the way forward regarding allegations of irregularities and fraud perpetrated by the All People’s Congress, with the connivance of the National Electoral Commission during the recent general elections.
“This matter is now before the Supreme Court. The main thrust of that meeting was to arrive at a consensus over the participation or non-participation of the party’s elected Members of Parliament and Local Councils in governance taking in consideration that at a previous meeting of the NEC the decision for non-participation of our elected members was taken.
“The emergency NEC meeting was therefore to review this particular decision in the light of the interactions (and report thereof), facilitated by a Christian group, between the APC government and our party represented by The National Chairman/Leader, National Secretary General, Flag Bearer and Running mate.
“At the Emergency meeting I refer to, the following decisions were taken:
a) The National Executive Council (NEC) endorsed the decision to open a line of communication with the ruling APC government and directed that the leadership of the SLPP engage with the government as soon as possible.
b) We directed that all elected officials of our party resume participation in governance until further notice, and
c) Authorized the National Executive to take decisions relating to the continuing participation in governance on behalf of NEC to avoid frequent summoning of NEC unless absolutely necessary.
“During the course of the meeting, a motion was put forward suggesting that Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio and Dr Kadie Sesay remain as Flagbearer and Running mate respectively until the next National Delegates Conference with our case in the Supreme Court cited as a rationale.
“This issue was deftly handled by me (National Chairman/leader) and other contributors and the motion was withdrawn by its proposer.
“At the end of the meeting, the National Secretary General, consistent with normal practice, read out resolutions which had been agreed at the meeting but erroneously inserted a third resolution which was never moved.
“This was that; ‘Rtd Brigadier Julius Maada Bio (should) continue to give political leadership until the next delegate conference in 2013.’
“This particular provision was unauthorized and was in direct contravention with our party constitution Clause 5.1. (a) which clearly states that in the prevailing circumstance, it was ‘The Chairman and Leader (who) shall be the political and administrative head of the party’.
“However, in view of the prevailing noisy environment during which the resolutions were read, it was impossible for me or anyone else to point out that the matter relating to the Flag Bearer and his Running mate was inappropriate and was in contravention of the SLPP constitution.
“It should be further noted that nowhere in the constitution of the SLPP is the Flag bearer given a role for political leadership at any time. Clause (6.v) of the party constitution states clearly that:
‘In the event that the Presidential Candidate of the party loses the Presidential Election, both the Presidential Candidate and Running Mate shall become ex-officio members of the National Executive Council.’
“Immediately after the close of the NEC meeting, I brought up the matter of illegality and contravention of the constitution to the attention of the National Secretary General, and instructed him not to publish or circulate the final draft until it had been appropriately amended.
“The National Secretary General, nonetheless, went ahead and published it without doing the necessary correction.
“From discussions in various National Executive meetings on the above issue, a subcommittee including the National Chairman/Leader, the National Women’s Leader and the Regional Chairman – Western Area has met and discussed the constitutional position of that third resolution with Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.
“The meeting reached an amicable and rational understanding on the issue, and that it was not within the mandate of NEC to amend the SLPP constitution, and the process to do so if need be must be properly followed.
“As Chairman and Leader of our great party, I have also noted with concern, not only the furore the third resolution has caused to both our members in this country and abroad, but the festering disunity it has triggered right across our party.
“I believe it is my sacred duty as head of this party to intervene with the view to maintaining the unity and camaraderie we need within the SLPP to resolve our present predicament, and forge a smooth path to victory in future general elections.
“In the light of the above, i appeal to you all (SLPP members) for unity and understanding. as your national chairman and leader, with the power and authority vested in me by the national constitution of our great party, the SLPP I hereby state:
1. That the third resolution was unconstitutional and erroneous.
2. That it is divisive as indeed it has proven to be.
3. That the third resolution is accordingly nullified and declared void and expunged from the resolutions.
4. And to affirm that the political leadership of the SLPP is only provided by the national chairman and leader.”
Whilst the rank and file of the party may now wish that sanity will return to the party, there are fears of this rift opening up into a long lasting wound, which could potentially send the party into oblivion for many decades.
An undisclosed source within the SLPP national executive, said that “this unconstitutional move is reminiscent of the NPRC palace coup, which saw the overthrow of the NPRC leader – Valentine Strasser from the leadership of the NPRC government”.
Is a de-facto one party state in the making, in Sierra Leone’s fragile democracy? These are worrying times for Sierra Leone’s main opposition party – the SLPP.