Bockarie K. Sama
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 September 2017
To many of us who quietly support the party but have become rather embarrassed by its self-destructive character of recent, the just concluded Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) delegates’ conference in Kenema has been my last barometer before deciding whether the party will win the 2018 presidential elections. And my honest assessment is: not by any chance save for a miracle.
A flawed process
As one of the candidates expressed in the Awoko newspaper, the process was extremely untidy. In the first place, the Conference was scheduled to start at 9:00am on Friday. I had gotten there at 11:00am, only to learn that it has been moved to 3:00pm.
So I left and came back at about 3:30pm. There was a lot of confusion of delegates not receiving their tags, observers not been allowed to get into the hall, and so on. What’s more, nobody seemed to be in charge.
Meanwhile pro-Maada Bio Paopa songs followed other Mende songs, blared from the speakers of the musical set, as the faithful danced the time away.
Then came the opening session: all the national executive officers and flag bearer aspirants and the presumptive first lady were seated at the high table. The peculiar thing was the absence of the National Chairman and Leader, Chief Somano Kapen.
We later learned that he had had a standing off with his deputy, Dr. Prince Harding, who had moved the commencement time without his consent. But the process moved on briskly passed the opening session.
It was what happened when the conference was actually called to order after the opening session that got my skin crawling. The Chairman of the occasion, Dr. Prince Harding, reading from a prepared statement, called on the conference to reverse the decision reached between the national executive of the party and some flag bearer aspirants at the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), agreeing that the forthcoming Flag bearer elections be held in Freetown.
It was my first exposure to Dr. Harding’s brash approach and complete disregard or perhaps ignorance of his role as chairman of a meeting, let alone a political party.
He ramped through a controversial motion moved by the putative Chairman of our City Council, MR. J. S. Kaifala, and seconded by Hon. Dickson Rogers, who was ubiquitous all through the convention. Like a Roman crowd, the conference yelled their support to move the Flag bearer convention back to Kenema.
It took but for the sanity of one delegate who challenged the efficacy and ramifications of that decision. Brigadier Bio nodded his approval, and Prince Harding was forced to eat humble pie.
The polling process itself on Saturday started sluggishly. People moved around freely canvassing support, and delegates were left alone to vote their conscience. But that was to change completely the following day.
Despite several attempts by the Paopa High Command, led by Brigadier Bio to coerce delegates to vote Brig. Bio’s anointed candidates, it appeared he was not getting 100% of what he wanted. So when Hon. Kowa, his wife’s choice lost to Sawaneh, whom Mrs. Bio suspect of being in an adulterous relationship with her husband, Mrs. Bio allegedly went home and berated her husband.
That is when Mr. Bio sprang into action and came to the hall to ensure that there will be no more ‘bush shaking’. From then on, a fool proof (or is it proven) strategy was put in place to ensure that none of their ‘delegates’ falls out of line.
In the sham election that followed that moment, only very trusted delegates were allowed to cast the ballots given to them by the IEMOC officials. All others who took the oath of allegiance but didn’t seem extremely loyal to the Paopa creed were asked to bring back their ballots without casting them.
So delegates took their ballots, went into the polling booth, pretended to vote but brought back their ballots to the proper high command, which designated a trusted assistant to cast it for their favoured candidate. In essence, the elections were fixed and rigged. Its only good trait was that there was no physical violence.
An executive of concubines and paopaists
For some of us who live in Kenema and have followed the SLPP political process, the outcome was not in any doubt – the candidates Bio chooses will emerge victorious. Bio is very popular within SLPP circles, there is no if about that. I knew this from the start, but I would rather he had kept away from endorsing candidates, because his experience with that is not good.
I was at his residence when the Kono group went to see him about Dr. Manyeh’s intentions. I didn’t quite like the way he spoke but I was still hopeful that he will learn from his experience from John Benjamin and Chief Kapen, both of whom he had endorsed at some point in time, but who came out against him down the line. But it appears Bio’s desire to have ironclad control of everything SLPP took the better of him.
Look at the people he favoured. He favoured Prince Harding over Dr. Morie Manyeh. Most sane SLPP supports both at home and abroad believe that Dr. Harding is not an ideal candidate for this party, especially at a time when we need to reconcile and clear the bad blood that he has engendered in the party.
Is he the Chairman and Leader who will champion reconciliation and discipline at this time? Is Mr. Bio hanging on Dr. Harding’s boast that he has struck a deal with President Koroma and he has promised to hand over power to Brig. Bio?
Really…is Bio that naïve or is it part of their Burkina Faso detente. How did Bio come around endorsing Napoleon Koroma over people like Kalilu Totangi and Mohamed Rado Swaray, who we all know should have been the frontrunners of that contest? Is it because Mr. Koroma’s only campaign slogan was “mi na pure pure paopa? Or was it because he has been providing that flawed legal advice that has increased tension in this party in Bio’s favour?
The new Organising Secretary of this party is a very young man who has lived his entire adult life in the UK. Does Mr. Bio really believe that this young man who left this country at a very young age so long ago is a more suitable candidate to people like V. V. Kamara who have made SLPP their home over the decades?
Is his endorsement of Jimmy Songa in any way associated with Songa’s role in collecting $50 a month on his behalf to pay his rent? How does Mr. Bio imagine his alleged girlfriend, Fatmata Sawaneh, who is not on speaking terms with the Deputy Women’s Leader, who is also alleged to be the girlfriend of another paopa kingpin? Do you expect the National Women’s Leader to work amicably with the presumed First Lady now that she has publicly accused the latter of literally being in bed with the presumptive flag bearer of the party?
It’s a strange outcome, all in the name of campism; which in my view renders our efforts to get to state house, a bit herculean.
The Bio Factor
I certainly looked forward to a balanced team of credible talents from diverse backgrounds on the national executive. But as it has turned out, the executive was handpicked by Brig. Bio in a last minute late-night meeting with all the district executives and several Bio loyalists and some Members of Parliament.
It is now confirmed that at that meeting held at Dauda Town in Kenema, Mr. Bio and his team (The Paopa High Command) invited Dr. Morie K. Manyeh to ask him to step down for Dr. Prince A. Harding, a demand we are told he turned down and walked away.
It also emerged that Mr. Bio and his men asked one of the contestants for the position of National Secretary General, Alhaji Brima Koroma to step down for lawyer Umaru Mapoleon Koroma. He also refused to do that and even threatened to resign his position of Director of Administration at the party HQ. We also learnt that a similar proposal was made to Hon. Emma Kowa in favor of Fatmata Sawaneh, for the Women’s Leader position.
Considering that Mr. Bio remains the most favoured Flag Bearer aspirant within the SLPP, including mine, he has used the political capital we have accorded him to elect the national executive officers of this party.
He has not given the delegates any chance to vet the contestants, especially for the three key senior positions that are very vital to the survival of the party. By out rightly endorsing candidates within the internal party politics even at this hour when he should be preparing for the national elections, Mr. Bio has fallen short of my expectations of the leadership temperament that I always assumed he had plenty of.
Does he realize that by clearly speaking out in favor of one candidate that late in the contests, he is clearly saying to the others to go to hell?
He was visibly angry and agitated. He scolded his senior Paopaists whom he suspected wanted to deviate from his dictates; threatened his supporters of resigning as the leader of the Paopa movement if they do not elect Dr. Harding and others. Then we saw him move to a back house where he doled out cash for the operation, according to eye witnesses.
As if that was not enough, he started inviting delegates and other executive members to both threaten and bribe them for his choices. Then he came to the hall where the elections were ongoing, surrounded by Prince Harding and other cronies. Then went back to the hideout, only for Kanja Sesay and Prince Harding to emerge moments later, holding up theirs and parading the compound in show of solidarity. The High Priest had spoken and the troops shall fall in line.
Prior to Mr. Bio’s arrival at the scene, Fatmata Sawaneh had won the Women’s Leader position over Hon. Kowa, who was the preferred candidate of Mrs. Fatima Jabbi Maada Bio. The First Lady in Waiting didn’t take kindly to this, so she bolted from the hall, but not before exchanging a few choice words with the newly elected Women’s Leader, who she said was having an affair with her husband; all this playing out in open court.
It all left me gasping for breath. Will this conduct of Maada Bio, alienating people and openly stating that he cannot work with A and B except C, give me confidence that we can win the next election?
Can I count on a First Lady with such a combustible temperament, who is bound to accuse every beautiful young woman who comes around her husband of being a harlot and a prostitute, to endear herself to the women voters of this country?
I will leave that to time and his strategy for winning back those whom he has openly rejected. But the wife thing remains very troubling.
It has been my fervent prayers that the Kenema convention would at least give us a fighting chance as a political party. But thanks to Brig. J. M. Bio and his Paopa High Command, victory for the SLPP come 2018 is now a furlong hope.
See you on the long bench at the Ataya Base on March 8, 2018. That is where a party run at the whims of an ego tripper belongs.