Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 September 2017
There was high drama at the opposition SLPP convention last night in Kenema, which many observers say is fast becoming a fiasco. The party’s three days national convention which was expected not only to elect their presidential candidate for national elections taking place on the 7th of March 2018, but to also see the election of a new national executive council to take over the running of the party’s affairs and bring some semblance of sanity to a chaotic and once respected party.
All was not well last night. The dramatic walk-out from the convention hall by Mr. John Oponjo Benjamin (Photo) – who is one of three key remaining SLPP presidential aspirants – the others being Jonathan Tengbe and Alie Kabba, sent shock-waves.
But also and even more dramatic, was the auspicious walk-out, without any prior notification or apologies – of the party chairman Chief Somano Kapen from the convention yesterday.
This not only brought chaos and confusion, but has led many to question the legality of the convention going ahead and the party’s chances of avoiding another lengthy court battle – just six months before national elections.
According to political observers, Chairman Kapen, whose chairmanship in the last few years has been brought into disrepute and disrespected by some members of the national executive council of the party, last night manifested his disgust at the power-hungry manner with which those supporting Maada Bio are now controlling the party.
When news came from Kenema of Kapen’s walkout, few would believe what was happening to what was once known as Sierra Leone’s grand old party – the first political party to be established in Sierra Leone.
“Chief Somano Kapen (Photo) had earlier arrived at the hall to start the convention. But the convention was being delayed so as to allow Maada Bio – one of the presidential aspirants to arrive. Chairman Chief Somano Kapen was not happy about this. He walked out of the hall in disgust,” says a news reporter at the convention.
To add salt to injury, Maada Bio did not sit among his fellow presidential aspirants. He and his wife are reported to have sat on the high table along with the elected officials of the party, whose term of office had expired over two years and will be standing down this weekend.
Maada Bio’s presence at the high table brought consternation and further added to the chaos and drama witnessed at the Kenema convention yesterday. Is this another coronation of the king by the opposition SLPP, rather than an election of their presidential candidate for the 2018 elections – many are now left wondering.
The party’s quick move to ensure that the convention continues after Chairman Kapen had walked out, was swift. On hand to move the motion and propose that the deputy chairman Prince Harding steps into Kapen’s shoes to become the chairman, was Mr Sidie Tunis.
Mr Sidie Tunis quoted sections of the party’s constitution to justify his motion which was seconded lawyer Brewah.
No one in the hall had the gumption to present a counter motion, despite Sidie Tunis asking for anyone opposing the proposition for Prince Harding – who is a staunch supporter and campaigner for Maada Bio, to come forward. The motion was carried and Prince Harding quite happily assumed the role of chairman of the SLPP – in a manner commonly referred to as ‘Paopa’ – meaning ‘by any means necessary’.
Those opposing the convention proceedings, which they say has now imposed Prince Harding as chairman, are calling yesterday’s shenanigans a house coup, that is aimed at giving Maada Bio an undue and clear advantage.
“I am calling on Sidie Tunis to explain himself for allowing the Chairman of the party to be disrespected and be a party to this, because of his support for Bio. Sidie cited the duties of the deputy chairman, that has nothing to do with what happens when the Chairman refuses to be disrespected and exercises his right to leave the hall, rather than be subjected to ridicule, as the basis to hand over to the deputy chairman in contravention of all protocols. This could now make this convention null and void,” say critics.
The country’s Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) warned before setting off to attend the SLPP convention yesterday as observers: “Pursuant to Sections 6(2) of the Political Parties Act of 2002, the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) will on the 15th and 16th September supervise the conduct of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) National Delegate Conference in Kenema District.
“Furthermore, the Commission hereby encourages the Leadership, members, and supporters of the SLPP to ensure that the Conference is in accordance with Section 35 (2) of the 1991 Constitution which states that; ‘The internal organisation of a political party shall conform to democratic principles, and its aims, objectives, purposes and programmes shall not contravene, or be inconsistent with, any provisions of this Constitution’.
“The Leadership, members and supporters of the party are also advised to conduct their affairs in accordance with the laws of the land throughout the entire process. It is the hope of the Commission that the party will return united and not fragmented after this delegate conference as this is crucial to the survival of the party.”
But clearly after yesterday’s drama at the SLPPP convention, it seems the PPRC’s warning had fallen on conveniently deaf or recalcitrant ears. The plan was to embarrass chairman chief Kapen and to hound him out of office by the Paopas. They succeeded. So, what’s next?
Next week, party members eligible to vote at the convention, will once again gather in Kenema to elect the party’s presidential candidate. Will there be blood on the carpet? Not likely.
All of the presidential aspirants regarded by many as liberal, democratic progressives – who once put up a strong show of opposition to the former junta leader Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, have either relinquished their interest in the presidential flagbearership or resigned from the party.
There are no voices of dissention against Maada Bio left in the SLPP. They have all been either muffled through intimidation or physically harassed.
Most of the presidential aspirants now remaining know their place – so to speak. They are not happy about what’s going on in the party, but are either afraid to voice dissention for fear of facing the wrath of Maada Bio’s Paopa movement, or lose their chances of being selected for top ministerial position, should Maada Bio be elected as President of Sierra Leone.
But as one of the few remaining opponents of Maada Bio told the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph recently, “I am only staying in the flagbearer race and the party because of my pride. I know I am not going to win. But I will not walk away and will not fight. Whatever will be – will be”.
SLPP Kenema convention may have seen a lot of political drama yesterday, but one of the most ironic highlights of the day came when the ruling APC party’s National Secretary General Osman Foday Yansaneh, who was present at the SLPP convention, poured scorn at the opposition SLPP when he said: “We would not be discouraged, if the next government emerges from this hall”.
watch these video clips of Sidie Tunis tabling his motion to elect Prince Harding as chairman , and Lawyer Brewah seconded the motion: