John Oponjo Benjamin – an SLPP presidential aspirant in profile

Team JOB

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 September 2017

John Oponjo Benjamin or JOB, as he is fondly known, was born on the 29th November 1952, in the small town of Segbwema, in Kailahun district, Sierra Leone. The first child in his family, JOB was brought up with a keen realization of self and an immense sense of responsibility.

In 1958, JOB was enrolled in the Methodist Primary School Segbwema, later proceeding to the Wesley Secondary School in the same town for his secondary education. JOB later transferred to the Methodist Secondary School in Kailahun to complete his secondary education.

An outstanding and exemplary student who always pushed himself towards the highest standards of excellence, JOB attempted 10 subjects at the GCE “O” Level, obtaining sound passes in all of them. In 1971 he was admitted into Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and Physics in 1976.

Upon graduation, JOB like several other Sierra Leoneans who were not part of the ruling APC party, started his work career as a teacher for the first two years of his post college life. From 1976 to 1978, JOB worked as a teacher at the Government Model Secondary School in Freetown.

In 1978, Mr. Benjamin opted for government service and was appointed as the acting Head of Agro Meteorology of the Land Resources Survey Project in the then Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. In 1979 JOB entered the private sector, starting as the Head of Quality Control at the Aureol Tobacco Company (ATC) in Freetown. It was during his stint at ATC that JOB was introduced to his lifelong passion, Computer and Information Technology.

To pursue his interest in Computer Technology, JOB left ATC for the National Cash Register (NCR) as a programmer and was soon elevated to the position of Marketing Manager because of his enthusiasm, innovation and excellent performance. NCR, founded in 1884, was the world leader in the development and sales of mechanical and electronic cash registers and a pioneer in the commercialization of the personal computer.

JOB served as NCR’s Marketing Manager until 1985. During this early period of his illustrious career JOB had undertaken advanced professional training courses in Computer Programming, Marketing and management in Cyprus, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe and the United States of America.

Serving as Marketing Manager allowed NCR to see the tremendous potential in the young man and in 1986, after a brief transition as the head of the IT department of Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, JOB was appointed as the General Manager of the company, overseeing operations in both Sierra Leone and the Gambia, a position he held until 1992 when he was selected by the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) to serve as Secretary of State in the Chairman’s office and later promoted to Chief Secretary of State, a position equivalent to  Prime Minister and Secretary General of the NPRC. The National Provisional Ruling Council was a group of young army officers who overthrew the One-Party dictatorship of the All Peoples Congress (APC).

During this critical period in Sierra Leone’s history JOB played a prominent role as Chief Administrator. His managerial talent, popular personality and shrewd political skills helped the young government acquire legitimacy and international recognition. In those crucial days, he was very instrumental in guiding the young men some of whom had no administrative experience. His experience and that of some notable colleagues prevented those early days of the revolution from degenerating into chaos. JOB was also very instrumental in helping to guide the transition from military to civilian rule in 1996.

After four years of public service, during which he helped Sierra Leone transform from a One-Party dictatorship into a multiparty democracy, JOB did not rest on his past glories, but decided to return once again to the private sector. Unlike other senior members of NPRC who opted for very attractive offers including: visas, air ticket with maintenance for themselves and their families to reside in overseas country of their choice and to undertake further studies to build up their individual capacities, JOB decided to stay in Sierra Leone returning to the private sector where he continued to serve his country.

It was about this time when NCR was closing its operations in the country that JOB saw a great opportunity and acquired the assets of the corporation, establishing the African Information Technology Holdings (AITH), a state of the art technology facility that provided computer and IT services, state of the art computers, ISP and web design services in Sierra Leone, putting the country at the vanguard of the technological revolution in West Africa. AITH was the first indigenous computer company in Sierra Leone.

The success of AITH in Sierra Leone encouraged John Benjamin to establish a subsidiary in the small West African country of The Gambia and later in Liberia. To date, AITH continues to provide its innovative services in Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Liberia.

However, the attraction of public service proved irresistible. JOB contested and won a seat as Councillor in his home district of Kailahun in 2004. He was later elected unopposed as the Chairman of Kailahun District Council in 2004. In 2005, the late President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah recalled JOB to national service by appointing him as the country’s Finance Minister, a position he held until 2007.

During this time, he helped to stabilize Sierra Leone’s economy, bringing down inflation, achieving the forgiveness of the country’s external debt to the tune of about 1.7 billion dollars, thus enlarging the fiscal space by some 90 million dollars a year as a result of the reduction in debt service payment.

JOB as Finance Minister also solved the perennial problem of salary delays sometimes for over two to three months. He ensured regular payment of the wages of public employees by the end of each month. JOB’s proudest achievement was when he secured over 56 million dollars to build a first-class highway from Kenema to Pendembu, which was the first phase of a road construction project from Kenema to Koindu to have been completed in four years.

In 2007 the All Peoples Congress (APC) party regained power in Sierra Leone, promising better governance, an improvement in living standards, better education, attitudinal change and a zero tolerance for corruption. Barely a year after APC took power in Sierra Leone, it became evident to many that the ruling party was unable to live up to its promises and JOB saw all the good work that they had done while in government was being totally reversed in the country.

So, in 2009, JOB ran for and was elected as National Chairman and Leader of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, making the party vibrant once again in opposition and regularly challenging the poor policies of the ruling party. JOB was re-elected as Chairman and Leader for a second term in 2011 and held the position until he handed over to his successor in 2013.

History of membership of the SLPP and service/contributions to the Party

John Oponjo Benjamin or JOB as he is fondly known in SLPP and the wider political circle in Sierra Leone did not join the SLPP for the sole purpose of becoming the standard-bearer of our noble Party. Rather, he joined the party at the base, namely, his home Constituency 007 in 2002 with the primary objective of contributing to the strengthening of SLPP to enhance its chances for electoral victory after suffering an unexpected defeat in the 2007 Presidential election.

Upon registering as a member of the SLPP, the constituency organization of the party saw the leadership acumen in him and moved quickly to elect him as the Constituency Chairman from 2008 to 2009. During his tenure as Constituency Chairman, a special constituency party account was established in order to promote accountability and instill discipline in the management of party funds. JOB was at this stage serving as an ordinary member of the Party. He also embarked upon vigorous membership recruitment and the compilation of a comprehensive register of paid-up members of the party in Constituency 007.

In 2009, JOB decided to step up his service to the SLPP with a view to enhancing the effectiveness and electability of the party and accordingly contested for the position of Chairman and Leader of the Party at the Party Conference held in Kenema that year. The Conference voted him overwhelmingly as the Chairman and Leader. In his capacity as Chairman and Leader, JOB will be remembered as the great reformist leader whose bravery in confronting a ruthless ruling APC party is second to none in the history of the party. Among his several outstanding achievements as Chairman and Leader are the following initiatives and innovations:

Introduced for the first time a regular monthly press briefing which became a the major platform to highlight the many failures of the ruling APC and offered alternative policy prescriptions.

Under his leadership, the huge debt amounting to about Le157,000,000 that was incurred by the Party while it was in control of government was paid off, making him the only chairman to handover Le280,000,000 (Two Hundred and Eighty Million Leones) in investment in treasury bonds to the successor Somano Kapen-led administration.

Using funds donated by the UNDP he rebuilt, furnished and equipped the Party Headquarters after it was violently and ruthlessly attacked and set ablaze by APC hoodlums.

After the unwarranted attack on his convoy in Kono, JOB compelled the APC Government to denounce violence in an official press release issued by the Office of the President. As a sequel to the attack on the party office, the Government was forced to sign a Joint Communique which created the Independent Police Complaint Board charged with the responsibility of independently investigating complaints about police brutality by members of the public.

Under JOB’s leadership the Party Conference granted Regional Status to the North America membership of our Party, with an initial accreditation of twenty delegates to represent the North American region of the SLPP.

Under JOB’s leadership, the party developed an affirmative gender policy under which women and youths (18-35 years) were exempted from the payment of the prescribed candidature fee of Le2,000,000 (Two Million Leones) that their male counterparts paid to participate in the award of party symbol contest. This policy led to a surge of women applicants for Parliamentary and Local Council seats across the country.

Prior to taking up the mantle of leadership of the party, the selection and accreditation of delegates for annual party conferences generated considerable acrimony in all constituencies across the country. To solve this problem permanently, JOB proposed an amendment to the SLPP Constitution 1995 (as amended) which stipulates that at the constituency level the incumbents for the positions of Constituency Chair, Constituency Women’s Leader and the Constituency Young Generation Leader became statutory constituency delegates.

This reform has not only avoided the acrimony but has also given a significant voice to our SLPP women in the highest decision-making organ of the party.

Victory at bye-elections became the hallmark of the SLPP under the JOB administration. The ruling APC party was roundly defeated at several bye-elections for Constituency and Ward seats. The SLPP won five council and two parliamentary bye-elections against overwhelming odds including the infamous Mac P regime, making SLPP the only party to increase its number of councillors and parliamentarians while in opposition. In JOB, the party will be assured that it has a strategist to win elections.

JOB has a proven track record as a political strategist par excellence, an attribute that has made his admirers refer to him as the Game Changer.

Furthermore, it is noteworthy that in addition to the above services rendered to the party over time, JOB ran the party affairs after the shocking defeat to APC in 2007 and at the beginning of his leadership tenure from his private office and on his personal resources. He placed his private vehicles at the disposal of the party in addition to bearing the cost of support staff for the work of the party.

Reasons for aspiring to be the SLPP Flagbearer

By any standard in life, JOB can be described as a successful human being. He could have decided like many others to go live abroad and enjoy the fruit of his business or live comfortably in Freetown, mingling with people in high society, turning a blind eye to the plight of the poor in Sierra Leone. However, John Benjamin believes that the people of Sierra Leone deserve better. He was taught at a very young age that no man should be satisfied with sleeping on a full stomach while his neighbour goes hungry.

JOB believes that Sierra Leone has enough resources and potential to lift the people out of poverty and provide equal opportunity to all, regardless of tribe, region or political party affiliation. He believes that it is the right of every child born in Sierra Leone to get the benefit of the education that his generation had access to, and believes that the only thing holding back Sierra Leone from joining the league of prosperous nations is unchecked corruption, lack of opportunity, nepotism and inept leadership.

It is these deeply held core values and the faith he has that he can make a difference in the life of poor compatriots that has propelled JOB to seek the leadership of Sierra Leone at this crucial period in the country’s history, with the promise of leading the country to a brighter and more prosperous future, a future where men and women would look on these dark days as a sad chapter in an otherwise glorious history.

The response to the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus disease in the country in 2014 and the untold misery it brought on the people of Sierra Leone has deepened his resolve that no longer should Sierra Leoneans be this unprepared to face a national crisis of similar magnitude.

In view of his wide-ranging service to both party and country and the fact that JOB is a personality that cuts across ethno-regional boundaries the entire country can be justifiably considered his political base. In addition to the traditional South-Eastern stronghold of the SLPP, it is widely believed with JOB as Presidential Candidate the SLPP will be strategically positioned to attract substantial votes from the Northern and Western regions of the country. With JOB at the helm, SLPP will have the best chance to transform flagbearership to the Presidency of the Republic of Sierra Leone in March 2018.

John Oponjo Benjamin is a man born with a commitment to serve and he is once again seeking the endorsement of the SLPP to be given the opportunity to serve our beloved country as President of Sierra Leone.

Declaration of intent to contest for flagbearership at the October 14-15 Party Conference

In conclusion and against the backdrop of unadulterated commitment to the SLPP as outlined above and excellent performance record in the public and private sectors of Sierra Leone, I hereby formally declare my decision to contest for the position of Presidential Candidate of the SLPP at the Party Conference slated for October 14-15, 2017.

I am pleased to inform the Party Secretariat that my legal team has unambiguously confirmed that I am fully compliant with the relevant provisions of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone and the Public Elections Act 2012 as well the SLPP Constitution 1995 as amended and the Rules and Regulations for the election of the SLPP Presidential Candidate as published in the Sierra Leone Gazette, Volume CXLVIII dated 31st July 2017.

John Oponjo Benjamin – SLPP Flagbearer Aspirant

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