Legacies of Sir Banja Tejan-Sie – Sierra Leone’s last Governor General

Alhaji Amadu D Tejan-Sie Esq: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 August 2020:

The 8th day of August marks the 20th anniversary of the death of my immediate elder brother, my mentor Sir Banja Tejan-Sie Esq., GCMG, second Speaker of the Sierra Leone House of Representative, former Chief Justice, and the last Governor General of Sierra Leone.

He celebrated his 83rd birthday on the 7th of August and he died on 8th day of August a day after his birthday. If he were alive today, he would have been aged 103 years old on the 7th day of August 2020. His death was a great loss to the Tejan-Sie family in Sierra Leone and abroad.

Sir Banja Tejan – Sie was born on the 7th day of August 1917 to our  Father the late Alpha Sheik Ahmed Tejan-Sie, a  renowned Islamic Cleric, an authority in Islamic Jurisprudence in West Africa and a student of Sheik Abdul Malik of Senegal, one of the greatest architect in the promotion of Islam in West Africa.

Sir Banja was the third Son of our father and the first surviving child of my stepmother Nanday Iye Tejan-Sie nee Bamba. He was born in Moyamba and received his secondary School education at the prestigious Bo Government School, where our late father was a founding teacher of Arabic and English.

The School was established in 1906 principally to educate sons of Chiefs and their Nominees. In the Bo School, he was nick- named Churchill because of his acquired English accent and pronunciations. He later transferred to the Prince of Wales School in Freetown where he obtained his Senior Cambridge School Certificate with several distinctions.

Sir Banja’s ambition was to read Medicine. In pursuance of that laudable objective, he worked as a Nurse for several years, rising to become a druggist and posted to Pedembu among other places in the Country to work as a Medical Superintendent. It was while working in the Medical field that he met his lifelong friend Sir Albert Margai who late became the second Prime Minister of Sierra Leone.

Sir Banja left the shores of Sierra Leone in 1947 to read Law. He entered the Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the English Bar in 1950. He worked as a Pupil Lawyer in one of the Prestigious Chambers in England                He was also a Bencher in Lincoln’s Inn.

He returned home in 1951 and set up private practice with his friend Sir Albert Margai at No. 61 Westmoreland Street, now Siaka Stevens Street. He later worked as Magistrate and served in almost every District in Sierra Leone.

In administering Justice, he was humble, righteous and magnanimous. He was appointed Chief Justice in 1967. As Chief Justice, his judgment in the John Akar and the State case was a hall mark in the Judicial Milestone of Sierra Leone Judiciary. It was unanimously approved by the then Privy Council when Sierra Leone was a Member of the Privy Council.

Sir Banja Tejan-Sie’s achievements were punctuated by “First”. The first Lawyer from the Northern Province, the First Speaker of the Sierra Leone House of Representative from the Northern Province. The First surviving child to his late mother, the First Chief Justice from the Northern province and the First Sierra Leonean to be appointed Governor General from the Northern Province and above all, the First Sierra Leonean to have headed the three arms of Government viz the Legislature as Speaker, the Judiciary as Chief Justice, and the Executive as The last Governor General of Sierra Leone.

I hasten to submit, and I do so with the greatest humility that it was in recognition of this brilliant achievement that might have motivated Her Majesty the Queen to Honour Sir Banja with the Knighthood of the Grand Commander of St Michael and St, George- GCMG in 1971.

Sir Banja (Photo) had voluntarily left Sierra Leone in 1971 prior to the declaration of Sierra Leone as a Republican State. He returned briefly in 1987 following an invitation from the Late President Joseph Saidu Momoh to him and the Late Dr. John Karefa Smart., another famous son of Sierra Leone. He remained in Exile until his sudden death on the 8th of August 2000 in London.

Sir Banja’s contribution to the nation’s Political Development was impressive. He was a founding Member of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party rising to the position of Deputy Chairman of the Party.

He was a member of The Sierra Leone delegation to the Constitutional Conference for Independence in London in 1958, and a close confidant of Sir Milton Margai – Sierra Leone’s First Prime Minister. Sir Banja played a pivotal role in the negotiations.

He was also close to Sir Albert Margai who became Prime Minister after the death of Sir Milton. Interestingly, he was the personal Lawyer for both Leaders.

Throughout Sir Banja’s life he stood for Justice, the Rule of Law and Democracy. He passionately believed in Justice and in his administration of Justice he invariably intervened and disposed of interpreters who were not doing their work competently.

He spoke both Temne and Mende languages fluently and frequently translated or interpreted for Lawyers who could speak neither Temne nor Mende Language during their examination in Chief and Cross Examination of accused persons.

Apart from his commitment to his busy professional schedule as Magistrate, he found time to attend to family matters as a member of an extended family, firmly believing in the philosophy that the strong should always help the weaker members in the family.

He was humble, kind, generous and always willing to help those members of the family that needed sponsorship to further their education.  He passionately believed in education and would encouraged every member of family including his children to work hard in their studies to achieve their academic goals.

As his younger brother, Sir Banja encouraged me to study hard and persuaded me to attend the prestigious Bo school, firmly believing in the principle that nothing is impossible if one is willing to make the necessary sacrifices and commitments to succeed.  I was admitted at the Bo Government Secondary School in 1954 and later transferred to St Edwards Secondary School.

After my Secondary education, he assisted me to proceed to the United Kingdom to pursue further studies in Law and was extremely delighted when I was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn his Alma mater in November 1974. We were very close and confided in each other until his sudden death in 2000.

Sir Banja married late Admire Stapleton in 1945 and they had three surviving children – Iyamide Daphne Tejan-Sie, Yomi Banja Tejan-Sie and Malcolm Banja Tejan-Sie. His other children include Jartu Tejan-Sie, Olaymatu Tejan-Sie, Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie Esq (Photo: Sulaiman was former Secretary General of the SLPP Party) and Derek Tejan-Sie

Without prejudice to his hobbies of reading and writing, he was also a lover of classical Music and “Poro mende” music. He would send his driver to go in search of “Poro mende” music in Towns and villages where he was posted. He was a keen sportsman and supported East End Lions Football Club – his local team and Manchester United Football Club.

Finally, given the enormous contribution of Sir Banja to the Political, Judicial and socio economic development of Sierra Leone, one wonders why the legacies of this great Son of the Soil have not been recognized by naming a street or a building after him.

The late Alfred Akibo Betts during his tenure as Mayor called me and discussed the possibility of naming a street after him. He was committed to the idea, given the role and the contributions made by Sir Banja in the promotion of democracy, the Rule of Law and Justice but was sadly removed from Office and the idea was never pursued by his successors.

Without blaming any Local Authority  Official or Central Government Official  for this unfortunate lapse, it is prudent for those in authority – whether in Local Authority or Central Government to flip over the pages of history and look at the contributions made by some of our leaders and recognise those contributions made by these patriotic Leaders by either naming a Street, a Building, or an institution in their honour.

Leaders like Albert Margai – a former Prime Minister, former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah who brought peace to this Country after a bloody Civil War, Dr John Kerefa Smart, recognised throughout Africa as one of the pioneers of Independence and democracy in West Africa and Africa at large, and many others including our current Leader His Excellency Rtd Brigadier. Dr. Julius Mada Bio who has made political history by ruling this Country twice.

About the author

Ambassador Alhaji Amadu D Tejan-Sie Esq. is the younger brother of the late Sir Banja Tejan-Sie. He is also a senior partner at the Tejan-Sie & Tejan-Sie Law Firm in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

3 Comments

  1. Because a great patriot is being honored and remembered I will do my best to tread softly and cautiously; Sir Banja was truly a great man I have been told by much older relatives – he was a man who many have argued stood out among his peers like a gentle dove among a group of wicked ruthless vultures.May ALMIGHTY GOD grant him eternal bliss,rest and peace.

    How can someone anyone question the reasons for the longest serving President in Sierra Leone Stevens to have a street, monument, Stadium or bridge named after such a legendary leader? You really wanna know what baffles me beyond comprehension about Sierra Leone my only home? Why it is it a land full of ingrates and shamelessly unappreciative people who still refuse to understand the great sacrifices Stevens made for our beloved nation…how he tirelessly squeezed water out of stones and pebbles to keep our country afloat in difficult stormy rainy economic times without ever scowling,frowning or making a face. MR SMILES my uncle calls him.

    YOU sleeping people want to question the hard decisions of a lone hero and warrior that now sleeps eternally in bliss has already made that came from sleepless nights spent in meditation and an attitude of matchless perceptions and discernment?You can’t be serious! Hey! If Old Stevens doesn’t deserve a street named after him then no one else alive or dead truly deserves a footpath in their name.Now that’s me just being real! Rest forever Paradise if that be the will of Almighty God Honorable Sir Banja Tejan-Sie!

    • With all due respect Mr Stargazer, I still believe Saika Stevens bore a huge responsibility for the problems we are facing today in Sierra Leone. In terms of development, his rule and that of Momoh, is known as the lost decades in Sierra Leone. Indeed his first act was to execute Brigadier John Bangura, the former commander in chief of the Sierra Leone armed forces. And this was a man that seized power and handed it back to president Stevens, because he rightly thought he was the winner of the 1967 General elections.

      You might see him from a different lens, but for many families like those of Mr M O Bash Taqi, Jim Forna and many others that suffered the same fate under the Stevens government, might not share your opinion of his contribution to Sierra Leone’s development. He and President Momoh’s twenty six-year rule, laid the groundwork for the RUF wars.

  2. Indeed your brother and mentor is one of the greatest sons of the soil of Sierra Leone. In his devotion to country’s development, first as an SLPP stalwart, he showed as a citizen and devoted public servant you can rise above the politics of division that have held back our country’s development for so long. When he was recognised for his contribution for nation building, and as you alluded, while he was away living in London and was invited back to Sierra Leone, by then president Momoh head of the then APC government, gives you food for thought. That says a lot about how we need a lot of Sir Banja Tejan-Sies in today’s Sierra Leone.

    The irony of all ironies, The Queen honoured him by knighting him, but his country of birth can’t find it in themselves to do the same. Shame on our political class. To your brother and many of his generation, like the former Mayor of Freetown, Alfred Akibo-Betts, that rose above party political labelling,just got on with the job of nation building. I fully support the renaming of Streets or even erecting statues in honour of Sierra Leoneans like your brother, that rose above the fray to help develop our country. Unfortunately, we are only good at remembering or honouring people that acted as spoilers of all the good work your brother and others worked so hard to achieve for our country.

    Why do we still have Saika Stevens Street? Is beyond my comprehension. A man who single handedly went on the rampage, and destroyed our democracy as we knew it from our colonial masters. To this day the politics of revenge, corruption, nepotism, that he sowed is evident everywhere. President Bio, instead of emulating the good ones, he is following in the foot steps of Saika Stevens. Once he came to power, President Bio, set out to recall career Ambassadors that have served our country greatly, all in the name of revenge politics. I suppose they are easy picking, because they are low hanging fruits in the nasty politics of today’s Sierra Leone. May God bless the republic of Sierra leone.

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