Puawui Dr. Sama Banya: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 June 2020:
A few years ago I published my autobiography under the above title. At 90 years old yesterday, I continue to look back with gratitude and great humanity amidst thankfulness to God Almighty for His grace and Mercy. Mine has been a varied life, with lots of excitement and an occasional backlash.
There are times when I have rejoiced with family members and friends, and at others I have asked myself whether it is worth continuing. I was born in a polygamous marriage; my father was a Paramount chief and I had many brothers and sisters. Sadly the majority of those with whom I enjoyed a great childhood and adult life and cordial relationship have preceded me to the Great Beyond.
I cannot think of any reason why God has preserved me to this day, other than His Grace and Mercy. Friends continually ask the secret of my long life; and my answer has been constant – the Grace and Mercy of the Almighty God. There is no elixir for longevity; one may take great care of oneself, heed all the medical advice, but in the last analysis He has the final say.
I’m sure that at my birth my umbilical cord was severed with the same blade that may have been used on my other brothers, but even with the absence of immunisation in those days, and also having gone through the childhood diseases of measles, whooping cough, inhalation, pneumonia from forced hand feeding, worm infestation, diarrhoea etc. I survived into adulthood.
At a very early age I learned to live and share with others, I look back with amusement at the reasons for the fights among me and my brothers. But we never kept a grudge beyond any particular event. Sometimes our different mothers tried to intervene but one look from our father was enough to give them a message, “Leave them to themselves.” Yes, even when we threw insults at him during our verbal combats as if we had different fathers, he just watched us with an amusing smile on his face.
I started primary school at the age of 7 and then entered the Bo School at the age of 9. I left at the end of my school career in 1948 having got to the highest Form (Cambridge School Certificate) of the school The Bo School! Ah yes!
I will continue to have fun memories of that great institution and often remember the words of former President Siaka Stevens: “Bo School has been a Trail Blazer in our country.” Oh what experience! Tolerance and our emphasis being on the town in which we lived on campus i.e. London, Liverpool, Paris or Manchester was all that mattered. These were and have continued to be of more importance to the Bo School boys than whether he was from north or south or east and more importantly regardless of his ethnicity.
This spirit has continued among us even today when we refer to each other only as Ngor or Kotor. I have learned to take and to equally give hard blows in return; and I have learned through the years that self-discipline, respect for law and order and especially respect for elders are a sine qua non for peaceful coexistence in society.
I did three years in the Prince of Wales School where I also ended as senior prefect of the school. In the United Kingdom, I was selected Honorary Secretary of the Sierra Leone Student’s Union.
I indulged in the politics of this country at a young age from running errands for some of our earlier politicians to political campaigns, first for Mr. Albert Margai in his failed attempt to enter the Sierra Leone Legislative Council as the Colony representative, and later for the Sierra Leone People’s Party – my great party SLPP! “One Country, One People”.
My zeal took me to Mafanta prison in northern Sierra Leone and twice to Pademba Road Prison in Freetown. On one occasion I was never sure that I would come out of Pademba Road with my life, but the Grace of God prevailed. After my experience in Mafanta, Mr. Siaka Stevens (Photo) – the then President invited me, nay challenged me to join his All People’s Congress party. I
t was a long process which included a meeting with leading members of my family. My colleagues in the SLPP were at first in shock but later very understanding and wished me luck; but others like Dr. Yillah remained cynical, while Salia Jusu-Sheriff hoped that I would not be influenced by the uncomplimentary aspect of the APC life.
I entered Parliament the hard way, following an ambush in which one of my brothers and a cousin died from bullet wounds. I survived in spite of being shot in the head, and I was flown to Britain for surgery. In the end, five bullets are still in my skull because the Surgeon thought that they were too close to my brain to be removed.
I have had no symptoms from the effect to this day. I developed very close friendship in the APC, many of which remained to this day. I was appointed Minister of Development and Economic Planning, Minister of Finance and Minister of Local Government; I acted as Vice President on many occasions.
I was amused when President Stevens, having decided to remove me from the Ministry of Finance, gave as excuse that the general elections were pending (they were still twelve months away) and he wanted me to spend more time in my constituency.
Ironically, he gave no reason when he unceremoniously sacked Dr. Abdulai Conteh and myself from his cabinet because we had refused to support a private member’s motions which allowed the then Force Commander General Momoh to qualify for the Presidency.
I also made many interesting and valuable friendships in my 8 years surgeon at the APC, most of which have lasted to this day.
In the SLPP government of President Tejan-Kabba, I was Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and later Senior Adviser to the President. I was National Chairman of the Party from 2002 to 2005.
Dr. Prince Harding, the present Chairman and Leader was Secretary General, and together we won the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2002 with overwhelming majorities.
I started writing Newspaper articles while still at school but under the pseudonym of “Kissi Boy”. I have enjoyed politics and newspaper writing.
What I have learned over the years is that one must not take oneself too seriously in politics in particular; and of even more importance to learn to be tolerant, and to give and take without prejudice or losing one’s cool.
A newspaper editor once carried a front page headline that I had been flown on a stretcher and admitted in the Intensive Care Unit of a London hospital. I read the headline with amusement even as I walked down Siaka Stevens street. Some months later the unfortunate editor was flown to London on a stretcher and returned to Sierra Leone in a casket.
Another one was in the habit of declaring in his newspaper that I was at least four or five years older than I always declared because as he alleged, there were no registration of birth and death at the time of my birth which was untrue.
I still don’t understand why any party or group of people should assume that it is their prescriptive right to rule this country.
I have enjoyed public life. And in my medical career; I worked in the Bo Government Hospital, became Medical Officer In Charge of the Kenema Hospital, established the Njala University Health Centre and worked in the Makeni Government Hospital as Medical Officer In Charge.
In Makeni, I was Ex-Officio Member of the Town Council under the SLPP Chairmanship of Late Sylvanus Koroma – the father of Former President Ernest Bai Koroma. It is for this reason that he always addresses me as his uncle.
I dined with Queen Elizabeth and met the President of France, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom, and President Bill Clinton of the United States, and many other important statesmen and women.
It has truly been a varied and enjoyable experience for me, for which I continue to be truly thankful to the Almighty God for this unique experience.
I now put down my pen and have advised myself to turn my back gracefully on politics and public life. In the words of a former friend: “It is better to leave when one is still wanted than to wait until everyone heaves a sigh of a relief when one finally bows out”