Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 January 2017
Presidential and general elections in Sierra Leone are less than fifteen months away. Yet the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) is far from being ready to contest those elections, let alone position itself as a government in waiting, despite the popularity of the ruling All People’s Congress Party (APC) now at rock bottom. (Photo: John Benjamin and Maada Bio).
Since its catastrophic defeat at the polls by the incumbent APC in 2012 and at almost every by-election held since then, the Sierra Leone People’s Party has fast become a shadow of its former self, torn by infighting, indiscipline and lack of strong leadership.
But it is the fight for the party’s presidential candidacy for the 2018 elections by no fewer than eight strongly willed contenders – including Julius Maada Bio, that has now become the fast moving torpedo that is about to sink the SLPP ship.
Even those elected by the party’s rank and file at their last national convention to manage the affairs of the party, and maintain order and discipline, are being hounded out of office by a faction believed to be loyal to the 2012 presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio.
Bio has been accused by many of destabilising and dividing the party – a charge he and his campaign team have continuously denied.
What is not in dispute however, is the polarising effect of Maada Bio’s military approach to leadership, which is not based on consensus building – but the command and control of those loyal to his cause – to become president of Sierra Leone at all cost.
Standing in his way of achieving this objective, are members of an Alliance of aspiring SLPP presidential candidates – John Oponjo Benjamin, Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, Andrew Keili, Alpha Timbo, Munda Rogers, and Jonathan Tengbe.
The battle for the presidential candidacy and leadership of the SLPP is also being fought by the two sides in the country’s Courts, where issues of legitimacy and constitutionality are being decided.
SLPP is now deeply wounded by these divisions and in fighting. And this will make it impossible for the party to successfully contest the 2018 general and presidential elections, irrespective of who becomes the presidential candidate.
Maada Bio knows this all too well, and is looking for a way to consolidate his grip on large sections of the party, while trying to legitimise his claim on the presidential candidacy.
Today, the Julius Maada Bio Media and Communications Team issued a report of Bio, calling for dialogue with members of the Alliance, to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
But is this a clever ploy by Maada Bio to present himself as a man of peace who cares about the party? Or does he genuinely want to work collectively towards building a strong and united SLPP; embrace all of the other candidates for the presidential candidacy; respect the constitution of the party; accept a level playing field that gives equal chance to each of the candidates without intimidation, subterfuge or rancour?
Will some of the members of the SLPP party and indeed the Alliance, find some of the language used in Bio’s statements – inflammatory, provocative, and divisive?
This is the report:
“The leading flagbearer aspirant of the SLPP for the February 2018 election, Rtd Brigadier Julius Maada Bio (Photo) has offered olive branch to members of the Alliance to dialogue for the sake of the people and the country.
“Bio made this offer during a “thank you” visit to the people of Pujehun District on Friday, 13th January 2017 for their continued support for him over the years.
“He informed the jubilant crowd that in 1996 when he was head of state, he told Foday Sankoh that for the sake of peace and the country he should come to the dialogue table. Using that as an inspiration, Bio said he is appealing to “our brothers and sisters in the Alliance” to dialogue and have peace in the party for the sake of the people and country.
“He said he is available any day and any time to dialogue, however, he stressed that the dialogue should be based on the party’s constitution and respect for elected officials of the party.
“Bio also called on members and supporters of the SLPP to conduct themselves in a manner that will make peace conducive in the party. He told his supporters that because they are in the majority across the country they should always be peaceful. “PAOPA in the majority is democracy,” Bio asserted.
“Bio also expressed his disappointment about comment from the SLPP Minority Leader. Using sarcasm to describe her as Minority Leader, “in the true sense of the word”, Bio said that he had hoped the Minority Leader would have been engaging her colleague MPs to solve their differences.
“However, Bio said that SLPP is more important than any group or individual and no single person will be allowed to destroy the SLPP. He also revealed that the Minority Leader was even defeated in her own village by his supporters during the lower level elections.
“Bio assured the crowd that SLPP will form the next government. In reminiscent of the 2012 election, Bio reminded the young people about one of his education pledges of the last election on the abolition of “SS4” and free education until “SS3”. He promised the excited young people that his presidency will ensure that quality education is accessible and affordable for all.
“During the event all the SLPP delegates in the Pujehun District for the forthcoming SLPP Flagbearer election scheduled for February pledged their supports for Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.
“In attendance at the event was the lovely wife of Rtd. Brigadier Bio, Fatima, the Acting Chairman and Leader, Dr Prince Harding, Regional Vice Chairman South, Hon Edward Soluku and host of national officers, senior party members and Members of Parliament.”
Will members of the SLPP Alliance take up this offer of dialogue? And if they do, on what terms and conditions will they be prepared to have a dialogue with Maada Bio?
Is this a serious and genuine peace offer from Julius Maada Bio?