Maada Bio meets SLPP party faithful in London

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 July 2013

bio at chatham house 5It is well over a year since Maada Bio – Sierra Leone’s main opposition presidential candidate for the 2012 elections, spoke at Chatham House in London, in preparation for those elections.

Whilst in London last year, Maada Bio met international industrialists, politicians and potential investors, who it is understood, had bought into the ‘New Direction’ philosophy espoused by Bio as part of his 2012 presidential campaign agenda.

But nowhere did he feel very much at home than meeting the thousands of SLPP party supporters and well wishers, who came out to greet and chat with him, during his tour of the UK and Europe before the elections last year.

And after losing those elections in November 2012 and failing to convince the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone to accept the party’s claim of massive electoral fraud, which gave the ruling APC party a massive victory, Bio is back in London meeting members of the SLPP UK Branch.

Yusuf Keketoma Sandi reports from London:

“SLPP is our party and together we must make it stronger.” Maada Bio made this clarion call, as he addressed an impressive turnout of SLPP members at the Extraordinary Meeting of the UK and Ireland Branch in London, yesterday – Sunday, 28th July, 2013.

MAADA BIO LONDON 20132Speaking as the flagbearer of the 2012 elections, he started by saying that SLPP members in the diaspora are very important to the party.

He thanked all those members in the diaspora who left their jobs, families and other engagements to travel to Sierra Leone to take part in the 2012 elections.

Maada Bio told the audience that SLPP did not lose the elections, but rather the party lost the results.

SLPP final push in FreetownHe said: “for anybody who witnessed the SLPP’s last election rally in Freetown, with that huge turnout and to think that SLPP could not win a single parliamentary seat or even councillor seat in Western Area, then you know something was fundamentally wrong”.

However, he admitted that the party collectively has to conduct a post mortem into the 2012 elections.

MAADA BIO LONDON 20133“Our priority after the August 2013 convention is to see the SLPP become more organised as a responsible Opposition, holding the government to account on behalf of the citizens.

“As a party, we must start to deal with our party issues through internal party structures, rather than the front pages of the newspapers or through government influence.

“Even on our party email chat forum, which creates a link between party members in the diaspora and Sierra Leone, we must start to change the dynamics of our discussions from the frequent bashings to constructive engagements, discussing ideas and visions that will move the party forward and prepare SLPP as the next government.”

MAADA BIO LONDON 20131After Maada Bio’s remarks, it was time for the question and answer sessions, which I guessed for many members, was the opportunity to say what they think and what they have heard about him.

So the questions from the SLPP members directed at Maada Bio, broadly covered three areas:

Firstly, that as a leader, many SLPP members think that he is too silent on issues and that as a political leader people want him to speak more often.

Secondly, that there is the perception within the party that some of his supporters are very violent; and what has he done personally to deal with that issue.

Thirdly, that since he has admitted that there were things the party could have done better in the elections, if he is given another chance as a flagbearer in 2017, what are the things he will do differently.

On the first question of being too silent, he said that was an unfair characterisation, because throughout the elections he was speaking and campaigning to people on issues that matter to their lives.

And that even after the elections, he has written many press releases and even spoken on FM 98.1 when certain SLPP members were making allegations and counter allegations of financial impropriety within the party.

He said the issue of speaking is a broader issue, because if SLPP members want him to be speaking regularly the question is: in what capacity do they want him to be speaking on issues which are related to the party?

He went on: “for instance in December 2012, when I made a press release wishing every SLPP member a prosperous 2013, I was questioned by the Chairman that it was not my role to write a Christmas message to SLPP members”.

He smiled as the audience laughed. “So I have sometimes remained silent just to prevent any unnecessary misunderstanding with the Chairman and for us as leaders to get along peacefully. But on national issues like the recent Transparency International Report on bribery, I recently granted an interview to the BBC focus on Africa programme, in which I said corruption is still endemic n Sierra Leone”, he added.

To many members, that answer seemed satisfactory as long as it had to do with preventing conflict within the party.

MAADA BIO LONDON 20134The second question was the perception of some of his supporters as being too violent; and what he has done personally to deal with that issue. He started by saying that this issue of violence or “pa o pa” is just part of an APC paid media agenda to smear him.

“This is because common sense will tell me that as former flagbearer and a man who has the intention of contesting again for that position, it is not in my best interest to divide the party.

“The question is: am I a violent man? And the answer is categorically NO. Even when they make this lousy claim that I used to be a “wife beater” in the USA; that is just complete nonsense.

“I lived in Washington DC for many years and I did not even have a single driving offence, let alone an issue of domestic violence. For those who personally know me, I went to the Bo School for seven years and upon completion, the school gave me an award for best behaved student.

“So violence has never been part of me and I will never condone violence. In fact, on one occasion at the party office I had to physically remove the party chairman, put him in my car and drove him off when some young party members were venting their frustrations against him.”

As I sat listening, I also remember that Maada Bio had once told me that he had even signed a declaration, a document which should be in the possession of the chairman in which Maada Bio denounced violence and disclaimed any member who acts violently on his behalf.

He said: “This is my view on violence, I believe every SLPP member is peaceful, decent and law abiding. But there are times, like every other political party – be it APC or PMDC, when few young people within the party, out of over-zealousness do certain regrettable things.

“As leaders of the party, it is our responsibility to engage these young people to tell them that there are better ways of expressing disagreements within the party, so at the end they can be better party members and better citizens.”

A female party member who was very delighted with that statement could not help but turned to me and said: “This is the type of statement we expect from our party leaders rather than the in-fighting.”

Finally, on the question of ‘if he is given another opportunity to lead the party in 2017, what are the things he will do differently:

Firstly, he said he was not in the meeting to campaign for the flagbearership and as a party it is not only about him; rather we all have to do a collective review of the last elections.

He said if there is any lesson he has learnt, it is the shocking reality that elections are won or lost beyond the registration of voters and the voting process.

He also said that; you can be the most popular candidate and lose an election, whilst at the same time be the most unpopular candidate and win an election. It is sad for our democracy and the voting populace.

Therefore, he said that whoever, the party decides to elect in 2017, one thing is clear, that is – as a Presidential Candidate he has laid a very strong foundation for the party and his only priority will be for the SLPP to win the elections in 2017.

MAADA BIO 20135That response received a very loud applause from the audience because for many, he came across as a man who cares more about the victory of the SLPP than his own personal ambition.

I guessed one of Maada Bio’s goals was to tell those party members in the clearest of terms that for him, being the flagbearer of the party is not an issue of “Pa O Pa” – rather it is a decision for the SLPP membership.

And if he is given the opportunity to serve again as a presidential candidate it will be a wonderful privilege, he said.

Also, in attendance at the meeting was Alhaji Momodu Koroma, who was invited in his capacity as Chairman of Constitutional Review Committee. In his remarks, he said among other things that one of the proposals he has made to the party is to separate the position of Chairman and Leader, because of the enormous rancour it has created.

But he stressed it will be up to the SLPP members to approve that decision.

The meeting was chaired by the Chairman, SLPP UK and Ireland Branch – Mr. Jimmy B. Songa who in his closing remarks said that as members of the party, they are very disheartening to see that key players within the party are not united.

Mr. Songa appealed to both Alhaji Momodu Koroma and the flagbearer of the 2012 elections, to ensure that all the leaders of the party should be their brother’s keeper.

As a Branch, he promised to work alongside all the party leaders in the interest of the party.

The meeting was also attended by representatives of SLPP executive members from Bristol and Reading, whilst the chairman of the Council of Elders – Alhaji Khalil Mustapha, past chairmen of the Branch and many other distinguished SLPP members were also in attendance.