The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 August 2013
Sierra Leone’s main opposition party – the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) is on the brink of collapse, after several months of internal war of attrition, which has now led to deep divisions within the party. (Photo: John Benjamin – Party Chairman).
Old wounds which had been plastered over, before the 2012 elections, have now been gorged wide open, following the party’s defeat at the polls and the inability of its leaders to enforce discipline and order.
The battle for the heart and soul of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party has just begun. Will it survive its self-inflicted onslaught?
Whilst a bitter struggle for the leadership of the party, in the run up to next weekend’s scheduled national party convention had been anticipated, it is the intensity and fierceness of the personal attacks waged against the party’s 2012 presidential candidate – Julius Maada Bio, many now believe to be unprecedented and threatening to split the party.
As is typical of African politics, the adage – ‘the friend of my enemy is not my friend’, is now fuelling an already highly charged atmosphere within the party, as Chairman John Oponjo Benjamin and his allies, including I.J. Kabbah – wife of former president Tejan Kabbah, are said to have vowed to destroy Maada Bio’s chances of being elected once again to lead the party into the 2018 general and presidential elections.
It is understood that John Oponjo Benjamin is also hoping to contest the race for the presidential candidacy.
Since losing the presidential election last year, Maada Bio has continued to sustain severe and highly damaging personal attacks from inside his party, which it is understood culminated in what has been described as ‘a politically orchestrated raid’ on his property and offices in Freetown yesterday, by the police.
Speaking to the media, the police said that they received report of arms and ammunitions stored in the offices and residence of Julius Maada Bio, and that he was training thugs to disrupt the party’s convention, which is scheduled to take place in Bo, this coming weekend.
But following both raids at his properties, which were witnessed by the country’s media, the police said: ‘we discovered nothing of police interest in relation to the information we received.’
This latest action by the opponents of Maada Bio is believed to be aimed at provoking the former military brigadier into some form of violent response, which could see him arrested and charged, possibly with treason.
As expected and to prove his critics wrong, Bio has refused to be drawn into such violent confrontation, the national repercussions of which could be far reaching. He instead issued this press statement, calling for calm and party unity, going forward:
INTRA-PARTY DISPUTES, INTIMIDATION, VIOLENCE AND CALL FOR UNITY
Freetown: 13 August 2013
As we prepare for the first National Convention of the Party after the 2012 elections, let us be united, respectful of our party’s values, and mindful of the fact that in adversity or in joy, we belong to the same family – the SLPP family.
Recently, elections and related conflicts within our party have opened up raw emotions. Some in our SLPP family have abandoned the family for diverse reasons; some have regrettably joined those who detest our party and who have made no secret of their ambition to destroy the good image of our party.
Within the SLPP family, it has been a long nightmare of anger, mistrust, disrespect and violence.
As we go to the Bo convention, I strongly urge each and every one of us members of the SLPP family to desist from violence in all forms – verbal or physical.
I strongly urge each member of the family to cease all campaigns of vilification and disrespect against fellow party members. I strongly urge each member to desist from making threats or using agents and armed men to intimidate fellow party members.
Political violence and threats of violence against fellow party members do not benefit our party in any way.
Our legacy as a party is a rich one of inclusiveness and free democratic expression; ours is a culture of embracing diverse views, and we have a proud and enviable historical standing as the party of peace and peacemaking.
We gained independence for Sierra Leone; we made peace after eleven (11) long bloody years of conflict and set this country back on a sound democratic footing after decades of corrupt autocratic rule under the All People’s Congress.
Our contribution to this nation and this nation’s history is a proud one. Let us continue to protect that.
I personally have nothing to gain from participating in, orchestrating, aiding and abetting, or causing violence in my party and in this country. I have never directed, participated in, and caused violence in this party.
I denounce in the strongest terms all forms of violence inflicted or threatened on members of our party and my sincere sympathy to all persons who have been victims of intra-party violence and that by external agents.
I have been a victim of political violence too when I was attacked and wounded in Bo. My response to even that incident was to urge all of us to protect the peace and democratic governance we brought to this country.
Those who use violence as a form of political expression do not do so in my name and not even in the name of our party.
I therefore strongly advise all persons who perpetuate violence in the name of anyone or in the name of any interest group to desist forthwith. Ours is a party of peace and law and order.
We resolve our differences by negotiating win-win outcomes in the best interests of everyone in the party just as our founding fathers did in the party’s and in the nation’s interest.
Those who use violence are not preserving our proud legacy as a party of peaceful co-existence.
As party leaders, elders, it is our responsibility to advise overzealous members and to encourage them to engage with one another peacefully and not intimidate and attempt to humiliate fellow party members.
I will continue to support sanctions against all persons who engage in acts of political intimidation and violence. I will continue to speak out against violence in all its forms.
Our party gains only when we work collectively, respectfully, and in good faith in the best interests of the party and the country. Let us go to the Convention not to seek our selfish agenda or intimidate and threaten other party members with violence.
Let us go there to peacefully and respectfully discuss and act on all that make us a better and stronger party.
Finally, I am reliably informed that persons determined to impose their will on the people have already brought into Bo mercenaries from Liberia and thugs from Freetown to be used as Marshalls in Bo during the Convention.
The objective is to provoke persons they think are loyal to me and in the event of any scuffle that may ensue, arrest these persons with the single objective of tainting my image as a violent person and possibly extend the violence to me.
I am regularly updated on the situation that is unfolding in Bo. I would like to humbly appeal to those who are perpetrators of this plan to desist from this dastardly plan and call my supporters to restrain themselves in the face of such provocation.
If allowed to go through, such an act has the potential to undermine the peace and stability of not only Bo but the entire nation as a whole.
I therefore call on the Government and the international community to strictly monitor this threat. In particular, I call on the police to discharge their responsibilities in an impartial and just manner.
As the Press Conference was about to commence, trucks of police officers arrived at my private office and residence.
The head of the operations informed me they have a tip that I am in possession of offensive weapons and that I was training thugs and plan to violently disrupt the Bo Party Conference. So far, nothing of security interest has been found. I will update you on this.
I thank you all
One Country, One People
Brig. Gen. (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio
SLPP Presidential Candidate 2012