Dr. Sama Banya – Puawui
The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 June 2014
Since that awful event of last Wednesday evening, when the leadership of the current executive committee were at each other’s throat on the radio airwaves, followed by the allegedly unhelpful contribution of the Parliamentary minority leader, people generally – but especially the members of the party, have continued to ponder what has gone wrong.
Why is all this happening within a party that was renowned for discipline and for the very civilized and tolerant manner, by which it had handled its differences and difficulties in the past?
People continue to ask whether there isn’t a way out of this mess, which is of our own making. How do we move forward positively?
Of course, there were disagreements in the past; people had stood their ground in the past, but with the singular exception of Charles Francis Margai, compromises were struck and the party emerged strong and victorious.
In the convention held for the election of a leader and Presidential candidate in 1996, Elizabeth Alpha Lavalie had accused Alhajie Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah of corruption.
She cited the Beoku-Betts Commission Report, which had disqualified Tejan-Kabbah (Photo) from holding public office. But she then went on to step down in favour of Kabbah, and she herself was elected as deputy secretary general of the party.
And that was how we went into the 1996 elections to claim victory.
Again, in the 2005 national party convention in Makeni, in spite of what was in fact an open, transparent and fair election, Solomon Berewa emerged as the clear winner. Charles Margai left the party once more, but this time taking a big chunk of the southern area membership with him.
We could still have won the 2007 Presidential election, with a comfortable majority in spite of Charles’ defection. But then, the Christiana Thorpe factor came into play and the rest too, became history.
Throughout that storm, there wasn’t anything like the acrimony and divisions that have now beset us, which are now dragging us down into the abyss of oblivion.
Interference with the 1996 party Constitution, by making an uncalled for and an unnecessary amendment, did not by itself cause real damage – except for the underlying factor – the hidden agendas and their attempts to settle old scores, which remains at the root of the unrest and creating disunity within the party.
It was present throughout the events leading up to the election of a flag bearer from an unwieldy field of NINETEEN contestants. In the end however, there was a façade of unity behind one man – even though rumours persisted of a plot to undermine the unity of the party.
There were intensive efforts to heal the wounds. But people kept telling me that ours was an unproductive endeavour.
As if there weren’t enough problems on our hands, the party was beset with legal wrangling in the courts, involving lawsuits brought against it by its own members – and not just any Tom, Dick and Harry, but people with clout within the membership.
It was no longer possible to paper over the cracks. It had become common knowledge, and was out there in the open.
Every effort to heal the rifts ended in failure, because the combatants were not sincere with the rest of the membership. And so it went on.
Before the Bo convention, the split had become wide open. It was Ambassador Alie Bangura, backed by such heavyweights as John Benjamin – the erstwhile chairman and leader on the one hand; and Chief Somano Karpen, backed by Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio – the erstwhile party Presidential candidate on the other.
To add fuel to an already near explosive situation, John Benjamin (Photo) declared that by vacating the chairmanship of the party, he was then free to contest for the 2017 party ticket, again confirming suspicions of a 2017 agenda, something for which he had been accused in the past and had strenuously denied.
Daggers were drawn. An Alie Bangura victory for the chairmanship of the party would have created the likelihood of a John Benjamin Presidential candidature – a situation which even many of JOB’s friends must admit, would have been unpopular.
Many leading party members had indicated to me over many months that, Somano Karpen was NOT a suitable candidate for the party chairmanship.
Before I left for a much needed and frequently postponed holiday last June, efforts were made to get the five prospective contestants to unite behind one candidate.
Thus it came to me as a bit of surprise and much disappointment that, Alie Bangura had declared his candidacy at a well attended meeting, held at the SLPP headquarters in the presence of some of the party’s most prominent leaders.
Two days after my return from the United States, I was invited to the launching of Somano Kapen’s campaign.
I had seen the list of candidates being sponsored by the Alie Bangura team. And at Kapen’s declaration meeting, I also saw the list of his sponsored candidates for the various executive positions.
I shook my head at the division opening up between the two groups. And it was at once obvious that, whichever side won, would lack some very prominent and efficient party members, because the loser would be certain to take with him members whose contribution to the progress of the party was immense.
This situation led to the election of some square pegs in very round holes, and at the same time left out very effective leadership material who were aligned to Alie Bangura.
That then was the reason for my finger pointing, that we are all to blame and must take some responsibility for the current situation, rather than feeling demurred or gloating over it.
I read a press release on Monday, purporting to come from a group of concerned party members, in which aspersions were made against unnamed trouble makers.
The authors of the press release cannot deceive anyone. And again, I find their action unhelpful in the present circumstance.
Unless we make strenuous efforts to bring peace within the party, all the frantic attempts at launching leadership campaigns – whether for Maada Bio, Kandeh Yumkella, John Benjamin, Alpha Timbo, Andrew Keili or Ernest Ndomahina and many more yet to come, would lead to a repeat of an exercise in futility.
(Photo: The late president Kabbah and Dr. Banya – happy days).
That was the reason for the strenuous efforts to bring Maada Bio and John Benjamin together in 2011, because victory in a divided party would only aggravate our differences and compound our problems.
And finally let me stress – I did not lobby John Benjamin to support Maada Bio, nor even the two witnesses he produced to say that Maada had preferred Abass Bundu for the position of national chairman.
Contrary to Andrew Keili’s allegation, I at no time spoke to a relative of his, to back Bio, because according to him – he Andrew was in a stronger financial position to sustain himself, than Bio was.
It doesn’t even make sense, and it is amazing that Andrew could even voice it.