The brouhaha over two-sim bridge in Freetown

Winstanley R Bankole Johnson: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 May 2019:

For decades to come the history of this country will continue to reflect grave inaccuracies. This is because contemporary narratives continue to be challenged by two variables: The authors and the political dispensation during which they are/were written.

South-Eastern authors believe that the history of this country is incomplete without detailed references to the exploits the founding fathers of their Party at our attainment of Independence; whereas Northern authors arriving post-independence, would, each time they assume political power, spare no effort to correct what in their views are distortions of facts grounded on narrow ethno-regional considerations.

The sustained determination of both to name and rename places and institutions in the Capital so as to entrench their respective cultural heritage and values, have their immutable origins in those concepts.

And the choicest location for expansion of ethno-regional dominance is Freetown – the weakest link.

The latest affront was the recent brouhaha accompanying the renaming of a road bridge in the far West of Freetown from Wallace-Johnson to Sengbe Pieh, which brouhaha in fact is a further clear depiction of not only our growing disrespect for each other’s heritage and cultural values, but also of our permeating divisiveness since the advent of the present political dispensation.

In actual fact, there’s nothing injurious about the re-naming of the bridge if you ask me, especially as both I.T.A Wallace-Johnson and Sengbe Pieh are our national heroic icons. So where then did what was intended to be a genuine gesture by the government go wholesomely wrong?

Let’s do some quick Qs and As to strive to get to the bottom of the matter:

1. Is I.T.A Wallace-Johnson as much a national heroic icon as Sengbe Pieh? The answer is a resounding “Yes” – albeit they belong to different era in our political history.

2. Is it wrong to name anywhere in our capital city of Freetown after Sengbe Pieh?  In my personal view as a nationalist, the answer is a big No!! In fact nowhere in the country is exempt to be named after Sengbe Pieh, because his exploits and legacy, just like those of I.T.A Wallace-Johnson still have historical relevance and contemporary resonance.

But as we shall see in Point No.8 below – and in the views of the late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Prof. Aiah Gbakima, incumbent Minister of Secondary and Tertiary Education – and I’m quoting both here now – according to Alfred Marder, a life-long Connecticut Peace Activist: “Sengbe Pieh has no relevance to Freetown”.

3. So if it isn’t wrong to name anywhere in Freetown after Sengbe Pieh, then why the resentment?  Well, it was the way and manner it was done by State House, unilaterally – without consultations with the Freetown City Council (FCC) – but rather crudely and seemingly with an intention to spite a particular classes of people, more particularly the Krios from amongst which Clan the Late I T A Wallace-Johnson was a descendant.

And no one could deny that, because if after the outcry of disapproval State House was quick to counter that there was no actual re-naming of the original Wallace-Johnson Bridge, but it was the new lane running parallel to the existing Wallace-Johnson Bridge that was named after Sengbe Pieh, then they ought to have adequately sensitized the citizenry on changes to the nomenclature of such a critical landmark, to forestall resentment, misunderstandings and misrepresentations. But the idea was never floated for public discussion to evaluate public perceptions and or reactions.

4. So how could the government have gotten around those resentment and misunderstandings seamlessly? Simple. They could have achieved that by working with the FCC through consultations – especially as cordiality between the two is deepening – whose remit it is to name places and Streets within the Freetown municipality. It is the FCC that is best positioned to have articulated any proposed names alignment or changes.

5. Do I have any evidence of where such prior consultations with the local authorities preceded the renaming of any prominent site in this country so as to forestall social unrest? Of course yes.  That was exactly what the former government of Ernest Bai Koroma and the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA) did before arriving at the name of “Moa Bridge” for the reconstructed overpass formerly called “Daru” bridge. And not a whimper was heard here in Freetown.

It has to be noted here that of all the many names touted before arriving at “Daru” for that bridge and as with hundreds of other rehabilitated and reconstructed provincial locations, not a single one was of Krio origin or heritage to wit: Galba-Bright; Esther Coker; Constance Cummings-John; H M S Boardman; Sir Samuel Lewis, Africanus Horton; Thomas Peters, etc; even though those illustrious sons and daughters of Krio origin also made valuable contributions countrywide, but more especially in provincial localities just like Sengbe Pieh.

The most galling thing here is that whereas bona-fide Krios know and concede that persistent references to their traditional Krio names on prominent provincial locations is anathema, the converse is not the case for Freetown.

6. Apart from the re-naming of the bridge from Wallace-Johnson to Sengbe Pieh, has anything like that happened before in Freetown? Oh Yes. At the memorial Mass for the Late Pope John Paul at the Sacred Heart Cathedral along Siaka Stevens Street, former Catholic Archbishop Ganda (without prior reference to, or consultations with the FCC, exuberantly pronounced the renaming of an extension of the Syke Street Bye-Pass as the Pope John Paul Road.

I was the sitting Mayor and even attended that Mass but to let sleeping dogs lie, would rather just quote the usual phrase: “And the rest is history”.

7. So the next question is: why did the SLPP government decide to act so unconscionably on the re-naming of the overpass from Wallace-Johnson to Sengbe Pieh Bridge? The answer to that is as myriad as follows-:
– The SLPP know they are thin on the ground in the Western Area and believe (perhaps rightly so) that the APC was only able to capture the hearts and minds of the Western Area by their overrunning and unofficially renaming various localities here on account of mass migration during the war years.

For example, Allen Town has since been engulfed by “Mayekini”; Okay Murray is now swallowed up by “Sorie Togn”; the Aberdeen Creek is now “Dorkortee”; Upper Lumley/Passanday is now “Kamayama”; Riverside Drive is now “Kaningo” and a greater part of Wellington is now “Pamuronkoh” – all predominantly inhabited by those with dialects akin to the North.

– Present day South-Easterners on the other hand hate moving away from their homelands and so lagged behind in the aggressive repossession and renaming of western Urban Areas to establish footholds. This was either because their areas were more secured during the war or they were better capacitated and prepared to defend themselves.

Demographically that lag has not helped them in the Western Areas as past elections results continue to show. So, it is probably a desperate desire to establish serious presence and ethnic influences that they have embarked on renaming prominent sites here after their cultures, starting with renaming of the Wallace-Johnson Bridge to Sengbe Pieh.

Only those old enough to recollect that previous South-Eastern footholds within the City such as Mende Tong/Ginger Hall have disappeared, would understand that desperation. And Mortormeh which was a creation since the days of late President Tejan Kabbah remains a tragic dent in our history. May God continue to rest their gentle souls in peace.

Caution

Perhaps I should throw in a word of caution to the Krio Clan. The obliteration of Krio heritage sites, the dispossession of Krio lands, are concerted joint enterprises by both the APC and SLPP, and you can discern that from their choices of Ministers of Lands – specifically for the Western Area.

The  zeal with which they have been executing their remits in the past twenty (20) years, without any of our incumbent Heads of State batting an eyelid speaks volumes.

Hardly do we hear of those same exploits to “repossess” government lands beyond Waterloo, because they have no intention of disrupting their own traditional provincial social structures.

Those among them that do not angrily question Krio land ownership within the Western Area (South-Easterners) make the occasional reference to the “Ass’ Head” (Northerners) as their basis for “reclamation or repossession” by whatever means, because after all it was originally “rightfully” theirs.

The bottom line is a concerted effort at Krio extinction – through a systemic obliteration of all historical and contemporary evidence. So una nor biliv dem non.

In fact, the only reason we tend to be having APC sympathy is because we are not in power.  As a gentle reminder, the Cathedral School is gone, and with it all our monuments and relic (tombstones, plaques, mementos) of Anglicanism. Not a single one was retrieved and preserved for posterity. Ours is the only Cathedral in the Sub-region (if not the world) without an Educational wing.

Yes, even Battenberg Hall that used to host State Dinners etc disappeared over time. No trace of it. Fort Thornton is in the pipeline to be relocated to Gloucester. And but for my stoicism the Annie Walsh Memorial School would have disappeared first, replaced by Markets – sacrificed on the altar of personal greed.

As Christ aptly put it in the parable of the Sower in Mathew 13:28-: “An enemy (among the Krios) has done this”. But more anon. Leh we dae go normor!!

Of the 71,740 Sq.Km making up Sierra Leone’s fourteen (14) political districts, Krios occupy less than 10 Sq.Km within what comprises Freetown. Yet, whereas as “Non-Natives” we are prohibited from owning freeholds in the Provinces, no consideration or priority is given to Krios in the allocation of government lands in the Western Areas.

Soon the Western Area Land Bank will become depleted, leaving our own descendants landless and with nowhere else to turn.

8. But ignore the digression. Back to my Qs and As.  Does Sengbe Pieh really have relevance in the Western Area?  Per my responses to questions (1) and (2) above, the answer again from my own nationalistic perspective is, Yes.

But from the views of both late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Prof. Aiah Gbakima as relayed to me in Washington DC by Alfred Marder – he doesn’t. The background reads thus:

Circa 2005/06 on account of the close ties between Freetown City Council and New Haven in Connecticut; and following our successful hosting of the Amistad delegation here in Freetown, a 15-man delegation was invited to visit New Haven during which among other gifts, two huge man-size busts of Sengbe Pieh and two container loads of gifts were presented to the Sierra Leone delegation for the FCC benefit, with a specific request that the two busts of Sengbe Pieh be prominently located in Freetown.

For obvious reasons back then, my name was struck off from that delegation at the last minute.

According to Alfred Marder, he was utterly shocked and disappointed when their request for the busts to be prominently located here in Freetown was furiously turned down by both President Kabba and Prof. Gbakima on the grounds that (according to them, and I quote Alfred Marder here again) -: “Sengbe Pieh has no relevance in Freetown…..and (that) they will be of more relevance in Bo”.

President Kabbah is translated and God continue to rest his soul, but the latter (Prof. Gbakima) like Alfred Marder is alive and I challenge him to rebut this affirmation.

Now, with that in hindsight, what’s all the fuss about naming a bridge here in Freetown after someone whose descendants are of the view and conviction really has no relevance here in Freetown? Or is it that Prof. Gbakima was also not consulted before the decision was taken?

Incidentally, as with those Sengbe Pieh busts, our Council has never set eyes on the contents of those two container loads of gifts from New Haven to this day.

9. But whether historical or contemporary, relevance is contextualized – Re: Sengbe Pieh /Joseph Cinque Vs I.T A Wallace-Johnson – was it prudent, having regard to the fact that neither road networks nor bridges existed in the days of Sengbe Pieh, nor did he ever lived in the locality (he left and came back by sea routes) to have erased and replaced the names of a son of the soil (Isaac Theophilus Akuna Wallace-Johnson) with his – Sengbe Pieh? Certainly No.

10.Would President Bio ever attempt to erase, replace and rename any prominent site in any Provincial City with names not akin to their heritage – for example, renaming Masuba in Makeni as Kakua, or Nongowa in Kenema as Makarie Gbanti Chiefdom or renaming Dambara or Mahei Boima Road in Bo as Bakeh-Lokoh and Bankole Johnson Avenue respectively  – without invoking civil strife and loss of lives in those Cities, just as it happened in Kabala when the last government merely relocated the Youth Village Project from there to Mile 91 axis?

If not, then why is President Bio riding rough-shod over Krios’ considerations?

11. So is it now an offense or evidence of weakness to the extent that peaceful and law-abiding minority Clansmen (including others born and raised in Freetown who are also technically “Non-Natives”) always comporting themselves within the law, without the need for Traditional Tribal Headmen to monitor their behavior, and absolutely no financial burden on governments, can be bullied into oblivion?

Would President Bio have shown more respect and consideration for Krio sentiments if he knew Krios too have the same “bone to bone” “Tit-for-Tat” orientation, and of course,  the numbers to be jumping out into the streets and baying for the blood of our opponents each time were are offended as others do?

These are the soul-searching questions our international moral guarantors – particularly the UNDP – ought to be asking our present political leaders, instead of wasting money on Peace and Reconciliation Conferences, knowing full well that the protagonists warranting the convening of those conferences are the same as those causing our national malaise, whilst the peaceful and law-abiding ones (from other minority Clans as well), are hardly opportuned to articulate our grievances in any forum.

Last week, a local TV hosted a Dr. Lahai, presumably a diaspora historian returnee was passionately articulating why the name of our country and of course our Capital Freetown ought to be changed to some more traditional names.

His view was that Pedro Da Cintra must have awoken from a drunken stupor and having a serious hangover when he named this country Sierra Leone. And I suppose his view is of the same for those who named here Freetown, so both must be changed before our next elections.

I hope you get the drift. I do, and would respectfully suggest they start with  renaming our two Bormeh Dumpsites at Granville Brooke, Kissy and King Tom.

In the meantime Sierra Leoneans, never encouraging dull moments even in these difficult days, have decided to ignore the furore intended by government over the renaming of the Bridge from Wallace-Johnson to Sengbe Pieh – and without any referendum on the matter, unanimously adopted the name of “Two-Sim Bridge” instead.

7 Comments

  1. Mr. Winstanley R. Bankole Johnson are you a Sierra Leonean interested in the well being of our nation, then please stop provoking the citizens of this country. Your cardinal point politics of populism won’t work.

    Remember that your foremothers and forefathers came from West Africa, who could have been Limbas, Susus, Madingoes, Temnes, Shabros, Mendes, Ibos, Yurobas, Fullahs or Fantes. So what the heck are you trying to say?

    If Lebanese and others could purchase Land and settle in many parts of Sierra Leone why not you as a NATIVE and a SON OF THE SOIL? Let’s start thinking first as Sierra Leoneans and then Africans.

    We’ve wasted precious time dividing ourselves, which in turn has produced only backwardness and poverty in our country and molestation in the diaspora.

    Free yourself from mental slavery and work for the interest of all Sierra Leoneans and Africans in general.

  2. Very informative. But a disturbing read to know about these changes. It does not seem fair. Why should all these places be renamed because of the displaced people from the North, after the war? Which country does that? In my opinion it appears that the war was a deliberate act of apathied to isolate the creoles.

  3. I personally believe that the major rivalry in Sierra Leone is between the creoles and the Mendes since both tribes have two things in common which is pride and education. The rivalry started at the university level then slowly trickle down to the major government and private institutions after the late President Stevens of the APC party started replacing creoles from the University, Tresary and Judiciary with equally qualified Mendes just to create suspicion and division between both tribes,

    Unfortunately most of the educated creoles decided to migrate back to the western world which most of them considered as their real home since they have been discriminated against in their adopted country.

    They started selling their birthrigh (land) to mostly business people especially the Lebanese and Fullahs and now they are pointing fingers at the Mendes because they have been brainwashed by APC that the Mendes are tribalists.

    I’m sometimes shocked when I listen to the obituary announcement of most of the creoles over radio and television stations and most of the relatives they recognized are literally living abroad instead of recognizing the relatives in York, Kent or Banana Island to name but few.

    But thankfully, with the formation of the Krio Decendant Union they are now organizing and recognizing another home coming since President Donald Trump and Brexit has reminded them that blacks belonged to Africa.

    I personally believe that if that bridge was named Josep Cinque which sounds very creole should have been more acceptable than a “ country man name “, and I’m basing my opinion on experience, because over 100 years ago when my great grandfather from my maternal side travelled to Pujehun District as a creole businessman to purchase coffee and cocoa and later married but later returned back to Freetown with four children including my grandmother, and his relatives decided to change all their Mende names to creole names and over 60 years ago my Mende dad has problems marrying my creole mom because of his last name but thankfully for my late grandmother whose name was originally changed stood up to my creole grandpa that she has no problem to hand over her daughter to a Mende in marriage.

    After reading some articles from our former respected CREOLE mayor of Freetown I hope he will stop basing every decision of the new direction as tribalism which sometimes sounds like incitement because people like us will be devastated if we have to choose between between my Mende or Creole heritage.

  4. It was a bad idea from the very beginning. Why do you want to honour a hero with confusion and malice? SAD. Awkward situation.
    Was the president advised by his advisers before carrying out this gesture or did he go it alone?

    The president should have known beforehand that the CREOLES will be mad with him for doing such thing. First and foremost and more importantly, he did not consult the Mayor. That was really troubling and as always, the President did not make any public comment on the issue. For President Bio, all was well in my view. What happens if another President in the future comes and says that the renaming of the bridge was not fair and renames it to I.T.A Wallace-Johnson?

  5. This guy, Winstanley R. Bankole Johnson, doesn’t stop to amaze me. If he is not using revisionist history to take pot shots at the SLPP and president Bio, he is using blind tribal and regional ignorance to stereotype people who hail from the provinces. The problem here is that tribal denseness and obtuseness cannot be an excuse for historical sciolism.

    Land issues in the Western Area have historically been a problem. If folks are not grabbing land from their fellow citizens, they are encroaching upon state land for selfish reasons. The role of government is not only to redress grievances associated with issues of this nature but to also ensure that state property is not encroached upon by folks who attempt to break the law. Now, if there is any aggrieved party relative to government repossession of land, such aggrieved party must sue the state in a court of law. Tribalizing the issue smacks of ignorance and callowness.

    Also, I am sure the former mayor of Freetown was alive when Westmoreland street became Siaka Stevens street and when a newly constructed stadium in Freetown in 1979 was named Siaka Stevens stadium. Why didn’t he protest those actions, which were unilaterally taken by Siaka Stevens?

    So, suddenly, in the former mayor’s weird thinking, Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone must not have anything to remind us of our national heroes simply because those heroes were not born and raised in Freetown. Does the former mayor know that Freetown has historically not always been Freetown, that Freetown existed as Ramarong before the slave ship landed?

    • The land was bought for settlemen and renamed to suit the occasion. Why should any one care what it was before the British came? The very people who sold the land for settlement sold their own people as slaves.. What a turnaround?

  6. Another inspiring, informative, thought provoking article from the writer; each one following another like shiny little pearls on an immaculate, expensive necklace. Well done! I sincerely believe that the bridge was renamed by the government now in power deliberately to send a clear message that they were now in charge and ready to settle past injustices and make things right… Ask yourself, why Freetown? Why not Kenema, Pujehun or Bo.

    If their motives were really sincere, and they were not looking for trouble or a fight with the Krios, they could have consulted with them first, respectfully, and then held discussions with the mayor also, just to hear their opinions and valid concerns. But did they do such a thing? Absolutely not! They did what they wanted, illegally, because power is now in their hands.

    Who would dare question them? Think for a minute, if this was such an important issue to them, why didn’t they just build another massive structure, landmark or monument to honor their hero Sengbeh Pieh somewhere else? Anywhere in Freetown will be just fine. There are plenty of lands available for them to do whatever they wish in peace, security and quiet. And best of all, there would be no misunderstandings and fights.

    Someone answer me, what was it that pushed them to ignore decency and due process to even have the audacity to attempt and replace the name of a bridge, bearing the name of a great Krio Statesman and national hero? Tribalism? You decide.Something sounds suspicious and fishy doesn’t it?

    It seems the SLPP have been holding a grudge against the Krios for a long time, and for reasons best known only among themselves. Krio people beware – they are seizing ancestral lands just to settle old scores, clear signals of a new corrupt Sheriff in town.

    Instead of law and order, anarchy and disorder now prevail. Frightening, but true. Both Wallace Johnson and Sengbeh Pieh are National heros, let each of them be honored in the places where they made the most contributions to our society, especially where they were born.

    SLPP need to leave some things alone – especially the sacred ones. Enough said, quit fanning the flames of discord. He that seeketh trouble shall find it. Rising Sun Will Rise Again!

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