Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 September 2015
The National Secretary General of Sierra Leone’s main opposition – the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), Mr. Sullaiman Banja Tejan Sie, spoke exclusively to the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph yesterday afternoon.
This interview comes in the wake of a renewed row, over the legality of Dr. Kandeh Yumkella’s membership of the SLPP party.
Just last week, during his meeting with SLPP executives at the party offices, Dr. Yumkella announced that he was upgrading his membership status from grand chief patron, which he said he had held since 2013, to that of distinguished grand chief patron, to the jubilation of many supporters of the party. He also paid his subscription for the next two years.
It seems however, there are some within the party chain of command that are not only continuing to question Yumkella’s membership status, but unofficially briefing the media – referring to evidence of Yumkella’s membership as fake.
But who in the party ought to know, whether Kandeh Yumkella is a legitimate registered member of the SLPP party, than its national secretary general.
Speaking to the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph yesterday, Mr. Sullaiman Banja Tejan Sie – National Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, unequivocally confirmed that, those questioning Dr. Yumkella’s membership of the party, are nothing but mischievous.
This is a transcript of the discussions with Mr. Sullaiman Banja Tejan Sie:
Abdul Rashid Thomas (ART): We know that, you are the National Secretary General of the SLPP, but what is your role in the party?
Sullaiman Banja Tejan Sie (SBTS): As National Secretary General, I am responsible for the day to day administration. I am the custodian of its records. I keep minutes and call all meetings of the party to the National Executive Council meeting and the National Conference, and in consultation with the party chairman.
ART: Many supporters of the SLPP have expressed concern that, it was bad enough that the party lost a significant number of seats at the 2007 elections. But to have lost almost all of its seats in the 2012 general elections in Freetown, Kono and the north of the country, has significantly eroded the party’s ability to mount any meaningful opposition to the Koroma government. So, what is your overall sense of the effectiveness of the SLPP as the country’s main opposition party today?
SBTS: I would differ. The SLPP has played an important role in the country’s politics.
As a matter of fact, for the first time in the modern history of Sierra Leone’s politics, the SLPP has been the most effective party in opposition than any other party.
We started monthly press briefings before the 2012 elections, whereby we bring to the fore, the problems and challenges facing our nation, as well as the poor governance of the current government in power; and we continued to play that role until our national party conference in 2013.
Sadly enough, after that party conference, our party became rather divisive. There was lack of cohesion, and it has affected our performance lately, especially in parliament where there is a division, both horizontally and vertically, which has led to the perception by a cross section of the population that we are not as effective as we used to be, before the 2012 elections.
ART: Ok let us take a look at an example which some critics of the party say is an indication of a political party with serious internal problems. Following president Koroma’s decision to extend the ebola emergency regulations a few weeks ago, parliament had to vote on a resolution. There are reports that SLPP executives, advised their parliamentarians to vote against the motion. But surprisingly, they did otherwise. What’s your view?
SBTS: Well I am saddened by that development; I am grossly disappointed because before I left Freetown for the United States and then for the UK, the party had taken the position to oppose any extension of the state of emergency, because we do not believe it is necessary at this juncture when Ebola is on the verge of being eradicated; and we believe that there are other motives behind any extension at this particular juncture; and we are suspicious of the actions of the government in that regard.
To hear now, while I am out of the country that our members of parliament did not oppose the motion for an extension, and the fact that they voted against the party line is not only a surprise but a great disappointment.
And it just vindicates my earlier statement, that divisions within the party all bordering on the race for the flagbearership has badly affected our performance, in and out of parliament lately.
ART: Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad, were under the impression that the highly debated issue of Dr. Kandeh Yumkella’s status in the party, as a bona fide registered member, had been resolved. But according to latest media reports, there is still confusion. As the party Secretary General – What is the truth?
SBTS: The truth about the matter is as I have said and I will repeat it – Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella is a bona fide member of the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party having registered in at least four branches of the party, since 2013. I have documents, receipts of payment from the Bo office, especially from his mentor Dr. Yilla who he instructed to pay his registration fee and who also instructed to pay his dues from 2013.
Those documents are in my file. I also have a document – a letter from the Secretary General of the United Kingdom and Ireland branch, confirming that he registered in the UK and Ireland in one of its branches, and that he fully paid his dues in that regard and he was issued a card and a receipt to that effect. (Photo: SLPP Manchester UK Chapter Chairman, signing letter declaring Dr. Yumkella a paid-up member of the SLPP on 26 July 2015).
I also have in my custody a letter written by the Chairman of Continental Europe, also confirming that Kandeh Yumkella registered in their branch, paid all the dues regarding that registration, and was also issued with a receipt to that effect.
I have spoken to the chairman of the USA, and he has assured me that he will forward to me letters, receipts and documents confirming that Dr Kandeh Yumkella is a member of two chapters in the United States.
Taking all that into consideration, if that is not enough reason or acknowledgment of his membership, then I wonder what else will be.
I laid this issue to rest before I left Sierra Leone in a missive that I sent to the Coordinator of the KKY movement, who also happens to be a senior member of our party, and former ambassador – Daboh, in which I have categorically stated that he is a member of the party.
Those who continue to bring this to the fore, just want to bring the party into ridicule and disrepute. As a political party, we need numbers to win an election.
I have never seen this in my over thirty years of experience in politics. That we as a party will drive away potential members, when the values of our party are very apparent – we do not believe in exclusion and in any policy that excludes people from joining our party.
ART: But I think one of the issues raised by some of the local media in the last two days is that someone in the party executive or group of people within the executive, are questioning the legitimacy or authenticity of those registration documents that you refer to.
SBTS: I am a lawyer, and if I say something is authentic, I have done my research. Those people who are questioning this, need to look at the constitution of the SLPP and also the constitutions of the SLPP UK, USA and Continental Europe branches.
They will see that according to those constitutions, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is a registered member of the SLPP. And I don’t know why this should be an issue, because there is nothing in our constitution that stops anybody from registering, or that stops anybody who has registered, from running for office within the party.
Let me give you a few examples: Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio joined the SLPP according to our records in 2005. In that same year, he ran for the office of leader and presidential candidate of our party, and nobody stopped him.
ART: And the constitution has not changed since then?
SBTS: The constitution has not changed since then. Also, the former chairman and leader of the party, John Opongo Benjamin, joined the party officially in 2004 and that same year, we made him candidate to run for Chairman of Kailahun District Council; and the following year in 2005, he was made a senior minister – Minister of Finance.
Ours is not a party that excludes people; ours is a party of opportunity. Anybody who can perform and who has all the necessary qualifications and experience is given an opportunity to perform for us – that has been the value and history of our party and nobody can change it.
ART: Let’s move onto another issue which concerns many people in and out of Sierra Leone and that is to do with peaceful conduct or otherwise of certain people within the party; and I am referring particularly to the riotous disturbances by a small number of people outside the party office during Kandeh’s visit, which of course I do know personally that you have strongly condemned and others in the party also have condemned.
But what is SLPP going to do to clamp down on this kind of behaviour that is threatening to destabilise the party and destroy its electoral chances for 2018?
SBTS: As a party, we do not believe in confrontation; we do not believe that we should confront our supporters with any form of violence. We believe that the Sierra Leone government should play its role in ensuring peace, stability, law and order in the country.
I blame the government of Sierra Leone for this. The police were standing there, watching supporters throwing bottles at other supporters, without making a single arrest, only to fire tear gas, which means that the measures they took were only temporary at that particular juncture, to stop the mayhem.
They should stop it permanently. This has always been my criticism against the Government of Sierra Leone that since APC assumed office, lawlessness has become the vogue and the trend in our country. And I think they should clamp down on lawlessness wherever it is perpetrated in the country. I will not condone it neither as a politician nor as a lawyer.
Government has to step up to the plate. I also condemn the fact that they could not provide adequate security for Dr Kandeh Yumkella to continue his tour of the country. He has returned home (Sierra Leone) as a member of the party. If he wants to go around to meet other members of the party, I think it is but trite in a democracy, for the Government of Sierra Leone to provide him with enough security.
I find the reason given by the Inspector General of Police, spurious, to say that he cannot provide the security that Kandeh needs.
I want to know, what are they preoccupied with at this particular juncture, not to be able to provide security for aspiring candidates for high office in Sierra Leone.
Ours is a democracy, where our constitution guarantees freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of movement, and I think it behoves on the police, to make sure that they guarantee that – because after all, the constitution provides that they must guard the people of Sierra Leone.
They must ensure that there is law and order in Sierra Leone, and I don’t think they are playing that role very adequately or sufficiently.
ART: I am quite sure that many people in Sierra Leone will agree with you that the police, the government must take some responsibility for any form of violence in the country. But what would you say to those who would argue, given that there is allegation that some of its supporters were responsible for such violence – the least the party should do is to undertake some kind of inquiry and publish its report?
SBTS: Definitely, that will be in the offing. When I return home, I would try as best as possible to set up a committee to investigate what led to those violence, and to make recommendations so that it is not repeated.
It saddens me to hear that my party, the party of peace, the party of progress in Sierra Leone has been reduced to a party of thuggery. We cannot allow that to happen; that was not the dream of our forefathers when they formed this party.
As a Centre Right party formed to unite our people, to build cohesion that will lead to development and progress that will guarantee the right of each and every individual and create opportunity for every Sierra Leonean to grow.
Assuming this new role of fighting each other over nothing; ours should be a family and whoever wins this presidential candidacy election, we would all stand by; and whoever wins, needs everyone else on board to win the national elections.
So I do not see why at this particular juncture when we should be trying to build cohesion, today when we are in court and there is an injunction against us not to start a process that will lead us to the next election; that is the process of choosing a new executive and a new flag bearer to take us to the next election.
I think it behoves on us as leaders of this party to seek peace and unity, and to endeavour to build a cohesive party, but not to be involved or preoccupied with further dividing the party, instigating and sponsoring our supporters to create mayhem which has brought the party to ridicule and contempt.
I will continue to vehemently condemn it, and I will investigate not only the circumstances leading to those sad and disgraceful events that happened about one week ago. I will also call on the police to investigate any allegations, because I have heard people claiming that Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella’s registration in Bo is suspicious or fake.
And if we investigate and find out that people in the SLPP are behind this, the necessary actions will be taken, because ours is a party that believes in law and order and respect the rule of law.
ART: Talking about building party unity and cohesiveness, will the national executive council of the party be organising a meeting of all the different factions and presidential aspirants anytime soon, so as to resolve their differences and build party unity?
SBTS: The process is on, and as a matter of fact, today I spoke with three of the aspiring flag bearers and they are all agreeable to a peace process. Meetings have started, which I am sure very soon will culminate in a meeting of the national executive council, whereby we will do the ground work not only to take the case out of court, but also to lay down the road map to fresh elections as a united SLPP.
ART: When is the party likely to hold its flag bearer elections? I am asking this question, conscious of the fact that there is a supreme court case going on, which has granted an injunction stopping the party from holding elections at any level. But do you have any sense of when the flag bearer election could take place?
SBTS: The flag bearer election will definitely take place next year. However, the election of national officers should have taken place as we speak. The process should have ended before August 17th when our term as executives expired.
However, because of the current state of emergency, and the fact that there is now a court injunction against us continuing or starting with the process, we have put that on hold. We hope that with the on-going peace process and negotiations, we might be able to settle this before the end of the year.
And if that happens, then by the 1st quarter of next year we should be holding elections for a new set of national officers, and we will be thinking about whether or not to have a party conference that will choose both the new national officers and the flag bearer; or whether we will have two separate party conferences next year to choose the national officers and the flag bearer for the 2017/2018 presidential election.
However, if we are able to settle the supreme court issue out of court before the end of this year, and if we can start the process by September, we might be able to hold the party conference to elect the next set of national officers by December. However, that will depend on the peace process and the current action in court.
ART: Settling out of court, may involve the party reinstating the membership of Mr Bangura. Is that an option that the executive may entertain?
SBTS: Not necessarily. When you are in peace negotiation anything can happen. I don’t think Mr Bangura wants instability within the party. He has concerns about the neutrality of the present crop of national officers in conducting any future elections.
I think that if those fears are allayed, and if we give him the assurance that we would create a level playing field, for everybody to participate and for everyone to have an opportunity to put his case forward and for the delegates to decide, I am sure we will not need to change any executive whatsoever. Our elections are usually conducted by an Independent Electoral Board – not by sitting national officers of the SLPP.
ART: I am sure SLPP supporters will be pleased to hear that and no doubt, Mr Bangura too, will be pleased to hear that.
Mr Sulaiman Banja Tejan Sie – Secretary General of Sierra Leone’s main opposition party SLPP it is good talking to you and thank you. This is Abdul Rashid Thomas reporting for the Sierra Leone Telegraph.
You can listen to the full interview here: