Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sierra Leone Political Updates: The SLPP Wahala

Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie
Even before the first vote was cast in the November 17, 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections in Sierra Leone, there was a growing disquiet and uneasiness among rank and file members of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) over reports of a lack of unity of purpose between the leaders of the party at the highest levels of hierarchy. Quiet whispers seeping slowly through the grapevine indicated that though there was a hundred percent desire by all the top leaders of SLPP for a party victory in the November 2017 elections, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio's candidacy did not have the same universality of genuine support. Paradoxically, it seemed as if  there was a stronger desire among the leadership for the party to emerge victorious in the past in the November 2017 elections, than for Brigadier Bio to assume the mantle of President of Sierra Leone for a variety of reasons, or so it was rumored.

After the election of Brigadier Bio as party flagbearer involving a long, tough, contentious and sometimes acrimonious tussle between 19 aspirants, many embittered aspirants decided to defect to the ruling All Peoples Congress rather than endorse his candidacy. Some others, it was rumored, stayed only due to party loyalty, but their loyalty to candidate Bio was was murky at best. Given this state of uneasy acceptance of candidate Bio, there was a veil of suspicion and mistrust among the top party brass that continued to fester and simmer quietly in the background, but is now slowly coming to the fore as indicated by the series of competing press statements and counter press statements that are now emanating from the leadership with the rapidity of bullets from a malfunctioning rifle.
Chairman John Oponjo Benjamin

To understand the current SLPP conundrum in greater detail, it is important to understand how perception functions as one of the greatest and most effective barriers to communication. When an individual is bereaved, messages of condolence from acquaintances are an integral element of the grieving process that helps the individual to cope with the loss and gradually help them return to some state of normalcy. Perception has the ability to fundamentally distort messages of condolence. Imagine an individual who has just lost a very close and dear relative and has just received two sympathizers over for a visit, both bearing the same message of condolence, one she considers a friend and the other she considers a rival or an enemy. When the friend expresses words of sorrow for the loss of the close relative, the mourner accepts the condolence as a matter of fact and it provides him or her much comfort or solace to cope with the tragedy. When on the other hand the perceived enemy offers the same message of condolence, the mourner may become suspicious of the motive of the sympathizer and even imagine that they were there not to sympathize, but to gloat at their calamity. When there is suspicion and mistrust between people, even the most matter of fact statement has the tendency of being magnified, analyzed and taken completely out of context. Perception causes people to look at the world through different lenses and therefore can become an important barrier to effective communication and mutual understanding.
Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. Rtd

I am of the singular opinion that the current SLPP imbroglio has arisen largely as a result of mutual suspicion and lack of trust among leaders who view each other with skepticism. Using this detour as the basis for my conclusion, let us examine in some detail the current crisis as it continues to unfold from a purely my side, your side and then the truth perspective.

To summarize the current situation; on December 6, 2012 members of the SLPP National Executive Council (NEC) met at their Wallace Johnson Street headquarters to determine the course of action for the immediate future over the results of an election that they were convinced had been substantially rigged in favor of President Ernest Bai Koroma and his APC party. After the meeting the party Secretary General issued a press release that had three important resolutions. These resolutions were firstly, to ratify the meeting of the party leadership and President Ernest Bai Koroma on December 3, 2013. Secondly, to direct party councillors and parliamentarians to take up their posts and the third and now infamous Resolution 3 which stated that " the Flagbearer and Running Mate of the party in the 2012 presidential elections continue to provide political leadership of the party until the next party conference."

As soon as the press release saw the light of day, many in the party cried foul and expressed a strong disagreement with the now famous Resolution 3 which was was in direct contravention of Clause 5.1 (a) of the SLPP constitution that designates the chairman as the political and administrative head of the party and Clause 6.v which notes that in the event of an electoral loss, the presidential candidate and running mate shall become ex-officio members of the NEC.

A lot of stakeholders were of the opinion that Resolution 3 was a bad precedence, as it created the semblance of flagbearer in perpetuity and would also would give Brigadier Bio an unfair advantage in the event of a future flagbearer contest,  if he were to remain as the political head of the party. Other members were incensed that the motion that had been floored  and subsequently withdrawn due to some protests, but had somehow managed to have been surreptitiously inserted into the final press release and appealed to the Secretary General to withdraw that particular resolution with immediate effect. Tejan-sie however remained resolute and defiant and would not budge.

Around January 17, 2013, the SLPP Chairman John Oponjo Benjamin decided to release a counter press statement designed to assert his constitutional role as both the administrative and political leader of the SLPP and nullify the now infamous Resolution 3. Unfortunately for Chairman Benjamin,  the first rumors that got out were that the party chairman was about to declare himself as flagbearer in 2017. This rumor quickly spread like wildfire among the rank of Maada Bio devotees and they saw bright red. In typical mob fashion they proceeded to vent their anger on the chairman's vehicle which they vandalized comprehensively. News was that they also rained some choice invective on the Chairman, but with the direct intervention of Maada Bio,  he was able to leave the scene untouched and unharmed. John Benjamin decided to go ahead anyway and release the press statement nullifying Resolution 3 and resting the blame for the current party infighting squarely on the shoulders of the party Secretary General Sulaiman Banja Tejansie.
Hon. Musa Tamba Sam

On January 21, 2013 the Secretary General released a press statement chronicling his own version of the events and giving his reasons for the inclusion of Resolution 3 in the December 6th press statement that started the entire debacle. He argued that though NEC member Tamba Sam who had initially proposed the framework of Resolution 3 had withdrawn the motion after some vehement objections, "The withdrawal of the motion by Tamba Sam nevertheless did not change the mood prevailing in the Meeting in favour of adopting the message contained in the motion and in fact there was a demand from the floor that this be put in writing. This necessitated my inclusion of resolution 3 in my draft resolution" 

In essence the Secretary General, a lawyer had decided to include the resolution in the final draft even after it had been withdrawn on the sole basis of his opinion about the prevailing mood in the meeting, which he thought had been in favor of the motion, though it had been subsequently withdrawn.

Given the catalogue of events, one can easily see how a matter that could have easily been dealt with by the members of the NEC became blown out of proportions simply because the element of distrust and skepticism between the primary players was at a very high level. The question that comes to mind is why the need for a special designation for Brigadier Bio in contravention of the constitution. Did Team Bio somehow believe that some in the party hierarchy, notably the Chairman was not poised to act in the best interest of Bio? If so, then what was the basis of this belief?

As a legal practitioner, Secretary General Tejan-Sie clearly knew the implications of his unconstitutional move and though he took pains to explain the rationale for his decision, he is hardly able to convince most enlightened people. In the words of a former SLPP North America top executive and another lawyer, "Sullay knows or should know that what they did in that hall on that day is not just shameful, it is despicable and has no Constitutional bases." Most of the leaders of SLPP and some constitutional experts are of the opinion that Resolution 3 is unconstitutional and divisive, but was just a symptom of the high level of mistrust, mutual suspicion and lack of unity of purpose among party top brass at a crucial time in party history and if the players do not get their acts together, the long term impact of such internal wrangling is bound to have a substantial negative impact on SLPP going forward.

Many ordinary party members are fed up with the continual rancor,  but some see it as a natural reaction to the current events as people try to position themselves for leadership positions as within the next few years, as the flagbearer position, the party chairman position and the position of most of the members of the National Executive Council will come into play and the fight for recognition has already started.

Pro-APC press are having a field day, as the SLPP imbrioglo provides much needed fodder for some imaginative journalistic misinformation. However, as the APC is also set to elect new party leaders over the next year or two, the dance has just started and the Segbwema Blogger will continue to give analytic interpretation of current Sierra Leone political events.

Sheku Sheriff
Segbwema Blogger


Dankona Rogers said...

God have mercy on SLPP. I am praying for the end of the hemorraghing of the party to stop.

Dankona Rogers said...

God have mercy on SLPP. I am praying for the end of the hemorraghing of the party to stop.