|Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio|
Julius Maada Bio and a group of prominent people close to him have been embroiled in a bitter public dispute with the outgoing party chairman and leader John O. Benjamin that seemingly emanated from the decision by Bio supporters to pass a resolution meant to keep him as the political leader of the party after the 2012 election that was won by the incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma of the All Peoples Congress (APC).
|John Opponjo Benjamin|
The SLPP constitution clearly states that former flagbearers and their running mates automatically become ex-officio members of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the party. However, people close to Maada Bio, fearful that the Party Chairman John Benjamin harbored presidential ambitions of his own and feeling that the chairman had not adequately supported the party candidate in the past election used the opportunity of the NEC meeting to propose that he remain the political head of the party, a moved that was swiftly rejected by the Party Chairman who saw it as an affront to his authority and by other party members who saw it as a ploy to keep Julius Maada Bio as a flagbearer in perpetuity and thereby skew the playing field in his favor when the time came for elections to the role of flagbearer in 2017.
Maada Bio's supporters stated that since he had appealed the results of the past presidential election, which he had described as fraudulent and rigged in favor of the incumbent President, he was technically still a flagbearer as he had not conceded the elections. Others were of the view point that keeping him as a political leader for whatever reason was was unconstitutional and a bad precedent.
This impasse between Bio loyalists and other party members has degenerated over the past months into growing animosity that has resulted in attacks on the party chairman, attacks on the party's young generation leader and attacks on the wife and sister of the wife of the country's Ex-President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP, all attacks purportedly perpetrated by supporters of Julius Maada Bio. Maada Bio has consistently maintained that he had no hand in any of these intra-party attacks, but many party operatives were of the opinion that he had not come out to forcefully condemn these attacks and has maintained unhealthy silence on the growing chaos in the party.
|Ex-President Ahmad Tejan-Kabba|
Maada Bio's supporters on the other hand believe that he is being unfairly targeted by the many members of the party with presidential ambitions of their own and members of the ruling party, especially the defectors who he had defeated in flagbearer elections preceeding the 2012 presidential elections. They also argue that as Maada Bio has thousands of youthful supporters, he could not be held accountable for the action of each of them. Others however maintain that he was not trying hard enough.
Things got to a head over the past few weeks when a NEC meeting was convened at the SLPP headquarters in Freetown. According to the blog correspondent, it was reported that Maada Bio arrived for the meeting to find that his name was not on the list of attendees and there was a police presence at the gate preventing those whose names were not on the list from attending the meeting. It is alleged that Maada bio proceeded to enter the premises and enter the meeting. One of the aspirants for party chairman Chief Somana Kapen had to give up his seat at the high table to accommodate Julius Bio, it was reported. It was during the raucous that ensued that the wife of the president's sister was attacked.
The police descended on the offices of the Julius Maada Bio this morning, reportedly acting on a tip that he planned to disrupt the party upcoming party convention in Bo, the capital of the Southern Region of Sierra Leone. They proceeded to search his offices, reportedly looking for for arms and ammunition.
After the raid on his offices this morning, Julius Maada Bio convened a press conference in which he made the following press release:
INTRA-PARTY DISPUTES, INTIMIDATION, VIOLENCE
AND CALL FOR UNITY.
Freetown August 13, 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