Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Sierra Leone Peoples Party National Convention

Benjamin and Bio 2012
This weekend, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, the party that liberated the country from the clutches of colonialism under the leadership of Sierra Leone's first provincial medical doctor,  Sir Milton A. S. Margai, is having it's national delegates conference in the sprawling southern regional capital of Bo.

The convention which started yesterday amid unfounded rumors that the party's past presidential flagbearer Rtd. Brigadier Maada Bio intended to disrupt proceedings if it did not go his way, a charge he has steadfastly denied,  is largely going on in a very peaceful atmosphere,  albeit in the presence of heavy state sanctioned security.
Campaign 2012

The build up to the delegates conference, in which new national party officials were to be elected,  has been a dramatic affair pitting supporters of the past party presidential flagbearer Julius Maada Bio and his political rivals within the party, namely the party's chairman and leader John Oponjo Benjamin and the Women's leader Isatu J. Kabbah, and some lesser know prominent party members.

Since the end of the presidential elections in 2012, the SLPP has been mired in public controversy.  Even before the conduct of the elections there were some disquieting rumors that the party Chairman Benjamin and the flagbearer Bio were very uneasy bed fellows. Even though some prominent party defectors like current trade minister Usu Boie Kamara had accused the party chairman of influencing the flagbearer contest in favor of Bio, causing him to abandon the SLPP for the comfort of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC), rumors still abounded that the chairman's actions were antithetical to the flagbearer's interests.
SLPP Supporters

Things got worse after the 2013 elections when the flagbearer's supporters tried to use their influential positions on the party's National Executive Council to retain him as political leader of the party, in direct contravention of the party's constitution,  apparently over mistrust of the chairman, who it was rumored harbored presidential ambitions of his own. The chairman who was the constitutional leader of the party,  saw this move as an effort to undermine his constitutional authority and adamantly refused to concede to the scheme.

After that particular incident the relationship between team Bio and Team Benjamin took a nose dive, a situation that is only bound to get worse now that outgoing party Chairman John O. Benjamin has publicly expressed his interest to contest as party flagbearer for the 2017 elections, somehow confirming Bio's fears that this had been a long term goal of Chairman Benjamin all along.
Rtd Brigadier Bio

Also adding to the above aspirational tensions between the two party leaders has been some actions over the past few months by some overzealous supporters of Brigadier Bio that has led his detractors to portray him as a man ready to use any means necessary, including violence, to obtain his goal of once again leading the party in the next presidential elections in the impoverished West African Country.

A few months ago, supporters of Bio waylaid Chairman Benjamin at party headquarters in Freetown attacking his vehicle and threatening to physically assault him. The chairman was rescued from the mob by the personal intervention of Bio, but he was appalled at the unprintable verbal invective launched by Bio supporters at his mother, who was not even present during the incident. Chairman Benjamin was appalled that Brigadier Bio did not ask his supporters to stop insulting the chairman's mother, the woman who had personally provided food to Bio when he was assigned as a junior military officer in the eastern town of Segbwema during the rebel war in the country. Following this, another incident occurred when it is alleged that members of Bio's team manhandled party young generation leader Jaiah Koroma, whacking him over the head with a chair, wounding him in the scalp,  pictures of which Jaiah is only too proud to display over the Internet and social media. While Bio was also on a trip to London, one of his female supporters it is alleged verbally attacked the party's Women's Leader Isatu J. Kabbah who also happens to be the wife of the country's ex-president. IJ Kabbah as she is popularly called, wasted no time in involving the country's police. After this incident a group of people attacked IJ's vehicle and in a recent party meeting in which police wanted to prevent Brigadier Bio from attending her sister was physically manhandled and her face roughed up.
John Oponjo Benjamin

The latest attack and rumors of a plan to disrupt the convention has caused some recent headache for Brigadier Bio. In the past week his office has been searched twice by heavily armed police purportedly looking for weapons and his home was also invaded by state security forces on the pretext of looking for weapons and looking for some assailants he was believed to be harboring.

To add to the existing quagmire the current campaign of party officers has degenerated into shouting matches and cyber attacks between those supporting Brigadier Bio and those party supporters opposed to him. The candidates for the Chairman of the party which was initially contested by approximately 5 prominent party activists, is now a two horse race between two of the party's strong northern leaders,  former Ambassador Allie Bangura and former  Paramount Chief Somana Karpen.

SLPP members largely supportive of Bio have flocked to the former chief and those opposed to his leadership have flocked to the former ambassador.

The convention itself is going on, though some prominent party members are accusing the organizers of bias in delegate allocation.  Suspicion has been raised over the fact that a new group that has branded itself as a peace movement with the label Movement for the Transformation of SLPP (MTS), many of whose members are prominently anti-Bio has been given four delegate seats at the convention, while some prominent party activists have been denied even observer status.

The Segbwema blog correspond reports that with all the intrigue and imbroglio,  the town is in a festive mood and traders are busy capitalizing on the presence of SLPP bigwigs in town.

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