SLPP: A dysfunctional opposition
The main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) is a class art of how not to be an opposition in any country; that it has its hands constantly on the self-destruct button is an understatement.
In fact, the SLPP is only good at opposing itself instead of taking on the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) on critical national issues. It is opposed to the very purpose which it is supposed to serve for the benefit of the people of the country who are eager for the growth of our country’s democracy, which is still in an infantile stage.
The APC has made some spectacular blunders and continues to be blemished by one controversy or corruption after another but still rides high in the minds of the populace, not because they know the game (whatever it is), but they just don’t have any strong opposition to challenge and expose them to the masses who are gradually getting disillusioned and disenchanted with both dominant political parties.
The SLPP seems to have the self-destruction gene deeply ingrained in them that even the generation that has come after past failed ones has not learnt any lesson. Well, they say, history teaches that history teaches nothing. The APC has always won election against the SLPP not purely out of their popularity, but the divisions and often times manipulations within the latter. In the 1967 general elections, the SLPP lost due to some of the aforementioned reasons. Its leader then, the self-proclaimed Albert of Africa, divided the house with his manipulations against popular candidates for unknowns.
The disgruntled candidates ran as independents and walloped the SLPP candidates in their own ‘strongholds’ of the south and east. The four independent candidates tilted and shifted the political power house from the green to red and the APC mounted the political rostrum.
The 1970s were spent by SLPP members tearing each other with a power struggle between M.S. Mustapha and Salia Jusu-Sheriff, reaching a crescendo that the latter caved in to the APC and the country went one-party.
Cometh multi-party democracy again in 1996, after a military junta had seized in 1992 and set the platform for political pluralism to resurface, and the SLPP, by some dint of fortune from the vagrant breezes that blew from the windmill of the gods, regained power after being in the doldrums for decades.
The problems of the current SLPP culminating into its dysfunctional and national irrelevance started at the 1995 convention in Bintumani; and the party has never been able to recover from it. What the country is witnessing now as intra-party feud is a spillover of that and many other factors, including score-settling by some within and generational-fight on another.
The problems besetting the SLPP are multi-faceted and are a shadow of what the party has been since inception. Its current predicament is a mixture of the 1995 Bintumani spillover; the NPRC factor within the party and the battle between the younger generation and the elders.
Charles Margai and his hand of followers have never been happy with the elders of the SLPP and its delicate delegates since that fateful night in 1995 at Bintumani when an unknown Ahmad Tejan Kabbah – from the blues and shockingly perhaps, edged him to the party and subsequently national leadership. They have since been battling with the party with Margai ephemerally pitching tents with the National Unity Party (NUP), believed to have had the strong backing of the khaki boys who were in power at the time of the elections in 1996.
But some elders of the SLPP have always schemed against Charles Margai, and this came to the fore again in 2005 at the Makeni convention. For the third time, yes the third time, Margai contested and lost the SLPP leadership to the then Vice President, Solomon Ekuma Berewa. At that time, the revenge method or anger expression code was not to join any existing party, but to form his; though the part for SLPP to be sent in opposition was paved.
During the 2007 elections, Charles Margai and his PMCD scraped over 14% of total votes cast, with over 80% of that coming from the SLPP’s traditional southeastern base. In fact, of the 255, 000 votes he polled in the elections, over 200,000 came from the southeast.
Since then the SLPP has not recovered from the shock and various theories have been propagated ranging from international conspiracy to wrong choice of candidate for their demise.
But even in opposition, the party has failed to conduct itself to the expectations of the majority of the people.
In the midst of spectacular and monumental blunders by the ruling party, that a sober opposition can challenge and make huge political capital out of, the SLPP has confined to oppose and fight itself.
The populace are disillusioned with the current system that has been clouded with perception problem emanating from glaring corruption to naked tribalism and cronyism, but do not see the opposition SLPP as a viable alternative to the APC yet.
Instead of papering the cracks in the party, the gap keeps widening and the membership is not helping. Even their parliamentary representatives are a poor and pathetic reflection of the generality of the party. They hardly debate with the ruling party on contend issues but have instead been towing the line after alleged brown envelopes would have been passed.
The SLPP MPs speak from different sides of the same divide. Their leader in Parliament, Hon. Bernadette Lahai, survived the storm of removal from her position and seems to be soldiering on. Those who were ant-Bernadette are often slighted by her hand of supporters, while some have been delisted from parliamentary committees they were serving in. Apparently, she wields the big stick of approving such nominees at that level and is enjoying the support of the majority party members in the House.
The fractions keeps growing and the problems mount everyday for the SLPP that makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The 2012 presidential candidate, the Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio still continues to have a groundswell of support from mostly the grassroots of the party, but many doubt his ability to translate that into the national constituency.
The former Chairman and Leader, John Oponjo Benjamin has thrown his hat into the ring for the party’s flag, leading up to the 2018 elections. He has mooted to people that he has scores to settle with Bio from their NPRC days, when he was Chief Secretary of State and Secretary General whilst Bio was Secretary of State Information and Broadcasting and later Deputy Chairman of the NPRC. John Benjamin rallied round some of the khaki boys and ostensibly got their nod to form the NUP on the apparent proviso that they would tilt the elections at their favour.
One of the former NPRC Secretaries of State, Dr. John Aruna Karimu, was the Presidential Candidate of the NUP, and he has reiterated similar claim of having an axe to grind with Maada Bio.
There is the latest kid on the block, the former UNIDO boss, Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, who seems to have the backing of the intellectuals of the party. They have clearly shown a determination to hoist their man to the top and the momentum looks to be gathering pace, especially in the Western Area.
Dr. Yumkella has raised dust about his membership of the party when he said over two years ago that he had not registered with any political party in the country. Fast forward to 2015, his ‘membership’ or alleged ‘membership’ card and related ‘documents’ or ‘fake documents’ – re being bandied and brandished all over the place. This has raised suspicions about his genuineness with the party and loyalty ultimately.
The current national executive has been accused of being Bio boys. The accusation is that Bio’s voice gave them a big helping hand in the convention of 2013 in Bo, when in a radio interview he threw his support for Chief Shebora Somano Kapen III for the leadership and chairmanship of the party. The other candidate, Ambassador Alie Essa Bangura, cried foul and when all efforts to pacify him failed, dragged the national executive to court and the drama continues.
So faced with a legal battle, fractured by splinter groups, lacking in gamesmanship, the SLPP continues to go down the perilous path of another election defeat in 2018.
Culled from News Watch Magazine Vol. 1 No. 1 December 2015 – February 2016 Edition.
By Mohamed Masaquoi (Buzzable)
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