“PETGBO”: The Emperor Strikes Again
The news that “His Excellency the President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma has decided to relieve Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden and Mrs Rugiatu Neneh Koroma of their duties as Minister and Deputy Minister respectively in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs” may have surprised many. This time, both have become the latest anvil for Ernest Bai Koroma’s hammer. Some of us are now shock-proof; with a socially engineered immunity to the occasional political gymnastics of Ernest Bai Koroma. Sylvia’s initial appointment was more shocking to her detractors than her disposal. Others will see her dismissal as long overdue. It looks like Ernest is very good with the expiry and “use by dates” of those around him. Ask former VP Sumana and others. Some of his appointments may have looked like they came with hazard warnings attached; “you cross me, I slay you. The Ministry of Social Affairs is no stranger to such political shenanigans. Sylvia got the nod for the Ministry of Social Welfare after the then Minister Moijue Kai Kai and Mustapha Bai Attila were unceremoniously dispatched, following a slanging match that brought the Ministry into disrepute. (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray, author)
There has been no official explanation or reasons given for the current musical chair as we go to press. But that has not dampened the rumour mill to get into motion. Corruption is, as usual the common currency here (pardon the pun). The allegations and counter allegations that have been flying around do not taste palatable to the austerity laden palates of the electorate at all. Sylvia had been one of the most vociferous critics of Ernest Koroma and APC in general. She was one of the endangered species who dared to take the APC to task. At one point, she was rumoured to have displayed a picture of the President’s smalls in a scandal of an alleged extra-marital affair. Sylvia was a virulent virus to the APC, ……then. But all that was before she was assimilated into the political blood circulation of the APC party.
But when the “Timbergate” scandal broke out, she made a beeline, and became the self-anointed spokesperson for the government. She went to dramatic lengths to discredit Sorius Samura’s story. It may not have been the reason, but by some strange coincidence, she was later catapulted to the office of the President as Special Adviser; for her troubles. The president saw a talent that could be better served for the good of the country; you think so? But this is not new. The APC party is good at harvesting dissenting voices; and these dissenting voices have been too readily afflicted by the “if you can’t beat them, join them” contagion. The APC, like the French have perfected the art of assimilation; a means by which opposition voices are systematically muzzled with minimal effort required. Ask Tam Mbayo, Usman Boie and Mohamed Bangura.”. You get the impression that there is an intellectual tradition of servility to power; as political chameleons infest our communities.
But with such a colourful resume, Sylvia’s appointment, unlike the others sent a chilly sensation along the political spines of some bigwigs in the APC party. It was not long before her name became a synonym for “unstable”, “loose cannon”, “Mago mago” “political liability” etc among some APC stalwarts. Some self-certified “psychiatrists” even diagnosed her with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), whatever that means. She was a cat among the pigeons; and many would have wondered whether Ernest, by appointing her was making a rod for his own back. You can bet that someone would have whispered in Ernest’s ear to “live like Jesus, pray like Jesus, love like Jesus, but not hand himself over to the enemy like him”. It was not long before she was sent to nest in the cuddly environment of the Ministry of Social Welfare.
Sylvia, no doubt had been one of the media moguls in the country, courtesy of Awareness Times. We know of her acidic tongue for the Koroma government in the early years. So, when she was invited to eat at the high table, she must have thought that this was “my opportunity to serve my country better”. Like others, you can’t blame her for jumping at the chance. But when words like “my boss”, “my indefatigable leader” etc became her daily description of Ernest, you could have been forgiven to think that you were in North Korea, and that she was referring to Kim Jung Un. She may have officially relinquished her proprietary role with Awareness Times newspaper, but subsequent leaks to the paper may not have only given it exclusivity to breaking news, but had left many believing that she was using the paper as her weapon against her detractors; with her fingerprints all over it. Political power plus the power of the media can be a lethal concoction.
Interestingly, none of the converts bothered to read chapter 4 of “An idiot’s Guide to Sierra Leone Politics”. If they did, they would have known that “in politics, there are no permanent friends, just permanent interests”. “Seed don, draft don. The APC has been known for political home economics. They never used to wash their dirty linen in public. The SLPP has the patent rights and monopoly on that. But recent events tend to break with tradition here. It is an open secret that the President is coming to the end of his term in office (how we will miss him). Is the latest behaviour from our Ministers indicative of a lame duck President? Does this suggest that he has lost control over his flock? I don’t think so. Remember what happened in Makeni? …. stays in Makeni. Shhhhhhhh. In the moment of crisis, the wise normally build bridges and the foolish build dams.
The social media is full of pictures of the correspondence between Sylvia and the Secretary to the President. We get an impression that several attempts were made on the president’s orders, for Sylvia to sign PET forms. There is a suggestion of reluctance to do so on the part of Sylvia. At face value, many would see this as insubordination. But if Sylvia was “insubordinate”, why was she? What was she “insubordinate about? Why the apparent RELUCTANCE TO SIGN? We also get the impression that the President refused a face to face meeting with her; despite repeated grovelling requests. But why would the President refuse to see his own minister? After all, was she not one of his disciples? Jesus would have never done that to Judas, let alone Peter. “An Umuofia man does not refuse a call. He may refuse to do what he is asked; he does not refuse to be asked”. When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful. These are some of the questions most Sierra Leoneans would want answers to. A fight between grasshoppers can be a joy to the crow.
Notwithstanding her Oscar performance, many will see Rugiatu Koroma as the poster girl, who had been propped up to do the dirty on Sylvia. That was megaphone diplomacy by any standard. At this stage of the PETGATE, it is difficult to get any veracity of their respective versions. During the radio interview, Sylvia’s allusion to historical “beefing” (slang for feud) between the ancestors of the editor of Awareness Times and Rugiatu, does not begin to scratch the surface of the issue. That pales into an irrelevant significance in this case. One thing is for sure though, corruption is a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of law. The cost of corruption can be political, economic, social and environmental. Corruption can only be kept in check if representatives from government, business and civil society work together to develop standards and procedures they all support. We also know that corruption can’t be rooted out in one big sweep. Rather, fighting it is a step-by-step, project-by-project process.
In her defence though, Sylvia would like to be seen as the People’s Political Princess; our very own Princess Diana. In various ways, she has appeared to fight for the rights of especially women in our community. She has been heavily involved in promoting the welfare of women. One of the allegations or bones of contention is supposedly about the money received from foreign organisations; to promote the eradication of female circumcision in Sierra Leone. Sylvia is widely known to have promoted the issue of choice among women that are 18 and above. In as much as she may or may not have supported the idea, the notion was that she supported the idea of adult women given the right to choose; something that was not only culturally sensitive but acceptable to some folks. It must be said that it was a tough balancing act to follow; especially with such a stick and carrot approach by the west. It looked like it was a case of “if you want my money, you have to abolish this practice”. She apparently went for the middle ground in this matter. Some would admire her dexterity in political correctness. It is difficult to clarify the veracity of these stories, but suffice it to say that she may have held her own, amid opposition. We are not surprised that part of the reasons for the fall out seem to centre on the disagreement on signing PET forms. Phew. Like or loath her, she has always been a controversial figure; and dividing opinion has been her middle name.
This” PETGATE” brings into focus the triple pack issue of loyalty, corruption and betrayal. The chief internal enemies of any state are those public officers who betray the trust imposed upon them by the people. Money can corrupt even the virtuous and the corruption of the best things makes the worst. Is this a question of authorities being caught between betraying their conscience or the country? for betrayal is only possible where loyalty is due. Was this a betrayal of the confidence we have in these people and by default, the government? Sometimes, you must respect the character which has its own internal truth that cannot be betrayed. I know that in writing some of my articles, I have learnt that each time I click on my laptop, I betray someone. Given the choice between betraying your country or the electorate, which would you prefer?
The soap opera between Sylvia and Rugiatu must not, and should not be dismissed as mere tantrums between two adult kindergarten teenagers. Rugiatu’s radio and TV performance will make the Oscars next year; for what would pass as a mere party-political broadcast. aA laudable as the exposure is, it is a question of corruption juxtaposed between two strange bedfellows; loyalty and betrayal. These were ministers charged with the affairs of overseeing the social fabric of a nation, our country and especially women, for God’s sake. To treat the Ministry and by implication the country, with such reckless abandon is not only downright crass, but an insult to the collective intelligence of our nation.
But with accusations and counter accusations, sandwiched by threats of further revelations about corruption, it’s time to put our feet up and wait to see if the gods are not to blame. Will the omens come to pass? With no official explanations tendered by the government, will Ernest as usual, sit tight, allow this to run its course and fizzle out; leaving the public non-the wiser? But again, with headlines like “Sylvia warns APC Government”, is she blackmailing Ernest? Is she holding a gun to Ernest’s head? When will she release the pin on the political grenade?
If Sylvia comes up with any damaging information about the government, which many would welcome; would some question whether she had been advancing herself at the expense of the one she committed to advance? With threats of leaks hanging over the APC, does Sylvia have any irons in her fire? Is she waiting for an opportune time to blow her gasket? If so, how damaging would it be? Will Ernest and his government be waiting, earnestly to find out that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? I heard you say you can’t wait. Hmmmmmm.
There are other party members who would be wringing their hands, in fear of what Sylvia might have in her locker. Some may want to dismiss her as just her usual self: “a loose cannon”. If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito. What we do know is, that whatever threatens the hunting dog threatens the hunter. Some people in the APC may be well advised to thread with caution; because the day a mosquito lands on your testicles is the day you will know that there is a better way of resolving issues without using violence. Sadly sometimes, the wind that exposes the chicken’s nakedness blows from the back. I know of better ways to avoid political suicide. With the general elections looming in the background, Beware the ides of March.
Hey! Remember that Samson was strong, and Solomon was wise. But Mugabe just found out, that leadership cannot be sexually transmitted. It all started from Adam and Eve. Where a woman rules, streams run uphill.
Mothers are supreme.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).
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