Declaration of intention to aspire for the SLAJ presidency
Mr. Chairman, my dear colleagues, well-wishers, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, amidst the confusion that characterize the impasse that has bedevilled the executive of SLAJ close to a year and the endless hope for a fruitful intervention, I welcome all of you to yet another historic event in the life of this noble association and my selfless services to the institution.
The purpose for taking you off your busy schedules this afternoon is to formally declare my intention to contest for the position of President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) in the forthcoming National and Regional Elections, which should have been held two months ago.
My mission is to solicit and enlist the support of other like-minded colleagues to redeem SLAJ from the claws of repression, double standards and maladministration – which have reduced the Association into an “Animal Farm of promises, unfinished projects and press releases”, and define a new future of prosperity and hope for her.
But first, let me crave your indulgence to permit me to look back at especially the last one year during my four-year call to serve in the national executive.
I chose 2010 not because it was the eve of the 40th Anniversary of SLAJ or the eve of Sierra Leone’s 50th Anniversary, but because it proved to be the most challenging year in recent times not only for me and the executive, but also for the association generally as it overshadowed almost all of the gains of 2009.
It is no secret that in November 2008 you SLAJ members watching and listening to me, among colleagues within the length and breadth of the country and abroad, overwhelmingly voted me into office as National Secretary General in what could best be described as a watershed election.
That was the first time since 2003 when SLAJ members all over the country were given the opportunity to vote and the result announced the same day, unlike previous National and Regional Elections held outside the Biennial Conference.
I want to use this forum to individually thank all of you who reposed your confidence in me and voted me to serve you as your National Secretary General. I hope God and your conscience will again guide you to re-invest your trust in me, this time for the highest office in our association – the Presidency.
I was filled with gratitude for your support, not because you voted for me, not because you chose to exercise your franchise judiciously, but because you chose to put the interest of SLAJ above your personal interest at the material time.
And you did not stop there. I am aware that you even convinced many others to do likewise; not because anyone had bribed or forced you to do so, but because you had strong faith in me in manning the National Secretariat due to my previous experience and performance as Assistant Secretary General within the previous years and my dedication to the cause of the association for over a decade.
You will recall that during the formal declaration and campaign launch earlier that month in the four regions of the country, I visualised among other things, “a Secretariat of Hope: ideal, vibrant and adequately resourced to effectively and efficiently meet the demands of SLAJ members and national development aspirations generally.”
This was really a dream as all visions go. But after relentless efforts, that dream became a reality in late 2009 when two separate but related proposals for a suitable office space, hall and resource facilities developed by me for SLAJ were approved and funded by the British High Commission and the United Nations Development Programme, respectively.
Part of the funds were used to establish and partly furnish for the first time two regional SLAJ Secretariats in Makeni in the north and Kenema in the east.
I am not here to take full credit for these remarkable achievements in a short period of time, as is habitual of some executive members, but I should be proud to say that as Secretary General I was at the centre of those laudable endeavours.
Words are not enough to tell you how I felt; and even today, I remain proud of the British High Commission, the United Nations Development Programme and the Chinese Embassy in Freetown for giving us the biggest boost ever in terms of really institutionalising SLAJ and enhancing our capacity, as an association.
Also, after several setbacks, I was able to identify a suitable structure at 56 Campbell Street in Freetown which currently houses the SLAJ Headquarters, comprising a Secretariat with self-contained offices for the President, the Secretary General and other executive members, a resource room, conference hall and offices for three of our affiliates.
Moreover, during that declaration, I pledged to support the President-elect to consolidate the gains of the previous executives of especially Hon Ibrahim Ben Kargbo and Philip Neville, which I served as Assistant Secretary General. And the lot fell on Umaru Fofana.
Though like me, Mr. Fofana received an overwhelming majority in that election, many of our colleagues and concerned members of the public, especially those who were already aware of his obsession with power and his inability to work amicably with other team members, were worried about the future of the association.
Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t intend to denigrate the character of our President; I only want to present a brief background for you to know where we are coming from.
Our president, Mr Fofana, if you can recall, that is, those of you who were aware, had long distanced himself from SLAJ and its activities for about eight years following his impeachment as National Secretary General during the 2001 Annual General Meeting in Bo during the leadership of Ibrahim El-Tayib Bah, for negligence and gross insubordination.
So in effect, from that period unto 2008 when he was elected President, Fofana never attended any SLAJ meeting nor did he participate in any SLAJ activity, or programme. In fact, he spent most of that time outside the country including Dakar, Senegal where he worked for the West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR).
As such, the man who is today our president and who wants to continue misdirecting the affairs of SLAJ was completely dark in terms of manning the affairs of SLAJ and initiating development programmes within the Association.
The main source of solace for SLAJ members and other concerned members of the public was my presence within the executive ranks of the association which I had consistently and steadfastly served for over a decade as active member and two years as Assistant Secretary General.
The successes registered during the first one year of the outgoing executive to which I was the main driving force, are common knowledge and remain unmatched in the almost 40-year history of SLAJ. Thus, for the expediency of time I will not border to itemise them again.
And in recognition of my immense contribution to these achievements, Mr Fofana had these sentiments to express and appeal to make regarding me in his opening statement at the November 2009 Annual General Meeting at Wusum Hotel in Makeni.
“…I want to thank my executive, especially my Secretary General who has always been available whenever called upon and has been very selfless…” adding, and “this is why I would like us [the delegates] at this AGM to discuss the need to put the Secretary General on a salary…”
But as you are already aware, all this rosy expression of appreciation in my favour is now history. Seven months later, the cordiality between me and our president was obstructed when on June 10, 2010 I was compelled to shut down the doors to the Secretariat in protest against injustice, dictatorship, mismanagement and other administrative vices as perpetrated by him within the executive rank of the association.
That was the severest action that I have ever taken against repression in SLAJ, in an effort to prevent it from returning to its awful legacy of being a portfolio association for almost three decades.
Although it was a protest action, I did apologise for it and my apology accepted, but the entire membership agreed that the circumstances that led to it and the reaction of the President who instructed that the still door be broken into, must be investigated with the aim of putting measures in place to prevent a recurrence.
Thus, a motion proposed by Sorie Ibrahim Sesay, Public Relations Officer of SLFA on June 14, 2010, to have me suspended for the same act after the setting up of a three-man Committee led by Kelvin Lewis, Managing Editor of Awoko Newspaper, to deal with the matter and proffer recommendations, was defeated by 54 votes to 4.
But sadly, the Committee has proven to be incompetent; hence it has failed woefully. What they succeeded in doing instead was to keep everyone in limbo after seven months of investigation of a matter which outcome would have once and for all resolved the deadlock in the executive.
A case in point to justify this assertion was my illegal suspension by the President in connivance with a handful of our colleagues and members of the public through a dead and resurrected motion. That was three months into the investigation – August 3, 2010 – under AOB of what they considered to be an Extraordinary General Meeting.
I therefore wish to personally register a vote of no confidence in the committee, especially when they have blatantly failed to admit their inadequacy and apologise, thereby contributing to the deepening of the crisis further.
Mr. Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, as we eagerly await the date for our Biennial Conference and National and Regional Elections in the midst of this crisis, let me use this opportunity to launch an appeal that this failed Committee be disbanded instant because I believe, like anyone of you here, that any report that emerges from them now would lack credibility; be it in my favour or not.
Personally, I will recommend that Kelvin Lewis and his colleagues face some disciplinary actions from SLAJ for not only betraying the cause of the association but also creating more breathing space for other ill-motivated members who have been using all their resources and might to divide SLAJ into hostile factions, to acquire new positions of strength in their diabolic plans.
Mr Chairman, as freedom is not free, let me remind those crusaders of divide and elements of darkness amongst us that a tiny match stick can brighten a whole room, whereas a bit of darkness can not get rid of light. Thus we will defeat them and lighten up the spirit of SLAJ once more, God willing.
And considering the threat the stalemate poses to the very survival of our association and the common force that unite us coupled by the eagerness among colleagues and the public to know what really went wrong, I have been compelled to go public with the reasons behind the current crisis.
But before that, let me reaffirm that I am going about this not with any deliberate intent to expose SLAJ to scorn or ridicule, but I am doing so in a bid to clear misconceptions and help combat what is now clearly a sustained campaign of calumny against some of us who have been part of the process of institutionalising SLAJ.
This campaign has been masterminded by the outgoing dictator-President Umaru Fofana backed by certain ill-motivated and power-thirsty individuals who could best be described as “bootlickers” among a few elders of our association who are supposed to be helping us preserve the good legacies of the past and guide us on the right path.
I shall refrain from naming names at least for now because I wish to give these individuals the golden opportunity in this golden jubilee to rethink their stance for the good of SLAJ once more.
The involvement of other actors who are also key players in the association including those currently lobbying to be nominated Commissioners at the Independent Media Commission (IMC) will soon be made public if they fail to give a second thought to their stance against the interest of SLAJ.
Mr. Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you will forgive me for not naming names despite going public with the circumstances that led to the standoff, especially when a prior notice to the effect was issued over two months ago without any objection.
First and foremost, the President, Mr. Umaru Fofana who professes to be a liberal democrat, has been running a repressive regime, breaching the SLAJ Constitution and Conventions with impunity; the reason why we are holding our 2010 Biennial Conference and Elections in 2011 despite the fact that these events were fixed at the last AGM for November and December 2010 respectively.
And even as I address you, no one is sure about the specific date(s) and venue while scores of new members are being illegally registered, a process which should have legally ended in August (three months to the Biennial Conference in November 2010) as prescribed in Article 12.8 of our Constitution, which states:
“Registration of new members to SLAJ shall cease at least 90 days to the start of the Biennial Conference.”
Other illegal actions such as breaching the procedure for convening and conducting Extraordinary General Meetings, nominating and recalling members from public institutions, allowing non-journalists or media personnel to attend SLAJ General Meetings and vote, and my illegal suspension in August, are all testimonies to this fact.
Also, the President has been demonstrating absolute disregard for and undermining my authority as Administrative head of the Secretariat since February last year, thereby degrading my image – situation which is clearly against the SLAJ Constitution, Conventions and Tradition.
By what could best be described as the “Umaru Fofana SLAJ Organogram”, the National Secretary General is equal in status to all other executive members below the rank of Vice President. Therefore the Secretary has no right to delegate responsibilities to other executive members, a right which is reserved exclusively for the President.
As far as Mr. Fofana is concerned, it is only the job description of individual executive members below the office of the President that are different not their status. As a result, all reports by other executive members to the President including those bordering on finance are not required to go through the Secretary General any longer, but direct to the president.
Under “the Fofana philosophy”, any SLAJ executive member can convene a General Meeting or issue out a press release without the knowledge of the elected Secretary General and in one or two instance(s) bearing the name of the Secretary General.
Under the Fofana regime, the Secretary General has limited access to all other official communications to SLAJ not personally addressed to him or his office besides email, a right which is also reserved exclusively for the President whether he is within the shores of Sierra Leone or not.
Under the Fofana “maladministration”, the Secretary General, though head of the Secretariat, is completely in the dark and therefore has no say in official procurement for the SLAJ Headquarters. Inventories are prepared by the Financial Secretary (who triples as caterer and procurement officer) and approved and funded by the President without any consensus from or by the executive.
Under the Fofana regime, the National Financial Secretary and Assistant Secretary General, with the backing of the President are free to perform administrative functions for SLAJ including external communications without any regard for the Secretary General.
Under the Fofana regime, the Secretary General, though one of the “B” signatories to the only SLAJ account at Standard Chartered Bank, never signs a cheque for withdrawals of funds, nor is he informed when monies are deposited and the purpose as constitutionally required.
Under the Umaru Fofana regime, there had been absolute lack of transparency and accountability in financial management, which is clearly against my pre-election campaign promise in 2008 and the principles and spirit of SLAJ. Financial reports are prepared at will with no regard for standards and the constitution.
That is why the Financial Report for December 2008-November 2009 was rejected at the 2009 AGM in Makeni. And even as I deliver this statement a review of this overdue report is yet to be presented to the executive for approval, not to talk about the internal auditors.
Also, the income and expenditure report of the 2009 Annual General Meeting (AGM) was only prepared in November 2010, that was precisely one year after the event and ten months after the completion of the narrative report by me.
Again, the December 2009 to November 2010 financial report is yet to be prepared even when a professional accountant was hired last year at the cost of SLAJ to help the Financial Secretary prepare these reports after she admitted and confessed her lack of capacity to effectively and efficiently manage the financial records of the organization and prepare standard financial reports, a situation which deserved a resignation.
Under the Fofana regime, the Secretary General even as one of the three signatories to the only SLAJ account has no access to financial records of SLAJ including those relating to membership dues/subscriptions.
That is why I seriously challenged an executive order to open a second bank account for SLAJ early last year.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it is also disheartening to note that the egocentric, dictatorial and vindictive nature of the President and his absolute disregard for public management and administrative protocols were also among the irritating forces that fuelled the crisis.
The Pointers since 2010
- The President unilaterally and unlawfully authorizing the abolition of the Unique Membership Identification Number System in the SLAJ national register and on membership IDs without Executive or General Assembly consultation and approval.
- The President willfully withholding and unceremoniously terminating my monthly stipend of Le 200,000, which was approved by the National Executive in January 2010, without reasonable excuse, since March 2010 and concurrently denying me access to petty cash of Le 165,000 per month to run the Secretariat.
- The president seizing my facilitation fee of Le 300,000 (three hundred thousand Leones) for a joint ActionAid International Sierra Leone/SLAJ AGM Project on the link between Freedom of Information and the Millennium Development Goals, even when the AGM Committee had long recommended payment to be effected.
- The President depriving the Secretariat of internet connectivity, thereby posing more financial strains and other inconveniences for the Secretary General and the rest of the membership in accessing the Internet from public cafes, emails communications and administering the Secretariat generally.
- The President signing for and fraudulently converting my sitting fees at the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) Transition Management Team to his personal benefit.
Finally, the indifference and sometimes double standard of some of my colleague executive members and the failure of a number of other SLAJ members including elders to act on persistent complaints relating to the issues contained herein since late 2009, are also notable factors.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, unfortunate as these vices are among several others not stated here for the expediency of time, what they have actually succeeded in doing is to send out a very strong and clear message that SLAJ is under siege and on the brink of disintegration into hostile factions, a situation which warrants urgent action; brave and swift. Otherwise, the worse should be expected.
And I am not sure anyone among us is prepared to be part of any repressive system in which distrust, maladministration, dictatorship and blatant abuse and violation of the constitution and rights of members are the order of the day.
It is high time we stood up to stop this madness in order to save our association from the brink of collapse, even if not for us today, but for the sake of history and for the sake of posterity.
Therefore, I am going into this race not on account of intolerance and the thirst for power as some people have been blackmailing me, not because anyone is pushing me or providing the funds for me to do so; no, not at all; but with the genuine desire to defeat dictatorship, restore sanity and constitutionality once more to our noble association and reconcile its membership.
And also, to lay a new foundation for growth and protect the legacy of our past leaders especially in recent times, including Hon. Frank Kposowa, Mr. Ibrahim El-Tayyib Bah, Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo and Mr. Philip Neville, the last two of whom I served as Assistant Secretary General.
The Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, this declaration will be incomplete if I failed to recognise the immense achievements of these individuals including strengthening the status of SLAJ in the international community of journalists, formally registering SLAJ as an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), making it more visible in the West African Association of Journalists (WAJA) and institutionalising SLAJ from a portfolio organisation to a truly national and professional body of nobles.
Therefore, as we commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the founding of SLAJ this June and the 50th Anniversary of Sierra Leone’s Independence this April, and with all humility, I, Mustapha Sesay, outgoing National Secretary General of SLAJ, hereby formally manifest my interest in contesting for the position of President in the (overdue) forthcoming National Elections of SLAJ whenever scheduled: next month, the month after or whenever fate determines, because bad governance now characterises the leadership of SLAJ.
My election campaign will be formally launched in Freetown, Bo, Kenema and Makeni when it is legal to do so, with a comprehensive agenda for institutional reform.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude this 3,744-word statement, the longest that I have ever delivered publicly in my life, by urging you, our affiliates to use this waiting period during this illegal extension of the mandate of the current outlived executive to put together your biennial reports for 2009-2010 in addition to honouring your capitation fees to SLAJ.
Finally, all SLAJ members are urged to endeavour to honour their financial commitments to the association against the stipulated deadline and familiarise yourselves with the SLAJ Constitution and Conventions/AGM resolutions, in preparedness for the Biennial Conference and the National and Regional Elections anywhere and at anytime.
May God bless and guide us on our path to constitutionality, peace and stability once more.
I thank you for your attention.
By Mustapha Sesay, Outgoing National Secretary General
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