Olu Gordon’s vision for Sierra Leone will live with us forever
The death of Richie Olu Awoonor-Gordon, Sierra Leone’s most celebrated pro-people campaigner is without question a big loss. The unprecedented outpouring of tributes from across the ideological and political divide is a testimony to this. (Photo: the late Olu Gordon)
But in mourning we are most times tempted to be carried away by the sense of loss. That is why it is important in grief we do not lose sight of the ideals Olu espoused. After all, this is the best tribute one can give to him.
And that is why in this period of grief, we should seize the opportunity to celebrate his life by showcasing his selfless sacrifice to the common good. The story of a personal struggle against all that has gone wrong with our country. For we owe it especially to the children and young people, who may not know or understand his work but have benefited from it and may even pick up from where he left off.
Olu devoted his entire life to the struggle for a just and fair society. A society of equal opportunities. Through his pen, words and by personal example he fought fearlessly against the ills that have become a feature of our society – greed, corruption, sycophancy, opportunism, obsession with class and hierarchy. In the eyes of Olu, and rightly so, ours has become a society driven by the unquenchable appetite for materialism. Ours has become a society in which people are desperate to leech the state at all cost and then turn around to insult others of being jealous of their achievements. A society in which people are obsessed with class and hierarchy and won’t let their works do the talking rather do it themselves by advertising their credentials. A society where inequality is on the rise and it is seen as normal.
This personal struggle won him loads of enemies especially from the powerful and their disciples. It also landed him in trouble. All in a fruitless attempt to silence him. Several attempts to buy him through inducements hit a brick wall leading politicians and powerful interest groups to give up on him and instead resort to blackmail.
I first came to know Olu in the early nineties. I was then a student at the Njala University College where he had gone on the invitation of the local branch of PANAFU. The first thing that struck me was his modest appearance – PANAFU T-shirt and Jeans – and the fact that for all of the time I caught a glimpse of him he was either surrounded by or in the company of students. What more, he actually felt very relaxed in the company of his hosts – PANAFU students. The age gap never affected his relationship with young people as I came to find out several years later.
I must confess I was not close to Olu. However, that did not stop me idolizing him for all he stood for. But it must be said I was friends with Abdul Rashid, Mohamed Koroma and Karim Bah who were very close to him both within and outside PANAFU circles. Like Olu, these friends are passionate members of the organization.
Even though these friends did not get me to join PANAFU, I never missed an invitation to the African Liberation Day celebrations at Ansarul Islamic Secondary School on Guard Street, where one is sure to see Olu at his best, talking us through the things he loves talking about. His vision of an egalitarian society, the ills of Colonialism, Neo-colonialism and capitalism, and eulogizing the great sons of the continent – Kwame Nkruma, Seoku Turay, Patrice Lubumba and Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt.
In the world of journalism Olu was reputed for the weight of his pen. He was a firm believer in the wise saying: ‘The pen is mightier than the gun’. What is more, he shunned the AWOKO type journalism of shying away from difficult and controversial issues. Yes, the lazy and romanticizing type journalism of using neutrality as an excuse to dodge difficult national issues. He was not bothered about stepping on toes as long as it is in the national interest.
Olu was a fearless journalist who took a position on all national issues and advanced a robust argument for it. He supported the proposed inquest into the slaughter of Bambay Kamara and others by the NPRC. He did it in the pages of his newspaper and on air. His position on the trial of Hafsatu Kabbah on corruption charges was common knowledge. Also, his position on the resignation of Abdul Tejan Cole from the Anti-Corruption Commission was an open secret.
Olu wrote extensively on the injustices of our society. He was bitterly opposed to the business-as-usual way of doing things by the political establishment. The way he positioned himself ideologically puts him on a collusion course with all governments and self-seeking interest groups. At various times in his adult life he found himself fighting the one-party APC government, The National Provisional Ruling Council, Armed Forces Ruling Council, SLPP and the even current APC.
Yes, Olu is gone for good but what he stood for will remain with us forever. The issues he fought against resonate even as I write this piece. The best tribute we can pay to him is to continue the fights for a fair and just society.
And on this note, I say Goodbye Olu. You have not left behind the Sierra Leone you envisioned and sacrificed everything for, but your ideals will live with us forever and spur into realizing your dream. Sleep on! RIP.
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