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November 17 is about choosing between a progressive future and a gloomy past…

November 17 is about choosing between a progressive future and a gloomy past…

In circumstances where two candidates possess distinctive credentials that match a particular job opening, choosing between them to fill in the vacancy becomes very tricky or better still delicate. Although many CEOs are of the conviction that it is a “good problem” to have, it however makes hiring decisions more complicated. In such situations, they usually tend to look beneath the surface of the candidate and how they have coped and dealt with challenges in the past; access their motivation levels; and determine how best they can interact with their potential co-workers.

Like employers, voters during elections are also confronted with the difficulty of choice when two political contestants possess very firm leadership attributes to a point that it becomes difficult to determine who is best suited for the job by just accessing them on the surface.

However, in Sierra Leone, as crucial as the November 17 polls might be, the opposition Sierra Leone´s Peoples Party (SLPP) saved Sierra Leoneans from going through such intense scrutiny when they elected as their flag bearer a candidate who (with all due respect to him) cannot in any way match the distinctive credentials of incumbent and APC leader HE Ernest Bai Koroma.

In the person of Julius Maada Bio, the SLPP elected a candidate who in many ways represent (or has been involved) in a chaotic, unstable and an undemocratic past where governance through the barrel of the gun and coups and counter coups sometimes even within the military hierarchy were  key characteristics. This is a past our nation has opted to leave behind!

In complete contrast, in APC´s Ernest Koroma, we see a leader who after a successful 24-year business career, got into politics (with crystal clear and unblemished record, I must stress) to clear up the mess left behind by a number of his predecessors.  We as well see a leader whose motivation and determination to transform our country has soared after five successful years at the helm.  Building on those gains to move the country into a progressive future is at the centre of the president´s renewed motivation!

It is against this milieu that I think the forthcoming presidential election in Sierra Leone is about choosing between a progressive future and a gloomy past. Let me expand my argument further by closely examining both presidential contestants.

As a patriotic Sierra Leonean who wants to see that our country continues to head in the right direction, I have recently been working overtime (taking into consideration the huge portfolio of activities, working with other dedicated Sierra Leoneans in trying to market our country in Europe´s most prosperous country, Germany) to focus my articles on the distinctive attributes of President Koroma and his achievements since he took over the realm of power to remind my compatriots that the next five years are even going to be better if we make the right choice at the polls on November 17 by electing our industrious President. In this piece I will however bring the opposition SLPP leader into focus by looking at his rather pithy experience in politics drawn from a period which our nation had long left behind.

Like any other Sierra Leonean, Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio certainly has the right to contest for any public office in Sierra Leone as long as he has not been barred from doing so by a court of law and if he follows the democratic process. Both of those criteria he duly fulfils making him eligible to contest for the country´s top job. The question then is whether he is the right person to move our country forward. I don’t think but to make my position clear, let us look at his political credentials.

Any discourse on Julius Maada Bio´s quest to become the next President of Sierra Leone will be incomplete without mentioning his role at the 1992 military coup which brought the NPRC to power. Without that, as one Sierra Leonean writer noted, he would “have been just another anonymous lieutenant in the Sierra Leonean armed forces nobody would have heard of.”

Bio was among six young Sierra Leonean soldiers that toppled the government of Joseph Saidu Momoh on April 29, 1992. Bio´s NPRC received popular support after years of misrule that had led to widespread suffering of the ordinary masses. I still remember that day in Freetown when the soldiers announced that they had seized power – they were jubilations and celebrations on the streets of Freetown. People were very happy because they thought the saviours had come – they had redeemed the country from years of misrule and they were going to end the civil war which had just begun. But alas! Those hopes were short lived as the NPRC failed to live up to expectations. I will get back to that! First of all let me scrutinize Bio´s role in the military junta.

Bio’s first appointment following the formation of the NPRC was as the Secretary of State South, stationed in the country’s second capital Bo. He was later moved to Freetown to serve as Secretary of State in charge of Information and Broadcasting. At this point, he was promoted to Captain alongside other junior lieutenants. As a leading member of the coup that kicked out the APC government, Bio served as Supreme Council of State (SCS) member throughout the NPRC’s stay in power and when Capt. Valentine Strasser’s deputy, Captain S.A.J. Musa, was sacked and exiled to the UK, Bio was appointed to the position.

On January 16, 1996 nearly four years after the military coup, Bio betrayed his colleague and close friend Capt. Strasser by overthrowing him and taking over the leadership of the junta government. While it was widely reported this was as a result of division within senior members of that regime, it also revealed something about the then young military officer – his thirst for obtaining power at any cost even if it means betraying a close friend. It therefore came as no surprise when a decade after that incident in 2007, Bio threatened he might stage another coup if Ernest Koroma´s APC was to be elected in the polls of that year. Although he later claimed his comments were taken out of context noting that he meant if the appalling conditions that existed before 1992 were to return he will stage another coup, the fact that he could think of seizing power again after all the progress Sierra Leone had made will tempt one to believe that Bio´s mindset is framed within that chaotic and brutal past to which our nation do not want to return.

As I have already indicated, Bio was a key member of an NPRC junta that was given the opportunity to lay the foundation for the rebuilding of our country even though it had seized power through the barrel of the gun. However, Bio´s NPRC failed to do so, disappointing the people of Sierra Leone: Lawlessness became the order of the day with soldiers harassing the very people they claimed to save when they took power; embezzlement of state resources was also common placed as soldiers enrich themselves to the detriment of the suffering masses; our passports were sold to abroad with most of the proceeds going into private pockets; although the most reported was the summary execution of 29 in November 1992, the overall human rights record of the NPRC regime was appalling. The journalists who attempted to scrutinize the junta boys were repressed by draconian decrees restricting press freedom. As a member of the SCS, even before he forcefully took over from Capt. Strasser, Bio was a key player in that regime that contributed immensely to wrecking our country. A Sierra Leonean blogger, Hadi Bah summarizes the entire point I am trying to make here when he wrote on sierraleone365.com:

“Bio gets a failing grade (F) if his credentials as a soldier and NPRC member are what qualify him to become president of Sierra Leone. Bio’s “public service” both as NPRC member and head of state benefitted only Julius Maada Bio. He became rich, he became famous and he got an education at the expense of Sierra Leoneans. He can’t point to a bridge or road the NPRC built for the general good. He can’t point to a school or hospital built by the NPRC that Sierra Leoneans are using today. War, human rights violations and looting of state coffers is the legacy of the NPRC. Not a legacy Sierra Leoneans would like to revive:” (For full text visit http://sierraleone365.com/election-2012/is-julius-maada-bio-the-right-man-for-sierra-leone).

When Bio finally handed over power after elections (one of his strongest arguments for wanting to be president again) it was because it had become clear that Sierra Leoneans and the international community were not prepared to tolerate the alternative – him holding on to power. The NPRC had failed and they had to go! In fact, as another author wrote, “Contrary to popular belief, Bio did not voluntarily preside over the 1996 elections and peacefully hand power over to President Ahmed Tejan Kabba. The evidence now shows that Bio tried but failed to prolong his stay in office.  On February 10, 1996 there were grenade attacks against the offices and residence of Independent National Election Commission (INEC) Chairman James Jonah. The home of SLPP nominee Ahmed Tejan Kabba was also targeted. Only a combination of threats from the international community, citizen pressure and being outsmarted by James Jonah the elections commissioner, induced Bio to play along.”

When President Kabbah took over, it was clear the challenges facing the country were enormous. Fair enough, when Bio and co-seized power, the country was on the brink of collapse after years of endemic mismanagement. What must be added here however is that the NPRC had all the support and cooperation to save the day but they ended up adding salt to injury. There is therefore no way we can write about Sierra Leone´s ugly past without mentioning the NPRC and its key players such as Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio!

The million dollar question for the Sierra Leonean electorate to think about is, Why didn’t Bio offer the country a “new direction” when he had the opportunity to do so? The more I try to provide answers to this question, the more convinced I am that the leadership of the SLPP flag bearer is not what Sierra Leone needs right now. He represents a past from which Sierra Leone has moved away from. Our country has made enormous gains during the last five years from which we need to build and move into a very bright future!

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