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Re-playing the 1996 Music For Maada Bio In 2012

Re-playing the 1996 Music For Maada Bio In 2012

In a few days, the people of Sierra Leone will prove to the world again that they are capable of taking their own destiny in their hands and move their country forward when they will emphatically reject the presidential bid of Julius Maada Bio, a former military junta leader now fronting for the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). In doing just that, Sierra Leone would once again be seen as a nation worth its salt, just as we did in 1996 against the self-same Maada Bio when he tried to scuttle democracy through a deceptive ‘peace before elections’ campaign.  (PhotoSheka Tarawalie, author)


Back then in 1996, Bio overthrew his boss Valentine Strasser on the pretext that the latter wanted to cling to power beyond the stipulated time (Strasser’s own explanation was that he had categorically stated that he would go, and so Bio decided to step in). Bio had insisted that Strasser had an ambition to overstay in power. But the questions then lingering on the minds of the public were: Was it not Strasser, out of his own volition, even at a time when people were calling him ‘the redeemer’; that he came out with a timeline, insisting that they would hand over power within three years? Did Strasser not follow the guidelines through by forming the Independent National Electoral Commission? Did Strasser not establish the National Commission for Democracy and appointed Dr. Kadie Sesay to be its head? Did James Jonah, the Chief Electoral Commissioner, not sound very confident about Strasser’s sincerity to the democratic process just days before he was overthrown? Did Strasser not lift the ban on the 1991 Constitution and on all political activities? Did he not preside over the registration of up to seventeen political parties including the APC and the SLPP which many were calling to be banned? When the junta decided to form a political party called the National Unity Party (NUP), was it not John Karimu – instead of Strasser – that was put forward as presidential candidate? If Strasser was that ambitious, why did he not reduce the age minimum requirement that disqualified him from the contest in the first place?

Yet, as Mark Anthony would say of Brutus in relation to Caesar (“You all did see that on the Lupercal I thrice presented him a kingly crown, Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition? Yet Brutus says he was ambitious…”), Bio said Strasser wanted to hijack the democratic process. But the central question for Bio was, ‘how’? How did Strasser want to derail the process? Did he call Bio into a room and told him about it? If that was the case, why did Bio not act until that fateful day of 16 January 1996 after Strasser had overseen the passing-out ceremony of new recruits of the then Sierra Leone Army at Bengeuma Training Centre, where he categorically stated that they were going out of office, warning the soldiers to henceforth stay away from politics and stick to their constitutional duties? Why was it that just after that speech, Maada Bio and his henchmen summoned a Supreme Council meeting, insisting that it should not be held at State House but at Cockeril military headquarters, where they lured Strasser, captured him (still dressed in the same uniform he wore at the passing-out ceremony), handcuffed him, and dumped him in Guinea?

How, just how, did Strasser want to derail the democratic process that warranted a most ignominious treatment at the very hands of those whom he had given more power than he had retained for himself (just imagine promoting Bio from a mere Lieutenant to Brigadier General within four years, while Strasser – a very modest man – merely retained his Captain rank throughout)?


Maada Bio is a real Shakespearean tragic hero. His fundamental flaw is vaulting ambition. And he’ll never realise it – not helped by an array of self-made advisers – until the bitter reality dawns. The bitter reality that will dawn on him on November 17 and beyond.

He suffered a similar fate in 1996…. Because, after the people had realised that Bio’s overthrowing of Strasser was a charade and a self-seeking enterprise to perpetuate himself in power when he initiated a ‘peace before elections’ campaign at the eleventh hour, seeking a postponement of the elections; after the people realised that all along Bio had a very healthy relationship with the rebel RUF because his elder sister was one of the strongest pillars of that movement, and with whom he was now colluding by pretending to be bringing peace so that both brother and sister could have been two of the most powerful rulers of Sierra Leone; when the people realised that Bio had awarded fake contracts for helicopter spare parts and military hardware to his brother who never delivered the arms when we needed them most in fighting the rebels, with allegations that these arms were actually supplied to the rebels; when the people actually saw Bio buying delegates for the postponement of the elections; and even when Bio issued a statement at Bintumani II categorically not guaranteeing security on polling day; yet still the people of Sierra Leone rose to the occasion, sacrificing limb and life to deny Bio’s ambition from going through. They overwhelmingly rejected the ‘peace before elections’ charade at Bintumani and went ahead with the elections, even when Bio’s boys – true to his ‘no security guarantee’ promise – disrupted some parts of the voting by shooting at Wilberforce Barracks and in Bo. On the same Election Day, the RUF, of which Bio’s sister was leader, cut fingers of voters mainly in the Northern Province for not accepting Bio’s ‘peace before elections’.


No one has put it more succinctly than President Tejan Kabbah in his book ‘Coming Back From The Brink in Sierra Leone’. He wrote “The NPRC junta having enjoyed the fruits of power for four years clearly demonstrated that it was not interested in holding any elections at that particular time. It mounted and orchestrated a campaign with the slogan peace before elections. Through this campaign, the NPRC even attempted to ingratiate itself with the RUF by demonstrating to the latter that it was prepared to delay the holding of elections and would forge a power-sharing arrangement with the RUF…..Again, in order to prove its point that elections would not be held successfully before peace was achieved, the junta orchestrated acts of terror and intimidation of the electorate in several parts of the country just before and during the elections…. In spite of the on-going rebel war, and notwithstanding the defiance of those who wanted to prolong military rule by vehemently advocating peace-before-elections, Sierra Leoneans following two national consultative conferences (Bintumani I and Bintumani II) took the courageous decision to go to the polls February 1996 to choose a President and Members of Parliament. There were a number of disturbances initiated by the anti-democratic elements aimed at disrupting the elections…”

Obviously, Maada Bio handed over power reluctantly and grudgingly (to quote President Kabbah’s common-knowledge statement) but not before causing the government to pay him huge sums of money while benefiting from a UN sweetener scholarship which was the carrot that backed the people’s mobilisation stick to pressurise him out of power.


The people of Sierra Leone generally enjoyed the momentum then. For a people to remove a desperate army from power, with literally their bare hands, was a relishing moment – that goes beyond borders. Our country took the international spotlight. That sequence of events raised our profile internationally as a people ready to move forward as a collective democratic force. Bio went away from the scene with the loot. He squandered all abroad, returned home and took some ‘condom’ contract before he challenged Solomon Berewa for the leadership of the SLPP in 2007 – asking the party to fulfil its own part of the contract they entered into to deny the UNPP’s John Karefa-Smart the victory in favour of the SLPP’s Tejan Kabbah in 1996, a school of thought holds.


The SLPP succumbed in 2011 during a delegates’ conference that invoked voodoo-ism, tribalism, and intimidation. But the people of Sierra Leone had told Bio in no uncertain terms that they did not want him to be their leader. He has not listened. But he will listen. (E nor wan yeri word -o, e go yeri word).


It’s the musicians who have this saying, ‘when the music is nice, you play it twice’. They are also the ones who know the value of doing a re-mix of a song that is nice, so that it can sound nicer. The people of Sierra Leone are now poised to do a re-mix of the music they played for Maada Bio in 1996. This one in 2012 will sound nicer…. Because, it is the final nail to Bio’s political coffin!

The circumstantial problem with Maada Bio as a tragic figure is that he always comes at the wrong time. In 1996, there were reports that Strasser was not actually part of the original coup-makers but was brought in as a compromise leader to avoid regional tensions. But I tell you what, if the boys had actually given the power to Bio at the time, the people of Sierra Leone at that particular moment would not have minded, given the euphoria that had engulfed everybody then at the excitement of seeing a change from the old APC which had been in power for over two decades. That was the time Bio would have been the one to rule Sierra Leone. E faint late. When he now realized that indeed Strasser was actually going to let go of the power, he showed his true colours as the enfant terrible by trying the impossible. The people’s unequivocal rejection sent Bio packing.

A similar scenario – of wrong or missed timing – played on the democratic side of things for Bio. Had the SLPP agreed to choose Bio as presidential candidate in 2007, instead of Solomon Berewa, there was the possibility that Bio would have won the elections – mainly because, even though it was on the basis of fraud, he would not have agreed for Christiana Thorpe’s cancellation of the rigged votes to stand. As a man of vaulting ambition, Bio would have used the power of his party’s incumbency then, he would have pushed Tejan Kabbah’s appeals aside, and would have defied the whole world with a strong following of party lackeys, as his fellow NPRC bedfellows like John Benjamin and John Karimu had taken over the SLPP. Bio missed that opportunity. It was his last opportunity. The SLPP faint late.


The SLPP has now put Bio forward at a time when the APC has produced the most development-oriented leader this country has ever had in the person of President Ernest Koroma. I have said it before that, as things stand in Sierra Leone today, it could only take someone with an angelic character to beat President Koroma at the polls. In just five years, the President has demonstrated a strong sense of pushing Sierra Leone forward to the extent that even Heads of State (current and former) can fly from other countries to endorse him – President Kondeh of Guinea openly said it at Gbalamuya; and ex-President Obasanjo of Nigeria did it in Kabala. There is no doubt that Sierra Leone is moving forward under President Koroma. Even top SLPP members have had to quickly defect to the APC before the SLPP suffers its worst defeat in its 60-odd-year history.

If Maada Bio had been the flag-bearer in 2007, his baggage of having stolen money and his participation in extra-judicial killings would have been drowned by the incumbency syndrome and the unwillingness of desperate party men to lose their positions. If the SLPP can today arm-twist Kabbah and Berewa to endorse a man they had publicly vilified and called a criminal, can you imagine how they would have imprisoned (like they did to Paul Kamara) or beat to death (as in the case of Harry Yansanneh) any journalist – not to talk of an ordinary man – who would have tried to call to question the inconsistency of calling a man a thief and then saying we should vote for him?


The fact is that the SLPP wants to take Sierra Leoneans for a ride. They actually think we are fools for them to have the effrontery of saying it was Maada Bio that brought democracy to this country. What a cheek! What Sassiness! We didn’t need a Bintumani II in 1996! We don’t need a Bio candidacy in 2012!

When we rose up to the occasion in 1996, the world hailed us for being able to take control of our destiny without any direct foreign intervention. Now, in our relentless effort to put behind the war-ravaged epithet that came to be associated with our country, we have another golden opportunity to boost our image internationally. That is, when we go to the polls to tell Maada Bio that ‘you wouldn’t have done all what you did to us and then come back to say you had not hurt us enough. Now you want to torment us. Chutzpah! The children and relatives of the people you executed are still crying for justice – or at least to know where your victims were buried!’

But the writing is already on the wall for Maada. If people like Pa Takieu Zombo of Gendema, who had remained faithful to the SLPP in all its years of existence, can now see reason to leave the party and join the APC; if former MPs, who just a few weeks ago were representing the SLPP, are now invoking injunctions on their party’s candidates; if all what is left as a form of support for Maada Bio is a group of Westside thugs, rabble-rousers, and political demagogues; then the people of Sierra Leone are ready, we are ready again, to tell the world that we have seen the light, we have seen the rainbow, we cannot go back, we will follow the footsteps of the American people by choosing an incumbent President that has outstandingly performed.


Friends, Sierra Leoneans, countrymen, we as a nation are on threshold of retaking our place in history, we are on the brink of changing perceptions about us. In 1996, the world hailed Sierra Leone. Now, after the war, a great opportunity has arisen to make a name for ourselves again. We will avoid violence and conduct free, fair, and transparent elections in which Maada will be taught a lesson. We are together saying, ‘yes we are capable of restoring our dignity.’ A country that was founded on the platform of freedom is displaying its brightest characteristics; we are closing the final chapter in our war history by burying in the mud one of those who played a very ambiguous role in it and greatly benefited from it. We are saying that the ‘Athens of West Africa’ has come of age and now willing to take its place in the comity of civilised nations. President Koroma has already set the pace, cleared the path through innumerable international recognitions and improvements. We are now ready to protect that image on November 17. After these elections, the world will search again for our origins and find out that this was a country specially and specifically crafted to be a beacon of civilisation and a democratic light in this part of the world.

Just in the same way they sang on the streets in 1996 saying ‘Bio Bio Bio nar rebel’, now the women of Sierra Leone are singing that ‘Salone nor to farm – go back to Ghana’, ‘we nor want you.. you nor even able get visa for go America’….


Maada has seen the writing on the wall, but he is putting up a brave face like all tragic figures in history, be they Hitler, Saddam Hussein or Foday Sankoh. And the newest strategy after being alarmist all through the electioneering process (including a big lie that the government had brought in armed men from Liberia) is to issue a threat to the Chief Electoral Commissioner, Dr, Christiana Thorpe.

But it did not come as a surprise to many a political pundit. Maada in an interview in 2007 said he would overthrow the APC again. Now he is no more a soldier; and does not have access to the ammunition dump. So he has decided to use democracy to circumvent the process. But that will not happen. He cannot succeed. Just as he could not in 1996 when he threatened the people by saying the army would not guarantee security, and indeed they fired shots on elections day after similar firing at James Jonah’s house and INEC office – but the people still stood their ground.

In his latest threats of not being willing to accept the results, he is hiding under a proviso – and that is, ‘if the results are controversial’. Of course what he means has nothing to do with legal action, but evincing a confrontation. And I foresee he is going to try it. The reason being that a free and fair election in the eyes of the UN, EU, AU, ECOWAS and all other observers would not be free and fair in the eyes of the Maada Bios of this world. After all, the 2007 elections, which he is using as a premise, were declared free and fair by all observers. Christiana Thorpe cancelled the fraudulent election results and all the international observers were satisfied with that. It has only been the SLPP – only them – that have been crying about rigged elections in 2007.

I believe now that the biometric voter system has been brought to avoid over-voting and child-voting, one likely ‘loophole’ that Bio may want to seize as an excuse for his abominable enterprise is when he would find out that even in his presumed strongholds President Koroma is going to beat him at the polls, or when some void votes would have been cancelled, or he could find his own reason as he did when establishing NPRC II.


The International Criminal court (ICC) should start taking notes if they’ve not done so already. My conclusion is that Maada is like Odewale, the tragic hero in Ola Ritimi’s ‘The Gods Are Not To Blame’. When Odewale’s fate was announced, he thought he could run away from destiny – but he still ended up killing his father and marrying his mother. Maada thought by wearing a democratic paraphernalia his ultimate end for the stealing of our passports, self-payment of millions of dollars, ambiguous role in the war, snatching others’ wives, and taking part in extra judicial killings would make him go away scotch-free. Well, with this path he has taken of threatening the democratic process, intimidating the respectable and respected Christiana Thorpe, I can see judgment day is nigh for the man who missed two ‘golden’ opportunities (1992 and 2007) to have comfortably ruled Sierra Leone but has been actually destined for a great downfall.

Like all his kind in history, Maada would see the end but would always deny its authenticity – just as Macbeth, having seen that Birnam Wood was ‘moving’, clung on to the witches’ equivocal prediction of ‘no man born of woman shall kill you’. He realised rather too late that there’s something called caesarean birth. Therefore, even though Maada is seeing all the major stakeholders in his party deserting him, former SLPP strongholds which were no-go areas for the APC now publicly welcoming President Koroma in tumultuous excitement, he still puts on a brave face and will realise rather too late that Sierra Leone is not willing to go down with him to the path of violence and threats. We are not going back. We are moving forward!


In a few days, truth will reveal…

The remix is already playing. It’s getting louder and louder…. ‘Ernest Nar World Best… Wae God Don Ase You Up, Nobody Nor Go Put You Dong…’ The suitability of this ‘World Best’ music that has become a household sing-song in Sierra Leone stems from the fact that the artist who produced it, only commonly known as ‘Gallon Pan’, was one of Sierra Leone’s iconic footballers. He knows how good footballers score goals – he has seen President Koroma replicating that in politics.

November 17: Ampa Ang Pong!

God bless this land that we love!

By Sheka Tarawalie (Shekito), Deputy Minister of Information & Communications, writing in an unofficial capacity

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