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SLAJ at crossroads – needs effective liberal leadership

SLAJ at crossroads – needs effective liberal leadership

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), of which I am a ‘proud’ member, is going to the polls on Saturday 13th April 2013, to elect a brand new executive.

So much has been said about the outgoing executive led by Umaru Fofana. To many people, particularly practicing journalists, the Umaru administration did exceedingly well in giving SLAJ a facelift.

The association can now boast of befitting national and regional secretariats as well as other facilities. I stress on this because wherever the outgoing executive goes, the first thing it points at as a major achievement is the establishment of quite admirable national and regional secretariats.

The long and short of it however is that the Umaru Fofana administration failed rather woefully in taking SLAJ to the anticipated height. I am talking about the most fragmented executive SLAJ has ever produced.

In case somebody did not hear me well, I am talking about an executive that has dented SLAJ the most undeserving negative public perception ever.

The infighting within the executive led to the original secretary general under the Umaru Fofana administration being chased out of office.

As if that was the beginning of things falling apart, Umaru lost complete control over SLAJ during the run-up to the November 17 general elections.

His able Publicity Secretary, Sayoh Kamara, resigned, all because he wanted to run for a parliamentary seat under the banner of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC).   He was denied the symbol.

His Secretary General, Ishmael Koroma, behaved to him in a manner that could be likened to a child stripping his father stark naked in public and making him look like a non-entity.

Ishmael Koroma went openly APC. He resigned his position over a brawl with his boss, Umaru, who himself was unable to clear his name over widespread accusations and speculations that he was a staunch undercover supporter of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) flag bearer, Julius Maada Bio.

A cabinet list purportedly put together by the SLPP had him (Umaru) as would-be minister of information and communication.

During the campaigning, the Campaign Coordinator of the APC, Balogus Koroma, stated categorically that, “SLAJ under Umaru Fofana has lost its credibility”.

It could be recalled that one of the reasons advanced by the APC as to why the party boycotted the presidential debate organized by the BBC Action Group and other notable organizations including SLAJ, was the involvement of the latter in the organizing.

Throughout the crucially important electioneering period therefore, SLAJ was in total disarray, with Umaru Fofana keeping sealed lips, despite his oratory prowess. What a shame?

One outstanding failure of the Umaru administration was its inability to reunite the association after the back-stabbing contest that saw Philip Neville, then acting president, losing the election that brought him (Umaru) to power.

Throughout his tenure in office, key members of the association stayed completely away.

To many of us, it is good that barely four months after the much compromised November 17 general elections, SLAJ which was held pant down in the process, is going to the polls to elect a new national executive.

So far, my assessment of the contenders for the various elective positions has left me with the impression that the right candidates held their seats back. About 95 per cent of the contenders including all those running for the presidency are far from being good candidates insofar as putting SLAJ back on track is concerned.

This is the difficulty the Umaru Fofana administration left behind, and I am very surprised to hear candidates aspiring for positions in the new executive showering praises on the outgoing administration and even referring to brother Umaru as the best president SLAJ has ever produced.

Of all the candidates so far, the only one that I believe has given a fair assessment of the Umaru administration is Abdul Fonti Kabia, the youngest in the race. He is running for the position of assistant secretary general and while I cannot vouch that he will make us a good assistant secretary general, the fact remains that his uncompromising assessment of the outgoing regime has earned him my respect.

According to Abdul Fonti, Umaru Fofana scored 75 per cent in his first term, and 45 per cent in his second term.

Ask Olabisi E. Olu-GarricK, running for the office of vice president, she’ll give him 100 per cent because she was also part and parcel of the whole mess. Ask Zainab Joaque, running for the office of organizing secretary, she’ll tell you the same because she was also part of it. Ask Stanley Bangura who is running neck and neck with Olabisi for the position of vice president, and he’ll shamelessly tell you that Umaru Fofana is the best thing that has ever happened to SLAJ.

Go on and ask Joseph Turay who is battling it out with Abdul Fonti for the position of assistant secretary general, he’ll tell you he was an errand boy for the Umaru administration. Ask Princess Gibson who wants to be the Public Affairs Secretary the same question, and you’ll be surprised at the undeserving passing mark she’ll accord to the failed Umaru administration. We are talking about a long list of sycophants, all yearning to grab positions in SLAJ for the sole purpose of projecting their own personal agendas.

Let me focus now on the three big names running for the presidency i.e., Williette James, Mustapha Sesay, and Kelvin Lewis. Simply put, none of these guys has the solution to the mountain of problems facing SLAJ currently.

Looking at Kelvin Lewis, I can simply say that he is counted amongst the most successful journalists the country has ever produced, but whether that is enough reason for him to have the audacity to vie for the presidency of SLAJ remains something entire different. As far as I am concerned, he is a bad candidate, and should be considered as thus. Like President Koroma, Kelvin will end up running SLAJ as a business, given his business approach to journalism. His desire is to hurt no man as long as his business continues to flourish.

His intention to run for the presidency cannot therefore be detached from the fact that he simply wants to add to his status and of course for the string of opportunities that go with the position including regular oversea trips and closer touch with the powers that be. I foresee a much more compromised SLAJ under him. He currently has a huge debt at the Rokel Commercial Bank, and you know what it means having a debtor as president of an association that is supposed to be the last to be compromised.

For Mustapha Sesay, he actually has what it takes in terms of experience to take SLAJ to another height. Under the present circumstances however, he surely will not make us a good president. One thing militating against him is the fact that he has the tendency of acting alone. He has gone down in history as the first ever secretary general that closed the doors of the national secretariat and kept the keys to himself for a couple of days. He may have done so to assert his importance in the executive, but I fear that his approach was utterly wrong. Maintaining his cool in the midst of internal sabotage and marginalization, would have seen concerned members of the association taking up his fight. A man who has the tendency of fighting a serious battle alone is bound to fail.

As for Madam Williette James, she easily would have made SLAJ a good and effective president, but the fear is that she might end up ‘WIMSALIZING’ the association. We can’t mortgage SLAJ to WIMSAL, a group that seems to have no real focus and objective.

So you see, SLAJ is really in a difficult situation and badly in need of a liberal leadership, which in my view cannot be found in any of the three candidates aspiring for the presidency.

This is bad for any organization that is seeking a turn around. Unfortunately, it is so courtesy of the ‘legacy’ left behind by the Umaru Fofana administration. At 42, SLAJ deserves better.

No malice meant. Just a mere exercising of my right as a concerned citizen of the Republic of Sierra Leone and a ‘proud’ member of SLAJ.

I rest my case!

By Theophilus Sahr Gbenda (Mo-Fire)

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