The debacle within the opposition SLPP
Since that awful event of last Wednesday evening when the leadership of the current executive committee were at each other’s throat on the radio waves, followed by the allegedly unhelpful contribution of the Parliamentary minority leader, people generally but especially the general membership of the party have continued to ponder what has gone wrong. Why is all this happening within a party that was renowned for discipline and for the very civilized and tolerant manner by which it had handled its differences and difficulties in the past? People continue to ask whether there isn’t a way out of this mess which is of our own making.
Of course there were disagreements in the past; people had stood their ground in the past but with the singular exception of Charles Francis Margai, compromises were struck and the party emerged strong and victorious. In the convention of for the election of a leader and Presidential candidate in 1996 Elizabeth Alpha Lavalie had accused Alhajie Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah of corruption and cited the Beoku-Betts Commission Report which said disqualified Tejan-Kabbah from holding public office, but she stepped down in favour f the latter and went on to be elected as deputy Secretary General of the party. And that was how we went into the elections and claimed victory. Again in the 2005 national party convention in Makeni in spite of what was in fact an open, transparent and fair election Solomon Berewa emerged as the clear winner. Charles Margai left the party once more but this time he tore a big chunk of the southern area membership with him. We would still have won the 2007 Presidential election with a comfortable majority in spite of Charles’ defection, but then the Christiana Thorpe factor came into play and the rest is history. But in all of that there wasn’t anything like the acrimony and divisions that have beset us and are now dragging us down into the abyss of oblivion. Interference with the 1996 party constitution by making an uncalled for and an unnecessary amendment did not by itself cause real damage except the underlying factor, the hidden agendas and their attempts to settle old scores have remained at the root of the unrest and lack of unity within the party. It was present throughout the events leading up to the election of a flag bearer from an unwieldy field of NINETEEN contestants. In the end there was a façade of unity behind one man even though rumours persisted of a plot to undermine the unity. There were intensive efforts to heal the wounds but people kept telling me that ours was an unproductive endeavour. As if there wasn’t enough problem on our hands the party was beset with legal wrangling in the courts involving suites brought against it by its own members and not just any Tom, Dick and Harry but people with clout within the membership. It was no longer possible to paper over the cracks, because it became common knowledge and came right into the open. Every effort to heal the rifts ended in failure because the combatants were not sincere with the rest of the membership and so it went on. Before the Bo convention the split had become wide open. It was Ambassador Alie Bangura backed by such heavy weights as John Benjamin the erstwhile chairman and leader on the one hand and Chief Somano Karpen backed by Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio the erstwhile party Presidential candidate on the other. To add fuel to an already near explosive situation, John Benjamin declared that by vacating the chairmanship of the party he was then free to contest for the 2017 party ticket, again confirming suspicions of a 2017 agenda, something for which he had been accused in the past and which he had strenuously denied. Daggers were drawn; an Alie Bangura victory would have created the likelihood of a John Benjamin Presidential candidature, a situation which even many of JOB’s friends must admit would have been unpopular. Many leading party members had indicated to me over many months that Somano Karpen was NOT a suitable candidate for the party chairmanship. Before I left for a much needed and frequently postponed holiday last June efforts were made to get the five prospective contestants to unite behind one candidate. Thus it came to me as a bit of surprise and much disappointment that Alie Bangura had declared his candidacy at a well attended meeting at SLPP headquarters in the presence of some of the party’s most prominent leaders. Two days after my return from the United States I was invited to the launching of Somano Karpen’s campaign. I had seen the list of candidates being sponsored by the Alie Bangura team and at Karpen’s declaration meeting I saw the list of his sponsored candidates for the various positions and I shook my head at the division between the two groups. It was at once obvious that whichever side won would lack some very prominent and efficient party members because the loser would be certain to take with him members whose contribution to the progress of the party was immense. The situation led to the election of some square pegs in very round holes and at the same time left out very effective leadership material who were aligned to Alie Bangura. That then was the reason for my finger pointing that we are all to blame and must take some responsibility for the current situation rather than feeling demure or gloating over it. I read a press release on Monday purporting to come from a group of concerned party members and in which aspersions were made against unnamed trouble makers. The authors of the press release can’t deceive anyone and again I find their action unhelpful in the present circumstance.
Unless we make strenuous efforts to bring peace within the party, all the frantic attempts at launching leadership campaigns whether for Maada Bio, Kandeh Yumkella, John Benjamin, Alpha Timbo, Andrew Keilie or Ernest Ndomahina and more yet to come would lead to a repeat of an exercise in futility. That was the reason for the strenuous efforts to bring Maada Bio and John Benjamin together in 2011 because victory in a divided party would only aggravate our differences and compound our problems. I did not lobby John to support Maada nor even the two witnesses he produced to say that Maada had preferred Abass Bundu tofor the position of national chairman. Contrary to Andrew Keiie’s allegation I at no time spoke to a relation of his to back Bio because according to him he Andrew was in a stronger financial position to sustain him than Bio was. It doesn’t even make sense and it is amazing that Andrew could even voice it.
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