Talking about Bio’s commitment and reputational risk
Notwithstanding some challenges during the recent presidential elections, it is certainly a good feeling when you meet people from other nations around the world and they say: “Congratulations! Sierra Leone has done Africa proud”. Fundamentally, this means if someone steals a goat at State House or a chicken in parliament, all Sierra Leoneans will have a share of the shame and disgrace. Equally, when Vamboi wins a gold medal in some hypothetical race somewhere, all of us will bask in the glory. (Photo: Sulaiman Momodu, author)
With Julius Maada Bio now in the hot seat as president of Sierra Leone, it should be noted that this is the second time he has actually booted out the APC out of power. The first was in 1992 together with other young army officers, and recently through the democratic process as a civilian politician. Love him or loathe him, I think Bio is very courageous.
It is well known that it is not uncommon for media establishments to occasionally endorse a presidential candidate or political party during crucial presidential elections. While some people may argue that media institutions and practitioners should remain independent, it could be equally argued that a bad government with obnoxious policies will affect the work of the media and media practitioners.
Although I had taken a long break from mainstream media with a desire of returning in future, exceptionally endorsing former presidential candidate Solomon Berewa of the SLPP during the 2007 presidential runoff elections gave me some insights into how the SLPP behaves. My support was out of the conviction that allowing the All People’s Congress (APC) party to return to power would be a disaster for the country. Basically, I was horrified that Koroma who had good intentions was actually surrounded by people most of whom had corruption in their DNA.
While I supported Berewa in 2007 in my own humble way, I did not think it was prudent to even meet him in person. That was unnecessary. Although many factors were against Berewa and his actions did not help matters which was sad, it was deeply troubling that he could not get along with Charles Margai with whom he had so much in common: both of them were older than Koroma, both belong to the same legal profession, attended the same school, belong to the same religion…I can go on and on. The fact that they could not get along was very scary and was just the tip of the iceberg of the inner workings of the SLPP which apparently cascaded to their supporters.
Fast-forward to 2018, lawyer Charles Margai, regretting why he supported Ernest Bai Koroma during the 2007 presidential runoff elections now decided to support and even campaign for Bio at a time when his People’s Movement for Democratic Change is almost extinct.
I have listened to many of Bio’s pre and post-election interviews. He seems to have grown over the years and fully understand the issues of governance. However, granted that he has the experience of leadership, the experience acquired was largely during a military regime and not during a democratic process. This means his approach towards things will not be by decrees as we witnessed during the last days of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) regime when multiple promotions in rank were made in the army, but he will now be serving as leader according to the constitution.
Bio handed over power to the SLPP in 1996 (the party on whose ticket he has now become president), at a time when some members of the military regime were enriching themselves, the same criminal tendencies for which the APC was overthrown in the first place. It was even against these vices with young ladies recklessly bleaching their skins to attract soldiers that most people who celebrated when they overthrew the then kleptomaniac APC regime became vehemently opposed to the military boys continuing to stay in power. The NPRC was forced to leave even though the war was not yet over. During the 1996 elections, while insane RUF rebels were chopping off the hands of voters, some members of the military were also misbehaving in more ways than one as Dr. James Jonah conducted the elections as NEC boss.
For some of us who entered the field of journalism to speak truth to authority, the NPRC was a big letdown. The young officers, who came to power promising change and raising the hopes of war-weary Sierra Leoneans, grudgingly handed over to a democratically elected government with no accountability at all. Well, the war was still raging so it would have been probably foolhardy to bring the military boys to account some of whom were known to be “sobels” (soldiers collaborating or undertaking activities like rebels).
If you ask me about my thoughts about Bio’s leadership, all well-meaning citizens would wish and pray that he succeeds in changing the fortunes of our country. Listening to his recent BBC interviews, he mentioned about the need for commitment. I applaud him for this. You see, most people fail not because of desire but lack of commitment. This is precisely where former president Koroma became a disappointment. Was his committed to his vision? Did he lead by good examples? When you are committed to something you accept no excuses, only results. In life you should surround yourself with people that force you to do better.
Both the APC and SLPP have now served ten years each in government since Bio handed over power to now late president Kabbah in 1996. Call this a draw game if you are a football enthusiast. Also, the fact that the results of the recent presidential runoff election was close point to the fact that an inclusive government is imperative. Bio said he is for all Sierra Leoneans. Well-articulated. This should be reflected in deeds and there should be a collective sense of responsibility.
With the APC being in majority in parliament, Bio will soon realize that he is not going to be ruling by decrees but by the constitution which he must respect. One major reason why the APC lost power is because the constitution was abused when Samuel Sam-Sumana was removed as vice president, a factor that played in Bio’s favour, among many others. Apparently a young president by all standards, Bio must always remember that his employers are the people and he is their servant. If he does a good job, his contract will be easily extended after five years.
Let me end by saying that I hope the SLPP will learn from why the party lost the runoff elections in 2007 and why APC is also out of power in 2018. A good reputation is hard to build but easy to destroy. The SLPP must be mindful of the fact that it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation but only one bad one to lose it. No matter the pressures and temptations he will be dealing with, Bio should not risk his reputation at all. He must lead by good examples. No corruption! Some members of the APC were more interested in illegally amassing wealth and did not care about their reputation or the feelings of the people. Today, some previously credible compatriots have their reputation completely messed up. I wish Bio and his government good luck and do hope that God will be at the centre of all their endeavours. Best wishes!
By Sulaiman Momodu, (email@example.com)
Note: Sulaiman Momodu is former editor of the Concord Times newspaper and reported for the BBC during the Sierra Leone civil war. He is currently based in Geneva, Switzerland
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