The tussle for SLPP Chairmanship!
Many tongues are wagging as the time draws nearer for the National Delegates Conference of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP).
Of course, as the results of the lower level elections emerge, anxious moments for those aspiring for national positions follow them.
This is caused by the fact that many of those who will be elected in constituency, district and regional elections among others would be the delegates who will vote at the national convention. It is obvious that the more delegates one gets on their side the more they become hopeful for victory.
Although there are many positions to be vied for at the national convention, the hottest contest will be for the seat of party Chairman, who according to new arrangements would be the administrative head of the party as the President is now the political leader.
The man to beat for that position is the incumbent Chairman, Dr Prince Alex Harding. Andrew Kailie, in his “Ponder my Thoughts” widely read column once said that Harding’s political obituary had been announced several times, but has always resurrected. It would make sense to analyse the ups and downs of Dr Harding, popularly known in the party as “bullet”.
In 1995, at the party’s national conference at the Bintumani hotel, he contested with the late Elizabeth Alpha Lavalie for the position of Secretary General. Prince Harding was among those who supported the late Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah for the leader and presidential candidate of the party.
Many of those who were persuaded to step down for Kabbah wanted to flog Harding with Kabbah since they preferred the female candidate for the position. But when the votes were counted, he defeated Mrs Alpha Lavalie by one vote.
In 2002, Michael Abdulai emerged as the one to take over Harding’s job. Delegates went to the Bo Teacher’s College, where the party held its delegates conference with the determination to replace Harding with Abdulai.
They were shocked when Tejan Kabbah who had been returned unopposed as Leader and Presidential candidate rose up and addressed the delegates. He said he was more comfortable with Harding that Abdulai; so he wanted them to support the former. Harding emerged victorious.
Harding, on two previous elections was lucky to have been the choice of Tejan Kabbah.
In 2005, the table turned. Berewa was aspiring for Leader and Presidential candidate of the SLPP in the 2007 elections. He formed his own cabal, whose choice was Jacob Jusu Saffa. Did not seem to oppose Berewa’s choice for Secretary General, so Harding had to fight his own battle and at the end of the day, he lost to the ‘young radical’, as Andrew Kailie would put it “Gone, but not forgotten”, his political obituary would have read.
This was because in his two terms as Secretary General of the SLPP, the party won both the 1996 and 2002 elections. But with him gone, the party lost to the APC for the two terms that Harding was out of the SLPP Secretariat; the party remained in opposition.
Then came the 2017 national convention; before then, he was deputy national chairman. Things did not seem to be going Harding’s way. In Kenema, when results started emerging for elections of national officers, apparently, Bio who was aspiring for flag bearer, got wind of this and became jittery. Harding was getting tough time with Dr Manyeh.
Bio went to the hall and told delegates that Manyeh was John Benjamin’s candidate and threatened to step down if Manyeh won.
As in 2002 when Tejan Kabbah was popular as presidential candidate, so it was with Bio as popular candidate for flag bearer. The delegates fell for his threat and voted Harding. Whether by coincidence or design, with Harding at the helm of affairs of the SLPP, the party won the 2018 presidential election; the “bullet” hit its target.
Now with tussle over the election of party chairman, there were those are now bent on proving Harding wrong that it is only when he is at the helm of affairs that the party would win an election. They believe that the party can still win in 2023 without Harding as Chairman. For this reason, they have put up Jimmy Batilo Songa, the current national organizing secretary to challenge him.
Batilo seems to appeal to the younger generation of the party, who feel that Harding is now a spent force. The show of support for Batilo Songa was seen when crowds went to jubilate on his approval as deputy Commissioner of NaCSA by Parliament.
According to Alhaji Baimba Fadika, an elder of the party, Batilo is not only passionate about the party, he also has passion for party members. He has sought jobs for many people and his house is always open to party members.
Batilo had also been the chairman of the party for the UK and Ireland. President Bio keeps on saying that he has no candidate and that he would not intervene in favor of any candidate again. Yet, it is believed in party cycles that he is behind the candidacy of Batilo.
They claim that Batilo and his wife, Hon Wuyatta Songa were instrumental in the marriage between Bio and Fatima; and Wuyatta as an MP is a delegate with the opportunity to influence her colleague MPs to support her husband.
Yet again, there are those who believe that Harding will get sympathy votes from those who believe that with Batilo at the top it will be victory of Diaspora over home-based.
All in all, members of the SLPP wish for a united party and so, they expect a level playing field for all the candidates. They expect that President Bio would respect his promise of being neutral if the unity of the party is to be maintained.
By Tonyamui Gbatima
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