By Umaru Fofana
How many of you, may be us, still remember the date on which the first round of the 2007 elections happened? Please be honest and do not read this piece any further until you have quizzed yourself and have come up with an answer, however wrong.
Please still keep your eyes off this article? Any date yet? Did you say 17 or 18 September? No that was the date of the announcement of the final runoff results. Any more dates? Anyway voting took place on 11 August 2007. You are not alone in the struggle to come up with the correct date if you do not already know it. I had to do some research myself after some of my expert data journalist colleagues including Kelvin Lewis could not help me at the spur of the moment.
Anyway … On the morning after the night before (Sunday 12 August), I received a call from the then opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma. I was in Bo where I had gone to cover the election for the BBC. “Hello Honourable” I answered the opposition leader’s call. Incidentally he had been a Member of Parliament up to those elections. I was obviously expecting a scoop.
“It seems it is all clear and we have won eh?” he said. Never mind the question mark, he sounded more emphatic than inquisitive. I could hear a tinge of smile and bullishness in his voice. I replied that votes were still being tallied and that we needed to give ourselves some time to get a clearer and factual picture of the situation. And from the mood in Bo on that day, I could tell the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party were in trouble and were staring at defeat in the face. By Koroma’s reckoning was that a runoff poll was unlikely. I said to him that he was in the lead but an outright win was unlikely. He sounded circumspect.
Even in opposition such was the way the All People’s Congress were well organised, at least on that front of getting in the results, that from the way Koroma sounded you could tell he had his eyes beyond the mountains.
Of course Koroma’s challenger had and still does have a different narrative of events. In his memoir, to be launched today, which I finished reading yesterday Solomon Berewa has a different take on events. He did not lose at the polls, he still maintains in his book. But I am not at liberty to say anything beyond that until after the book launch lest I should betray the trust under which I was given a copy before today’s event when it will be officially out.
Whatever the difference in perspective, it is interesting how sides have switched from that time. It is common these days to hear people on radio, or read them in newspapers, eulogising President Ernest Bai Koroma with some saying he is the best thing to have ever happened to Sierra Leone. They could have said so about Berewa if Koroma had lost in 2007. Some have even called Koroma “Messiah” and some will go to the blasphemous length of referring to him as the closest there exists to God perhaps after Jesus and Muhammad. Of course they would have said so about Berewa if he had won. Religious leaders kowtow before him and tell lies to please him. Journalists praise-sing Koroma and deride all others to get his attention. I bet my life they would not have said so about him if he had lost in 2007. Some of those who voted for him even deify him and do outrageous things to gain his favour. To all of them, Koroma is infallible and saintly.
All of that is a feeling engendered by sycophancy. And that if allowed to sink into the head of any leader as it seems to be being taken in by President Koroma in that he is compensating them or not discouraging them, it is the quickest and surest way to self-destruction.
I wonder whether president Koroma sits down sometimes and realises that a good number of those who make him believe today that he is the best there has been and there ever will be, would have said the same thing about Solomon Berewa if Koroma had lost in 2007. Among his recently sacked ministers was someone who had almost secured a symbol to run for parliament for the Sierra Leone People’s Party in 2007. Everybody who has been following Sierra Leonean politics knows that former minister.
Among those journalists who today see him as God’s best friend on earth are those who chastised their own colleagues in the past because they were either independent or were deemed supportive of the very Koroma. The president must be naïve, at best, to ever think that those who hover over him like flies over excreta are really genuinely his admirers or even disciples. They would have said worse about him had he lost the election in 2007.
If President Koroma had lost the 2007 election he would have been in far more oblivion that Berewa is in today with most of those drumming his praise now trumpeting his derision and even referring to him as one of the closest there is to Satan in Sierra Leone. Koroma’s business would have slumped because we know that it was already on a shoe string. Rokel Leaf Tobacco would have been bought over by someone else. His insurance company, RITCORP, which seems to be attracting all insurers today including government, would still be in that cocoon and not in the state of the art manse it now owns.
When I interviewed President Koroma shortly after declaring his assets in 2009, he would not say how much they were worth. When I pushed him and suggested whether they were in tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of US dollars, I still have a record of what his answer was. That must have shot through the skies now, four years on.
Some civil servants who are stealing the country’s resources and trying to hide under the cloak of making the president believe that they are his tribes people or supporters if only to be protected even if at the expense of the nation were the same who would be deriding the man called Ernest Bai Koroma if he had lost in 2007, if only to let their selfish desires flourish.
Some members of the national electoral commission who today want Koroma to think he won the fairest election ever conducted in Sierra Leone in 2007 would have said the same thing about Berewa had he been declared the winner even if the figures had been finagled.
These, among other things, are exactly reasons why President Koroma must not allow himself to continue being drunken by sycophants and their utterances. He must learn to respect and appreciate those who say the unpleasant things about him or his administration or his policies and learn to respect them. I refer him to Bob Woodward’s book, SHADOWS.
Now if Koroma allows the continued deification of him, the APC party will demise in part because of that. It will be so difficult for anyone else to stand on their own merit in the 2018 presidential election that he will always be seen in their shadows. He will get so intoxicated that he will want to determine who succeeds him. I know the president will read Berewa’s memoir and he should pay special attention to Tejan Kabbah’s dogged determination to determine the next president and the next vice president after his vice president.
Now there is an internal and hitherto latent struggle for the soul of the APC party. Koroma’s recently recycled cabinet would suggest that the Port Loko wing that had been clipped off midway through his first term has been re-established. The Makeni faction is displeased. The dismissal of perhaps the most powerful man in his first cabinet, IB Kargbo, has left a bitter pill in the mouths of many who are still struggling with whether to spit it out or keep it in the mouth until some sweetener comes in. if at all.
Alpha Kanu, who has replaced Kargbo and seems to be riding high in positions of power, is from the Port Loko wing of the party. Kemoh Sesay who was sacked after the cocaine saga was brought back last year as presidential adviser and now as a cabinet minister is from the Port Loko wing. He and Kanu have had no love lost. Whether this is an attempt at saving the Port Loko sould of the party and keeping the possible re-emergence of PDP-Sorbeh is still being analysed. Obviously there was something cooking on the Port Loko end of the party. I would seem that fire has not been put out. It has only been transferred to another kitchen. One of the best ways President Koroma meanders his way around this apparent maze will depend greatly on how he discourages sycophants and praise-singers and realises that if he had lost in 2007, the winner would be being eulogised probably more than he is being.
Just a piece of advice, Mr President, from someone you always saw as a good friend of yours when you were in the opposition. In actual fact just a conscionable compatriot of yours, and a friend of ordinary Sierra Leoneans, who likes speaking truth to power. Just as you proved me right on that morning of the 20 August 2007, so you may prove me right by early 2018.