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  • Chiarman and Leader of SLPP

One of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) flag-bearer aspirants, Engineer Andrew Keili, eight days ago reportedly called a town hall meeting at the Cambridge House in Camberwell, London. According to METRO NEWSPAPER, “there was political drama in London at the weekend when a town hall meeting called by Mr. Andrew Keili was disrupted when guests rose to their feet to welcome the arrival of Mr. John Oponjo Benjamin,” another flag-bearer aspirant for the opposition SLPP. Whatever that means, the host of the meeting made some realistic and sentimental statements which I hope to address in this commentary with all fairness and objectivity.

In his keynote address, Engineer Andrew Keili conceded that since the 2012 multitier elections, the opposition SLPP has been torn apart by squabbles over a host of issues and that the squabbles have got so tense that they have sometimes resorted to intimidation and violence. According to the Engineer, “the tolerance, respect for the rule of law and the party’s motto of One People, One Country, as well as the disregard shown by members for the party’s constitution have sadly been thrown out of the window.” He stated that “the party is still right down the line.” Engineer Andrew Keili further stated that the path to unity may be torturous and they may all have to give some ground of views they may consider sacrosanct, but however suggested that “meaningful mediation will only be successful when there are is an assurance from all parties that they must have a level playing field.” The shrewd Engineer, politician and columnist also dilated on the “present spate of violence, intimidation, inflammatory statements by party members over the media, court cases, discordant views on important national issues and other schisms have led to a lack of confidence in the party even by people who have a healthy disdain for the APC but do not consider SLPP an effective opposition capable of forming the type of government that will move Sierra Leone forward. He also conceded that unity will prevail if support is given to various ongoing peace overtures, saying “SLPP members should realize that with unity and resolve, people will see the SLPP as a credible party, which will assume office, with the new SLPP Government embarking upon solving the numerous problems we currently face under the APC.

Here comes the shocker when Engineer Andrew Keili was speaking on the choice of flag-bearer. He was reported by his own Salone Times newspaper as saying that SLPP flag-bearer should have a proven record of good service within the party and be prepared to help rebuild the party structure. Mr. John Oponjo Benjamin’s METRO NEWSPAPER quoted him as calling on his audience to have a flag-bearer who can relate with the grassroots of the SLPP and not a fly-by-night candidate who wants to be in the race for selfish reason, while The Update newspaper quoted him as saying that SLPP supporters should beware of “the new boys in politics.”

Engineer Andrew Keili was extremely bold enough to have genuinely identified their problems since the 2012 multitier elections. Indeed, their intense party squabbles have sometimes resolved to unprecedented intimidation and violence that is completely anathema to the principles of the SLPP that once believed in tolerance, respect for the rule of law and the party constitution, and peace and unity amongst its general membership. But all these fine attributes have been disregarded by certain quarters of the party that are obdurate in their mistaken belief that without Brig. (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio there would be no SLPP. For example, many senior stalwarts have for the umpteenth time been intimidated and physically manhandled at the SLPP headquarters in Freetown by exuberant youthful hoodlums claiming to be supporting, if not destroying, the former junta Head of State.

Many concerned party stalwarts and elders have organized several peace overtures between the various parties causing the infra-party squabbles but that have cut no ice with them. This unsettled impasse makes Sierra Leoneans feel that the SLPP cannot provide a better alternative despite things are unusually abnormal under the APC regime coupled with the outbreak of the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD).

Engineer Andrew Keili was right when he stated that, “Unity will prevail if support is given to various peace overtures. SLPP members should realize that with unity and resolve, people will see the SLPP as a credible party, which will assume office, with the new SLPP Government embarking upon solving the numerous problems we currently face under the APC.”

He also stated that, “Meaningful mediation will only be successful when there is an assurance from all parties that we must have a level playing field,” but he fell short of exhibiting such spirit when he called on his audience to have a flag-bearer who can relate with the grassroots of the SLPP and not a fly-by-night candidate who wants to be in the race for selfish reason.

You don’t need to be a genius to read between the lines and unravel the paradox of Engineer Andrew Keili’s statement which I believe was an indirect salvo aimed at nobody else but Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, who has also declared his intention to gun for the SLPP flag-bearership. The learned doctor is an International Civil Servant who has been on international duties for many years like our late former President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, but has decided to return home upon retirement and participate in active partisan politics under the SLPP. Since Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella declared his intention to run as flag-bearer aspirant, most of the SLPP potential flag-bearer aspirants have literally jumped out of their skins as if they lack confidence in themselves to accept competition from the Kambia-born intellectual. Is Engineer Andrew Keili actually prepared to accept a level playing field when he has already started making such devious hints? I wonder!

I believe the problem facing the opposition SLPP is based on what a prominent Nigerian legal practitioner and businessman Wale Babalakin termed as “relegation of merit; mediocrities are in charge of affairs” of the SLPP. The grand party is currently faced with infra-party squabbles among other numerous problems, but it is hoped that this will create a thinking and conscious party.  The SLPP keeps having problems because they have abolished merit and a system that abandons merit cannot rule. True party loyalists know that the future looks gloomy; it takes only tough and good strategy planners to survive.

I know both Engineer Andrew Keili and Mr. John Oponjo Benjamin are natives of Kailahun District who have been nursing the idea that the next SLPP leadership should come from that district since they had never produced one. That is what they may be working on but sincerely speaking, politicians from Kailahun District have never proved themselves worthy of national leadership given their greed, selfishness and lack of development in the respective chiefdoms they hail from. With all the eye-catching positions they have held in various administrations, including both military and civilian rules, Kailahun District still remains one of the most backward districts in the country. It is as certain as day follows night that most indigenes of Kailahun would not be enthused to endorse their scramble for the SLPP flag-bearership for obvious reasons.

Those who think the SLPP is their personal, regional or ethnical property should stop thinking in traditional time, which had changed. They should start thinking outside the box to find solutions to correct situations in the party. And truth is that Dr. Kandeh Yumkella who some potential flag-bearer aspirants are treating with disdain could be more useful and appealing to the country than his critics because of his intellectual ability, credibility, international connectedness and his many contributions to national development as an International Civil Servant. Well-meaning Sierra Leoneans will no longer fall cheap for politics along regional or ethical line. They need someone who can move this country forward as long as they are Sierra Leoneans, irrespective of where they hail from or whether they have been away for donkey’s years or not.  What the SLPP should do if they don’t want to stay in opposition for long is to create a level playing field and market a flag-bearer that could be acceptable to not only South-easterners but the rest of the country. After all, it is bad omen to be defending a presidential candidate you cannot convincingly defend until the day of the election comes. Is the SLPP bracing up for such bad omen again?