What APC has recently achieved is monumental and the party ought to be congratulated. Built on communist creeds that had “selection” enshrined in its constitution and operational DNA, the party has, after being forced by circumstances spurred by rebellious “comrades” been required to vote for its leaders by democratic means.
It has not been easy. The voting for the thousands of officials at Ward, Constituency, District and Regional levels was sometimes accompanied by the usual “gbos-gbos”, petitions to the PPRC and media wrangles before the final round of voting in the convention in Makeni. The “Red Brigade” members travelled to Makeni city in their thousands for this most anticipated of events. Though at one stage the threat of an injunction overshadowed the convention, threatening to derail it, things were brought back on an even keel and the convention brought to a normal conclusion. Together with National Executive Officers and members of National Advisory Council, NAC, Dr. Samura Mathew Wilson Kamara emerged as flagbearer.
Five years ago, President Koroma was then given the mandate by the APC to name his successor. Rumour has it that he had given nearly all of them the impression he was supporting them. Attempts by flagbearer aspirants to ingratiate themselves to this “Kingmaker” sometimes bordered on the ridiculous. Then came the time to the name of his successor. He anointed Samura Kamara. and before people could catch their breath, named Chernor Bah aka Chericoco as Running Mate. Some major disappointed aspirants were said to have only provided him with tepid support at the last election. On hearing about Samura Kamara’s appointment, some SLPP supporters were said to jubilate, as in their view Samura Kamara was “little known and hard to sell.” They coined the phrase “U sabi am?” meaning “Do you know him?”. Not this time, however, as everyone now knows him.
Internal democracy is a difficult feat for any party to accomplish in Sierra Leone. Even SLPP which touts its “democratic” credentials has not been spared the problem of the party splintering after the convention to choose its flagbearer. In the party’s recent history, we saw how Solomon Berewa’s election as flagbearer at the 2005 convention led to the formation of the Charles Margai- led PMDC, which became SLPP’s Achilles heel in the 2007 elections which the party lost. Julius Maada Bio’s election at the convention preceding the 2012 elections led to Usu Boie Kamara, who came a close second in the flagbearer race joining the APC. The SLPP’s flagbearer race for the 2018 elections led to the formation of the All Aspirants’ Alliance against Julius Maada Bio and ultimately the birth of the NGC. Ambassador John Leigh, a serial flagbearer aspirant whose presumed nominator mysteriously “disappeared” from the convention hall causing him not to be nominated in the 2005 SLPP convention and whose personal vote was the single one he got in the 2010 convention for flagbearer has been so peeved at what he calls the shenanigans within the party that he now refers disparagingly to the “mendecracy” within the party. Rumour has it that his presumed nominator made away with $5,000 and later metamorphosed into a Pastor, preaching repentance and the need for honesty to his congregants, advising them not to leave transformation to the other side of the grave!
For both the SLPP and APC, the flagbearer election has always overshadowed the national convention to choose party officials. Practices are said to have included making delegates swear an oath of support to certain aspirants accompanied by eating raw meat. Delegates have also had a field day collecting money from various candidates but not voting for them. In the flagbearer election preceding the 2012 General election, there were several aspirants who got only one vote, which meant no one but they voted for themselves. A supporter of an aspirant with one vote who was the candidate’s bag carrier for dishing out money to deceitful supporters at meetings told the aspirant- “Na me vote for you so”. He retorted- “You mean a nor vote for mesef?”.
By any stretch of the imagination, Samura Kamara’s win was impressive. Eighty-four percent of the votes with many notable flagbearer aspirants who are veteran members of the party with national recognition scoring in single digits was impressive. He had 1382 votes against a total of 277 for all the other 16 aspirants, some of whom scored zero and one was rumoured to score minus one, although I don’t believe that!
Also impressive is the fact that almost all the other aspirants have come out in effusive support for Samura Kamara. This is indeed unusual. Although some negative things may have happened to some top APC members post-convention-like the alleged attack on its Secretary General and the impoundment of Mayor Aki-Sawyer’s computer, the triumphant march of thousands of party supporters into Freetown with full Police protection and the relatively few negative incidents need to be commended. The President’s recent advice to the RSLAF to keep out of politics and the even-handedness of the PPRC in condemning both SLPP and APC for infractions including violence and abusive language should also be commended. Let us hope this spirit prevails till the elections.
But now comes another difficult part-the choice of a running mate. The former running mate Chernoh Bah aka Chericoco, Freetown Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyer and Sheikh Mohamed Kamara aka Jagaban are believed to be in the running. Sam Sumana and Diana Konomany have also been mentioned. Whatever the case, the APC will have their running mate and then the real battle will begin with the SLPP. But where did Jagaban spring from? “Money Jagaban” with a Taliban-style beard has instantly become famous for his generosity in dishing out money left right and centre to various religious, social and political groups. Such is his fame now that there is an APC song with the words- “Money see money, money run away. Den gi we Gento we gi den Jagaban”.
This “light at the end of the tunnel” for APC still has one caveat-the train coming from the other side! The running mate issue may be a dangerous train if mishandled. But even bigger trains moving fast from the other side of the tunnel are the various court cases filed against the party by various groups including aggrieved lower level election aspirants and the head of ITGC, Alfred Peter Conteh, who still insists he is relevant and wants his own convention and other court cases involving Dr. Samura Kamara himself. Until these are settled by the Judiciary, there will always be lingering uncertainties hanging over the party. However, a party insider confided in me- “Come hell or high water, we will put up a formidable candidate to defeat President Bio”. Whilst an ardent SLPP supporter was shouting “Maada Bio, no run-off!”, an APC supporter reminded him that his winning margin in 2018 over Samura Kamara was only three percent. SLPP is however not sleeping in its wings. I know this because whenever I wanted to know what was happening in the APC convention, I would get a blow by blow account with pictures from SLPP bloggers. Funnily, I get more updates on the APC running mate issue from my SLPP friends! Is it a case of “man butu, man wach”?
One small episode involving myself that I wish to narrate to you about the influence of Jagaban. I usually support a group of boys in my area who have formed a football team with a small weekly stipend for water and other incidentals. I was in a rather generous mood last week and decided to double the amount, but was very displeased with their effusive praise- “Hey Pa Keili, money Jagaban!”. I nearly used expletives to get them to “evaporate from my sight and condense elsewhere”. Me, Money Jagaban? So much for the influence of money on our politics.
All will soon be made plain and both parties will be embroiled in a fight many of their supporters consider existential. It will all come out of the wash. Whatever the case, APC must be congratulated for its adoption of democratic voting in the election of its officials including its flagbearer. There is light at the end of the democratic tunnel but there may be a train coming from the other side.
Ponder my thoughts.