Isha Johansen, the president of the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA), assumed power on August 3, 2013, under very controversial circumstances. She came through a discredited electoral process that saw the Normalisation Committee disqualifying all other candidates, clearing the path for her to be imposed as the first female President of the association.
The protests from the candidates and the membership were ignored by the global body, the Federation International of Football Associations (FIFA), and the Government of Sierra Leone. This led to the coming together of the aggrieved parties which later led to the formation of the Membership Forum, a pressure group within the football association. It is generally believed that the 2013 elections were influenced by politics and that the electoral processes were flawed.
The mandate was for four years. But for some inexplicable reasons, the incumbent has continued to extend her stay in power beyond seven years and remains in office. She is still delaying to convene elections, as there is no declared date for the elections.
What makes it more complex is that in September 2017 the FIFA TASK FORCE, in consultation with the Executive of the Football Association and a cross section of the membership forum, designed a roadmap to lead to the elections. Amongst other things, the agenda was to conclude the match fixing saga in which the Minister of Sports in 2014, Mr Paul Kamara and Madam Isha Johansen, signed a joint correspondence suspending 11 administrators and four footballers on allegations of involvement in manipulating matches. That saga continues to drag on to date with very little information on its progress or any investigation into the matter.
The then Minister, Paul Kamara, later revoked the suspension but the football association retained the suspension and has denied the accused persons any participatory rights into the football activities within Sierra Leone.
Madam Isha Johansen was charged by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) towards the end of 2017 for alleged corruption or misuse of funds, but was acquitted in May 2019. However, during the trial FIFA banned Sierra Leone in 2018 and it led to dialogue between the Government and FIFA. The Vice President of Sierra Leone, Dr Juldeh Jalloh, and the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Dr Priscilla Schwartz, visited Zurich to negotiate lifting of the suspension immediately after the FIFA Council decision.
In October 2018, a FIFA investigative team visited Sierra Leone and their report was submitted to FIFA in December 2018. But surprisingly, that report has never been made public in Sierra Leone although it is generally believed that SLFA was provided a copy of it.
In May 2019, Isha Johansen and her General Secretary, Christopher Kamara, were acquitted of all charges and Isha was reinstated as President of the Association, and the ban was subsequently lifted on Sierra Leone.
The FIFA Task Force and the FIFA Members’ Association determined that there should be three congresses: the first in December 2019, an ordinary congress to examine the statutory provisions of an ordinary congress.
The second, an extraordinary congress, was to be held in January 2020 to elect the electoral and Judicial bodies and for the annual budget to be approved.
Both of these congresses were held, but with controversy over what was actually agreed and not agreed on. In the end, FIFA endorsed the reports from the SLFA Secretariat.
The third congress, the elective congress which was slated for April 17, 2020, was cancelled after NACOVERC placed a ban on all sporting activities and all gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In spite of the relaxation of restrictions on gatherings, the football association continues to evade the issue of declaring a date for the elections despite the numerous football elections all over Africa endorsed by FIFA, including the CAF elections.
The Membership Forum has written series of correspondence to the Electoral Committee, the SLFA, NSA and FIFA requesting for a date or electoral calendar without any response. They have now endorsed a Presidential Candidate in the person of Rodney Edmond Michael, a seasoned administrator, revered for his insistence on transparency and accountability, constitutionality and legitimacy, and respect for the membership.
Mr Michael is arguably the longest serving football administrator in Sierra Leone football, at 48 years having served for over 34 years, starting as a co-opted member of the Bo District Football Association.
In 2013, the former Chairman of the Bo District Football Association, Premier League Board Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Southern Region Football Association, was disqualified on grounds of being associated with a betting company as a consultant. Mr Michael has always argued that the interpretation of the relevant clause was misplaced and misinterpreted, citing series of Football Associations’ Heads who have stronger and invested interests in betting companies, an example being the President of Guinea FA.
Isha Johansen is fighting multiple elections, after declaring her interest in contesting for the African female seat at the FIFA Council, the second most powerful body of FIFA, the Congress being the most powerful.
The race for the SLFA Executive Committee, especially the Presidency, is heating up with optimism that the independent bodies will ensure free, fair and democratic elections. And since no evidence has been presented against those accused of match fixing, supporters of Mr Michael are looking forward to see him lead a galaxy of reputable candidates to replace the incumbent.
Many sports journalists have suggested other reputable candidates like the football legend Mohamed Kallon; Edwards FC Chairman Lawyer Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai; the Bo District FA Chairman Saddick Deen Nyarkoh, and the Rural District Chairman and former WAFA Secretary Mr Kasho Hollande-Cole would enter the race as soon as dates are determined for the elections.
The general demand of the membership and the public at large is for a free and transparent process; devoid of disqualifications, and for the voting process to determine the elected President.
However, there are concerns that the incumbent might once again try to influence the outcome, using the electoral and judicial bodies to disqualify all opponents perceived as serious threats to her candidacy.
The controversy in Sierra Leone Football may have just begun, but Sierra Leone deserves a smoother and fairer process. Winning should not be everything, for as long as the process is inclusive and fair, and peace is ensured; then everyone becomes a winner.