“The Unity Party has been unfairly excluded from the electoral process”

An exclusive interview With Unity Party Leader, Femi Claudius Cole (FCC)

by Sierraeye

Sierraeye: What inspired you, as the leader of the Unity Party, to establish an all-female political party, and what is your vision for the future of women in Sierra Leone?

FCC: The Unity Party is led by a woman. But it is not and never has been an all-female political party. The current leader and chairperson is a woman, but in the future, the party may well elect a male leader.

Sierraeye: In a political landscape dominated by traditional political parties, how has your party acquired support and attracted voters?

FCC: What a party does is publicize what it stands for, through its advocacy, and its challenge of bad government policies. We have garnered support by pushing for freedom of speech, highlighting the blatant disregard for the Constitution that endangers our fragile democracy.
Powerful opposition to the government places one’s liberty at great risk, as evidenced by my arrests and detention at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and being named a person of interest in the Special Investigation Committee’s report.

Sierraeye: What is the most pressing issue confronting women in Sierra Leone, and how would your party solve it if you won the elections?

FCC: Women face various challenges, and all are equally significant. Women are excluded from the core of political decisions and policy, by cultural, religious, and societal norms that prescribe a woman’s role in society. The belief is that politics is a man’s domain, and the home is the best place for women. A lack of political financing also hampers women’s political participation. These challenges could be overcome by legislation coupled with foundational capacity building of women and girls, placing qualified women in key positions in cabinet, institutions, and on boards. Immediate implementation of zero nomination fees for all electoral processes. Provide financial and logistical support for female candidates contesting elected or appointed offices.

Sierraeye: How would your party collaborate with other political parties, including the ruling party and the main opposition, to advance your party’s agenda and promote gender equality in Sierra Leone?

FCC: I am the chairperson of CoPPP, which is a consortium of opposition political parties that have been working together to address key issues that impact the democratic space, issues such as women’s representation, the decentralization policy, the cybercrime bill, and the introduction of the proportional representation system.

Sierraeye: What specific programs and initiatives would your party prioritize if elected?

FCC: If I were to win the election, (which, I have already been excluded from) there would have been several priority areas in need of immediate intervention. Research into potential team members must have been done prior to the elections, the first priority would be, appointing a competent governance team that can start work on healing the deep divisions that have grown in intensity over the past five years. The cooperation of all would be the most important driver of our development. Uniting the country must be a top priority.

Sierraeye: With the upcoming election, how do you plan to raise awareness of your party and mobilise voters to support your candidacy?

FCC: The Unity Party has been unfairly excluded from the electoral process, therefore as a member of CoPPP, we will support, raise awareness, and mobilise voters to support the CoPPP chosen candidate.

Sierraeye: Do you believe that the electoral system in Sierra Leone is fair and transparent, and how do you plan to ensure free and fair elections for all parties?

FCC: I do not trust the electoral bodies, namely the Political Parties Regulation Commission (PPRC) and the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL). The ECSL recommendation of the Proportional Representation (PR) system to the President on the eve of the general election with no consultation with the electorate or political parties. The PR system currently implemented with its high threshold and embedded rules, forces parties to nominate and pay for double the number of parliamentary and council seats. This has placed a burden on smaller political parties as evidenced by significantly decreased participation in this electoral process. And the shenanigans of both institutions have seen intra-party conflicts go unresolved and the presidential race reduced to comic relief.

Sierraeye: How will you work to increase women’s representation at all levels of governance

FCC: The Unity Party headquarter is a safe space where women from all parties are welcome and are assisted with any issue brought to our notice. Women must be sought out, and their opinions, ideas, and plans explored. Women’s participation and representation should be actively encouraged and utilized at all levels of governance.

Sierraeye: What role do you see your party playing in shaping the future of Sierra Leone, regardless of the outcome of the election?

FCC: As opposition parties, we may not be in government, but are an integral part of governance, checkmating the excesses of the executive. Engaging and participating in the protection of democracy and the constitution. And serving if called upon, in the interest of the country’s development.

Sierraeye: Do you still consider the All Political Parties Association (APPA) a key partner?

FCC: CoPPP has no relationship with APPA.

Sierraeye: Can you tell us, as the head of COPP, what inspired such an idea?

FCC: The proposed enactment of the decentralization policy was the catalyst that led to the formation of CoPPP. Opposition political parties found that speaking with a united voice had the greatest impact than each advocating in silos.

Sierraeye: What will be COPP’s role if there is a run-off?

FCC: We are still having conversations as to how and whom we can work with to see a change of government.

Sierraeye: By contesting the 2023 elections, your party is preparing for victory. Do you foresee a run-off?

FCC: As I explained earlier, the Unity Party has been disqualified from active participation in the election, but we hope that there will be no run-off, and pray for a resounding SLPP defeat.

Sierraeye: As an opposition politician, what is your assessment of the state democracy and human rights in Sierra Leone?

FCC: Our democracy has been on life support and our human rights record is devoid of humanity, compassion, and justice. Extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests have become the rule and not the exception.

Sierraeye: If you lose the elections, will you accept and congratulate the winner?

FCC: Due to my exclusion, this question would be more appropriate if directed to the incumbent.

Sierraeye: The People’s expectations are high; what specific areas do you want the winner to focus on?

FCC: I want the next President to have an inclusive team. Governing the country is not a one-party or a one-tribe affair. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, governing a country takes a team. We do not want a President who thinks he knows it all, but one who will govern with inclusivity, has people with ideas, and listens to them. I remember after August 10, Solomon Jamiru gave a healing speech that resonated with the people. While the president’s speech was riddled with innuendoes and accusations more inflammatory than placatory. A leader cannot be everywhere, cannot know everything, and cannot do everything, but must listen, collaborate, and engage. But, to run the country: your way or the highway, the results will be a one-term Presidency.

Sierraeye: Your party’s slogan is ‘We Are Stronger Together,’ how do you intend to promote unity and reconciliation in Sierra Leone?

FCC: The name, the party symbol and the slogan connote ‘unity.’ When people ask: where is our base? We say our base is Sierra Leone. In Unity Party, everybody is welcome. It is not a party based on region and tribe. The Unity Party’s goal is to shift the trend away from the tribal divisions that have divided our country. As the country is so polarized and tribalism is rife, if Unity Party were ever to be part of the government, its emphasis would be on inclusion, compassion, consultations, and listening to all voices whether praising or criticizing.

Sierraeye: How do you plan to address the issue of unemployment, particularly for the youth and women in Sierra Leone?

FCC: First and foremost, I will advise the government to be inclusive and retain competent people in governance. The space should be opened for all to contribute equally. When that is achieved, the government should open the country to manufacturing and investment.

Sierraeye: What is your thought on the state of free healthcare in the country?

FCC: There is no such thing as free healthcare because women pay for everything. If you don’t pay, you don’t get treated. Free healthcare is, therefore, a misnomer.

Sierraeye: How do you plan to ensure that government is transparent and accountable to the people of Sierra Leone?

FCC: A party in opposition can only perform oversight functions. Although I have been locked up twice at the CID, as a party we will continue my advocacy and criticism of the government.

Sierraeye: Your party has been described as a ‘third force’ in Sierra Leone’s politics, how do you plan to break the dominance of the two main political parties?

FCC: Before I get to the point of breaking anybody’s dominance, I need to, first of all, break the bias. I need to break the way ECSL (Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone) and PPRC (Political Parties Regulation Commission) have tilted the scale away from political parties. They have set the threshold under the proportional representation that smaller parties are excluded. So, to enter the ring, I must first own a pair of boxing gloves.

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