By Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, OOR
Let us be honest here! Outgone President Koroma is one of the greatest leaders we have enjoyed to live under. Where the out gone President totally messed up was by too much inclusiveness of SLPP operatives at State House, Cabinet Secretariat and other key sensitive agencies. They brought Ernest Koroma and the APC down. But notwithstanding his failure at protecting the APC government from being invaded by SLPP Trojan horse operatives, the truth is that Ernest Bai Koroma was a unifier and a great Leader with a knack of keeping the peace in Sierra Leone! We enjoyed ten years of uninterrupted *UNITY & PEACE* under his leadership. I will deal with his unifying qualities in another piece. For today, let’s examine the 10 years of PEACE and POLITICAL TOLERANCE we enjoyed and took for granted. In the process, let us place clarity on some malicious narratives now doing the rounds including the mal-usage of an Al Jazeera video clip of March 2009 being maliciously and deliberately misrepresented as a September 2007 video.
Factually, within less than 24 hours of President Koroma taking up office in 2007, everything was back to normal. He was astute enough to allow outgoing SLPP ministers the space to do proper handing over. He even called a Cabinet meeting and invited the SLPP Ministers to sit in there with him as he listened to them one after the other and assured them of their safety. He knew Berewa/SLPP had filed a Petition to Supreme Court against his election but he was big enough not to react by being petty against SLPP. He caringly and patiently gave the SLPP space to grieve their loss. Even when he had clear evidence of malfeasance with which to demonize certain SLPP operatives when he relieved them of their duties, he never did so. Instead he quietly relieved them and never demonized them despite overwhelming evidence of corruption and malfeasance that he could have used to damage their reputations. He immediately ensured former President and all former Vice Presidents got their State entitlements. He did not cart away all of President Kabbah’s official vehicles but left President Kabbah with enough vehicles as by Law established. He regularly serviced the vehicles of former Presidents and former VPs and bought them brand new ones when necessary.
Koroma led Sierra Leone with humility and so much grace. As the newly elected President back in September 2007, Koroma asked the SLPP Ministers to kindly help him out by continuing to man their offices as Quasi-Ministers until he could appoint his own Ministers. That way the old SLPP ministers all did professional Handing Over to the new APC ministers. One after the other. I recall Awareness Times covering many of those ceremonial Handing Overs of old SLPP ministers to new APC ministers.
*Sierra Leone enjoyed ten years of peaceful coexistence under President Ernest Koroma! Ten uninterrupted years of peace!*
In March 2009, *two years after President Koroma was elected,* there was a series of political violence in Pujehun and in Freetown. However, what shocked us all, were the allegations of RAPE of SLPP Women in March 2009 who alleged to have been not only brutalized but raped inside their party offices. I was stunned! Upon loud agitations, *primarily from myself as a Gender Activist who was concerned over the allegations of Rape at the SLPP party offices*, it is a fact that President Ernest Koroma immediately set up a Commission of Enquiry to look into the allegations of Rape. As women, we felt proud of him for doing so. We applauded him! And we waited with bated breath.
To ensure impartiality in the investigations by the Commission, President Koroma did not use any locally based Judge but sent for an International jurist well respected in international world of justice, to come and preside over the Commission. This is how the respected Hon. Justice Rosolu John Bankole Thompson was brought in from the United States of America by President Koroma to independently sit on the Commission. Bankole Thompson, a well respected jurist and academic, had previously served as a Judge of the hybrid United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone where he had been appointed by SLPP’s late President Tejan Kabbah. His appointment by President Koroma was warmly welcomed by all. Speedily setting up that Commission and the choice of Bankole Thompson showed the fineness of character of President Koroma. The other two members of the Commission were Mrs. Harriet Turay a Gender Activist and Professor Abu Kamara, a University academic.
Now, a lot has been said of those events of 2009 in Freetown as were well captured on an Al Jazeera video clip now being shared. *The video is being shared as if it happened in 2007. This is UNTRUE! It happened in 2009, two years after the elections!*
Now, what were the findings of the 2009 Commission of Enquiry on Rape? Well, the Report clearly showed the rape allegations were dubious. To put it euphemistically, the allegations were not tenable. The most damning part was when the SLPP’s Dr. Kadi Sesay, Madam I.J. Kabbah, J.J. Saffa, Alpha Timbo and others, all evaded to testify under Oath about why they had alleged of Rape of SLPP Women in March 2009. I honestly was so disappointed at the discovery that I had been hoodwinked! To serve my conscience, I published an article blasting all the afore-named SLPP. I did not blast John Benjamin as he had been out of the country during the Bankole Thompson Commission hearings but clearly, what came out of the investigations was that all of the SLPP leaders including John Benjamin, had not been able to substantiate that women were raped by APC inside the SLPP party offices. So, knowing they had been lying, they just refused to testify under oath! I had felt so disappointed at how they had hoodwinked me as a Gender Activist!
What the Bankole Thompson Commission report also stated was the source of the violence in March 2009. The Commission found that before the violence erupted in March 2009, a female APC elected local Councillor named Melrose, had been going to work at Freetown City Council offices which neighbored the then Opposition SLPP headquarters. She got into a verbal argument with some SLPP youths and she was thrown to the ground and her skirt torn. She fled for her life and went to report to the Police.
The APC youths on hearing of the violence on the female councillor, mobilized and launched an attack on the SLPP Headquarters were they were repelled by SLPP Youths who deflected them and barricaded themselves. Then started stoning to and fro and the Police stepped in to separate the two groups. A presidential police bodyguard nicknamed Leatherboot was seen at the scene. His presence was loudly de-cried. Guess what President Koroma did? As soon as the Commission was set up, President Koroma ordered for Leatherboot to publicly testify at the Bankole Thompson Commission hearings and be cross examined publicly.
Indeed, on the orders of President Koroma, the said Leatherboot appeared in public and gave a convincing explanation of how and why he went to the SLPP Offices as a police officer when the disturbances broke out. His testimony was never challenged by any SLPP member including even the women who alleged Rape. Nobody indicted him but rather, many witnesses praised that his presence that day, helped. And despite Justice Bankole Thompson calling for any evidence to counter that of Leatherboot, no one came forward to paint Leatherboot otherwise.
*The Report of the Bankole Thompson Commission of Enquiry on Rape allegations is a public document. It can be accessed and read by all.*
Further to the above Commission on specifically the Rape allegations whose Report was handed over to President Koroma on August 24th 2009, the then President, just few weeks later went on to swear in yet another Commission headed this time by Lawyer Shears Moses to look into the more broader aspects of the political violence of March 2009.
The Lawyer Shears Moses Commission was set up by President Koroma to “review and determine the circumstances as well as establish the facts relating to (i) incidents of political violence and intolerance that occurred during the month of March 2009 in Gendema (Pujehun District), Freetown (Western Urban) and Kenema (Kenema District), and relating to the roles and responsibilities of political parties, law enforcement agencies or any other persons or groups with regards the afore-mentioned incidents of political violence and intolerance.”
The findings of the Shears Moses Commission indicted persons like Hon. Musa Tarawally (who had by then left SLPP and was now an APC man) and former Mayor Herbert George Williams, as having encouraged political violence. Both men had vehemently rejected those findings. The former Mayor had already been facing criminal charges of corruption which rendered the recommendation for him not to hold public office, as a nullity. Hon. Musa Tarawally who is now back with SLPP as a key ally of the new President, H.E. Bio, later got those Pujehun residents, who had accused him, to publicly confess that they had lied on him and that infact, it was SLPP who had sparked the March 2009 violence in Gendema, Pujehun.
Now, I have taken my time to outline all the above because many are trying to equate the current very poor show of leadership of President Julius Maada Bio insofar as growing terrorism and political violence is concerned, as having a precedence in outgone leadership style of President Ernest Koroma of the APC. This is disingenuous. There is no precedence and absolutely no comparison!
*THE FACT* is that within 24 hours of President Koroma taking up office in September 2007, our beautiful country had been back to normal because of the humble, gracious, all-encompassing and peaceful leadership style of President Koroma. His words matched his actions and so we enjoyed 10 years of peace and unity. The way Koroma handled the singular political violence of March 2009 by swiftly setting up the Bankole Thompson Commission and the Shears Moses Commission, is a testament to his leadership style that this country will miss. We are already missing President Koroma insofar as *PEACE* is concerned. We continue to commit our country up to God in the hope that President Maada Bio will quickly realize his unsavory political antecedents as a military junta man, means he needs extra effort to keep this country peaceful. President Maada Bio should never forget that he already has innocent blood on his hands albeit under collective responsibility as he claims. So far, President Bio’s new tenure has failed to keep the 10 years of Peace we have enjoyed and we are perplexed.
Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, OOR
*Sunday April 8th 2018*