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Ahmed Tejan Kabbah-Another Perspective

By  | 26 March 2014 at 09:21 | 1313 views

Sierra Leone’s third Executive President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (photo) has passed away at the age of 82 and there have been numerous tributes paid to him.
He was laid to rest on March 23 at the Kissy Road cemetery, in the east of the
capital Freetown, and joined his predecessor Joseph Saidu Momoh and two former Vice Presidents, S.I. Koroma and Christian Alusine Kamara-Taylor under Siaka Stevens’ government.

Paradoxically March 23 on which Tejan Kabbah was buried is notorious for being
an anti -APC (All Peoples Congress) day because history reveals that all the
struggles to oust APC were between March 21 and March 23.

Brigadier David Lansana announced his rejection of the 1967 election results, which APC won on March 21 and executed his coup on March 23, the NRC of Brig. Andrew Juxton Smith planned their coup on March 21 and executed it on March 23, the Brig. John Bangura coup of 1973, in which Foday Sankoh (who later created the RUF) was involved, was planned on March 21 and executed on March 23, the Mohamed Sorie Forna and others alleged coup had to do with March 23 , Foday Sankoh first sent an advance RUF force across the border on March 21 and made an invasion on March 23 and now tribute was paid to Kabbah in parliament on March 21 and he was buried on March 23.

Anyway, it was just coincidental, please. There seems to be
no conscious planning for the funeral ceremony to reflect what I have
asserted. I am just pointing out that it is a paradox. Let it not be
interpreted in a bad light, please. My apologies if it causes any anguish in
anyone.

Back to my friend Tejan Kabbah or Pa Kabbah, as he was fondly called. He came to power in 1996 at the height of a raging civil war that started in 1991 which I would describe as a continuation of the anti-APC agitation. The war itself started in March 21, 1991, though the date many knew was March 23 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) led by Corporal Foday Saybanah Sankoh invaded a village called Bomaru from neighbouring Liberia. The first incident was actually described as a “cross -border raid” and attributed to Liberian rebels of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) who were reported to have attacked a Sierra Leone military garrison because the lieutenant in charge duped them in selling looted items. (That was the story given to the public but what I gathered from official sources at the time was different).

The intelligence report that came at the time and reached Momoh was that they were rebels who were mostly Sierra Leoneans and that after the attack they were overheard saying that they would come back soon. On March 23, they made a full onslaught on Bomaru village and Foday Sankoh called the BBC and misleadingly told Robin White that he was calling from Makeni, the northern provincial headquarter town close to Binkolo from where the then president Joseph Saidu Momoh hailed.

The war raged till when soldiers at the war front planned to oust the
government itself , a plan that Momoh knew of through intelligence reports when he returned home from a visit to Korea. He was also informed by other soldiers, including Major Kanu, who was killed at the war front and who the soldiers alleged was killed by rebels. By 1995, Tejan Kabbah was Chairman of the Advisory Council (NAC) of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) military junta that overthrew Momoh then led by Captain Valentine Strasser, a paymaster in the army before the coup.

I first came to know who was Tejan kabbah when my colleague reporter at The New Breed newspaper, Mohamed Bangura, who is now the leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) told me that he wanted to interview Pa Kabbah about the Beoku-Betts Commission of Inquiry which he faced after the downfall of the SLPP. We discussed the issue but unfortunately by the time Mohamed Bangura was to meet him, he could not take me along.

Then it happened that Desmond Luke, the lawyer and politician, former Chief Justice under Kabbah was already telling some of us that it was time the media led a campaign for a return to civilian rule. He was at one time Foreign Affairs Minister and later Minister of Health in President Siaka Stevens’ government but left and lived abroad. He refused to be interviewed for an APC symbol in an interview presided over by Pa Sheki and his former Vice President S.I. Koroma. The panel was responsible for awarding symbols during Momoh’s reign.

He argued that since the two they had left power, they had no business in party politics or in deciding national issues. He left the party office abruptly and soon returned abroad. Pa Sheki was reported to have said, “Na borboh wei craise" (He is a crazy boy). Desmond later came back and settled quietly. I met Desmond and asked him during one of our discussions who was Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. I learnt that Tejan Kabbah was not only chairman of the NPRC National Advisory Council but that he had been approached to lead the
Sierra Leone Peoples Party, which had been in the political wilderness since
1967 when it was the first party in power in the post- independence period in Africa to lose elections to an opposition party.

By 1996, Tejan Kabbah had won the elections at the convention to lead the SLPP amidst controversy between him and Charles Margai, the other contender who cried foul. At that time I was the editor of AFRO TIMES, one of the leading newspapers at the time. I was in my office one day when a man called Prince Harding, who later became Pa Kabbah’s blue- eyed boy came to my office and pleaded that he wanted me to interview Pa Kabbah and also told me that he wanted me to be doing some publicity for them once in a while, but I told him I did not want to have anything to do on a personal basis with politicians because they tend to be manipulators and exploiters. He said some good things and pleaded. So I went with him to Roxy Building on Wapole Street, and we were
announced by Momodu Koroma, who was secretary to Pa Kabbah.

Inside Pa Kabbah’s office, one of the faces I noticed was Sulaiman Tejan Jalloh commonly known as STJ, who I had known for decades. He manifested delight when he saw me and told Pa Kabbah that I was one of the professional journalists in the country. He turned to Prince Harding and said, “You have brought the right man”. The first interview was a lengthy one and I published it verbatim. I did several interviews later for him and his party.

Some of the things Pa Kabbah revealed to me were that his grandfather came from neighbouring Guinea, Kankan to be precise, and settled in what is today known as Kambia, in the north -west of the country where his father was born and grew up. At that time the provinces had not yet even been declared a protectorate (it was a pre-1896 period). He said his father traveled later to the South -East of the country and settled at a village called Mobai in the Kailahun District where he married his mother and had other children. According to him , at the time of granting the interview, one if his brothers was in Guinea where he settled. He also told me that during the SLPP reign he held several senior positions including that of Permanent Secretary. He said he had a very good relationship with the Prime Minister Albert Margai , who led the SLPP up to its down fall in 1967 and that Patricia Kabbah, who later became his wife, was Senior Assistant Secretary in the Prime Minister’s office, and it was she who used to help him to see the PM. He revealed that it was during those visits that they developed a very “tight” relationship that culminated into a marriage and that they had two children. He said Patricia’s surname was Tucker, and that the Tuckers were related to the Margais.

I pointed out to him that he was a lucky man to be a “komaneh” (in-law) of the
PM and he broadly smiled. But when I pointed out to him that Charles Margai was also his komaneh, his facial expression changed and he said, “hmm, hmm” and indicated to me to continue the interview. He said after the fall of the SLPP, he went to stay in the UK and was visiting Sierra Leone once in a while, but he suspected that president Siaka Stevens had been falsely informed that he was taking information to Albert Margai in the UK for which Pa Sheki planned to have him arrested. He stopped coming to Sierra Leone until when Momoh came to power who ordered the then Attorney General Abdulai Conteh to make legal provisions for restitution of property under which Kabbah’s house that was seized in the Beoku Betts Commission of Inquiry was returned to him. He said he also studied law in the UK. I asked him how he came to work in the UN. He said while almost completing his law course, an expatriate who was in Sierra Leone and knew him while working in the civil service, called at his home to visit him but he was out. He said the man called on the phone twice later and on the third time got him on the line and they spoke. The man subsequently paid him a visit. He asked Kabbah if he would like to work in the UN. Kabbah said he responded “Sure”, but told the man to give him time to complete his studies.

“When I completed my studies I went to the US and he helped me get
a job at the UN. So, that was how I came to work in the UN”, he said. Then I
asked him about his involvement in the Beoku- Betts Commission of Inquiry. He
said he was hunted by “enemies” and that he was innocent of all the allegations
in that Commission. But he also revealed something that was very controversial
and proved to be erroneous. When I asked him who was hunting him, he said, “It was the APC”. After that interview, some of the APC stalwarts including Ibrahim Baba Kamara of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) commonly known by its motto Sorbeh , who had also been a Minister of Lands in President Siaka Stevens’ government (and surprisingly later ambassador to US in President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s government) told me in his office at Howe Street in Freetown that the allegation that it was APC hunting Kabbah was not true.

“Jalloh, when you are told about a period in which you were not yet born, please ask the elders instead of transmitting the wrong thing”, he said. According to I.B Kamara, the Commission of Inquiry was mounted by the military regime of Brigadier Andrew Juxton-Smith which ruled Sierra Leone for two years after the SLPP lost power and when Lt Hinga Norman (who later became deputy minister of defence in Kabbah’s government) prevented Siaka Stevens of the APC from being sworn at State House as PM.

Brig. David Lansana’s regime ruled for two days and was ousted by Brig. Andrew Juxton Smith’s NRC junta which in 1968 was ousted by the Anti- Corruption Revolutionary Movement (ACRM). IB. Kamara told me that the
APC came to power in 1968 when the ACRM that overthrew the National Reformation Council (NRC) of Brig. Juxton-Smith was in power. The ACRM led by Warrant Officer Emadu Rogers, Warrant Officer Class One Alex Foday Conteh and others handed over power to APC on condition that there should be power-sharing between the APC and SLPP.

“So how could the APC hunt Kabbah by instituting a commission of Inquiry when they were not in power and the NRC in power was apprehensive of the APC which was in neighbouring Guinea?” IB Kamara queried? I was speechless.

But on the other hand Kabbah was a charming man. He was quick to smile whenyou meet him, though it would be difficult to tell what was beyond that smile. He normally talks very little but when he talked he dominated the discussion and seemed not to like being interrupted except if it were an interview with a journalist. He was very Machiavellian and concerned only with what would be of success to him and not the moral aspect of it. He would embrace something if it had to do with his success. When things got out of hand by 1996, many SLPP fanatics were not in favour of peace including Joe Demby and others, but when the US piled pressure on Kabbah to wave the olive branch especially after the January 6 1999 invasion when renegade soldiers of the Sierra Leone Army called SLA had joined the RUF, he succumbed. Surprisingly, after the second peace accord, which was the Lome Peace Accord, he regarded Foday Sankoh as a partner in development rather than
as a former rebel much to the chagrin of Joe Demby and others who even suspected — through rumours being peddled— that Kabbah was planning to make Sankoh a running mate in the 2002 elections.

This accounted for the storming of Sankoh’s residence that led to a shoot-out between Sankoh’s bodyguards and the demonstrators among which were some civil defence militia members. Sankoh escaped but was later arrested and detained by the British in a warship off the coast of Freetown although there was a propagandistic version being peddled prior to and after the incident.

There are many who would remember Tejan Kabbah for uniquely being a non
- tribalist which caused a furore between him and SLPP fanatics. At one point in
time a delegation of southerners went to his lodge and they demanded that Alpha Wurie ( a northerner) should be replaced because he had messed the Ministry of Education, but the person they took along to replace him was a southerner.

Kabbah told them point blank that Alpha Wurie’s father was a founding father
of the party and he added something to that which invoked much condemnation and anger from SLPP fanatics. He said; “I am no longer leader of the SLPP but of Sierra Leone”. I recalled that the office of AFRO TIMES was in the same
building with SLPP at Rawdon Street. For several days there were loud
grumblings and some said that it was a mistake to have elected Kabbah as a
leader. But no matter what they thought about him the reality was that Kabbah
was a unifier. When the elections results were announced in 2007 that Ernest Bai Koroma had won, he gave the green light for a peaceful handing over of power much to the chagrin of SLPP fanatics who were of the opinion that he should have tilted the situation in favour of Solomon Berewa.

As stated above, he would do anything that would be of personal interest or
success to him and discard the moral aspect. Even though I did free publicity
for him and his party during their campaigns in 1996, he still forgot and gave
green light for my arrest when a mischievous old man in the SLPP told him
that I, the late Olu Gordin and Paul Kamara were the “leading antagonists of
the SLPP”. The old man showed him copies of THE INDEPENDENT, which I was then editing, and certain headlines not portraying SLPP in good light, as evidence.

Kabbah then gave the green light for me to be arrested. But fortunately I got a
call from a very close and grateful friend who hinted to me what transpired at the Lodge. When the bait for me to be arrested was put out in the UNITY newspaper by the mischievous old man, I replied accordingly and people like Alpha Wurie called and complained that I exhibited insults in my reaction to the UNITY article . I asked him if he had read the trash against me. He replied, “Yes” but said I over reacted. But I knew it was better to go over than to go under and then be trampled on by a big animal. I told him that when I told the world of SLPP’s chances of winning, and when they came to power when I told the world of the progressive strides they made, it was not for money and I was never paid or ever asked them for a job. Anyway, I later received a letter of apology from the mischievous old man.

But by and large, I still respect Kabbah for avoiding one thing that had been the main
problem of Sierra Leone and Africa at large , that is, for being a non-
tribalist which many politicians preach but do not manifest. May his soul rest
in peace.

The author, Alpha Rashid Jalloh.

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