Salone News

Dr. Dennis Bright resigns from SLPP

8 June 2017 at 05:43 | 2795 views

28th April 2017
The Chairman and Leader,
Sierra Leone People’s Party,
Wallace Johnson Street,

Dear Chairman and Leader,
I greet you today with a heavy heart as I announce to the party through your esteemed self my decision to resign as member of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) with effect from today 28th April 2017. For several reasons, I will also crave your indulgence to allow me to present to you not just the reasons for my decision but in fact the whole story behind it.

My parents were not among the founding fathers of the SLPP but in all my years of existence it is the only party that I have known my family members to support. And to this day, my elder brother, a retired civil servant who used to be a lower level SLPP executive member in the West District, Murray Town area to be precise, still struggles to pay his membership dues out of his meager pension and, although very ill these days, regularly visits the party headquarters whenever he comes to the Freetown city center. The SLPP therefore has been a family tradition for me. Personally, my interest in active politics grew out of my involvement in civil society action alongside members of the Civil Society Movement such as the late Hassan Barrie of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress and my valiant colleagues of the SLTU and also particularly in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy alongside patriots like Alithur Freeman. My personal interest was in the role of youths in social regeneration and the democratic process, and I was privileged after my days as lecturer at Fourah Bay College to work within the French Cooperation network initiating some youth programmes that many people judged to be successful. I believe that my experience working with young people, even actively mobilizing Sierra Leonean youth who were in exile in Guinea during the 1997/98 AFRC interregnum must have captured the attention of the SLPP government which appointed me as their representative on the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP) after the Lome Peace Agreement. I believe I did not perform badly since the same government thought it appropriate to appoint me to head the Ministry of Youth and Sports when peace was restored in 2002. As a Minister, I was able to use my experience and lay a strong foundation for youth development starting with a youth policy that continues to inspire government youth programmes today. As for sport, I think I did my party very proud for leaving behind a strong legacy of active sport life in various disciplines with excellent results including Sierra Leone’s participation in the Under-17 Football World Cup Finals in Finland. I have reason to believe that sports enthusiasts in Sierra Leone and the staff of the Ministry up till today lament my departure from that Ministry.

After the SLPP lost the elections (or some would say, the results) in 2007 I was lucky to be offered a job with a Canadian international NGO, and was posted to Ghana to manage their programmes in West and Francophone Africa and subsequently in all Africa. While in Ghana, I was in a very good and solid position to give support to the party as it struggled in opposition. Every time I returned to Sierra Leone on annual leave I would pay my annual subscription as a grand Chief Patron and even made a special contribution to the campaign fund in 2011. During my absence from the country, our party members at Goderich can confirm that I left a standing order for my residence to be used as venue for the several meetings that they held. I played host to several party dignitaries visiting or passing through Ghana and got very much concerned by the conflicts that gradually engulfed the party. Even when I was away, I did my best to contact key stakeholders involved in the conflicts because of my firm conviction that for the SLPP to be an effective opposition party and prepare itself for governance, the party needed to address its conflicts first.

I returned to Sierra Leone in July 2016 and wasted no time in getting involved in the party affairs. I floated the idea of running for Party Chairman standing on the conviction that I now had enough experience and exposure to organize the party with the advantage that I was very neutral and belonged to no camp. I could therefore be very useful in bringing all the parties together again. I was criticized for being too optimistic and that I had lost contact with reality, because the divisions that had developed in the party were too deep for any repairs to be done successfully. I honestly believed I could help and that we could muster enough goodwill to bring about the change that we needed.

Mr. Chairman, you would recall that I even abandoned my bid for the Chairmanship to concentrate wholly on the search for peace and unity in the SLPP. I did this because of my belief that the interest of the party should supercede our individual ambitions.
I therefore plunged into the search for peace, starting with a personal effort that brought me into contact with a wide range of party stakeholders in addition to some who had in one way or the other left the party. I listened to the stories and gathered the different views of people as varied as Ambassador Allie Bangura, The Hon. Dr. Kamanda and Brigadier Maada Bio Rtd. I soon found out that there were other people involved in similar peace initiatives and thought it would be more effective if all the peace initiatives were brought together. That is how I came to join the Evergreen Peace initiative. I then had the unique opportunity to meet and dialogue with all the Flag bearer aspirants on peace and we had an initial successful meeting in which they all signed a peace communique and staged a peace march in the city. It was really hard work to get there. The Peace group also succeeded in having the legitimate executive reinstated; suspension and expulsions of some party members were cancelled, the National Executive Committee (NEC) was reunified and the party offices made accessible to all party members again. However, even as the communique was being signed I can still recollect that two of the signatories warned us that although signing the deal was important, we needed to deal with “the devil in the detail.” The devil turned out to be the unresolved issue of the now famous 39 constituencies which members of the Alliance faction thought had been fraudulently stolen by the Paopa faction in the lower level elections; the Alliance claimed that to do this Paopa had crookedly bypassed the original structures of the party to impose parallel, illegal ones that would vote in a straight line towards an illegitimate choice of flag bearer at the Party’s forthcoming Convention. This problem was to reveal the depth to which our party had descended not only in terms of its division but particularly in the dishonesty inherent in the refusal of very highly respected personalities to openly accept that the conduct of the “39” elections had in some parts been fraudulent and not in line with the rules that were used to conduct lower level elections in the rest of the country. This is the cause of the problem. The whole charade of accusations and counter-accusations, the continuing saga of court cases, the appeals and injunctions that have combined to put the party into a state of partial paralysis and disgrace are merely the result of this “original sin.” And probably the most shocking experience that I experienced and that sealed my decision to leave the party was the way the Evergreen Peace group was treated at a NEC meeting in which the report of the sub-committee on the 39 constituencies was to be received. Provision had been made on the agenda of that meeting for us to make a statement since we were the originators of the committee on the 39 constituencies. To my greatest surprise, at the start of the meeting a very zealous paopa member of NEC moved gleefully for our statement to be removed from the agenda on the grounds of irrelevance! As if to them, peace was no longer relevant! He was seconded by an equally gleeful band of supporters! I have still not recovered from that blatant show of disrespect and contempt to our group by the same NEC whose validity and legality we had done everything to restore and which was now reducing us to trash. In that same meeting I heard a very prominent stakeholder calling for people who did not want to conform to the status quo to leave the party.

What have I learnt from all this?
Factionalism and to some extent regionalism have become the norm in the SLPP, a party that has in the past had such a strong record of inclusion and diversity. The party now defines itself in terms of the Paopa and Alliance factions. Now there is struggle in the Alliance that is broken again into new lines of struggle. Even in the struggle for positions such as that of Chairman and Leader very bitter sub-factions have emerged within existing factions; there is the North/West and the South/East divide and even within the North or within the South/East there are sub-divisions that have grown beyond the usual political differences and attained existential proportions. Party members now feel ostracized by others, deep-seated animosity and acrimonious relationships have been transferred from the top to the base of the party, re-enacted out in the courtyard of the party offices by vigilantes in support of their respective benefactors; there is no place for those who choose the option of dialogue and civilized, peaceful disagreement. The antagonism perpetrated by the various factional heads in the party has driven a wedge right down the middle of the party and the centre can no longer hold.

Furthermore, there is a tendency for the various factions to resort to the good graces of the Government for various types of protection thereby breeding strong suspicion in many quarters of collusion between SLPP leaders with the leadership of the APC government. Indeed, on some critical issues of national importance, including the protection of the Constitution, the SLPP opposition has not been forthcoming in defending the rights of the people as vigorously as would be expected from a true opposition party that had in the past made its name in the struggle for democracy in Sierra Leone.

Sadly, due to its current obsession with the choice of flag bearer the SLPP is yet to start pondering on an agenda for the country. The toxic atmosphere in the party does not allow for any serious exchange of ideas on issues such as the economy, social services, national unity, rule of law, justice, environment, energy, agriculture. These are issues you will never hear about in SLPP discussions today. And even if you do there is such a mine field of mistrust and suspicion that people basically just stay superficial trying to avoid trouble. This absence of real political discourse in the SLPP leaves the impression that the main purpose of our party leaders is to replace those in power and not change the system that has run the country aground. I have frequently heard some young party members claiming that “there are 3,000 jobs waiting for us!!!”. I consider it a tragedy if the whole purpose of removing a government becomes a tale of musical chairs in which jobs are the chairs. Sierra Leone has crashed due to irresponsible and incompetent piloting. The people of Sierra Leone are looking for a rescue operation based on a well thought out, realistic and achievable rescue plan that would restore social justice, credible institutions, good governance and a good quality of life delivered by quality leadership comprising serious, committed, competent and God-fearing people. We do not need another set of irresponsible and incompetent pilots who would merely replace the current ones and operate with the same manual.
My decision to resign therefore is based on my assessment of the current state of the party and the realization that I can no longer operate in the toxic environment in the SLPP that I have described. I cannot thrive in a political space where the vaulting ambition of individuals has assumed more importance than the duty to work for the betterment of the nation; the acrimony and hate that now defines the current state of the party and its exclusionist trends have now rendered it powerless and hardly fit to save itself let alone rescue our country. I also believe that there will be no redemption for this nation if we do not restore some basic values in our society, including honour, integrity, service, respect for knowledge and truth, respect for other people’s rights, adherence to rules and fear of God. The SLPP seems to be in no hurry to do just that.
My personal creed is to respect leaders and fear only God; but not the other way round. Sycophancy is a dangerous thing. In national political life, it can easily lead to idolatry. Around Africa and to some extent at home here, I have seen how good, normal people have been gradually transformed through the work of sycophants and praise singers, into godhead whom they first worship and end up fearing. Those poor leaders who are turned into gods by their yelibas are hardly prepared for game over and they experience a vertiginous drop in altitude when their flight comes to an end, ill-prepared as they are for the inevitable return to reality. I fear I see strong signs of such sycophancy appearing within some important circles in the SLPP.

Mr. Chairman, there are very competent, serious, well intentioned people in the SLPP, some of whom may never leave the party being possessed of that brand of loyalty that equips them with the satisfaction of sinking with the ship hoping for a last minute miracle to happen. Some of them are friends of mine and will always be friends. But they know that in life, we have to make choices. I prefer to be in an opposition that wins, or can win; where my ideas are valued, my contributions recognized and where I am confident that our focus is not on ourselves but on achieving a better life for our people. And there are the hapless supporters, traditional in their support, who either do not realize or cannot bring themselves to accept that the SLPP we used to know has long disappeared replaced by a creature of hate, division, dogmatism, illegality and greed.

When in the recent past, I used to read about people who had resigned from the party out of frustration or for several reasons including those that I have mentioned here, I used to be somewhat judgmental, and critical about their impatience and believing that they may not have done enough to correct the situation before making their choice. It is indeed ironical that I now find myself in the same situation, and that now, without a doubt, it will be my turn to be judged by other SLPP party folks for making this difficult decision to leave. However, I repeat that in life we have to make choices and face their consequences. I am doing so now. Given the current situation in our party and what it portends for the future of our country, I am today, 28th day of April 2017, making the choice of discontinuing my membership of the SLPP. I do wish the party well and will endeavor to maintain the friendship I have enjoyed with many party members across the country; and, who knows? our political paths may cross again in better circumstances and more viable political terrain.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Dennis Bright