Opinion

John Leigh Responds to his Critics

4 June 2006 at 02:48 | 889 views

In this statement culled from the Cocorioko forum, Dr. John Ernest Leigh(photo) carefully explains why he has decided to support Vice President Solomon Brewa’s bid for the presidency and what happened on a recent SLPP campaign tour in which he particpated.

In Reply to: John Leigh is Outrightly dishonest posted by Bob Jusu on June 02, 2006 at 00:19:49:

I have read Mr. Bob Jusu’s piece which he captioned JOHN LEIGH IS OUTRIGHTLY DISHONEST. He went on to call me a liar and other unprintable things, apparently solely on the basis of one telephone conversation with a law student in Indiana.

An old wise man once said that when you lie down with dogs you end up with fleas. But I am not at all upset at Mr. Jusu’s intemperate language as I have been in the thick of many bruising bouts before - always holding my ground. Many of you won’t even begin to imagine the abuses my family and I endured during the interregnum, merely because of my principled stance!
I am experienced in dealing with uncouth people who are quick to annoyance yet they want to take part in public affairs.

On this occasion, I sympathize with Mr. Jusu for making himself look unnecessarily bad. He could have raised issues or asked questions - and I would have gladly answered in my usual straightforward manner - rather than rush to jump foolishly to an absolutely wrong conclusion.

Making cocksure statements after hearing only one single side of the matter in a disputed matter is immaturity of the type common within certain political groupings.

Again, I confirm that I toured Sierra Leone in May arriving in Lungi on May 5. I went there to tour Sierra Leone as is my custom to evaluate the political situation for my own purposes and NOT to campaign for anyone as Mr. Jusu has incorrectly concluded.

And I never campaigned for any one at any time while in Sierra Leone. I gave no speeches, never spoke in any of Berewa’s functions. At the end of my trip, I endorsed Berewa but did not campaign.

I planned my most recent trip to Sierra Leone to take me to Freetown (my fatherland), Port Loko Town (I have a successful incomes project there), Magburaka (my Northern Campaign Headquarters - lovely family), Mongeri (I am a friend of PC Tommy Vonjo and is the hometown of Chief Hinga Norman), Bo (my motherland), Kenema (my campaign headquarters for the East), Pendembu (to say ‘thank you’ to PC Gondor), Jokibu, Pujehun and Foindu close knit villages in the Pejeh and Pejeh Bongre chiefdoms in the Kailahun District (to visit the inhabitants and the 17 Americans from Florida and Minneapolis who invited me to view their project of zincing all the homes there), Kono (I have investments there), Makeni (to visit with friends) and back to Freetown, Lungi, London and Boston (I live outside Boston in a tiny Yankee Village).
Only on Wednesday, May 10 - did I receive an invitation for the very first time from the Berewa camp to join his tour of Port Loko beginning next day at Targrin.

I received the invitation from a close friend who is a top government official and who also happened to be close to VP Berewa. This friend admires my work very much; has read all my articles and knows that I have countless friends, admirers and well wishers within the government and inside the party across the land and he really wants me to put inputs into the SLPP campaign and, if possible, in the next administration.

People from Bo with me in Freetown also urge me to accept - and I did.

Earlier, on Saturday, April 29, I had appeared at Chicago at the invitation of the officials of the Sierra Leone Community Association of Chicago to receive an award in recognition of my work in Washington years earlier.

During the function, I was repeatedly asked by Sierra Leoneans: After Makeni, now what?

I gave this standard answer to everyone, including a young law student from Norte Dame University Law School. This young man had come to me to introduce himself and to ask for help in having his article on Charles Taylor published in a newspaper in Freetown.

My standard answer was always as follows:
“I am still continuing my consultations with friends, supporters and others in SL; that I will be traveling there shortly; that supporters of Berewa have asked me to publicly endorse him because rumors are rife across the country that both Dr. Jonah and I are with Margai and PMDC. That I may or may not endorse Berewa until after I talk to him and his aides about the direction he intends to take SLeone if elected.”

I also made the above statement to my Chicago host and hostess, Dr. and Mrs. Mahmoud Halloway formerly of Rotifunk and Moyamba. Dr Halloway was one of my teachers at the Albert Academy when I was a tiny pupil there. I might even have also publicly included this statement in my “thank you” remarks after upon receiving my Award.

You see, I am a complete freeborn and proud, very proud, of my home training. I hide nothing in my public record and I say it like it is fearlessly.
If Mr. Jusu had contacted me before rushing to jump to conclusion, he would have got my own side of the story before publishing libel about me.

As is where, I never campaigned for VP Berewa at all throughout my entire stay in Sierra Leone and, at first I did not even sit with his entourage. As of the day of my departure, my attitude to Berewa was open. And I am not a fan of President Kabbah.

Members of Mr. Berewa’s entourage traveled in the VIP section of the ferry to Lungi. I sat with the rank and file from Bo in first class drinking bottled water.

At Targrin, the first stop - to open a clinic - I sat in the general audience. But I soon left to collect my sun glasses from my van. Upon my return, a lady had already confiscated my seat and I did not have the guts to evict her. The place was crowded.

As I looked around for a new seat, someone from the high table beacon me to come forward and sit near Mr. Berewa. I choose instead to sit on the far end of the front row, away from Berewa.

I listened to the speeches and the music and observed the goings on. I never uttered a word except to thank the fellow that invited me to sit up front. I had my sunglasses on throughout this gathering.

Our next stop was the beautiful and immaculately clean and refreshing residence of Dr. Lamin Kamara, Deputy Foreign Minister, who served us breakfast (and later lunch). Many party regulars were delighted I was present in the tout. Officials I had not spoken to for years walked up to me to welcome me and make me feel welcomed throughout. I was surprised at their kindness and the general kind comments about my insurgent writings. Apparently, both VP Berewa and President Kabbah and others have been reading my articles both in newspapers and on the internet.

I ate my breakfast and kept my mouth shut throughout, except for quiet small talk.

Our next stop was the Village of Rotifunk located on the main road very near the entrance to Lungi Airport. We were there to open SLPP’S new office. It was there my name was mentioned publicly for the first time to the audience.

For you information, the standard program for each stop was as follows after the preliminary singing, music and noise-making (yes, noisemaking):

1. Call To Order; (2) Muslim/Christian Prayers; (3) Welcome Address by the Host Branch; (4) Introduction of the VP’S entourage here I would stand up and wave to the crowd when my name is reached; (5) Speech by host praising & thanking; criticizing and complaining about the government’s record; (6) Very detailed Reply Speech by Mr. Berewa: (a) acknowledging the welcome, (b) highlighting government’s achievements, (c) point-for-point but friendly, patient response with apologies to grievances, criticisms and complaints; (d) addressing rumors about him and President Kabbah, (e) indicating government’s plans for the area and the country, and (f) ending with a gracious ‘thank you’.

The host in Rotifunk and all of Kaffu Bollum was Mr. Kandeh Yilla, the SLPP Chair for the area. Unbeknown to me, Mr. Yilla apparently knows all about me and my work very well. It was he during the grievance/critique part of his speech who mentioned my name publicly calling me “A man of Conscience” who stood up fearlessly for what is right.

VP Berewa, in his response supported Mr. Yilla in his characterization of me and added a little of what he, Mr. Berewa, also knew about me. I felt good.
All this time, I sat quietly with my sunglasses on with a poker face saying absolutely nothing. I never spoke.

And so it went on that day from town to town in Kaffu Bollum: Mahera, Masoila, Tinga, Lungi, Conakry Dee and back to Dr. Lamin Kamara’s. PC Komkanda of Kaffu Bullom Chiefdom mentioned my name in Mahera and publicly stated I must find time to go see him so we could talk.

At Masoila, a mixed Suso-Temne village where Mr. Berewa opened a newly constructed market, elders walked up to me after the program, introduced themselves and proudly informed me that I am their relation. I was told by one Mr. Magbagra William Kamara that my ‘father’s mother’ emanated from Masoila and that he stayed at my Father’s home in Kissy Brook while attending secondary school in Freetown when I was in America. He knew the names of all my Krio siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

I knew we had relatives in Bollum but did not know it was so close. My late cousin, Mr. William Leigh, Sierra Leone’s first African Commissioner of Police and a former Royal Air Force pilot, was born in the area. His mother was Suso.

Mr. William Kamara told me that during the interregnum, the chiefdom was behind ECOMOG lines and so the people were free and safe and thus had plenty of time to talk and listen to the radio. He said everybody in that area knows about my work from radio broadcasts and that he would frequently boast to his neighbors that I am their famble. He gave me his cell phone number and I intend to stay in touch.

Next day, I continued in the entourage to Loko Masama towns such as Bailor (by the sea); Paytifu and Paytifu Junction. The program was the same. On every introduction, members of the entourage would wave to the crowd upon introduction. At times, speakers would highlight my name. At other times, nothing would be said about me but I would always be introduced. And in every town we visited, some locals would recognize my name and express delight upon finally meeting me at the program’s end. It was all civilized and democratic.

But during the program, I would remain quiet and still - not saying one word for or against Berewa.
On Saturday after Mr. Berewa’s program in Port Loko Town, I met three ladies who came up to thank me profusely for displaying leadership after the Makeni experience. They told me that they were among those who shed tears for me after the deft Afro politirics that prevented my participation.

After Mr. Berewa’s program was over, I withdrew from his entourage went to see my Port Loko friends and talked about the project in town. Mr. Berewa and his entourage soon departed for Sanda Magbolonto. I departed for Bo via Makeni, Magburaka and Mongeri.
On Tuesday, May 16, I left Bo for Kenema where I met Chief Gondor. From Kenema I traveled to Jokibu, etc.

I took the opportunity to visit Bunnunbu before heading to Segbewema to sympathize with the tribal authorities there upon the death of PC Jimmy Jajua, a chief I had befriended during my campaign. I had visited him in February at his old CFAO residence but had no idea he was not well. After condolences, I left for Kenema to visit key supporters for advice at Eastern Polytechnic.

From Kenema, I went to Kono via Bo, Mongeri, Yeleh, and Matotoka to examine my investments. I also rejoined the Berewa Entourage on the 16th in Kiodu. I met my old school mates: PC Fengi of Gbesse (Koidu) and Dr. Kondor, a District Councilor. I went with the entourage to Tunumbu where I greet PC Melvin Ngakei, an old acquaintance in DC. I never gave a speech anywhere in Kono.

At the main function in Koidu Town Hall, the SLPP National Chairman, Alhaji UNS Jah, inquired whether I would to like to speak. I respectfully declined because the program was already crowded and it was a Friday afternoon and people must pray; and because I was not in good shape after having developed a cough, a cold and slight fever in Port Loko.

On Friday night at the Lodge in Koidu after dinner, May 20, I told Mr. Berewa that I will be returning to Freetown next morning and that I would like to endorse him for the presidency before I return to the States - if he does not mind. He told me to go ahead and appeared pleased. On Saturday, I travel to Freetown via Makeni leaving the entourage in Jaiama Nimikoro, Kono District.

On Sunday, May 21, I reviewed my trip and jotted down my reasons for supporting VP Berewa. Months and months earlier I had publicly announced in public that I remain SLPP despite all the problems.

On Monday, May 22, I held a press conference and in a written statement, I endorsed Mr. Berewa for our next president in succession to President Kabbah. That same evening, I departed for London.

Not once did I speak on behalf of Berewa during his tour. Not once did I campaign for him except for endorsing him on the day I departed after having my final consultations with supporters in Freetown, Port Loko, Makeni, Magburaka, Mongeri, Bo, Kenema, and Koidu.

Once again, I ask those who are serious about politics in Sierra Leone not to waste time with erroneous and/or crooked newspapers and to please debate with a clean heart. The time for supporting someone based on tribalism, family politics, favoritism, etc. is long past. Also, within the SLPP, democratic debate is an established tradition.

Once I realized that my insurgent views have finally resonated with the top echelons of my party; once I realized that the SLPP rank and file would rather swallow Makeni than split the party and allow the opposition to win; once I learned that a possible Berewa Administration will improve matters, it was easy for me to pick one of the three candidates to endorse in writing.

I hope I have corrected in a large measure the rude and untrue allegations leveled against me by Mr. Bob Jusu. I hope it will never happen again. Thank you.
- JL

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