Analysis

Ladies & Gentlemen, the President of Sierra Leone!

13 November 2007 at 09:03 | 2110 views

By Sheka Tarawalie (Shekito) in Manchester,UK.

I wish Pa Sylvanus were alive. You may or may not know
who Pa Sylvanus is. Or I should say ‘was’,in human
terms.

In the national executive circles of the
Wesleyan Church of Sierra Leone (WCSL), the name
Sylvanus F. Koroma meant a lot. On Sylvanus Street in
Makeni are the headquarters of WCSL, formerly known as
the American Wesleyan Mission (AWM) obviously founded
by American missionaries who through the years had
representatives in Sierra Leone until the war
terminated their uninterrupted presence.

On the same Sylvanus Street is the Wesleyan-founded Birch Memorial Secondary School, my humble alma mater. Adjacent to
the school gate is a thick-wall-encircled magnificent
house. That’s the Sylvanus compound.

But the relationship
between Pa Sylvanus and the Wesleyan Church is not
just infrastructural; it is also personal. He sat on
the Church’s national executive (WCSL has dozens of
local churches dotted across Sierra Leone) for many
years. The wisdom he brought to bear in the leadership
of the church earned him the nickname “Rock of Ages” -
in apparent comparison to his Master, Jesus. And, poor
me, I was privileged to sit with Pa Sylvanus on the
Church’s executive prior to his death when I acted as
ex-officio member/ Secretary. It’s an experience of a
lifetime when you hear Pa Sylvanus speak.

But I had known Pa Sylvanus way before then. My father
was (I could still say is) one of the pastors of WCSL
and all his pastoral life has had to have a working
relationship with Pa Sylvanus in administration,
education, and evangelism.

But their relationship even
overflowed beyond the church when they both could not
get their eyes off local politics. Pa Sylvanus
mastered the art of public speaking and my father learnt
from him. Pa Sylvanus was a master English-Temne
interpreter/translator, my father (who never went
through formal education but benefited from a pastoral
education), learnt from Pa Sylvanus - this still
resonates in my dad’s local radio messages in
Makeni. Pa Sylvanus was even at one time a regional
electoral commissioner (a page of which Christiana
Thorpe may have learnt about when she was Principal of
St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Makeni).

Ladies and gentlemen, it was a privilege to have known
Pa Sylvanus, the father of President Ernest Bai
Koroma; it is therefore a privilege to have known the
president long before now.

Of all Sierra Leonean
journalists ( with all due respect to Kotho I.B.
Kargbo and Mohamed ‘African Champion’ Koroma, the
well-chosen Information Ministry duo), I think there’s
none that has known President Koroma as much as I do.

Hailing from the same Bombali South constituency (with
a couple of villages between his village and mine) is
one thing, but to have come to know Ernest Koroma
intimately was as good as having known his father. In
Freetown we attended the same Kissy Dockyard Wesleyan
church and we used to sit and stand side by side in
worship and prayer. What was more, at one point the
future president would drive me to and from church
(wow) when it was a bit difficult for me to have done
so.

In my childhood days, I had heard about Ernest Koroma
mainly from my parents through his parents (his
mother, Ya Alice, is one of the women’s leaders of
WCSL, and my mother, in lieu of her being a pastor’s
wife, has been interacting with her in meetings,
seminars, conferences etc.); but I actually first met
Ernest Koroma in 1991 when I was Social Secretary of
the Bombali District Students Association (BODSA) at
Fourah Bay College after he had offered to give the
Alhaji Bangura/ Jallomy-led administration (Alhaji
Bangura, also known as ‘Banco’, is today a civil
servant at the Ministry of Social Welfare; while
Jallomy, formally known as Ibrahim Jalloh, later
worked for the Catholic-owned Caritas) free
transportation to go to Makeni and offer free teaching
classes to secondary schools in the township. After
that meeting, it was not hard for the sons of Pa
Sylvanus and Rev. J.S. Tarawalie to find common ground
for personal connection.

Perhaps the greatest impact of President Koroma on my
life came in 1996. After the SLPP government had
imprisoned me
for exposing the corruption that was being perpetuated
at the highest level of the then establishment,
I suddenly found myself disowned and abandoned and my Torchlight newspaper in tough
financial difficulties following an unofficial blanket ban on advertising.No advertising for the Torchlight, the Kabbah government warned through bush telegraph.Most of the advertisers listened.

The person that came to my rescue (you
guess right) was Ernest Bai Koroma. I am making this
known because he is now president. But at the time,
when Ernest Koroma (as he was commonly known then)
summoned me to his Reliance Insurance Trust
Corporation (RITCORP) office on Siaka Stevens Street,
he vehemently warned that he did not want this to be
known.

Reason? The SLPP would have taken out their cutlasses and destroyed him if
they knew that he was supporting a newspaper they
hated so much. But what impressed me most was the
man’s modesty. It would not take long for two of his
best friends, Siray Timbo of IDEAS Partnership and
Alimamy Koroma (now Minister of Trade), to let me into
the secret that Ernest Koroma would want to enter into
politics for no other reason than to bring a change.
Indeed, I agreed that if really wanted to do so, it
would not be for another reason, having known his
background.

But between then and 2007 so many things happened.
Tejan Kabbah allowed himself to be overthrown, and as
a journalist my focus turned to analysing the
politico-military imbroglio which had taken
centre-stage. I found myself advocating against a
military intervention that would be disastrous for us,
a prediction that consequently turned out to be
true.

But I first had to pay the bitter price of going
into hiding (like brother Chernor Ojuku Sesay) from
military interventionists who had quickly learnt the
art of burning people alive and getting some
satisfaction from it. I knew the intervention was as
wrong as the coup; and I knew - as common sense
teaches - that two wrongs could not make a right.

In the midst of the melee, and from my research of the
situation, I developed some interest in Johnny Paul
Koroma, who was mainly innocent but found himself
trapped between an SLPP government that hated the
Sierra Leone Army and an army that cannot be cowered
by political demagogues. The effect was political
skulduggery and military coup-making.

So in the elections of 2002, when the old guards in
the APC were putting up a fierce fight against Ernest,
I knew the SLPP would win. What I did was to register
my protest by supporting the Peace & Liberation Party,
but not without explaining to Ernest Koroma and his
friends in word and in action, in bits, what I was
doing. In parliament, I had advised Johnny Paul to
lean towards Ernest Koroma, and they had started
getting on well before the SLPP orchestrated another
coup scare and botched an operation to catch Johnny
Paul.

Very few people knew about my intentions to leave
Sierra Leone. Ernest Koroma, who had become more like
an elder brother, was one of them. I met him at his
Goderich residence (not the first time you would know)
and gave a thorough explanation of why I thought it
would be better for me to be out of the country. I
told him how Britain needs to know about what is going
on in Sierra Leone, and how I might be a vehicle to
carry this information. A good listener, and a man of
brevity, Ernest agreed with me - before I ran to the
new national headquarters of the Wesleyan Church on
Berry Street in Freetown to get some valedictory
prayers and blessings from church leaders.

Certainly, I know President Koroma is pleased with the
contribution I made prior to, during, and after both
the August 11 and September 8
presidential/parliamentary and run-off elections. I
know he would look back and reflect on where we are
coming from; and I know he has the vision not only to
know where we are going, but also how to go there.

He has demonstrated this in just a couple of months in
office: an impressive cabinet, tough talk and action
on serious national issues (including corruption,
electricity, fuel prices, official behaviour),
credible international outings, and participation in
cleaning Freetown.

For him to be inaugurated as the
fourth Executive President of the Republic of Sierra
Leone can only be the work of God. Ladies and
gentlemen, please accept my very personal
presentation to you of your president, my president,
our president ERNEST BAI KOROMA.

May God bless both his supporters and critics, for I
know he will deliver.

Further still, I believe Pa Sylvanus (like the
biblical Sylvanus) is having a good day in Heaven!

Over to my own critics!

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