Orange Fever Hits Pujehun

3 July 2006 at 06:28 | 626 views

"What struck most in the team was the people’s awareness of the Movement when some people one thought unlettered shouted, “PMDC,..PMDC!” as we processed. The message had indeed reached every nook and cranny of the district, it was safe to surmise."

By J.Alusine Kamara

I have said once, I am still saying and will continue to say, “The present dysfunctional Sierra Leone People Party (SLPP) leadership can be myopic to an extent that borders on criminality. No-one ‘has a right’ to be that short sighted!” This was clearly demonstrated when the Charles Margai-led sensitization team of the People’s Movement for Democratic change (PMDC) made a whirlwind tour of Pujehun district over a three-day period recently.

From Kpanga-Kabundeh Chiefdom - where Pujehun town is located, to Sahn Malen, Galinese-Peri (Bumpeh), Gendema (Bo Waterside), Sorogbema (Fairo), Makpele (Zimmi), Potoru and Bandajuma-Sowa Chiefdoms, the team was wildly welcomed in every village, hamlet and town it visited. Ecstatic jubilation was the order of the day as some people even abandoned their farms to welcome, and catch a glimpse of the entourage.

What struck most in the team was the people’s awareness of the Movement when some people one thought unlettered shouted, “PMDC,..PMDC!” as we processed. The message had indeed reached every nook and cranny of the district, it was safe to surmise.

To crown it all, as passengers in opposite-traveling vehicles gleefully remonstrated, the old, young, men and women - including some who were visibly pregnant - rushed out of their huts and houses to either wave, or amble over to the team when vehicles stopped. Their expectations were high, and they seemed determined to entrust their future to the hands of the Movement. Each and every village passed displayed the palm kernel and two brooms symbol of the PMDC.

In Sahn Malen where a dance had been programmed for the Court barray the night before, the place had been ringed with palm tree fronds. Because the PMDC group arrived early in the morning the place had not been cleared of the fronds. The gusto with which the townspeople went about ridding the venue of the fronds symbolized the aversion for the SLPP’s palm tree which they seemed to be expressing then. It was not lost on some of us.

Claiming they had always weathered threats and intimidation from chiefdom authorities to welcome the team, the people said that fines as high as Le10,000 had been promised anyone who dared the authorities by attending the function. As one speaker, tongue-in-cheek noted,”The Chiefdom authorities will soon have a lot of money to spend judged by the attendance figures!”

In further efforts to frustrate the Movement, the elders had levied an unprecedented fee of Le60,000 for use of the Court barray. The amount was promptly paid. But, that notwithstanding, all the chairs and benches usually included in the rent were removed. Determined and relentless, people went to their houses, mosques, churches and schools to access seats.

Cries about the astronomical and arbitrary taxation rise from Le500 per year to Le.5,000 a year - a ten-fold increase - were tabled at that meeting in Sahn Malen. As if that was not enough, women, who had earlier been exempted from taxes now had to pay the same amount. What bothered them the most however was that though people in the Southern and Eastern regions were required to pay that amount, people in the Northern region were only taxed to pay half that amount. Why, they wondered, was this discrepancy? Was it because the SLPP’s motto was now: ONE COUNTRY, TWO PEOPLES?

‘CF”, as Charles Margai is sometimes fondly referred to, encouraged people to always be respectful and law-abiding, though not to the disadvantage of their fundamental and democratic rights. If anyone dares to intimidate or tries to exploit PMDC members because of their affiliation with the Movement, he assured the gathering that they had a battery of lawyers not comparable to any other political party in the country that are poised to mount a stout defence for them.

Although he had never doubted the love of the people of Pujehun for the PMDC, the magnitude of their turn out was gratifying as they poured out eye-opening and genuine support. The PMDC has every intention of living up to the high expectations of the citizenry as it boasted dedicated and sincere patriots, Charles continued.

While cautioning those who may want to hoodwink the electorate during elections, he advised all to beware of the LE100,000 and bag of rice baits that would be dangled in front of them. “Would such last you over a period of 5 years of suffering?” Charles asked. Tell them to build the bridge across Lungi, first-class roads linking every town, well-stocked schools, etc. “If in over 9 years of daylight you cannot catch a black goat, how do you expect to do so in a year of darkness?” CF asked.

At the Galinese-Peri Chiefdom venue, the team was informed that their non-arrival the night earlier had given cause for avid supporters from outlying villages and towns to sleep in the barray, and verandahs of houses that were offered and filled up. It was very touching to see old men and women straining eyes and ears to see and listen to the message of hope.

Futile attempts made as usual by the authorities to stop the meeting taking place came to naught as the sheer size and might of the gathering advised them otherwise since it was a classic case of, “who’s going to bell the cat?” No one dared!

Many were the vain and unfulfilled promises the SLPP had made over the years, people attested. House-owners who had had their houses destroyed were promised building materials, but up to this moment not even a single nail had been availed them, the people claimed. This has led to a preponderence of thatch-roofed huts and houses in the chiefdom since people could ill afford to discountenance other pressing needs for survival. This heartless negligence above all else is why they have no confidence in the present government.

Acknowledging their grievances, the PMDC leader called them well-placed, but urged them to have patience as things will soon turn out for the better. It was a matter of time for campaigning to start at which time he will pin-point the root causes of Sierra Leone’s decadence and how he hopes to right the rudderless ship-of-state.

Whilst promising there would be no ‘sacred cows’ in his quest for accountability, he also stressed that there will be no hiding place as everyone will have to give an account of his stewardship.(This declaration met with thunderous and sustained hand-clapping and foot-stomping as it went down well with everyone present)

At Gendema (Bo Waterside) which was the next stop the inhabitants were fed the good news they had been waiting for in large doses, as they listened with rapt attention. As age- and gender-groups straddled the young and old, men and women divide, Charles recounted how disheartening it had been for him to travel the deplorable roads in the country, and how difficult it must be then for those in the area to travel. It was a disgrace to note that the Sierra Leone part of the highway linking it to Liberia was so neglected. Being present, I will call it criminal negligence!

Thanking the Police force for operating under serious constraints, he implored people to open arms and embrace members of the force. Everyone makes mistakes and that includes the Police, Charles said, admonishing people not to judge every officer by a mistake, or that of his colleague’s. “Their job is an onerous one as it caters for the peace and security of all,” he went on. Because being at the border imposes a lot of responsibility for the country’s security, he therefore asked all to join hands together.

Making a brief stop at Fairro, Sorogbema Chiefdom, people came out say emphatically and enthusiastically how they had voted for the SLPP, which later turned its back on them. Why this government was so callous and insensitive to the basic needs of good roads, affordable and quality education for their children, good health care and roads, was what no one could understand.

It has reached the point where most households had to survive on bulgur, to the detriment of people’s heath, especially pronounced by the high incidence of malnutrition amongst the vulnerable children. And, they contended, because it was more cost-effective for them to travel to Liberia to buy the bulgur some of them were beginning to wonder whether it would be best for them to think of themselves as Liberians.

Telling them the PMDC will only make promises it will be duty-bound to fulfill, Charles promised them a caring and God-fearing leadership, bold and sincere enough to make the tough decisions to better the lives of the long-suffering and marginalized people of the country.

As the PMDC team continued its trip with an arrival in Zimmi, Makpele Chiefdom, it was stopped by a very large group of zealous and excited Movement supporters a mile from the venue for the meeting. As Charlie-boy was coaxed into disembarking from his vehicle, he was carried shoulder-high for about a half-mile, whilst people jostled to see him, and shake his hand. (Pretentiousness was most definitely not part of their regime, it was obvious to see.)

Upon arrival at the Court barray venue , it was realized that the crowd was at least three times its capacity - a fact not lost on some long-term residents who claimed this was unprecedented in the history of Zimmi. The venue was therefore moved to the more accommodative school compound just a few metres away.

Although the Paramount Chief, Eddie Massallay, a former Kamajor commander and Sam Abu, Principal of the St Paul’s Secondary School based in Pujehun - had allegedly tried to abort the meeting, the resoluteness of the majority sent warning signals. (Some claim the Chief locked himself inside his house as his subjects went around singing praises of the PMDC leadership). The trouble makers, when spotted hiding by some people, beat a hasty retreat. Songs by the youths and elders included this one in the Mende dialect which when translated goes: “Metzger (the Chief, that is) whether you like it or not, Charles Margai is here!”

Airing their disappointment with the failed governance promnoted by the present leadership, speaker after speaker, wondered whether they had consciences.Or, were they so blinded by corruption that they could not appreciate the decadence all around them, they queried?

Time will soon come, they vowed, when the SLPP will come to rue their miscues, albeit belatedly. “When chicken come home to roost,” they said, and the fleck is removed from their eyes, the SLPP will realize their false belief that, “Even if nar monkey sef u put for di palm tree, Mende man go vote for am,” will be their undoing.

Once again admonishing all to be respecters of the laws and customs without being cowed into servitude, Charlie-boy also reminded the traditional rulers that they were servants of the people and as such no government had the right to remove them from office without the people’s consent. He went on to caution the chiefs against taking sides in the political arena and said that their side-taking should reflect the will of their subjects. He realized they were under intense pressure but insisted they should have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

Turning to the youths, he intimated them about his knowledge of their predicament presently. A PMDC government will promise that deprivations endured by their parents will not be hosted by them and that youths will never be marginalized as they will be the cornerstone on which sustainable development would rest. He implored them to steadfastly keep the faith.

As the team approached Potoru on its return to Pujehun Town, at about 10.30pm, hundreds of people had defied the odds to await its return. This duly heartened the team members who were befuddled by the exuberance of the crowd - that late in the day! Tired and hungry by then, there was no alternative but to give a pep talk in appreciation.

Addressing the delighted crowd, Charles charged them with the responsibility to ensure they get a better bargain for their future than what presently obtains. Campaigning for the elections will soon be declared open, he said, and failed politicians will soon be back offering their ‘Trojan horses’. Accept any and all material things offered, he told them, and because I believe you know what to do, ...then go do it!

Informed that the Police and some local politicians had tried to stop their jubilating, claiming that they were noise-making, Lawyer Ansu Lansanah - the interim National Secretary-General of the Movement, and ‘yours truly, sought to ask a certain Magona to define the word, "noise". Realizing he would be making a fool of himself by speaking nonsense with confidence(?), Magona did a quick disappearing act.

The next day, which also doubled as the last day of the tour saw a large and excited crowd gather in Pujehun town to hear Charles leave no doubt about his resolve to bring about a change for the better with a sincerity hardly anyone would dare question.

In explaining the history of the SLPP and his pedigreed lineage to the crowd made it difficult for him to continue staying there. He said the halcyon heights attained by the founding parents had been destroyed by usurpers whose only interests were to use the party’s name for selfish purposes. Since these shortsighted hijackers believed every Mende man would always be an SLPP supporter, they cared not about satisfying the country’s needs.

Cautioning the Police to continue to show the professionalism and impartiality so far displayed, what with their arrests of the SLPP youth leader in the Chiefdom, one Ibrahim Bah, aka ‘IB’,who allegedly dispossessed the Town crier, Mahhalui, of his megaphone, and another SLPP activist, Hindowa Nyarma, charged with depriving Abu Bakarr Koroma of his motor-bike, “CF” lauded them. And he also condemned the assault on Ibrahim KaiKai, brother of Moijue KaiKai.

The commendable actions in the above incidents, he said, should be emulated so that peace and security will obtain.

Turning the spotlight on President Kabbah, he wondered why Kabbah should think he could ‘bequeath’ his Vice President to the people of Sierra Leone. It was unimaginative of him to think Sierra Leone is his personal property. If he wants to transfer his amassed personal fortune to Solo-B, or anyone else, that’s another matter, he averred.

For the Vice-President to be unwise enough to propagate ‘continuity’ of an obviously bankrupt governance was to insult the intellect and integrity of all since no-one in his right mind would want continuity of a debased status quo, he said. What with rampaging costs of living, poor health and sanitation services, below par educational services, struggling to outdo corruption and other societal ills, it was a sardonic joke on the people.

Promising that no-one will leave this country without accounting for his deeds after the elections, ‘CF’ reasoned that governance should be likened to the taking of examinations. Elections, which are the equivalent of examinations, are meant to judge performances for which grades should be accorded. If one has done well or not he should await being graded before ‘jumping the gun’.

In finally advising all to be law-abiding, Charles asked them to rise above provocations, intimidations and threats that are bound to come their way. Because, as the Creole proverb goes,”Kondo wey wan for die mus shaik im tail foss.!” The suicide-inclined SLPP would be no different.

At the final stop of the Pujehun sensitization tour was Bandajuma-Sowa, and the team was graciously presented with a bunch of palm kernel fruits and two brooms - which are the PMDC’s symbols - for the upteenth time during its travels.

As hundreds of people from the town and outlying areas converged, the team got to know some of them had been there since early in the morning to await its arrival, which eventually occurred around 4:00pm. Boredom was not part of their genre however, since they they had effectively countered it by continuous and lively dancing and merry-making.

Mostly reiterating the messages aired during the other stops, Charles Margai cautioned all not to be passive. When the time comes for the registration of voters, all above the age of 18 years should make sure they are registered to vote, and also cross-check when the preliminary voters’ registration list is displayed to make sure they are not left out, he advised them. The changes sought would not be realized if one does not register to vote, he concluded.

‘CF’ finally urged people to register as members of the PMDC by taking out membership cards that were costed at only Le2,500 so as not to burden the average man. These monies would then be used to further the cause of the Movement in their areas by providing logistical support for sincere Movement activists.

Photo: Charles Margai, PMDC interim leader