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Tribute: Major-General (Rtd) Robert Yira Koroma

14 January 2020 at 00:38 | 2072 views

Mourning a brother and a friend: Major-General (Rtd) Robert Yira Koroma

By Koyie Henry Mansaray, Abidjan,Cote d’Ivoire

I am struggling to fight back tears from my eyes and to suppress sobs gaining ascendancy in my whole being as I try to commit to paper this tribute..

I knew all was not well from the day I beheld your snarled posture lying helplessly at your living-room. Care-givers, brought in by your faithful, loving wife, Jane, dutifully handled all the basic needs pertaining to your motionless frame sprawled on the sofa. Even in my wildest imagination I could not reconcile the past image of a dashing, gallant soldier that you were and the impotent being that heard and understood all spoken around him, but lacked the ability to raise an audible voice of exchange in response. What a tragedy to catapult down from the above a once solid human species from the pinnacle of a professional career to the abyss of insignificance! My mourning period started right from that day. Jane remained optimistic that her darling RY would rise again like a sphinx. I was petrified to proffer a counter-opinion at the time for it would be uncalled for.. Had I the spiritual wherewithal to raise RY from his desolate, horrendous state, I would not have needed bidding from anyone else.

RY was the heart and soul of Yiffin and Nieni Chiefdom. He spared no effort to strive for the greatness of this remote corner of North-eastern Sierra Leone, lying under the foothills of the Bintumani and Loma Mountain ranges. I met Yira Koroma at the Missionary Church Association (MCA) Primary School in Yiffin, just before our country gained independence in 1961. We were all rural kids, but being taught by an English lady, Miss Cyntia Mallett from the UK. How fortunate we were! I sat with him in Classes I, 2,3,4 and 5. We shared the same bench and desk for most of those five years. He was an intelligent pupil and particularly smart in Arithmetic. One of his uncles later brought him down to continue his schooling in Freetown. The initial competition between us as to who was the higher achiever came to an end. We never met again, until when both of us were at the secondary school. He was still at the Services Secondary School in Juba, when I came to do the Sixth Form at the Methodist Boys High School. I had gained rapid promotion by jumping a class and being allowed to take the then Common Entrance to secondary education. ahead of RY. RY’s search for education then took him to the Ahmadiyya Secondary School in Bo. There he obtained a Division One Ordinary Level Certificate.

He later joined the army as Officer Cadet, after he had excelled himself at the anti-Kawusu political campaign in Kabala in early 1977. He was, indeed, a fine soldier. Seeing him in uniform, most people concluded that he was cut out for the khaki. His massive physical build and ramrod height matched his display of gallantry and valiance. He was admirable and likeable wherever he went. He got along with people very easily. His friends were from everywhere: East, West, North and South of Sierra Leone. He was equally generous and magnanimous. I recall how he served as groomsman for one of his Western Area friends and virtually footed all the related wedding bills. RY served as the Grand Chief Patron of the Foundation Day ceremony of the MCA Junior Tech/Voc Secondary School that I was then managing, side-by-side with my teaching at the Milton Margai College of Education and Technology. He supported the worthy cause by his physical presence and promised to donate the first set of furniture whenever the school moved to its own premises at Gweint Height.

As already hinted, RY had as a burden the overall development of Nieni Chiefdom, starting from the headquarter town, Yiffin. At his behest, we formed the Yiffin Old Pupils Association (YOPA) in late 1980’s. He became the obvious choice for its President and I became his humble Secretary General. YOPA undertook many educational projects and sponsored its deserving members seeking further education. He was very supportive by providing the Association with secretarial logistical materials and services. He was then serving as Adjutant at the then Army Engineers. I was always welcome there as I would go to his office on any matter pertaining to YOPA. Under the aegis of YOPA, RY assembled some of us in Freetown for an awareness-raising tour of Nieni Chiefdom, just as the Rebel War came to an ended. On our way to Yiffin, we had a meeting with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Makeni, as the RC Mission planned to open the first secondary school in our chiefdom. It was a fruitful meeting thanks to the presence of a high-profile personality like RY., leading the way

Next, we stopped over in Bumbuna, and paid a courtesy call on the Paramount Chief, who happened to be a retired teacher of the Albert Academy in Freetown. The local people were full of praise for the saving role RY played in defending their town during the war and during the AFRC military stalemate.. We had another meeting in Alikalia,and invited the local authorities to the meeting in Yiffin. Word had gone around about the planned meeting and people came from every nook and corner of the Chiefdom to attend that meeting. That was how much influence RY wielded at the time. He, however, did not take the centre stage in addressing the meeting that sought to sensitize our people and raise their awareness over the operations of Non-governmental organizations operating on post –war reconstruction projects in the Chiefdom.

Next, was to inspire our girl children to take their studies very seriously. Indeed, RY matched his words with action. In his home, back in Freetown, he lodged and sponsored a number of pupils and students that hailed from Nieni. One of them was a fellow from Yiffin who had the highest aggregate at the 2007 NPSE in the whole of Sierra Leone. RY encouraged his kit and kin from Nieni to prioritize education. He launched an Education Support Fund at the residence of Retired Major Dumere Tarawali off Wilkinson Road in Freetown. This partly explains why Nieni Chiefdom, though very remotely located compared to other chiefdoms, has produced a lot more educated individuals. The overall literacy rate is very high. Nieni easily became the envy of the other Chiefdom in the former undivided Koinadugu District. One year, at the decentralized interviews in Kabala, one Inspector of Schools (now retired) expressed amazement at how many candiddates from Nieni applied for Sierra Leone Government bursary from all institutions of higher education:FBC, NUC, MMCET, eic; .It was the same for recruitment into military at the officer cadet level. Some less obliging recruitment officers sitting on the panel used to declare in exasperation: FROM YIFFIN AGAIN? RY’s in-put to this overall positive development was enormous!

RY was a true patriot. He associated himself with any project Sierra Leone was iundertaking. He was full of sympathy for his countrymen. He was a mourner at Dele Charlie’s funeral, even though he did not fully know the late playwright. He was one of the high-ranking sons of Koinadugu to have accompanied the then PROGRESS Newspaper Editor Fode Kande’s body from the USA to Kabala. I was at his side in Benguema, in mid-1990, when the first batch of ECOMOG intervening force was preparing to leave for Liberia under the command of General Quainoo of Ghana. He appeared very confident at the time, in the company of Lt. Col Tucker and other senior officers of the Sierra Leone contingent under the command of Col. Modu Hanciles. I later learnt that the then Capt. RY Koroma, became the Adjutant of the contingent that comprised Second Lieutenants Valentine Strasser, Solomon Musa, Julius Maada Bio and the others.

RY was an intellectual military leader. He did many senior officers’ courses in the USA and Nigeria. He returned with a Masters degree from the Nigeria Military Academy in Kaduna when was a full Brigadier. He was an avid reader and very much abreast of world affairs. In spite of all his laurels, RY was simple and did not like too much formalities. The day he decided to formally wed Jane at the Registry in Freetown, he sent me a curt message that same morning that he was getting wedded that morning and that I should meet them by 11:am at the Cotton Tree. I had to be there: it was a must. There they were, all top brass of the military establishment. Late Capt Abu Tarawallie (later ADC to Military Head of State Strasser) was his Bestman. Late Lt. Col Willie Momoh was his Groomsman. The latter was there with his wife, Mariama, a distant relation of ours.. Major(rtd) M.S Tarawallie was like a Godwitness. Late Colonel Patrick Ferenke Koroma was the main Sponsor. Immediately the formalities ended at the Registry, we headed for Wilberforce Barracks, to Col. Ferenke’s quarters. After food and drinks, RY was off in his uniform to drop Jane by the Officers Mess quarters and he headed straight for his office. We the guests took a cue from the Bridegroom and Bride and soon left the make-shift day-time banqueting parlour for want of a better reason.

I recalled sending from Tunis a congratulatory note to RY on his appointment as head of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF)., with the rank of Major-General. It was the summit of a brilliant military career. Alas, he was not allowed to enjoy the fruit of his labour. I learnt that evil forces ganged up against this gentle but brittle soul at the prime of his personal achievements. RY was morally upright. He was incorruptible. Even as a Senior Official of the Military Government of Valentine Strasser, he remained clean and untainted. For a man of his status, he did not grab lands all over the place or build himself sumptuous villas as some of his contemporaries did. He gradually built a modest dwelling house at Marjay Town, utilizing only his hard-earned personal funds. I go on mourning because YOPA has lost a colleague and its founding leader who is unreplaceable. I go on mourning because Nieni Chiefdom has lost an illustrious son who is equally unreplaceable. As death is the inevitable end of every human being, all I wish for RY is to be received in one of the celestial mansions his Creator has reserved for him.

To the wife Mrs. Jane Koroma(nee Tucker), to Wolkedia his daughter, to brothers Nyeni Yusuf of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank and Fitty Ansu ,Chiefdom Speakr and all surviving relatives, I say let us not mourn like unbelievers. The Lord gave and He has taken!