“The appointment of Siaka Probyn Stevens as prime minister is unconstitutional and we the members of the armed forces being the custodians of state security are now taking over power….I repeat martial law!” That was Brigadier David Lansana on March 21 1967 following the All People’s Congress election victory. That terse statement of the former strongman of the Sierra Leone military set in motion a situation of lawlessness and disorder, anarchy, chaos and panic that is unprecedented in Sierra Leone. Freetown, the capital, the once quiet and peaceful city, was in turmoil in the wake of which many innocent lives were lost. City hoodlums went on the rampage, looting and vandalizing the homes of innocent people. That unfortunate and regrettable action by Lansana sowed the seeds for all the military interventions and the attendant atrocities that have occurred in Sierra Leone’s checkered history.
As we move closer to election 2007, it is important that we reflect on the circumstances leading to the decision of then Brigadier David Lansana to unofficially and automatically takeover power. We should look back on the events of 1967 to remind ourselves that in any election, the rules of the game must be obeyed. The will of the majority must prevail. There are going to be winners and losers. But the latter should not reverse the decision of the majority by instigating men in uniform to bring to an abrupt end a constitutionally formed government. That was exactly what the SLPP did in 1967. Sir Albert Margai and his political henchmen, realizing their inevitable defeat, instigated Brigadier David Lansana and then Lieutenant Hinga Norman to seize power. These two were the first to stage a coup d’etat in Sierra Leone. The culture of violence that engulfed Sierra Leone in the 90s is a by-product of their ill-guided and rebellious action, in a futile attempt to keep the SLPP in power.
Brigadier Lansana capitalized on what he saw as a “constitutional crisis” to justify his coup. But his action was actually borne out of personal interest and ambition. He held his position as brigadier because of his loyalty to Sir Albert Margai and the SLPP. Fearing he would be out in the political wilderness with the APC in power, he decided to intervene not just to keep the SLPP in power but to protect his position, and most importantly to ensure Mende hegemony. Hinga Norman, who was then serving as guard to the governor-general Sir Henry Lightfoot-Boston, had a lot in common with David Lansana. It was Hinga Norman who pointed a gun at the governor he was supposed to protect while the governor was swearing in Siaka Stevens as prime minister. Hinga Norman placed the governor under house arrest while other SLPP uniformed buzzards went on to arrest top-level members of the APC.
Suffice it to say that the coup was not a popular one. Within a very short time, it was thwarted. David Lansana and his associate Hinga Norman were unceremoniously dismissed from the military and made to serve time in prison for their illegitimate action. In 1975 David Lansana was found guilty of treason and was executed together with fourteen others. Hinga Norman died recently while facing a United Nation’s war crimes tribunal for his role in the massacre of innocent Sierra Leoneans. As a matter of fact, Hinga Norman, a close ally of Foday Saybana Sankoh, the RUF leader who was also jailed because of his involvement in a coup against the APC government of Siaka Stevens – was a founding member of the Revolutionary United Front that wreaked incalculable damage on an already impoverished nation. The Kamajor tribal militia which Norman later formed to promote his SLPP agenda is an offshoot of the RUF. The RUF, it must be pointed out to those not familiar with its genesis, was financed by disgruntled SLPP heavy weights from its embryonic stage. It was the SLPP that created and nurtured the 800-pound gorilla that later went on the warpath for almost ten years. All this they did to unseat the APC from power. These facts must be brought to light so that the electorate will know exactly on whose doorstep to lay the blame for Sierra Leone’s burgeoning problems.
The defeat of the SLPP in the 1967 General Election was a foregone conclusion. At the time of the election, the party was no longer the monolithic bloc it used be in 1951 when it was formed to compete with the Creole-dominated National Council of Sierra Leone(NCSL). The Sierra Leone People’s Party that came into being in 1951 was the first national political party. It was a synthesis of the Protectorate Educational Progressive Union (PEPU) headed by Sir Milton Margai, the father of Independence; Sierra Leone Organization Society (SOS), headed by Dr. John Karefa Smart, who injected academic vigor into the politics of Sierra Leone; and the Peoples Party (PP) headed by that champion of integration Reverend Nathaniel Jones, popularly known as Lamina Sankoh. At its inception, the party drew support from all the educated elites in the then Protectorate of Sierra Leone, including Dr. Siaka Stevens who served as Minister of Lands, Mines and Labor. The party had the full support of all the Paramount Chiefs in the Hinterland. But the repressive and dictatorial tendencies of some of the chiefs angered and alienated many young men in the provinces who later provided the grass root support for the APC. Little wonder the APC started as a protest movement. It became glaringly evident with time that there was a tilt towards southerners in the party and this did not auger well with Lamina Sankoh who had severed relations with his Creole brothers in the name of national unity. Tribalism started rearing its ugly head. Lamina Sankoh, a renowned scholar and political firebrand, was so disappointed that he left the party, only to later die a disgruntled and frustrated politician.
Things took a turn for the worse in the Sierra Leone People’s Party with the death of Sir Milton Margai in 1964. There were sharp divisions within the party as to who should succeed Sir Milton as prime minister. Many in the party did not support the idea of Sir Albert Margai succeeding his brother. There were other senior and capable members of the party to takeover as prime minister. Karefa Smart, Sanusi Mustapha, Salia Jusu Sheriff, and Kandeh Bureh – were all fit and competent for the position. Why Sir Albert? Young radicals like Kutubu Kaisamba, and L. A. M. Mbriwah became the most vociferous critics of Sir Albert, charging nepotism. Sir Albert, determined to teach his critics a lesson, decided to deny them the SLPP symbol. This action was to later backfire on him. Young, vibrant and popular, the two contested as Independents and won by a landslide. To show their ire with Sir Albert, they decided not to join the SLPP but to join the All People’s Congress, the apparent winner of the 1967 election.
Prior to Kutubu Kaisamba of Kenema Central, Solomon Mbriwah of Moyamba North, Frank Anthony of Pujehun South and Prince Williams of Bo Town II joining the APC, the election results stood at: APC 32; SLPP 28. Brigadier Lansana, in an effort to justify his action to intervene charged that: “Not all the election results were out including those of the paramount chiefs. The governor general had suggested the formation of a coalition government of both SLPP and APC members.” The decision of the governor to appoint Siaka Stevens was, to Brigadier Lansana, “unconstitutional.” What Lansana did was to add the four independent (former SLPP) candidates that won the election, to the SLPP, thus coming up with an election stalemate of 32 – 32 to justify his unofficial takeover.
At election time in 1967, the popularity of the Sierra Leone People’s Party was at its lowest because of a combination of factors. Sir Albert and his ministers from the south have not only manifested tribalism, they have also shown a tendency to be corrupt. Amid accusation of corruption, tribalism, nepotism, and a sagging popularity, Sir Albert hinted at a one-party state with him as president. This only compounded the political discomfiture of his opponents who saw his action as a calculated and well-calibrated political move to ensure an indefinite stay in power. Having shown his inordinate ambition by maneuvering to become prime minister, it became quite clear that given the slightest chance he will become a dictator under a one-party state. People in the western area, especially Creoles, were strongly opposed to his plan to introduce a one party state. This explains why the S.L.P. P.’s performance was so dismal in the western area, while the APC performance was phenomenal in the 1967 General Election.
It is clear from what has been enumerated that the SLPP contested the 1967 General Election as a weakened party; a party racked by accusations of corruption, nepotism, tribalism and what have you. The same situation confronts the SLPP today. This is why the grand old party will not win in freely and fairly contested presidential and parliamentary elections. In point of fact the party has never won a free and fair election. Both the 1996 and 2002 elections were marred by irregularities. Not only were opponents denied the chance to contest, the party went out of its way to pad ballot boxes so that it comes out as the victor. In the 1996 election, James Jona, a friend of Kabba and then Electoral Commissioner, unilaterally made Kabba president. Dr John Karefa-Smart who contested the run-off election with Kabba, documented a number of irregularities that were enough to prevent the SLPP from forming a government. It was at this time that Solomon Berewa emerged as a loyal lieutenant of Kabba and an arch-defender of the S.L.P.P. Berewa implored Karefa-Smart not to pursue legal action against Kabba thereby creating a situation for another military intervention. In the interest of peace, that unsavory situation-in which the SLPP votes in the south exceeded the expected voter turnout- was allowed. Where there was an expected turnout of 75 %, based on the number of registered voters, the SLPP garnered over 100%. This was not just a mathematical impossibility – it was a clear indication of massive rigging. For his role in ensuring and defending Kabba’s presidency, Berewah was appointed as Attorney General and later catapulted to the position of vice president. Buoyed by the confidence reposed in him by Kabba, Berewa now wants to become president so that he can perpetuate the status quo of a corrupt and inept government.
But this time around, it will be a different story. The two main opposition parties – PMDC and APC – have vowed not to tolerate any anything out of the way from the SLPP. The elections will be closely monitored by their own men on the ground to prevent any form of rigging. They have made it abundantly clear that they will not sit by and allow what happened in Nigeria to happen in Sierra Leone. No amount of molestation victimization and intimidation will work So far the All People’s Congress, working in concert with the National Electoral Commission, has succeeded in exposing voter fraud in the western area.
Fully aware of its very poor performance throughout its ten years in power, the SLPP is determined to do whatever it takes to stay in power. If for no other reason, to make sure its corrupt members are not sent to jail. Do you now see why Berewa and his cabal have been crisscrossing the country dishing out money to win the votes of people? But they will be terribly disappointed in the end to find out that people will say no to them come August 2007. “As the rains fall and make flowers grow with petals of blood, what fruit will they bear?” Berewa and Co. may want to resort to the same tactic as their predecessors did in 1967 by employing the services of the men in uniform to keep them in power. They will use all the resources at their disposal to cling tenaciously to power like a baby clinging onto the umbilical cord of its mother. But in the end, in the final analysis, they will be voted out by the people. Sierra Leoneans will send a clear and unequivocal message on election day that ”We can no longer tolerate corrupt politicians. Good riddance to bad rubbish!
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