By Raymond Bamidele Thompson
There is widespread misconception about the man Charles Francis Margai, commonly called C.F, Charlie Boy, Charles, the Bulldozer by his supporters, very rarely, Mr. Margai. All to which he responds with a smile. Yet, there are those who would swear that he is arrogant, opinionated, impatient, boastful, power hungry and the most ridiculous of all these characterizations, that he is a dictator. As food for thought, how could any lawyer practicing in the Courts in Sierra Leone, not just performing chambers work, for almost 40 years, be tainted with any of the above negative characterizations?
Those who are lawyers or even laymen who have experienced firsthand and know how justice is dispensed in the courts in Sierra Leone, would fully understand what this means. To get an insight into the man, Charles Margai, please talk to the Masters and Registrars of the Courts, past and present, the Chief Justices and Justices of the Supreme Court, past and present, Judges of the High Court and Appellate Court, past and present, Magistrates, past and present, Justices of the Peace, past and present, the Clerks of the Courts, past and present, the Courts’ support staff, his fellow colleague lawyers, with whom he has associated or with whom he has locked horns and clients he has represented over the almost 40 years in the practice of law. For Charles Margai to have been practicing law in Sierra Leone all these years, these people that have been outlined should be a very potent reservoir for an objective opinion on the character and disposition of Charles Margai.
This article is intended to debunk all of the myths and deliberate misinformation about Charles Francis Margai, and those who are fair minded and objective would walk away with a determination to get to know the man better and would stop jumping on the band wagon of those peddling untruths and false accusations about the man, Charles Francis Margai. Among this group who engage in premeditated scurrilous attacks on the MAN are some ill motivated print journalists, who have come to realize that the name Charles Margai sells their newspapers and as such disingenuously engage in yellow journalism, continuously castigating and printing negatives about Charles Margai. A case in point is the Exclusive, which unashamedly in screaming bold headlines in its Monday, June 7th 2010 edition, knowing full well that it was misleading the public stated “ CHARLES MARGAI GIVEN 14 DAYS ULTIMATUM”.
An enquiring mind, on buying the rag, parading as a newspaper which believes that it can succeed to make the People’s Movement For Democratic Change (PMDC) an irrelevant political party and to dampen the patriotism, spirit, and enthusiasm of Charles Margai who is destined to bring sanity to this our beloved country, discovered that the Editor employing his limited vocabulary of the law was describing the “ultimatum” given to Charles Margai as the act which had to be taken by the Defendants, People’s Movement For Democratic Change and its National Secretary General in filing a response, to a lawsuit filed by the Party’s suspended National Chairman. Where on earth does the name Charles Margai appear as a defendant in the lawsuit?
This apology of a newspaper even in its June 21, 2010 edition continues to mislead the public by indicating that Mohamed Bangura and Charles Margai are litigants in the controversy. Just a little lesson in Civil Procedure 101 to the Exclusive Rag, the matter is between Mohamed Bangura as Plaintiff, that is the person bringing the action, and PMDC and its National Secretary General, William Tucker, as Defendants, that is the parties who have to defend against the claims in Bangura’s lawsuit. The Exclusive Rag if not ill-motivated, would have done itself a world of good by talking to any lawyer or law graduate at the Sierra Leone Law School to explain this simple procedure to its Editor. The Exclusive Rag’s ill-motivation towards PMDC could be traced as far back as the August 31, 2006 Edition headlined “PMDC MAY COLLAPSE”. Such negative headlines are thus a staple of the Exclusive Rag in matters concerning the PMDC. Their writings are thus considered as a joke and at worst yellow journalism by the Party and not in the realm of constructive criticism or news.
By the way, the initial Bangura lawsuit was thrown out of court on June 24, 2010 and the Exclusive Rag could not even have enough understanding of the legal procedure to accurately report as to the disposition of the matter. In a very inconspicuous corner of its front page, it indicated “PMDC Matter Thrown Out Of Court.” There again instead of giving the reading public an accurate reportage, which should have been “Mohamed Bangura, Suspended Chairman of The PMDC Thrown Out Of Court.”, it decided to soften the blow on Mohamed Bangura. This writer could bet that had it been the other way round, the screaming headline would have read something like this, “Charles Margai Taught A Lesson By Mohamed Bangura, Court Denies Margai’s Motion. “ Bangura in his penchant for lawsuits has refilled the same claim.
Is this not disingenuousness in its crassest form? The proprietor and editor of the rag called Exclusive, in order to make a few Leones, and perhaps to give potential advertisers the impression that it is a paper with wide circulation, uses the name of Charles Margai as a ruse and a ploy to mislead, confuse and confound the public. What the unschooled and misguided editorial staff in journalism, at Exclusive, do not understand and know is that the name PMDC, in the caption about “ultimatum “, would have attracted as much attention as the name of Charles Margai, and the Exclusive would not have been misleading the reading public. They should know this had they not been dim witted with bird brains , as the very next day on June 8, 2010, the screaming headline was “PMDC IS DEAD – says political analyst”. The Exclusive has discovered that the names PMDC and Charles Margai in its headlines are money meters for its infantile publication. In the warped minds of its staff within the Exclusive organization, they believe that PMDC could be destroyed by their puerile, untruthful, distorted, uneducated, poor grammatical writings. Let it be made clear to all and sundry that news of the PMDC’s demise is greatly exaggerated. This is a third force that is here to stay and that is growing on a daily basis.
It is such bold faced lies, propagated in rags such as the Exclusive, clearly calculated to give the public a distorted image of Charles Margai that have over the years created an unfair misconception about the MAN amongst some people who when quizzed as to how they have arrived at a tainted conclusion, cannot give a reasoned answer for an illogical conclusion. These people get their twisted views from those journalists about to make a quick Leone, and unfortunately without proper analysis, the gullible public also go about peddling the most distorted rumors about Charles Margai. The better approach would be to keep an open mind until they have had an opportunity to meet the man up close and personal or take time out to study his track record in his professional, political, religious, social and private life. Charles Margai is not a hermit, he is all over the place, in court, in church, in private clubs, where he is a member, at the various beaches, at PMDC meetings, etc. etc. as such it does not take too much to get to know him or to discover factual details about him. Let the detractors remember the famous quotation from Bob Marley’s song “who Jah Bless No Man Can Curse.”
INSIGHT INTO CHARLES MARGAI’S PATRIOTISM, PROFESSIONALISM, PATIENCE AND LOVE FOR SIERRA LEONE
After finishing his secondary schooling at the only secondary school in Sierra Leone called a college, Christ The King College, Charles Margai proceeded to Ireland to pursue the study of law. On returning home to Sierra Leone from Ireland as a qualified lawyer, Charles Francis Margai came into prominence as a lawyer in 1971, beginning at the Law Officers Department in Freetown as State Counsel. After leaving the Law Officers’ Department, he then started his private practice in Bo in 1973, associating with lawyers such as Edmond Cowan, the current Ombudsman and former Speaker of Parliament and J.B. Dauda, former Minister of Finance and Former Vice- President He stayed in Bo until he was forced to leave in December 1994 as a result of the activities of the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front.
He then put the pieces together and opened up his law practice in Freetown, where he currently is Senior Counsel in the Banta Chambers of C.F. Margai & Associates He is very dedicated and committed to the pursuit of justice, and does not allow anything to stand in his way when he is involved in the representation of a client. In other words, he does everything within the law to obtain justice for his clients, both national and foreign. Charles Margai represented Alieu Kondowa, one of the Civil Defense Forces (CDF) Defendants in the Special Court of Sierra Leone, both at the Trial and Appellate Chambers and distinguished himself extremely well as a professional lawyer. Again, this could be discovered through research of the records of the Special Court and by talking to Judges of the Trial and Appellate Chambers, both national and international prosecution and defense lawyers, administrative staff and all others who associated with Charles Margai during his days at the Special Court as defense counsel.
Charles Francis Margai is also one of the Presidents Emeriti (Past Presidents) of the Sierra Leone Bar Association. In fact, in 2005 the year in which he was nominated for the position of President by Past Master and Registrar of the Sierra Leone Courts and current Acting Chairman of the Political Parties Registration Commission, Charles Margai was considered so well suited for the position that he was declared unopposed for the presidency of the Bar, a position in which he served with honour and distinction. Do not take my word for it, talk to those who were actively participating in the Sierra Leone Bar at that time.
The reason emphasis is being placed on Charles Margai’s professional association is that from one’s occupational operation, especially spanning a lengthy period of almost forty years, a fairly good assessment could be reached concerning the subject’s temperament, demeanor, character, ability to get along with others, both superiors and subordinates, and whether accommodating of others viewpoints, etc.etc. It is then that a determination could be made as to whether he is impatient, arrogant, opinionated and dictatorial.
Charles Margai is also a devoutly religious family man and goes to mass every Sunday, even when on the campaign trail and has paid visits to mosques all over the country to share the teachings of the Holy Koran with his Muslim brothers and sisters. He is married and has two daughters in London, both having completed their Masters Degree in Law (LLM).
There again, there are opportunities for those who are well meaning and genuinely want to know about the MAN, Charles Margai, to spend some time finding about the MAN. He is thus an open book, whose achievements could be easily accessed, and whose persona both public and private should not be subject to distortions. Only the misguided, unschooled , mean spirited and the writer dare says even unpatriotic would continuously be spewing out untruths and distortions of a patriot who is as democratic and committed to defending the honour and good name of Sierra Leone , as much as any other patriotic Sierra Leonean.
The reader should not take my word for it rather some effort should be made to verify these statements, from those for whom he has provided competent legal representation around the country. The writer has been fortunate to be present when platitudes have been heaped on Charles Margai during our tour of the country, as to how he saved this person and that other person from injustice, either from going to jail unjustly or from losing a civil matter, involving acres and acres of land and valuable homes. Just recently as last week a former APC devotee, whose visit was connected with his crossing over to the PMDC was at Banta Chambers recounting how Charles Margai had taken up the cause of one of his friends involved in a property dispute several years ago and that one thing that had impressed him, about Charles Margai, at that time, was his statement about getting rid of tribalism.
Indeed did not Charles Margai and the PMDC in 2007 demonstrate this desire to rid Sierra Leone of tribalism by throwing its weight behind Ernest Bai Koroma and the APC during the presidential run-off elections? Sadly this urge to get rid of the scourge of tribalism has not been realized through no fault of Charles Margai and the PMDC. History would judge where the blame lies.
Is this the mark of an impatient, arrogant, insensitive, uncaring dictator? This writer has been in our courst on several occasions when only a disciplined, patient and professional lawyer would accept certain miscarriages of justice without throwing a tantrum. Charles Margai accepts such miscarriages with utmost humility and decorum and takes the erroneous decision to a higher court for review, normally with these words “as your lordship pleases.” He could never be accused of ineffective assistance of counsel while undertaking a client’s representation, no matter the status of the client in society.
Currently, he is handling several cases, some from chiefdoms in the North, in which the Local Government Ministry is alleged to have interfered with the rights of people from ruling houses to contest chieftaincy elections. He is among the most patient, deliberate and persevering lawyers of our times, and is capable of practicing law anywhere in the world at the highest level of the legal profession, in a way that would make any Sierra Leonean proud. The reader should check out the court records in Dapawani & Eleven Others versus The Inspector General of Police and Satria Dwipayana & 14 Others versus The Inspector General of Police, all twenty six defendants in both cases represented by Charles Margai. The cases were decided by the Sierra Leone Court of Appeals, and judgment delivered by Justice Eku Roberts, on July 1, 2010 and July 8, 2010 respectively. Both cases are clear examples of patience, perseverance, deliberateness and how a skillful and experienced lawyer behaves in the representation of his clients. This writer having had an opportunity to practice and to observe the practice of law in several jurisdictions in the United States and to observe it being practiced in England and Sierra Leone, writes this commendation about Charles Margai’s legal acumen, unequivocally and unreservedly.
In the lawsuit mentioned above, between Mohamed Bangura and PMDC and the National Secretary General as Defendants, a matter concerning Bamgura’s suspension, those who were in Court saw the magnanimity and grace of Charles Margai when he appeared before Justice Browne-Marke and did not ask for court costs for his clients after Bangura’s case was thrown out for procedural flaws.
While engaged in the practice of law, unlike other people who sit on the fence and fiddle while Sierra Leone is burning, he became involved in active politics throwing all his weight, including time, knowledge and finances behind the Sierra Leone People’s Party, even when it was not fashionable to do so. That is during the days of the evil empire under Siaka Stevens and the All Peoples Congress (APC). President Stevens saw Charles Margai as a threat and even when he won a parliamentary seat in Moyamba South in 1977, Stevens ordered him arrested and locked up at Pademba Road for a year without any charges and without any bath. Stevens was afraid that with Charles Margai in Parliament, he would be unable to pass the bill into law for Sierra Leone to become a one party state. With the machination of Stevens and his cabal, such as S.I. Koroma , C.A. Kamara-Taylor and others of that ilk, a motion was passed declaring Charles Margai’s seat vacant for not appearing in Parliament for 30 consecutive seating days, even though the evil cabal knew very well that they had him locked up at Pademba Road.
Charles Margai served as Minister of Internal Affairs and Local Government under the Presidency of President Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah and in those days when corruption with impunity was rife among Ministers of Government, there has not been even a rumor, much more a fact even from his detractors, that Charles Margai was corrupt. The police, prisons and fire force were all under his administration, in addition to all the local governments in the entire country. When he saw that the policies of the Tejan- Kabbah Government were not in consonance with his ideology, he tendered his resignation and went back into the private practice of law.
The irony of his days in the SLPP, is that with all the sacrifices, both financial and more so blood sweat and tears, the party turned out to be full of ingrates. In 2002 when Charles Margai was refused the right to contest against Tejan Kabba for the leadership of the
SLPP and as such denied the opportunity to be the flag bearer of the SLPP in the 2002 presidential election.
Charles Margai took the matter to court and the Late Judge Rashid was the trial judge. Charles Margai was asked to produce his SLPP Party card during the trial, when he could not, as a result of the devastation suffered at the hands of the rebels, his home in Bo having been burnt to ashes, the Judge ruled that Margai was not a member of the SLPP, even though he had been paying his membership dues and making other enormous financial contributions religiously to the Party. This is the MAN who detractors say should have been patient and should have stayed in the SLPP, when one more blow was inflicted against him at the SLPP convention in Makeni in 2005. Tejan Kabba, who constitutionally was incapable of seeking another term as President, openly and notoriously supported Solomon Berewa at the Convention and rigged the leadership contest by intimidating the delegates to vote for Berewa. When Charles Margai took this to be the last stray, he quit the SLPP and together with other progressive like minds, such as the writer, formed the PMDC. On leaving the SLPP some disingenuous people accuse him of being impatient, arrogant and overambitious. How much more should a man take? History would judge.
Of utmost significance is that the MAN, Charles Francis Margai has never associated or collaborated with any undemocratic regime in Sierra Leone or anywhere in the world. No one could lift a finger and associate him with the NPRC, nor with the AFRC. In fact his self imposed exile in Guinea was occasioned by the persistent attempt by the AFRC to woo him to serve as their Attorney General. To avoid any association with that regime, he escaped with his family to Conakry, Guinea. His record on human rights is thus impeccable and he is among the topmost crusaders for democracy in Sierra Leone. He does not have a vengeful bone in his body and whereas you have people in positions of authority always out to get a pound of flesh and make revenge and an unforgiving spirit their password and mantra, Charles Margai as the record clearly indicates has always demonstrated a forgiving, tolerant and reconciliatory policy. A renowned independent lawyer, who is familiar with the professional career of Charles Margai, has confirmed his human rights record. This has trickled down to his supporters and members in the People’s Movement For Democratic Change and is manifested in the Party’s penchant for political tolerance and eschewing of violence in its operations.
When Solomon Berewa, as Vice President brought trumped up charges against Charles Margai and some of his supporters in 2005, because as alleged by Berewa, the supporters of Margai failed to allow the Vice-President’s convoy to pass when the supporters of Margai were jubilating in Bo, after leaving a prize giving ceremony at Christ the King College, the secondary school both Margai and Berewa attended. They had been invited for the celebration of the annual prize giving ceremony. Berewa got Margai arrested for such triviality and taken all the way to Bo from Freetown to face charges. The matter was later transferred to Freetown and Margai faced charges before Magistrate Shyllon, and this matter dragged on and was still pending during the Presidential election in 2007. After the elections Margai in his forgiving spirit visited Berewa and pleaded that all the leading political parties, APC, SLPP and PMDC should work for the development of Sierra Leone and should let bygones be bygones. Such is the nature of the MAN. He did not seek revenge for the humiliation heaped upon him by Berewa in bringing such innocuous and unnecessary charges against him and his supporters. The writer wonders what Berewa would have done had the shoe been on the other foot and had Berewa won the election and become President.
Additionally, apart from other injustices meted against him by the APC under Stevens, after Sir Albert had been jailed and exiled by Stevens when Sir Albert Margai died in Silver Spring in the State of Maryland in the United States, Stevens backed by the APC refused for Sir Albert’s body to be brought into Freetown on arrival from the United States. Stevens ordered that the remains of Sir Albert should be taken directly to Gbangbatoke. Has any person heard Charles Margai whining and swearing brimstone and fire for this ignominy against his father by the APC?
Yet this is the same Charles Margai who after consultation with the PMDC, the party of which he was the leader in 2007, and still is the leader, decided to support the same APC , which had wrought all the ills mentioned above, against him and his father. This demonstrates maturity and readiness to forgive, taking a decision in the best interest of Sierra Leone. Non Sibi Sed Alis. Not For Self But For Others. This was patriotism at its highest and purest form. He could easily have taken a back seat and advise his followers and supporters to vote for whoever they wanted to, during the run-off in 2007, for the presidency. Guess who would now be the President, Solomon Berewa, of course.
He comes from a politically connected family, the founding fathers of the SLPP. Sir Milton Margai, the first Prime Minister of Sierra Leone was his uncle and his father as indicated above was, Sir Albert Margai, the second Prime Minister of Sierra Leone. This rich heritage has never been used by Charles Margai to gain an advantage over us, less common folks. You would never hear a boastful word from him concerning his lineage. Worth mentioning is his refusal to accept any cabinet position in Ernest Koroma’s Government, yet he is being accused of being over ambitious.
How many of us could be so forgiving and so modest? It is hoped that those who have not been fortunate to associate with Charles Francis Margai and those who have been unfortunate to be misled and fed a bunch of hogwash by misguided, selfish, greedy individuals, would now do an objective assessment of the MAN, Charles Francis Margai and form their own opinion, after taking time out to contact the sources to which the writer has made reference.
An individual cannot be castigated, maligned and his profile distorted because he is educated, approaches life with deliberateness, demonstrates an air of certainty on issues of professional and national importance, cares for the down trodden, has displayed patriotism throughout his life, a crusader for human rights and eschews tribalism.
Raymond Bamidele Thompson, Sr.
Voice of The Voiceless
Former Presidential Candidate 2002