By Wilfred Leroy Kabs-Kanu, Editor, Cocorioko newspaper, New Jersey.
Part 1 of interview
Indeed, there can be only one Victor Foh. The enigmatic, unique, charismatic,loyal , brilliant, phenomenal and outspoken veteran politician , who is a walking encyclopedia of Sierra Leone politics, has remained a fascinating figure on the political stage . He propelled the old All People’s Congress ( APC ) Government of the late President Siaka Stevens to many election victories and remained an impregnable rock of Gibralter under the most sustained persecution when errant soldiers overthrew that government in 1992. The soldiers did their devillish best to break his spirit but Victor Foh remained unscathed and invincible.
Victor Foh was even captured by the limbs-chopping , throat-slashing and cannibalistic Revolutionary United Front ( RUF ) rebels , bound like a hog and was on the verge of being butchered to death when a gallant soldier and his party staged a dramatic rescue operation that saved Foh for his worst nightmare . As if that was not enough, when the Sierra Leone People’s Party ( SLPP ) came to power in 1996, they also did their demonic best to break Victor Foh’s soul . He was lambasted day in , day out in articles published in pro-government newspapers with accusations of being a traitor and “a rebel to the Mende cause” ( whatever that meant ) for being a South/Easterner and hitching himself to the APC. But regardless of everything he suffered, Foh remained loyal to the APC. Mr.Foh is a living legend of political tolerance and neutrality from tribalism and regionalism. While in power, the SLPP did everything to woo him and force him to defect from the APC with the promise of lucrative positions, but he rejected the overtures and remained loyal to the APC. Though on the horizon, there appeared to be no hope of the APC reclaiming power again, Foh remained true to the party.
The SLPP then tried to eliminate him by accusing him falsely of being a junta collaborator, following the bloody restoration of the Ahmad Tejan Kabbah Government by mercenaries and the subregional interventionist force, ECOMOG , after the 1997 Armed Forces Ruling Council ( AFRC ) Coup . Foh had a blood-thirsty posse sent out to deal with him , but God was with him and the posse failed to get him, when he could have been burnt alive or matcheted to death on the street as it happened to thousands of accused junta collaborators . He was however arrested by the government and thrown into the maximum Pademba Road Prison .The SLPP Government put him and many innocent citizens on trial for Treason , because they refused to leave the country during the AFRC rule. The SLPP, which had set up a government in exile in Conakry, Guinea, had warned that anybody who did not run away from the country during junta rule would be deemed a collaborator whenever the government was restored . Foh and many others, including journalists, lawyers, teachers, engineers and soldiers, who did not flee the country, were tried and found guilty by a kangaroo court and sentenced to death. He was on death row awaiting his execution when rebels took over the capital in 1999, burst the prison doors open and freed all the captives.
The next stage of Victor Foh’s stormy but charming life was working with the then Insurance executive Ernest Bai Koroma and other loyal APC stalwarts to bring the APC back to power. This was at a time when only a small number of people wanted to have anything to do with the name, APC. Their valiant efforts which saw them sacrifice sleep , leisure and everything dear to them for years , paid off when the APC made a fantastic comeback , thrashing its traditional rival, the SLPP, dramatically to win back State House in 2007.
Since the APC came back to power , Mr. Foh had continued to be one of the driving forces behind the party. As Secretary General of the party , a position he won back unchallenged during last year’s Convention, he coordinates the activities of the many branches and chapters of the APC. Recently, he was in the United States to conduct party business . COCORIOKO caught up with him and asked him hard questions about what is going on in Sierra Leone. Some of the questions were purposedly critical to give Mr. Foh the opportunity to address the concerns of many Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora being bombarded on the internet with propaganda by the opposition SLPP . We started by asking him what he accomplished in his latest tour of the U.S.
The eloquent master of catching words and phrases responded that as Secretary General of the APC, he succeeded in sealing the peace that had been restored by bringing together members of the APC NA who were still feuding among themselves. He said that with the help of the Hon.Dauda Tombo Bangura and the Sierra Leone Ambassador to Liberia, Rev. Barnett , who was also here, they succeeded in restoring peace among the APC members, who have promised to put aside their differences and work together for the betterment of the party and the nation . He congratulated the new leadership of APC NA, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Azziz Turay. He congratulated members of the APC NA for conducting what was described as a free and fair election in Ohio this year and he charged the new government to rise up to the occasion and justify the confidence reposed in it by members who voted them to power. Mr. Foh said he was very much impressed with what he saw this time compared to the last time he was in America and he thanked Chairman Azziz Turay and his administration for their hard work and commitment. He disclosed that while here, he inaugurated a new APC Chapter in Minnesota , a great achievement for the party, he indicated.
Mr. Foh called on all members of the APC NA to close in the ranks and become more focussed because greater challenges were around the corner. “For instance, 2012, a very crucial year for us, is coming when for the first time Sierra Leone will be conducting three major elections in the same year —The Presidential, Legislative and Council elections-to determine who governs for another 5 years. These are elections we have to win to continue ruling Sierra Leone. We cannot accomplish it if we are busy fighting among ourselves. Politics is a game of numbers and we need the support of everyone of them to be able to win back Sierra Leone in 2012. ”
The year 2012 , Mr. Foh stated, will be a referendum on the leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma and the All People’s Congress (APC), but in his usual tone of optimism and supreme confidence, he assured this journalist that the APC will triumph in all these elections. “We have done a lot for our country and we are confident that the people of Sierra Leone will give us another 5 years to complete the good work we are doing so far. We will win the Presidential Elections at the first ballot and we will not go into a run-off this time. “, he stated with certainty. He commended President Ernest Bai Koroma for his visionary and progressive leadership which he said has brought a tremendous change in the lives of the people.
Mr. Foh then outlined all the achievements of the government since it came to power.
Part 2 of interview
The Secretary General of the Ruling All People’s Congress ( APC ), Mr. Victor Bockarie Foh, has said that the party is doing everything positive to ensure that it gets another five-year mandate from the people of Sierra Leone in 2012. The veteran politician, who made the statement during an exclusive interview with COCORIOKO (The first of which has been published ) , told this newspaper confidently that the APC will win the 2012 Presidential Elections at the first count and there will be no need for a run-off.
Mr. Foh said that the reason that the APC will win again in 2012 is that the government, under the leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma , is performing above expectation in the areas of good governance, respect for fundamental human rights , delivery of national development to the people and putting into place structures that will ensure strong economic recovery .
Speaking in his usual loud, clear and oratorial voice, Mr.Foh told this newspaper : “We continue to invest in all democratic institutions. The APC has a place for all political views and all the opposition parties are free to criticize us as they want. The newspapers , radio and TV stations are enjoying Freedom of expression they never had before in the history of this nation. We will continue to make the press more free . The APC Government operates according to law. The Police and the army are doing a great job ; Civil Society interacts with government and we accept their views; The National Elections Commission (NEC ), The Political parties Registration Commission and the Human Rights Commission are all operating freely without any government intervention “.
Answering questions on the government’s national development initiatives, Mr. Foh replied : “The APC is a performing government .Every ministry is performing. We have the most attractive trade and investment policies in West Africa .We are attracting investors and the investment climate is good for socio-economic and political development . ” He said that the government has brought electricity to Sierra Leone, thereby ending decades of nightmare for citizens, industries and businesses that lived in darkness before the APC came to power; the government, he went on, has also embarked on road development projects and Sierra Leone will soon have one of the best highway network systems in West Africa. Mr. Foh also told Cocorioko that the government was busy putting in place policies and structures , like the Goods and Service Tax (GST ) , for instance, which will stimulate the economy and make Sierra Leone a strong nation, economically.He also outlined President Koroma’s Agricultural and Food Safety Programs which will make Sierra Leone self-sufficient in food production.
COCORIOKO : The Government is really doing a commendable job and we want to thank President Koroma and government for that .Now, let’s go to some testy issues making headlines in the country . Can you explain the rationale for the oncoming inquest on the extrajudicial execution of 26 people by the NPRC junta . The opposition SLPP is making heavy weather of criticising the decision . Any opinion ?
VICTOR FOH : The opposition will criticize whatever we do. The APC Government and party believe in the Rule of Law. If anybody is deprived of his right to live, the Rule of Law states that we must know why it was done and whether it was legal to deprive that person of his life. This Rule of Law must always be observed . We deplore extrajudicial killings. Since we came to power we have never deprived anybody of his/her life and we will not condone it and we will not allow it to go on. The family of the 26 people deprived of their lives have a right to know why their family members were killed by the NPRC. They requested for the inquest and as a government that respects the legitimate wishes of our people we adherred because we want everybody to know that we will not engage in any cover up of crimes. The Commission of Enquiry which has been properly set up has the full force of the law. Nobody should be scared of the commission .We are doing everything the law should do to protect everybody in the land.
COCORIOKO : The opposition is saying that the inquest will open old wounds .What do you have to say about that ?
VICTOR FOH : It will not open any old wounds.In fact , what we are doing is that we are settling old wounds. By setting up this inquest to bring out the truth, we are mending old fences. How can we encourage extrajudiciary killings to go uninvestigated ? Is that the democracy and Land of Laws we want to establish ? If somebody commits an offence and regrets and confesses and we know the truth it is better for the nation. Nobody knows the truth of the executions because these people were never tried. But this government will not encourage the spirit of impunity . If we allow extrajudicial killings to go by like that it will encourage others to do the same tomorrow.
COCORIOKO : How do you reconcile this with the complaint of the opposition that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had already considered the issue ?
VICTOR FOH : The very TRC Report they are capitalizing on said clearly that the killings were extrajudicial. The TRC said that what was obvious to it was that there were no trials. If citizens of our country were killed without justification, the TRC cannot bar the judiciary from investigating these killings. What about the Special Court ? Did it not punish people for crimes committed during the period considered by the TRC ? If the Special Court punished people who committed crimes, why is the judiciary not free to do the same ? We cannot undermine justice and the operation of the Rule of Law under the guise of not opening old wounds. There are no old wounds to be opened here.Let the law take its course.
COCORIOKO : They are also arguing that the killings in question are also covered under the Lome Peace Accord .
VICTOR FOH : The Lome Peace Accord never covered Genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. If it had done so, then it would have seriously been in default. Extrajudicial killings should never be kept under the carpet because they will manure, fertilize and germinate. The oncoming inquest is in the interest of the nation. It will send a strong warning to present and future leaders of this country that if they kill people extrajudicially, the law will take action against them. It is a deterrent even for us who are in power now that if we too engage in extrajudicial killings, we will be dealt with .I want to appeal to all Sierra Leoneans that we should all respect the law and justice and we should endeavour to lay bare the extrajudicial killings that were committed by the NPRC . We just want everybody to understand that the decision for the inquest has nothing to do with a witch hunt. We are doing it to ensure that nobody becomes power-drunk in future and commits extrajudiciary killings. We are only following the new World Order on the respect for human life and the Rule of Law.
COCORIOKO : What is the strength of the APC in the opposition’s stronghold, given the fact that the PMDC is imploding and the SLPP has won bye-elections there recently ?
VICTOR FOH : They won the bye-elections but if you look at the votes, you will notice that the numbers are worrying for the opposition and encouraging for the APC. We are gaining a lot of grounds in the opposition stronghold. Let us look at the results in Constituency 91, Sorogbema Chiefdom. That was the constituency of SLPP War horse, Mannah Kpaka. In 2007, we did not get over 100 votes there. This time, we scored 1, 647 votes there .The SLPP had 3, 100 and that is their stronghold. In 2007, they had 4, 000 +votes .You see how they dropped and you see how we went up ? This shows that we can catch up with them and beat them in their own stronghold.
COCORIOKO : In your opinion, what is causing this paradigm shift in voting, if I may call it so ?
VICTOR FOH : Our performance in power . The SLPP did nothing for them when they were in power. We are giving them a major international highway that will link Sierra Leone to Liberia. We have given them light . We are giving them good education. They have seen that only the APC has the ability to bring development to them.
COCORIOKO : What about the Western Area, the APC’s traditional stronghold ? . The pro-SLPP Awareness Times newspaper , using the last Tribal Headman’s Elections, said the opposition was gaining grounds there .
VICTOR FOH : Our strength in the Western Area continues to be solid. And the facts are there for everybody to see. We have not contested any partisan chieftaincy elections anywhere. For tribal heads, they are non-partisan .Therefore, for any party to say they won the Western Area on the basis of that is mere mischief. Whoever won won on their own merit.Whoever lost lost on their own merit, not on any political party merit. We will get almost 100% votes in the Western Area in 2012.
COCORIOKO : I realize you are a very busy man and many people are waiting to talk to you.I will not hold you up for too long. Let’s look at the recent resignation of the Anti-Corruption Commissioner, Abdul Tejan-Cole. What is your view of this development ?
VICTOR FOH : Talking as Victor Bockarie Foh, I believe that any worthy Sierra Leonean should be ready to sacrifice for his country. He will be ready to give national service to his country .And in doing that there are lots of problems .It is not bread-and-butter all the time . It is not an easy position to hold but you sacrifice. We all face serious problems while serving our nation but we sacrifice. That is what life is all about.I say this as Victor Foh. However let this be clear that the government never interferred with the operations of the ACC Commissioner .
COCORIOKO : The resignation has been heavily politicised ,especially on the internet .What message do you have for Sierra Leoneans in this respect ?
VICTOR FOH : I say to all Sierra Leoneans everywhere, please let’s stop this propaganda on the internet designed to portray a negative picture of our country. The world has become a global village because of the internet .I want to appeal to all Sierra Leoneans not to abuse the internet .It is not good for Sierra Leone. We are struggling hard to win international respect and attention but some of the things written on the internet do not help the image of the country. I call on all Sierra Leoneans to be patriotic and to seek the good of our nation, irrespective of their political affiliations. Our journalists who use the internet must inform the reading public correctly , not feed them lies and untruths. That is not good for the international image of the country.
COCORIOKO : Any last word for the people ?
VICTOR FOH : Yes, I am appealing to all our people , whether here in America or Britain or Africa or in Sierra Leone , to continue to have confidence in the leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma . The President ’s Agenda For Change holds great promise for our nation. I appeal to them not to be taken in to the propaganda of the SLPP and to judge President Koroma on the merits of his performance in power. President Koroma is doing very well and they have not seen anything yet.
COCORIOKO : Well, Mr.Foh, thank you for granting us this interview. I think we have covered a lot and this will surfice for now. I wish you and Madam a safe jorney back home to Sierra Leone .
VICTOR FOH : Thank you too for interviewing me. Keep on the good work.
Photo: Victor Foh.