By Kabs Kanu
I was enjoying my sleep at precisely 5:00am yesterday when, as she also did when the First Mother of the Nation, Madam Alice Rosaline Koroma, and APC Deputy Leader Chukuma Johnson passed away, the All People’s Congress (APC) Iron Lady and boss of the Attitudinal and Behavioral Change Secretariat at State House, Mrs. Nannette Thomas, woke me from my sleep with a phone call to announce with solemnity that, ”We have another funeral! Hindolo Trye has just died.” There was a deafening silence and then she continued, “He died a few moments ago while being conveyed to the Choitram’s Hospital for treatment.“
The sad and shocking news hit me so hard that I screamed loudly and disturbed the sweet slumber of all members of my family, especially my wife, who was sealed in slumber by my side. My sons came scrambling to find out what had happened. Without being told, though, they suspected that it must have been another death. It has happened once too often. People living in the United States of America with extended families in Sierra Leone could tell you how they dread that call from Freetown that comes in at dawn. It is almost always to announce a death or some bad news. It is as if most people die during the night or just before dawn. I could not believe my ears that HINDOLO TRYE had passed away.
A friend, brother, compatriot, motivator and a giant in every sense of the word, whom I adored and respected so much, Mr. Hindolo Sumanguru Trye, had become the latest casualty of the stream of dawn-time death news that always destroys your day and launch another era of mourning. He has gone to reunite in eternity with other former Fourah Bay College (FBC) student activists like the Marxist Leninist doctrinaire, Boubaccar Njai-Bah, who actually sowed the seeds of the 1977 students action against the system , Saidu Sowa (who was the Vice-President of the Students Union Government); Mr. Abu Mansaray (the Attorney General), and other strong campus advocates for change, Sangster Sesay, Claude Wright, Nicholas Momoh , Valerie Bankole-Jones, Cleo Hanciles, Olu Gordon, Saaba Sam Tumoi and others, who have all gone to rest.
Hindolo Trye was an imposing influence on my life as a student political activist and Journalist at Fourah Bay College during the heady days of the mid 1970s. It was indeed during this most active and difficult period of student activism on campus (1972-1976) that I came to know and interface with Hindolo Sumanguru Trye. It was the time of profound student disenchantment with the archaic college administration and the government downtown and Hindolo Trye was to play a commanding role in the maelstrom of dramatic events.
The once stoic, sleepy and lethargic FBC campus was rife with student political activism. The late Hassan Kamara (1971-72), who first started using the word “Revolution” and other socialist terms like “Comrade,’ “The Reaction,” “The struggle,” “In the cause of the people,“ etc. on campus and his successor, the late Kemoh Sulimani, had in the eyes of the students failed to provide the robust leadership the students requested to rattle the college administration and the Shaki Government. Boubaccar Njai-Bah, who fed himself on a regular diet of Karl Marx, Lenin, Fidel Castro, Walter Rodney, Franz Fanon, etc. had thrown his hat in the ring and set the campus on fire with revolutionary rhetoric. The restive students who were tired of the succession of “fixity” governments that they considered weak and ineffectual, were rejuvenated and a new hero and a new cause were born.
Everywhere on campus, students’ diction suddenly became “revolutionary” and socialist. There was no want in propagators. Hindolo Trye , Sangster Sesay, Charles Caulker (now Paramount Chief), Claude Wright, Donald Browne-Marke, this writer who had started publishing the radical student newspaper , Cocorioko , Duramani Sawaneh, Kwame Fitzjohn, Larry Domingo ( a feared student Lawyer) Saaba Sam Tumoi, students from the Zimbabwe, some members of the Auradicals like the late Emmanuel Campbell , the Cyclades members like Alpha Wurie, the late Festus Hanciles, Lati Hyde (who played a commanding role in effecting the change that came) and the Gardeners became ready adherents. Talk became rife about a students’ “revolution.”
Everywhere, there was chaos on campus. The most notable was the student action against the once high and mighty Principal, the late Professor the Rev. Canon Dr. Harry Sawyerr, who had to be escorted out of the Mary Kingsley Theatre by security officers after he angered students by giving them off-handed answers to their grievances during a heated meeting (he was to be replaced later by Professor Eldred Jones) . There was another student action against the Catering Officer, a very beautiful but insensitive and verbally-abusive lady called Mrs. Leigh (who was then replaced by the hugely popular and efficient Mammy Greene who became the idol of students for her delicious meals in the dining halls. More student actions followed even against the then ruling ‘Fixity’ Government, led by another gentleman of profound self-respect, the late Mr. Kemoh Sulimani (who, though I criticized his government day and night on Chuks Press, recommended me for my first award in Journalism by the FBC Student Union during the handing over ceremony to the incoming “Revolutionary” government, led by Njai-Bah. Also, memorably , was the demonstration downtown to protest electricity blackout that was supposed to have been led by Njai-Bah after he came to power but he developed cold feet and “had to be dragged along,” in the words of Ernest Ndomahina (now Professor ). Al Hassan “Toujours” Kamara, another radical student, stepped in and as Njai-Bah literally shook like a leaf in front of the late Vice-President Sorie Ibrahim Koroma at his Tower Hill office, seized the microphone from him and told the VP in strong and uncompromising terms that if light was not restored immediately, the students will stay downtown and will not return to campus. Not ready for any student protest in an already volatile city, S.I. Koroma faithfully promised that light would be restored by the time we got back to campus .And he lived up to his promise.
In all fairness to President Siaka Stevens and S.I. Koroma, the APC Government did not deserve all the knocks it got from the FBC students in those days. When you consider how students welfare came to be criminally neglected by the Joseph Saidu Momoh , NPRC and SLPP governments after Shaki and when one honestly looks back at the enjoyment on campus at the time–regular electricity, water supply, full scholarship , living and book allowances, and dining halls that fed students free and stupendously three times a day, including regular breakfast that consisted of sardines, luncheon meat, corned beef, baked beans and toasted bread in addition to lunch of steaming eba, meat stew, cassava and potato leaves , bitter leaves and dinner that often comprised even cous-cous– you know that Pa Skaki got a raw deal, where truth is concerned . The APC Government addressed many of the students’ needs but probably what Pa Shaki lacked in those days was a very strong, vibrant and virulent media and government officials who spoke to the students on a regular basis and wooed them. If President Stevens had seen it fit to have a very pervasive media network to propagate his achievements, most of the misconceptions about his government would have been avoided.
This is one of the lessons I have learnt in life after also living in Liberia and suffering the effects of an unnecessary military coup against the William Tolbert Government. Tolbert scored many achievements and was an outstanding and exemplary leader. It is an insult to compare him to many African leaders of his time or the murderer Samuel Doe, who killed and replaced him or the human butcher Charles Taylor, but the good man was demonized by so-called reformers who used the media very powerfully against him and took advantage of public gullibility to paint an excellent President black. If life’s tape was to be rewound, and I had the opportunity once again, I would never have participated in any protest action against Dr. Siaka Probyn Stevens, given the experience I have accrued in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the United States of America. Shaki had his faults but he also contributed to the development of Sierra Leone and was a victim of his own neglect of the media and the arrogance of some of his officials who treated students with disdain.
But back to my story, Hindolo Trye thrived in this “revolutionary atmosphere” that was set adrift on campus by Njai-Bah and his followers. I worked with Hindolo Trye and other “radical” students during this turbulent era of student activism. A master strategist and planner, Hindolo’s hand was in every student endeavour designed to get the administration to take students’ complaints seriously. He even worked with some of us in the press to plan and structure stinging articles on CHUKS PRESS against the student union government led by the extraordinary democrat, Mr. Sulimani; the college administration and the national government. Though we had to deal with thorny issues, Hindolo was always gentle and civil and he accommodated your views even if he disagreed with your line of thinking.
Hindolo was an undisputed champion of students’ rights even well before he became Student Council President. I first saw the no-nonsense “Hindolo” streak in the Guru one night when the Warden of Students , Dan Diddo, turned up at Block G and stood before the gate to deny students the opportunity the take their invited guests from the city into the dormitories before a Freshers’ Dance. It fed into the students’ perception then that the college administration was denying students their rights and that presumably adult students were being treated like schoolboys and schoolgirls. Hindolo, having been tipped off that the Warden was at Block G denying students their rights, materialized on the scene and engaged in verbal theatrics and a war of words and wits with the much-feared Dan Decker. In those days, one had to really choose his words well when speaking with Mr. Decker. However, that day, good, old Dan Diddo, unable to withstand the fiery lecture delivered by Hindolo Trye, gave up his quest and students poured into the dorms with their female guests. Dan Decker was fond of threatening dissenting students with rustication, but did not even reprimand the Guru because the college administration was awakening to the reality that trouble was looming underneath on the campus. Students hailed the GURU and you had a sense then that Hindolo Trye was an uncompromising and fearless student leader in the making. Whether in the dining halls, or the bookstore or in the administrative building or students union complex (when students went to collect their allowances) or in the library or lecture rooms, Hindolo was a stout fighter and advocate for students’ rights and dignity. He was not afraid to confront any member of the college administration whom he perceived to have treated students unfairly. He soon became famous on the campus as a student radical and fighter.
Our relationship became even tighter and more congenial when we both formed part of the FBC Students Union Government, led by Njai-Bah, that was invited by the late President Ahmad Sekou Toure to Guinea to take part in the anniversary of the ascension to power of his Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG) in 1974. In that delegation were the student leader, Njai-Bah, Attorney General, Abu Mansaray, Propaganda Minister (Kabs Kanu), Larry Domingo, Sangster Sesay (Sango, also known as Goostay), Charles Caulker (Charlo Mama), the sweet and charming Catherine Kamara, Hindolo Sumanguru Trye, Sam Mundoma (a radical Zimbabwean student ) and some Guinean students studying at FBC at the time, another sweet-spirited lady called Saran Diakite, Kebbey (surname forgotten ) and another young man whose name I have forgotten completely.
We spent two weeks and had a wonderful time in Sekou Toure’s Guinea and were treated as state guests. We were hosted at the then first-class Gbessia Hotel by the international airport and taken to many parts of Guinea like Dalaba, Fria, Pita and Labe (Where we met very light-skinned Arab-like Foulahs who never joined the exodus to Sierra Leone ). People lined the routes to welcome us wherever we went and town hall ceremonies and receptions were held in our honour. Hindolo was a very close buddy to me during the trip . His friendly jokes and conversation and his ability to affirm and empower his associates were just remarkable. We met President Sekou Toure at the People’s Palace in a historic and momentous meeting on the eve of our departure . Toure gave us a long lecture about why and how he came to power and the evils of colonialism and neo-colonialism. The “revolutionary” President supplied us translated versions of many of his books and the military uniforms that were the national dress then in Guinea. Sekou Toure also gave us a military helicopter to fly us back to Sierra Leone and we had the opportunity for the first time to fly over Freetown and savour the breathcatching beauty of the Freetown coastline , towering mountains and beautiful forests. We were expecting that when the helicopter landed at the Brookfields Recreation Grounds, we would have been arrested because we learnt later that Pa. Shaki was not aware of the trip. However, though a team of ISUs watched and presided over the landing of the helicopter and our disembarkment from the craft, they kept their distance and we grabbed our luggage, went to the main road and hailed taxis to take us home. We wore our military uniforms in the safety of the college campus , though some pro-APC students then warned us that we could be arrested because we were not army personnel.
As one of the leading campus journalists at CHUKS PRESS and publisher of the then radical COCORIOKO newspaper and SPOTLIGHT , my relationship with Hindolo Trye was to become testy after the Auradicals resigned from the so-called revolutionary students government over the the Kabs Kanu/Emmanuel Grant Vs Mary Fowlis / Lati Hyders clash that was largely blown out of proportion by opponents of the Auradicals. The conflict was caused by a fiery clash that ensued between this writer and Mary Fowlis , a Gambian student, in front of CHUKS PRESS over some devastating articles she had written to blast the President of the Economics students organization, AIESEC , Mr. Tamba Borbor ( The present Deputy Health Minister ) who happened to be the Minister of Security in the Njai-Bah students Government. As the Minister responsible for defending other ministers, this definitely brought me in direct conflict with Miss Fowlis . The quarrel went on to be exaggerated by those who did not like the Auradicals .We came in direct contact with dirty politicking for the first time in our lives . The conflict led to defections from the government by Auradicals serving it : Minister of Housing , Soule Bashiru Daramy ( Today the Chief of Protocol at State House ), Minister of Sports Andrew Gbebay Bangali ( Today Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the AU and Ethiopia ), Permanent Secretary , Information Ministry, Abioseh Michael Porter, who was infact the Dictator of Auradicals, ( Today Head of Department and Professor of English at a U.S. University ) and this publisher who was then Minister of Propaganda. The other Auradical, Emmanuel Campbell, who was Information Minister, refused to resign and was expelled from the Auradicals Club.
Hindolo Trye proved to be an impressive peacemaker during the crisis . He fought desperately behind the scenes to save the relationship between the so-called “Revolutionary” students government and the Auradicals . He was one of the many students that did not swing on the side of the Lati Hyders and listened to the Auradicals’ side of the conflict. The born leader he was, GURU always listened to the other side. This was one of the things I admired most about him. GURU had the uncanny ability to get along with even those on the other camp. But the relationship could not be saved. The Auradicals fell out with the Njai-Bah’s Government .
After this, my articles in Cocorioko and on Chuks Press started to be viewed with suspicion by members of the Njai-Bah Government and supporters. Many of my editorials and op/ed articles did not go down well with the Njai-Bah regime, which at the same time had started to be isolated by a significant number of former devotees who accused Njai-Bah of being full of mere revolutionary rhetoric and no spunk. As the so-called revolution began to fall apart seriously , with more defections from one-time loyalists, the press became very unkind to the government and levied explosive allegations against it. Njai-Bah’s life became miserable on campus.
Many of my articles irked Hindolo Trye as Njai-Bah further hit vey low depths with one scandal after the other following his ministers , but unlike other adherents who verbally abused me or challenged me to fist fights, GURU was always gentle to me. He never raised his voice or threatened me. He just expressed his displeasure with my views but he always ended up by commending my writing skills and predicting that one day I will go places through Journalism.
Despite our frequent disagreements over my views , Hindolo Trye remained a friend and brother and we found common grounds in other aspects of campus life , especially in the exposure of social evils on campus, which the Dean of Students , the late Dan Decker ( Dan Diddo ) himself also sanctioned. Hindolo Trye was a remarkable gentleman and I will never forget his words of motivation to me.
Hindolo later reconciled me with Boubaccar Njai-Bah and ironically though he had appointed a new Propaganda Minister, Njai-Bah and his ministers always invited me to cover events for the government, leaving the ineffective minister in the lurch. Our reconciliation was negotiated by Hindolo Trye and Raymond Moshe Roberts ( Now head of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank ). Whenever there was a students union event, Hindolo Trye would come to my room to collect me to go and cover it for the Njai-Bah Government , though I was no longer their propagandist. I asked him if my replacement would not feel that he was being undermined and supplanted , but GURU always assured me that the students’body loved my writing and coverage far better and since Njai-Bah sanctioned it, he saw nothing wrong in what I was doing. I frankly did not want to do it, but lots of students came to me also and said that since I left, CHUKS PRESS had suffered extremely and so in the public interest, I had to comply.
Hindolo Trye ‘s efforts did not go in vain and in 1976 after I had graduated he went on to contest the students union elections, after the uneventful reign of the late Foday Kallon, who was not an offshot of the Njai-Bah revolution but was in fact a reincarnation of ”fixity” on campus . Hindolo won the elections by a landslide and became the next “revolutionary” leader after Njai-Bah. The remainder of the story is the stuff of legend.
Following the 1977 students action against the government, Hindolo, the leader and many students were arrested and incarcerated at Pademba Road Prisons. The government established a nexus between Trye and some of us his former associates , though we had graduated from college . One morning, I was picked up by the ISU in my classroom , accused of seditious statements, and taken first to the Commissioner of Police, Bambay Kamara ( who despite all that had been said about him was a very nice and sympathetic man who frankly told me he did not like sending young men like me to jail for politics but since the order had come from the top, he had no alternative but to have me detained ).I was driven to Pademba Road and locked up . I shared cell with the late SLPP political war horse Mannah Kpaka and the sons of the late Paramount Chief, Bai Makari N’Silk , who was executed at the same prisons two years before that after being found guilty of participating in the Mohamed Sorie Forna coup. We spent a month and a week in jail. By then , Hindolo and FBC students had been released .
On my release, Hindolo Trye showed his concern for his colleagues and was very thoughtful to have visited me at my school to sympathize with me and boost my spirit. He told me that it was not a big deal to be jailed for politics because most of the people who later became leaders of Sierra Leone had also been jailed at Pademba Road before. “Name me anybody who became a leader in this country without first going to Pademba Road Prisons,” he asked me as we shared drinks at the school canteen. “Even Pa. Shaki has been there before “. A prison officer, who served political captives then, had the habit of telling detainees that CLARKSON HOUSE ,where political detainees were incarcerated then at Pademba Road Prisons, was a training ground for leadership in Sierra Leone. ”You don’t become one of the leaders in Sierra Leone without first coming here to Clarkson House. I have been a jailer for over 20 years and most of the people ruling this country now first came here. ” It became one of Hindolo’s flagship sermons to colleagues he wanted to motivate.
The students at the school identified Hindolo Trye and abandoned class to come and idolize him. That was how popular he had become. He quickly called a cab and left to avoid creating a scene that would have led to us being arrested again.
Hindolo and I remained friends and he , along with Pios Foray and Frank Kposowa , invited me to become a member of the TABLET newspaper when it was set up late in 1977. The one thing that fascinated me about Hindolo Trye was that despite all he suffered at the hands of the government, he was not bitter at all . He remained the same happy-go-lucky Hindolo Trye of college days and did not write bitter articles against the government. He even continued to have good friends within the government. In later life, Hindolo would even become a member of the very party he had fought.
The irony of Hindolo’s life was that he ended up being a fanatic of the APC, like many other former FBC students who took part in the 1977 students revolt. Dramatically and unbelievably , the visionary President Siaka Stevens had predicted this that very 1977. After our release from prison, we were taken to him at State House to receive further chastisement and in a monologue at times replete with the vintage Pa Shakiisms , including insults, the President made one of the most prophetic statements some of us have ever heard in our lives and this played a part in my decision (and Hindolo’s,I am sure ) to cap our political lives by joining the APC. I am sure Shaki told the Hindolo Group the same thing when they met him at State House on their release . President Siaka Stevens told us that we had a lot to learn .He said that we would learn one day that we were misguided and misled to protest against his government. He said that some people , who wanted him to leave, orchestrated the students unrest but he would not leave as they want because they will not rule the country well as he had done and also he had the formula for keeping the nation together. He said if he leaves the country would be fragmented and nobody would be able to contain the chaos that will befall Sierra Leone. “Hence you people want the APC to leave. We will leave one day, but when we do, some of you will one day wish for us to return.”
How prophetic indeed! ! !
Pa Shaki’s prophetic words came true in the 2000s . After the NPRC and SLPP ruled the country for 15 years only to leave the nation in tatters, everybody, including this writer and Hindolo Trye craved for the APC to return to power. Pa Shaki made a lot of mistakes and he had no media to help promote his achievements but many Sierra Leoneans realized that it was better the APC at the helm of power in Sierra Leone than the SLPP. We in our respective ways fought to bring the APC back to power. Hindolo died a staunch believer in Dr. Stevens’ prophesy. While declaring for the APC in 2005, he said that he had come to realize that only the APC had the ability to develop Sierra Leone. He stated that though he once tried to bring the APC Government down, he had learnt that the APC was the only hope for Sierra Leone. He had been a government minister since the APC returned to power in 2007 and was one of the most honest and scrupulous government functionaries.
When he visited Mr. Lamini Waritay in Liberia in 1979, Hindolo Trye, true to his love and concern for his friends, made sure that he visited me too at my home in Caldwell, outside Monrovia. He was delighted to know that I had settled down and was doing well. That was how much Hindolo cared for his friends and associates.
Hindolo Trye will be missed by all the people whose lives he touched, including me. We have lost a born leader, a visionary, a reformer and a freedom fighter.