HINGA NORMAN : A PLAQUE OF INFAMY OR HEROISM ?
Wilfred Kabs- Kanu looks at a jolly man whose political lifestyle has embodied controversy so far…..
The name Sam Hinga Norman will forever be etched in the memories of Sierra Leoneans, for there is hardly a citizen whose lifestyle in the checquered history of Sierra Leone politics had generated controversy as the Chief’s .
His antagonists like to say that he is such a loyal supporter of the SLPP and South/Eastern hegemony in Sierra Leone that he even accomplished one of the most inglorious achievements in our history , in his quest to maintain the status quo he wants — the first man to interrupt the democratic process and stage a military coup in Sierra Leone. However, if you ask his supporters and some Sierra Leoneans who respect him for his role in bringing peace to Sierra Leone,( whose ranks have now swollen due to the popular support he is receiving after his indictment and arrest by the Special Court) , they will paint you a picture of a hero and a yeoman who could span any frontier to see Evil reversed and ensure that the Good prevails . They believe that the reason that Norman has always found himself in trouble is the fact that he is a man who delights in fighting injustice anywhere. Others, even members of the rebel RUF whom his miltia fought to a virtual standstill before peace was restored in Sierra Leone, will tell you that in real life, you would not meet a nicer, more congenial and jollier person than Chief Norman. It was interesting how he and rebel leaders Foday Sankoh, Issa Sesay and other RUF operatives embraced and shared jokes after the Peace Accord that halted hostilities in Sierra Leone. Years of bitter animousity and bloody war had melted into a broad-faced smile and hug for the very rebels who inflicted unimaginable suffering on the people.
Chief Norman’s critics often make political capital out of that infamous 1967 event when he stormed State House as a young Lieutenant in the Sierra Leone army and interrupted the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister-elect Siaka Stevens , whose APC party had just been declared winner of the epic General Elections , by the Governor-General, Sir Henry Lightfoot-Boston.The then Lt. Norman and his troops closed the big gates of State House and placed under house arrest all those at the ceremony, including Her Majesty The Queen’s representative, Governor-General Lightfoot-Boston, the just sworn-in Prime Minister Stevens and his ministers. This was followed by the declaration of Martial Law throughout Sierra Leone by Norman’s boss, Brigadier David Lansana , whose coup however lasted only a day as junior officers of the army staged a counter-coup and formed the National Reformation Council (NRC).
When the APC were restored to power by another coup a year later, Norman was charged with Treason by the incoming government and spent a long time in Prison, though he won his case on a technicality. APC supporters and his antagonists believe to this day that Norman acted impetously and hot-headedly in a diabolical attempt to thwart democracy .Brig. Lansana shared blames with him, as the late military chief was accused of introducing the army into politics to impose his brother-in-law, SLPP’s Sir Albert Margai on the electorate. SLPP supporters, on the other hand, argue today that Norman’s intervention at State House was his first act of heroism in Sierra Leone’s politics.They justify the move he took, asserting that the Governor-General acted improperly by declaring Stevens winner when the results of the Paramount Chiefs’ elections had still not been announced.But the nation as a whole did not buy that. They thought that Hinga Norman acted improperly,” treasonously ” and dangerously by interfering with the democratic process. History will confirm or dispute the veracity of these adolations. APC political commentators during the Stevens era said that Hinga Norman was lucky to survive that incident. They pointed out that Norman committed Treason of the first order by placing under arrest a representative of the Queen. Under British law then , Treason was punishable by hanging.
Norman came back from incarceration to live with his people , and was later crowned Chief. There is no doubt that Norman is loved and reverred by South/Easterners who consider him their hero emeritus (it must be conceded that even many Northerners and Westerners love him for his role as CDF Chief ), though they believe that justice must be done for the atrocities committed during the Sierra Leone war by all combatants. .
After a distinguished time spent serving his people, the elements of adventurism and danger that must always dog his steps resurfaced when the SLPP returned to power 28 years after the 1967 fracas and as Deputy Minister of Defence , Norman was called upon to head the Civil Defence Force (CDF), which was then conceived as an auxillary force to counter the RUF, and renegade soldiers who had abandoned their sacred duty to protect and defend the people, and had joined the rebels. And here lies the appeal that Hinga Norman enjoys , even while Sierra Leoneans crave justice. The Sierra Leone army , which had taken an oath to defend the people and the territorial integrity of the state, had become contaminated , rebellious and unpatriotic. When they joined the rebels to kill, loot, burn, rape and maim the people, they all placed the survival of the nation in jeopardy. Hinga Normam filled in the void left by the renegade army with his Civil Defence Force , which immediately took the battle to the rebels and sobels and acted as a foil and killjoy to the RUF and the AFRC. The pages of Sierra Leonean folklore will be adorned one day by glorious stories about many a gallant battle fought by the CDF to save the nation from being overrun by the rebels and mutinuous soldiers.
Sadly though, the CDF allegedly committed atrocities , like the rebels and soldiers, though on a smaller scale and the Sierra Leone government has argued that it had no hands in the indictment of Chief Norman, a decision the government said was taken by the Special Court, which is an independent body. Norman is being vicariously held accountable for the alleged atrocities by the CDF.
While Sierra Leoneans await the commencement of the case , only watertight evidence against him placing him on the scenes of atrocities as direct participant or inspirer will derail the sympathy he once enjoyed from the generality of Sierra Leoneans . His yeoman act of being one of the few who stayed in Sierra Leone to fight back , after the bloody May 25, 1997 military Coup , when President Kabbah and other government functuionaries had run away, and his marshalling of the CDF to help defeat the rebels, will for now ensure that he enjoys the distinction of being a hero in the eyes of many Sierra Leoneans.But his 1967 role will equally confine him a place of infamy. It remains to be seen whether the Special Court can provide enough evidence to topple the Chief’s reputation of being the Sierra Leonean hero to his fans.