Sierra Leone’s main opposition party – the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) is tearing itself apart.
The National Secretary-General – Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie is accusing the Chairman – John Oponjo Benjamin of telling “half truth, aimed at misleading members and supporters of the SLPP, as well as creating friction within their ranks”.
This cycle of accusations, briefings and counter-briefings, started when the party Chairman issued a highly damaging and vexatious statement, accusing senior party executives supporting the 2012 presidential election candidate – Julius Maada Bio, of trying to undermine his authority and usurping his powers.
In short, Chairman Benjamin is accusing Bio’s supporters in the executive council, of attempting to overthrow him as leader of the party.
But in a stern and uncompromising statement issued yesterday 21 January, 2012, Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie not only denies those accusations, he is accusing the chairman of being economical with the truth.
This is what Secretary-General Banja Tejan-Sie says:
“The latest press release dated 16 January 2013, by John Benjamin, National Chairman and Leader of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), falls short of an accurate account of what actually transpired at the last Emergency Meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) on 6 December 2012.
“Seemingly, the Chairman’s press release is designed as a half-truth aimed at misleading members and supporters of the SLPP, as well as creating friction within their ranks.
“Half-truths are a dangerous commodity with which to deal and can easily result in undermining the Party’s election petition, pending before the Supreme Court and reducing its prospects of bouncing back to power democratically in 2017.
“Because of this, it is necessary that the true facts, especially those relating to the so-called Resolution 3 adopted by the NEC Meeting, be laid bare both for the benefit of posterity and for the information of members of our Party everywhere.
“The sequence of events at the NEC Meeting leading to the adoption of Resolution 3 is as follows:
“First, Alhaji Momodu Koroma, former Foreign Minister in the last Kabbah Administration, made a presentation. He proposed the ratification of the meeting held between the leadership of the SLPP and President Ernest Koroma at State House and called on NEC to give the leadership of the Party, consisting of the National Chairman, National Secretary-General, the Flag Bearer and the Running Mate, a mandate to continue to engage the Government regarding the concerns of the Party.
“He also advocated that the continued use of the appellation “Flag Bearer” and “Running Mate” by Brig. (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio and Dr. Kadi Sesay, respectively, required an express mandate from the NEC.
“Second, Dr. Prince Harding, former Secretary-General of the SLPP and erstwhile Minister in Kabbah’s Administration, took the floor and substantially endorsed Momodu Koroma’s contention.
“He emphasized in particular that both for reasons of political expediency and in order to avoid undermining their status as the second and third petitioners in the petition before the Supreme Court, Maada Bio and Kadi Sesay should be allowed by NEC to retain the designations of ‘Flag Bearer” and “Running Mate” respectively, whilst the matter in court remained extant, in addition to any other titles provided for them by the SLPP Constitution.
“Third, Mrs. Isata Jabbie-Kabbah (IJ) spoke next. She eloquently defended, amidst thunderous applause, the designations of Maada Bio and Kadi Sesay as “Flag Bearer” and “Running Mate” of the SLPP respectively.
“She emphasized that the results of the just-concluded presidential elections had been stolen and that as far as the Court remained seized of the matter, Maada Bio remained the undisputed leader of the Party.
“Fourth, Hon. Tamba Musa Sam then took the floor and moved a motion, that in view of the election petition pending before the Supreme Court in the names of Maada Bio and Kadi Sesay, that the duo be permitted to carry the designation of Flag Bearer and Running Mate respectively, in order to continue to provide political leadership until the next National Party Conference. This motion was seconded from the High Table.
“Fifth, Alpha Timbo opposed Tamba Sam’s motion on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. He was then asked from the floor whether he cared to move a counter-motion to that effect, which he failed to do.
“Sixth, I, as the current National Secretary-General, took the floor to clarify the legal position. I opined that Tamba Sam’s motion was not in any way inconsistent with the provisions of the Party Constitution.
“Seventh, John Benjamin, National Chairman and Leader, spoke next. He argued that Tamba Sam’s motion was superfluous and that as far as he was concerned, the Party had not lost the elections and that was precisely why a petition had been filed before the Supreme Court.
“Also that the status of Maada Bio and Kadi Sesay as Flag Bearer and Running Mate, respectively, was not in dispute; neither was there a need for a resolution to be adopted by NEC to that effect.
“Presumably, based upon the Chairman’s assertions, Tamba Sam felt sufficiently persuaded to move forward and withdraw his motion.
“The withdrawal of the motion by Tamba Sam nevertheless did not change the mood prevailing in the Meeting in favour of adopting the message contained in the motion, and in fact there was a demand from the floor that this be put in writing. This necessitated my inclusion of resolution 3 in my draft resolution.
“I then read out a fresh motion calling on NEC to approve and adopt the resolutions presented. When reminded that Tamba Sam had withdrawn his motion, I replied that the fresh motion was mine, as a member of the NEC.
“This second motion too, like the first, was again seconded from the High Table. In other words, the Meeting now had before it a fresh motion from my person in place of that of Tamba Sam’s, which had been withdrawn by the mover.
“It was this second motion that I again read out loudly to the Meeting and asked for a show of hands by those who were in support of it. The vote in support of the motion was overwhelming, with no single vote against the motion and the motion was passed.
“No one, including Chairman John Benjamin who presided over the meeting and was present throughout, opposed any part of the Motion regarding the status and role of Maada Bio as Flag Bearer.
“The claim that the prevailing noisy environment had prevented him or anyone else from pointing out the so-called illegality of the NEC’s decision is downright inexcusable nonfeasance.
“Nothing stopped him from drawing the attention of NEC to it, after the noise subsided. Putting it mildly, there was a palpable failure of leadership on the part of Chairman Benjamin.
“Equally importantly, Chairman Benjamin, in his Press Release, admits to bringing up ‘the matter of illegality and contravention of the Constitution to the attention of the National Secretary-General ….. and instructed him not to publish or circulate the final draft until it had been appropriately amended.’
“The crucial question is: whom did Chairman Benjamin intend would do the amendment to the final draft?
“Considering that Chairman Benjamin is claiming to possess “power and authority vested in him by the National (sic) Constitution of the Party” to nullify Resolution 3 and “declare it void and expunged” from the main Resolution, it takes little imagination to conclude that it was also his intention to carry out the amendment unilaterally. Worse still, it seems it was his intention to do this amendment even “after the close of the [NEC] Meeting.”
“Moreover, Chairman Benjamin’s instructions to me, not to publish or circulate the final draft Resolution may be construed as an invitation to me to join him in a conspiracy to subvert the decisions of the NEC.
“This is not only legally wrong, it is also morally unacceptable. NEC is second only to the National Delegates Conference in the hierarchy of decision-making. A lower official or organ, such as the National Chairman and Leader and other National Officers of the Party are, whether acting singularly or collectively and however powerful they may be, cannot lawfully overturn the decision of a superior organ.
“In light of the foregoing, and especially the fact that Resolution 3 was one adopted by a properly constituted NEC, only another properly constituted NEC Meeting or the higher National Delegates Conference can overturn it.
“Accordingly the Chairman’s purported assumption of power and authority to overturn a legitimate decision of NEC is an affront and an act of gross insubordination to NEC. Also, NEC has the authority to assign any role to any member of the party pending ratification by the next National Party Conference and clause 5.1 (a), of the SLPP Constitution quoted by the National Chairman and Leader is no bar to NEC performing such a function.
“In view of all the negative ramifications associated with this saga, and the unending controversy it is generating, I would strongly urge that another Emergency NEC Meeting be convened as a matter of urgency, in order to look into the various concerns that have been raised as well as agree on both a programme schedule for all elections leading to the next National Delegates Conference and a review of the Party’s Constitution.
“I also believe that the supreme interest of the Party demands this and such interest of the Party is greater than the interest of any particular individual, and the National Chairman and Leader is no exception.
“Finally, there is an issue so elementary, but which the Chairman has failed to comprehend, namely – the difference between ‘providing leadership’ which NEC attributed the flag bearer and running mate and being ‘the leader’ of a Party, which designation belongs to Chairman Benjamin.
“It is possible that the failure to recognise this distinction is the source of his discomfort.”
Did Chairman Benjamin misread the dynamics and mood of the meeting, or does the truth to this unpleasant feud, lies buried, deep within the accusations and counter-accusations from both sides?
What is certain, however, is that in this senseless war of words and battle for power, there can be only one loser: the Sierra Leone Peoples Party; and perhaps more importantly – Sierra Leone’s fledgling democracy.