The president that never was, RIP
March 13, 2020
By Sulaiman Momodu
Some days ago, journalist Osman Benk Sankoh currently based in USA asked me whether I had seen the breaking news. “I just saw RIP Solomon Berewa!” he said, expressing shock. Minutes later, social and traditional media were awash with the news as memories of Solo B, as he was fondly called, came flooding.
A few years ago, as I started contemplating on returning home, some people concluded that I was returning to take up a position in government. The truth? All of us cannot serve in government. Granted that Zainab Bangura and Dr. Sam Sesay left the United Nations Mission in Liberia, where I was also serving at the time, to take up positions in former President Ernest Bai Koroma’s All People’s Congress (APC) administration, the government needs people to constructively analyze and criticize its activities and not flatterers.
If I may ask, have you ever entered a room with foul air? Those inside will be so used to the offensive smell but it takes just a second for an outsider to know that the room stinks. If you like, most times the game of politics is like a foul-smelling room; only independent journalists and other activists can easily detect that those inside are suffocating themselves.
The first time I spoke with Solomon Berewa was during my early days at Concord Times Newspaper. One day, someone drove to our Pademba Road office and beckoned to me. I went over. He enquired if I was working at Concord Times and whether my boss was in the office. “Tell him Solomon Berewa came,” he said, as he drove off.
The country was in the throes of a civil war at the time as Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front rebels embarked on their mentally deranged style of liberating the people by burning down their lifelong possessions, ambushing them, and chopping off their limbs.
Starting my career when it was absolutely very dangerous to do so, I vividly remember these events as if they happened only yesterday. Berewa played a key role in negotiations that ended the civil war, among other activities. As a very competent criminal lawyer, Solo B served as the country’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice and later Vice President and Kabbah’s anointed successor. Unquestionably, Kabbah trusted Berewa more than a very hopeful Professor Septimus Kai-Kai and others who were eyeing the presidency even though Berewa was not easily likable.
During his second term in office, Kabbah practically allowed Berewa to run the show. In some of my articles, I had stated that Berewa spending all his time campaigning instead of providing services was the beginning of the downfall of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) which had returned Kabbah to office in 2002 with 70.1% of the vote.
Basically, the SLPP had taken voters for granted. Basic services such as water and regular electricity supply were not provided and Kabbah, instead of taking action, ignored people naming the Tiger brand generator, Kabbah Tiger, to express their frustration. For his part, Berewa believed in spending money as if it was going out of fashion.
If you want to be a solider and win battles, what is the first thing you need? Money, weapons or skills? You need skills. Berewa lacked skills on how to win an election. Provide services, be accountable, be a servant etc.
Decision time. Berewa came crawling in the 2007 presidential polls with 38% of the votes to the APC’s Ernest Bai Koroma’s 44%. Berewa had also antagonized the unpredictable Charles Margai who came third with 14% of the votes amidst utterances attributed to him, a Catholic, on why Jesus Christ was crucified.
Curious to make sense of all it, I flew from Monrovia to Freetown and visited a number of towns and conducted interviews with various stakeholders. The SLPP was completely in disarray. SLPP stalwarts had themselves taken off the life support machine from a party that was in coma and had killed it even before the National Electoral Commission (NEC) could pronounce – SLPP is dead!
Unlike the SLPP, the APC was far more organized and in celebratory mood before the presidential runoff. I had interviewed Ernest Bai Koroma before together with Kingsley Lington. His stature is commanding and his charisma won the hearts of the youths. Although surrounded by Victor Foh and other politicians with criminal tendencies, Koroma promised that that the APC was a born-again party, a message that brought him many converts, including Margai, whose ultimate desire was to see the SLPP dead and buried.
Final result? It did not come as a surprise to me that the SLPP lost the election. My gain? I got deeper insights into how our political machinery works. Effectively becoming bereaved, the human resource rich but largely selfish SLPP started looking for scapegoats. Party members, including Berewa himself, blamed Tejan Kabbah for endorsing the presidential runoff result, and years after, he would no more consider him a friend but a foe. The SLPP also accused NEC boss,
Christiana Thorpe, of cheating, in addition to accusing musicians, journalists – the party ridiculously blamed everybody. The only person SLPP supporters did not accuse was themselves. Terrible!
I am delighted to be back home with a strong belief that good journalism contributes to making the world a better place. As I make final preparations to bring you Beyond Borders, an independent newspaper whose motto is serving humanity with objectivity and integrity, I had planned to meet Solo B to have one-on-one interview with him on his life, challenges, and how he would like to be remembered. Sadly, he has gone, but many Sierra Leoneans will certainly remember him for all his contributions to our country’s peace process and as the politician who accepted a presidential defeat for the sake of peace not least at a time when both the APC and SLPP were combat ready. Solomon Berewa was truly the president that never was. RIP, Solo B!