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BEYOND BORDERS

Playing political football with APC and SLPP

By Sulaiman Momodu – (beyondborders.column@gmail.com)

Although we still have a few more years to go to the next polls, already the country appears to be in electioneering mood. As football and politics have a lot in common, the focus of this piece is to play political football with the governing All People’s Congress (APC) party and the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), but first let me take you back to the weekend and the just ended English Premier League (EPL).

Remember this? “There is a goal from Anfield but it is not what you think,” said one commentator as the world watched the last day of the EPL. Ten games were being played on that day. “Liverpool have scored but it is an own goal,” I listened to the commentator. To Liverpool fans that own goal during a crucial Liverpool versus Newcastle match must have gone down like a lead balloon.

I would like to give credit to Kingsley Lington and Osman Benk Sankoh (Benkilism) – both diehard Arsenal fans – for converting me to an EPL devotee, but let me resist the temptation of disclosing which team I support. Incidentally, Benkilism was sadly involved in a road accident in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, and was admitted to hospital on the final day of the league. I wish him a speedy recovery.

For the benefit of those who are not football enthusiasts, on Sunday, Manchester City and Liverpool had the chance of winning the EPL but with a must win game for Liverpool while hoping that Manchester City were humiliated by West Ham. In such a situation an own goal by Liverpool was simply a disaster, and although the team later struggled and won 2-1, Manchester City also won.

You see, football is a game of rules and regulations and so is politics.  It is teamwork with the objective to score goals and the ultimate aim is to win. In the 2012 presidential elections, some newspapers published hilarious photos of Ernest Bai Koroma of the APC and Julius Maada Bio of the SLPP in a football contest. Koroma alias “World Best” was with the ball while Maada Bio alias “Tormentor” (name given by APC supporters) was floored. Most bewildered spectators thought a foul had been committed in the “biometric system area”, but a perceived rogue referee, Christiana Thorpe, mockingly told the defeated Bio team to “go police”.

Like politics with presidential term limits, officially, a standard game of football lasts for 90 minutes. Against this backdrop, it will defy common sense if fans of an underperforming team suddenly start calling for the game to be extended by an unthinkable period.

In Sierra Leonean politics, the rules are there in our constitution. A president serves for only two terms.  The constitution is our guiding principle. People have their rights to express their thoughts (freedom of expression), but they must do so in line with constitutional provisions. In my view, for some self-seeking APC supporters to be outrageously calling for extra time or a third term bid for President Ernest Bai Koroma, which is rooted in unconstitutionality under the ludicrous “After U na U” slogan, is very irresponsible and mischievous. In football, if fans of a particular team not least its officials engage in any conduct that will put the game into disrepute or is a potential recipe for chaos, the team is penalized.

In football parlance, the APC government is the defending champions with its key rival being the SLPP team (former champions). Clearly most spectators are not impressed by the way the APC is playing. Spectators want to have a good game but then the SLPP team appears to have a knack for scoring own goals. Rewind to 2007, the evidence of scoring own goal is overwhelming.

The SLPP chairman, Chief Sumano Kapen recently said that the problem of the SLPP “is greed, selfishness, ego, and lack of self-discipline”. He said since the convention in Bo, the party had only succeeded in fragmenting into camps instead of coming together to strategize for the next general elections or the next match. It is still incomprehensible to me that instead of the opposition SLPP telling President Koroma and his APC government about their excesses, the last time it was President Koroma that called the SLPP heavyweights to a meeting to knock some sense into them to behave themselves. Shameful, really.

In 1996, the SLPP team was very strategic. Late Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was a northerner with some links in the east and years of international experience at the UN under his belt. He was begged to be the team captain (presidential candidate).  Today,   members of the SLPP are only strategizing to tear the team apart.  We all have a drop of ego in us but we only learn to manage it.

In the wisdom of the SLPP, according to the party’s constitution, the “captain” is required to resign if the party loses a national election under his or her leadership and to give chance to other players. What is currently happening in the SLPP though is tantamount to people joining a football club but think they are there to play rugby or participate in a boxing contest. Having Chief Kapen as SLPP chairman was a smart move. At this point, what SLPP strategists should be focusing on is not how to score own goals but how to win the next game by identifying an ethical and credible captain (presidential candidate).

Say what you will, I think the APC has more loyal members and supporters than the SLPP. One such loyal member is Victor Foh. But as loyal as he is, it would have been foolhardy for the APC to make him the party’s presidential candidate in 2007 knowing fully well that the result would be a hefty defeat. Tell me, which level-headed manager will field in players if they will not deliver?

A common clique governments around the world are familiar with is the second-term curse. The second-term curse is the perceived tendency of second terms to be less successful than their first. President Koroma may have had the best of intentions when he assumed power, that is, when he took over the APC team. The question is: do most of the people on his team share his vision? Generally speaking, the danger of having self-centred people around you is that instead of you changing them, they may succeed in messing you up except you are highly principled.

By all indications, some officials of the APC see most SLPP supporters and officials as opportunists. Just a few millions of Leones will make a senior SLPP official deny his party like Peter denied Christ. It is a pity that some of those calling for President Koroma to stay in power are actually people who betrayed the SLPP like Judas sold Christ for a mere 30 pieces of silver only to regret and commit suicide (Matthew 27: 1-10).

If I were an adviser to the APC, I will tell members of the party to be very mindful of their ugly past and focus on ethical governance, quality delivery of services to the people, wage war on corruption (no sacred cows), provide accountable leadership with a sense of collective responsibility and discipline members of the party without fair or favour for any act not compatible with the APC agenda for change and prosperity. If this is done, at the end of the day, the fans (the voters) will consider renewing the contract of the APC at the polls (no cheating, fair play) without Koroma who gave a human face to the monster the APC had created over the years. But the question is: does the APC listen? Our people say “the disobedient fowl obeys in a pot of soup”. For both APC and SLPP, they are obviously their own enemies. As to which party I think will win the next polls, I am afraid it is early days yet, but by all account both teams have a lot do to convince their fans that they deserve their votes.

Finally, returning to the English Premier League, Manchester City are the champions of England again, the second time in three years. Nobody will contest the team’s victory; they have quality players, were committed to win and played as a team. Both APC and SLPP must ensure that whosoever wins has a quality team and their victory is absolutely a deserving one just like Manchester City. Do I sound like a football manager or a Manchester City fan? Best wishes!

Note: Sulaiman Momodu is former editor of the Concord Times newspaper. He also reported for the BBC during the civil war. The views expressed here are personal.