By Mohamed Massaquoi from Kenema
The presumed replacement of Dr. Bernadette Lahai as Minority Leader of the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) has referred to her embattled political rival as “a failed politician who always considers her self-interest rather than the people’s”, adding that her endorsement by the party was as a result of Dr. Lahai’s failure to provide selfless service to the SLPP and her constituency in Kenema, especially when the party is in opposition.
While addressing thousands of party members and supporters at their regional headquarters on Hangha Road in Kenema, Hon. Kowa said it was significant to note that 26 opposition members of parliament had petitioned the leadership of Dr. Lahai when they realized she was no longer serving the best interest of the party in parliament.
“Bernadette, as the Minority Leader of SLPP in parliament, was no longer working in the interest of the party; she never organized meetings with SLPP MPs to discuss some of the burning issues, but rather bragged of taking the party to court. During her numerous radio interviews here in Kenema, she questioned my ability to serve as Minority Leader for the SLPP. In the first place, I got the highest number of votes in the 2012 parliamentary election among all other [opposition] MPs. This is because I served my people very well over the years. I did not join the SLPP but rather inherited the party because my parents fought seriously for the SLPP,” said the MP.
“We have agreed as MPs that Dr. Lahai will no longer represent us in parliament and therefore my appointment should not be a surprise to her. You have other SLPP MPs who are as well qualified to take up such responsibility but as God could have it, I am now the Minority Leader because Bernadette failed us and she is a traitor.”
Despite her optimism and determination to lead the opposition in parliament, Hon. Kowa still has to contend with a major legal huddle.
Months after being embroiled in a self-destruct battle with her parliamentary colleagues, after 26 out of 42 opposition lawmakers petitioned her leadership in parliament, a move that was subsequently endorsed by the National Executive Council (NEC) of the SLPP, the second highest decision-making body in the party, Dr. Lahai, in a dramatic twist of events, sought and got a court injunction, effectively prohibiting her party from going ahead with their decision to replace her until the court determines her legal objection to the matter.
According to Dr. Lahai, the reasons advanced by some of her colleagues for her removal were not tenable enough to have warranted her removal, adding that she had enjoyed a very good working relationship with her colleagues and was surprised about the sudden change in mood against her leadership.
“None of them has ever complained to me about any wrongdoing; that is the reason [why] I took the matter to court for further investigations. I am still SLPP and I will ever remain to be SLPP despite allegations that I am very close to President Ernest Bai Koroma,” she said.
It remains unclear though when and how long the substantive issue in the politico-legal drama will be fought in court, as well as how both camps will bid to undo each other within parliament. As things stand now, Dr. Lahai seems to have the upper hand, at least in parliament, as the Speaker is on record to be determined to respect and uphold what many opposition members have described as a controversial court injunction. But the leadership of the party, backed by majority of their supporters and MPs, are bent of reigning in on what they referred to as “a recalcitrant lawmaker”.
Meanwhile, supporters of Dr. Lahai, including Hon. Francis Konowa, Hon. Kaisamba, former Councilor Yatta Sama, Dr. Hindowa Momoh, and Mohamed A. Sandi, organized a public forum in solidarity of her in Kenema during the festive season.
They pledged their support for her and said they will not support any other candidate against her, and threatened to disobey the official party line of action. “Anybody who touches Bernadette Lahai, you are against Hindowa Momoh,” asserted Dr. Momoh.