September 25, 2017 By Abu Bakarr Sheriff & Joseph S. Margai
A leading flag-bearer aspirant for the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) party, Alimamy Philip Koroma, has said that if he wins the race to be the flag-bearer and subsequently wins the presidential election slated for 7th March, 2018, he would stop at nothing that would delay development in the country.
He was speaking last Friday in an exclusive interview with Concord Times at his Collegiate Road residence in Freetown.
Petito, a name he said his French teacher called him because of his ‘petit size as a school boy’, and which his adoring followers fondly call him, spoke about his vision for Sierra Leone as a country and people that subsist in a peaceful environment.
“I want to see a country and people where everybody participates in the governance of the state-whether you are a traditional ruler, journalist, lawyer, among others. I envisioned a one nation that progresses by itself in terms of our needs, one that is able to feed itself because the people work hard. A country that will improve the social infrastructure because we need it to develop, one that its people would always love to live in because of the peace,” he envisioned.
The former chief executive of the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone and pioneering scribe of the Inter-religious Council said he also envisions a country that produces abundant food that can feed itself and one that prioritises education in other to exponentially increase literacy among the citizenry. He also envisions a country that significantly tackles infant mortality and morbidity by way of enhanced access to health facilities and reduced service charges with a view to ensuring that medical services are both accessible and affordable.
As erstwhile Trade and Industry, Works and Infrastructure Minister, he shows a good grasps of what Sierra Leone needs to do to attract direct foreign investment and trade. “I also want to see a country where its infrastructure will attract investments and such attraction would go into manufacturing industries and unemployment would automatically be addressed,” he said.
The political heavyweight has hobnobbed with the grassroots for most part of his life and he understands the dynamics of helping the less-fortunate achieve their hopes and aspirations, the ideal being a utilitarian public good. Accordingly, he craves a society where justice is dispensed to all without discrimination as to religion, race, ethnicity or affiliation.
Quizzed as to whether he would have a gripe if the party decides to select instead of elect its standard bearer aspirant, the former ambassador to China said he would not raise any concern because selection is legal as enshrined in the APC constitution, but would be concerned if the party deviates from the provisions of its constitution.
He describes himself as a ‘God-fearing man.’ For a man who has headed Christian organisations in both Sierra Leone and Africa and has a wife who is a lay preacher in the Baptist denomination, such description is not farfetched. A monogamist and father of three children – a girl and two boys – he told Concord Times that, “If I win the flag-bearer race and the 2018 presidential election, Sierra Leoneans would have a God-fearing, family-man, and passion for humanity president.”
The light-skinned Petito looked smart, agile and relaxed and exuded great confidence as he spoke to Concord Times. By his own admission he no longer dribbles pass a raft of opponents in a football field, but the ardent Manchester United supporter said he is still fit as a fiddle. No doubt poised to mesmerise the dozen or so other contenders for the coveted prize of APC standard bearer, with eyes fixed on the goal – becoming President of Sierra Leone.
Despite having schooled in Kambia, northern Sierra Leone, where he is regarded as an astute leader and go-getter, Petito is regarded by thousands across the country and the political divide as a quintessential grassroots politician – his faithful supporters call him ‘A Man of the People’. Such flattering epithet should not come as surprise for a man who served in various positions at the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone (CCSL) and the Inter-Religious Council spanning 20 years: first as fieldworker, then development secretary, before becoming the youngest and first non-clergy to serve as general-secretary.
A humble man by every stretch of imagination, probably in recognition of his humble background, he entered politics after two decades of unblemished service to God and man, venturing into politics as an ordinary ‘plebian’ of the APC – at a time the party was wallowing in opposition. Like the trajectory of his life’s journey so far, his transformation from a political plebian to patrician has been meteoric. After joining in 2005, he soon became National Organising Secretary, tasked to help organise and mobilise all cadres and prepare the stage for an APC victory in 2007. That victory was also a personal political milestone as he contested and won the 2007 parliamentary election in Mambolo chiefdom, Kambia district, by a landslide, unseating the incumbent, an SLPP Member of Parliament.
When the SLPP was in power, the late President Kabbah made political overtures to him, which he declined. Few would have declined the opportunity at a time when everything was sour in the APC and sweeter in the SLPP. Yet, Petito, with his trademark smile, retorted “historically I came from a family that is very close to the APC.”
As expected, he started having problems with the Kabbah-led regime; an inquiry was set up to investigate him for alleged political activity. This ‘political persecution’ was happening at a time when his Mambolo constituency was SLPP dominated and local power structures – Paramount Chief and Member of Parliament – were predominantly SLPP.
“In all of this, there were local council elections in 2004 and the APC swept the polls in all four wards of the constituency. The SLPP, instead of accepting defeat in the midst of embarrassment put the blame on me for being the sponsor of the APC candidates that won the elections. That was how it started,” he recalled.
The heads of churches were inundated with petition letters from the then ruling party which was still smarting from an electoral defeat and wanted a scapegoat. “The matter got to the attention of CCSL and as a religious body all its members should be non-partisan; the matter was given the seriously that it deserved. A commission of inquiry was conducted and I was exonerated of the allegations. I thanked God that the truth prevailed at the end of the day,” he said.
His decision to wait for God’s time – his favourite mantra – came when the then APC Minority Leader, Ernest Bai Koroma, persuaded him to become an APC card-carrier. The persistence of Koroma as a friend and astute politician paid off when Petito left his lucrative international job to enter politics.
“The then Ernest Bai Koroma, who knew me very well in terms of character and performance, influenced me. That was the turning point for me to be fully involved in politics. There were many opportunities for me to have taken up political employment from the SLPP out of what it considered as my outstanding role and contribution to the people of Sierra Leone,” he said and added that he declined to take political appointment from the then SLPP regime because he was content and disciplined.
They say good things come to those who wait. Since he joined the APC, he has gone on to become a minister and ambassador. The APC flag-bearer aspirant has learnt to bide his time in life and his patience has often borne fruit: first upon graduation from Njala University College he taught at the Great Scarcies Baptist Secondary School in Mambolo before taking up appointment at the CCSL, where he reached the pinnacle of his career as an efficient and goal-driven administrator, recognised and respected at home and abroad. Second, in politics, when he waited until the right time and moment before making a decision. And now as a standard bearer aspirant for the ruling APC, where he well-timed his entrance into a race in which he arguably stands shoulder tall above many of his comrades vying for the same position.
Could this be the right time for Petito to lead the APC to victory? If his life story and political journey are anything to go by, he could well be on his way to being elected or selected standard bearer of the APC. And, who knows, then dribble his way to State House.