September 7, 2017 By: Osman Benk Sankoh
Being the fifth son in a family of fourteen, born to a Kuranko man who served in the Sierra Leone police force for almost 40 years and a Mandingo mother, this young gentle man, aspiring for the post of Secretary-General of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), has found his place in the Sierra Leonean society not withstanding his indigent and humble background. Holding to the values of hard work and dint perseverance, he attended many schools across the country along with his father’s numerous transfers ending his academic sojourn at the Albert Academy and Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.
Like many, Napoleon was not born with a fat bank account or assets bequeath to him. His dad who joined the Sierra Leone Police three years after the country gained Independence and retired as a Sergeant in 2002 wanted a very good education for his fourteen children. He wanted the good life for them but alas! Poverty was the greatest enemy. His mum, uneducated, with seven children to take care of and; his step mum with equally that same number of kids had to stay home working for others just for daily bread. She also sold rice by cup and palm-oil by pint to keep Napoleon and others from going to bed on hungry stomachs. As if that was not already a worse situation, when Napoleon was 3-years-old , the mum had to move him and his other six siblings to her maternal home in Kailahun where he grew up among his uncles – the Tarawallies. Then, the civil war broke out in 1991.Young Napoleon and family trekked to Guinea in May that year to start life as refugees in a village called Gomandu. There, he attended a refugee school in a town called Wounde Kenema.
In October, 1991, Napoleon’s story as an internally displaced person started. He walked from Guinea to Kono. He wanted to continue with school. He was accepted but things were difficult for his uncle he stayed with. He could not pay. Like a troubadour, in December that same year, Napoleon was on the road again. Kenema was his destination. He stayed with his elder sister whose husband was a mechanic and taxi driver in a one bedroom flat. He was enrolled at the Ansarul Islamic Secondary School from 1992 to 1994 from where he once again journeyed to Freetown. He got to Block 12 E Low-cost Housing Estate; Kissy where his uncle was staying just to be told that there was no space for him. Instead, he was sent to Madina in Kambia, got admitted at the Government Secondary School and nearly a year after that, the threat of a rebel attack on the village forced him to return to Freetown again. This time, a kitchen was converted for him and another cousin to be used as bedroom.
To his rescue for his educational needs was his elder brother, a daily wage worker at the Ministry of Agriculture. He got enrollment at the Independence Memorial Secondary School where he sat to his O’levels exams in 1996. With no hope of getting money to further his education even if he was to pass the exams, Napoleon boarded a vehicle again to Kenema with the intention of going to Tongo to work as a ‘diamond digger.’
With all of these, one may begin to think that the imagination of becoming a teacher or a clerk at rice or some building materials store is a long stretch. For Napoleon who was born in 1979 though, he has gone through almost all of the crucibles of life that have adequately prepared him for the position of Sec-Gen.
For him, “the administration of the party has been in the hands of typical politicians. The party has been in the opposition for the past 10 years and the secretariat has not functioned effectively.” He wants each and every member to have a feel and touch of the party.
If elected, Napoleon would, “put together a very strong database system in place so that all members at home and in the Diaspora will be able to know in real time what is happening to the party on a regular basis.” He also hopes to address and further strengthen the secretariat’s relationship with members in the Diaspora who claim that the party only considers them during elections when they need funding from them.
“As we approach the elections, I want to have a vigorous membership drive to ensure that each and every one of our supporters is a card- carrying member of the party,” Napoleon has publicly said in many quarters. Furthermore, he has said, “I want to provide that administrative knack that will bring back discipline to the party.”
In what is expected to be a highly competitive election with diverse experience and qualifications from the other competitors, Napoleon sees himself as the most qualified candidate this time for several reasons. He sees himself as one that represents that energy that the party needs to move forward. He believes he can coordinate the younger folks and equally serve as an interface with the Elders of the party as they prepare for the 2018 elections. He says, “I have a proven record of standing up for my colleagues during my days at Fourah Bay College.” On campus where both of us served as Student Representative Council (SRC) members for Davidson-Nicol Hall in 2001,Napoleon was also; Flat Governor -Block 35(1999-2000);Assistant Sec-Gen, D-Nicol (2000-2001); Sec Gen, D-Nicol (2002-2003) and President, D-Nicol (2003-2004).In 2005/06,he was Chief Justice, National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS) and Interim President, NUSS in 2007.Also, as a student, Napoleon was Organizing Secretary-SLPP FBC branch in 2001/2002.
Undoubtedly, Napoleon has a name and ‘face– recognition’ within and outside of his party. As a lawyer, he has represented thousands and thousands of clients, mostly on pro-bono. He is the ‘poor man’s lawyer’ that is friend to young guys washing cars along the streets of Freetown and a brother to many of the market women on Mallamah-Thomas Street, an area where is office is located. Several years back, he was driving along Campbell Street with his car glass down and a phone to his ear. It was the evening rush hour and traffic abound. Unsuspectingly, a thief was watching his movement. He dashed for the phone, wrestled it from Napoleon and like the flash of thunder, the thief disappeared. Some young people he had defended in the past were at the scene and promised to retrieve his phone. And indeed the next day, the phone was brought back to him.
As to his set skills, Napoleon disclosed, “I have provided leadership for those colleagues who are the young working class of this country. I will be able to garner their resources and time to achieve victory for the SLPP come 2018.Many a time,” he said, “people have seen the party as a South-eastern dominated block but I am from Koinadugu and a Kuranko coming to serve shows the party’s strong belief in diversity.”
From 2009 to date, Napoleon provided legal representation for the party from the Magistrate courts to the Court of Appeal. “I have held this party dear to my heart and I have the energy to serve diligently,” Napoleon said.
The Napoleon that I know has seen good times and has gone through challenging ones as well. He knows what it means to walk his way to school from Low- Cost, Kissy to Albert Academy on Berry Street one day in and one day out. He knows what it means staying with a complete stranger on Oneal Street in return for food and shelter. He also knows what it means to ‘canal ‘from FBC to Portee to look for food and money to take back with him to campus. Sometimes, he has returned to campus with nothing.
Notwithstanding, he has provided a helping hand to many people. He is passionate about his country. Every friend, man or woman is a brother or sister to Napoleon. He listens and listens very well. He shows commitment to his beliefs.
It will be no mistake if Napoleon, who holds an Honors Degree in Political Science and a Law Degree from FBC is given the opportunity to serve as the next Secretary -General of the SLPP and I would not wait to read the headline story, “SLPP elects Napoleon as Scribe.”
Disclaimer: Osman Benk Sankoh, a former journalist with Concord Times now works with the United Nations and the sentiments expressed in this piece are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization he works with.