…evaluating their chances
August 9, 2016 By Alusine Sesay
President Ernest Bai Koroma’s second and final term of office would come to an end in 2017, ushering in the 2018 presidential election campaign. With barely 18 months to the run up to the crucial 2018 presidential election, politicians from the two main political parties – the ruling All Peoples Congress(APC) and the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) – have shown vested interest in leading their respective party to State House.
Ahead of the crucial election, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has already begun boundary delimitation of Wards and Constituencies across the country.
The main opposition SLPP has partly conducted lower level election, which would be followed by the National Delegates Convention, where the party’s standard bearer and national executive would be elected.
As for the ruling APC, little is being said or done about lower tier elections or the national delegates conference, although reports in the press indicate it has been postponed until next year, apparently to play the waiting game. The party has a flexible constitution that allows for either election or selection of its standard bearer. With many people stating a claim for the coveted position, National Secretary General, Alhaji Osman Yansaneh, has perhaps infamously averred that only “full-blooded members of the APC” would be allowed to contest, with explaining who is “full-blooded APC” and who is half-blooded!
While the long journey to the 2018 presidential election pans out, Concord Times has conducted a brief analysis of who the candidates of the main political parties are.
We wish to begin with the opposition SLPP.
The competition as to who will be the standard bearer of the SLPP is between two aspirants – Rtd. Brigadier Maada Bio and Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkeleh – while John Benjamin, Andrew Kailie, Alpha Timbo, Munda Rogers and Alie Kabbah could hold the ace as to who between the two political gladiators wins the right to have his name on the ballot paper. The party is apparently divided into two factions, an alliance comprising all the other aspirants, save Rtd. Brig. Bio, and the group called PAOPA, which unflinchingly support the latter.
Julius Maada Bio
Rtd. Brig. Bio was the SLPP presidential candidate in 2012, but lost to President Ernest Bai Koroma, securing 37% of valid votes cast. Yet he remains, arguably the favourite candidate, especially among grassroots supporters of the party which has been in opposition since 2007. He is undoubtedly the most popular candidate among all other opposition candidates. However, his popularity, as many would argue, could be limited within his party and its stronghold in south-eastern Sierra Leone, while he has little or insignificant following in the north-west of the country.
Mr. Bio was part of a group of young soldiers that ousted the one-party APC regime from power in 1992, after 27 years of misrule. He became a key member of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), a military junta that ruled the country from 1992 to 1996. After he handed over power to the elected government of late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, Bio went to the United States where he earned a Masters degree in International Relations. He returned to Sierra Leone in early 2000 and made his first foray into politics in 2005, when he contested and came third in the presidential primaries of the then ruling SLPP.
In 2011, he secured less than 40% of delegates’ votes to lead the SLPP in the 2012 presidential elections. Although he failed to defeat President Koroma in the 2012 elections, the former junta strongman is still a prominent figure within the SLPP, and has a realistic chance of earning the right to again be the standard bearer of the SLPP.
He recently married a beautiful young lady, with whom he has one kid. He has other children from his previous marriage. He is currently a Ph.D candidate at Bradford University in the United Kingdom. He is 52.
Prior to now, Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, fondly called KKY by his growing number of supporters, was not a mainstream politician, although his father was one of the founding members of the SLPP. He spent a large chunk of his working life at the United Nations, including as Director General of United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Development. After he retired from the UN and returned to the country last year to join the standard bearer race in the SLPP, his membership of the party was in dispute, although the issue has been laid to rest. He seems to be gathering momentum within the SLPP as his KKY Movement continues to grow, with many neutrals preferring him to Bio. Many believe he has the personality, experience and clout to create some impact and possibly return the SLPP to power in 2018.
However, his chances of emerging as flagbearer of the party remain herculean as most grassroots supporters religiously support Bio.
Dr. Yumkella studied agriculture at Njala University in Sierra Leone and later pursued a post graduate degree in Agriculture Economics in the United States.
He served as Minister of Trade, Industry and State Enterprises in Sierra Leone under the NPRC junta regime and held academic positions at American universities.
Though relatively new in the murky waters of Sierra Leonean politics, Dr. Yumkella commands tremendous support from within the Sierra Leone Peoples Party and the country as a whole.
He turned 57 in July. He is happily married with his lifelong partner. Their union is blessed with children.
Despite being a mainstream politician for years now, Alpha Timbo is a trade unionist-cum-lawyer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Law from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. Prior to his participation in mainstream politics, Alpha Timbo served as Secretary-General of the Sierra Leone Teachers Union.
Although he was called upon to serve in the infamous Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) junta regime, Timbo declined and campaigned for the restoration of democracy in 1997.
His reward as a patriot was an appointment as Minister of Labour and Industrial Relations, where he helped pioneer the establishment of the National Social Security Trust Fund (NASSIT).
He hailed from Bombali, the heartland of the ruling party, but has so far remained steadfast to the philosophy of the SLPP – One Country, One People.
He contested and lost the 2011 primaries of the opposition party, and is not expected to fare any better this time around. He is 55, and has a wife. They have four children.
John Oponjo Benjamin
John Oponjo Benjamin has mixed business and mainstream politics successfully. He came to national prominence after he was appointed Chief Secretary of State in the NPRC junta regime in 1992 – the highest civilian member of the junta. Sources close to the then junta said he was rewarded for the death of his junior brother, Captain Prince Ben Hirsh, who died in the line of duty. He served in the NPRC regime until the junta relinquished power in 1996. He was founding member of the National Unity Party, an offshoot of the junta. After being a staunch opponent of the SLPP government, he was co-opted subsequently and made Finance Minister.
He served as Chairman and Leader of the SLPP for two consecutive terms and helped bring stability to the party when it lost power in 2007, becoming the putative opposition leader.
John Benjamin, 64, declared his intention to vie for the position of standard bearer at a rally in his home town of Seigbema in the eastern Kailahun District. He is no intimate bedfellow of Julius Maada Bio, his former NPRC colleague; the two have had had bitter exchanges in several platforms.
Despite his powerful posture within the party, his chances of winning the flag bearer position look evidently doubtful, although he may help tilt the balance in favour of his preferred candidate.
He contested the flag bearer position in 2011, clinching a respectful third position. Keilie is a consummate civil engineer with many years of experience working within and outside Sierra Leone. He is currently serving as one of the commissioners of the Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission (EWRC), perhaps the only opposition politician with a track record of being critical of government policies that serves on a government commission. Known as a top policy analyst and regular columnist, Mr. Keilie is also owner of Salone Times newspaper. He hailed from Kailahun district, but went to school in Bo,southern Sierra Leone, while his wife is from the north.
He is part of an alliance of standard bearers that believes peace and respect for each other is an antidote to conflict and chaos within the SLPP.
Being a son of a respected former Anglican bishop, it is no surprise perhaps that he is now a lay preacher.
However, despite a good grasp of politics, sports, economics and energy issues, to name a few, like Benjamin, who also hails from Kailahun district, Mr. Keilie might be a kingmaker than a king.
He is thought to be in his 60s, and happily married with children.
He was Director-General of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority during the SLPP era, and miraculously held on to the plump post until he was relieved by the ruling APC government, apparently after a heated altercation with the former Minister of Works.
His political pedigree outside of his Pujehun district is nothing to write home about, and may well be in the race for strategic personal advantage.
Mr. Kabba is known for his active participation in anti -government protests during his heydays as a student at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. He and other vibrant student leaders were purged from the college in the mid 80s and he went on to complete his studies in Ghana and the United States of America.
He is currently entangled in a bigamy and perjury case, instigated by his estranged wife, Minister of Lands, Diana Konomanyi. The case has dragged on for a while now and could hamper any chance he had of mounting a serious campaign to lead the opposition to State House.
However, he is considered a good asset of the opposition because of his oratory skills and fearless attack on a ruling party he says is corrupt, nepotistic and divisive along tribal lines. His chance of winning the race, therefore, is a remote probability.