July 7, 2014 By Oswald Hanciles
(First published May 7, 2011 – in Concord Times, Standard Times, AYV newspapers; thoughts relevant still for Sierra Leone)
I stopped writing this column almost six months ago; and I begin writing this column again in honor of my departed friend, the near ‘saint-like’ Olu Gordon (if you can stretch your mind to grasp that sainthood today can be conferred on those who, like Olu, loved to quaff undiluted whiskey with his late friend Eric James; and would puff Cuban cigars with such relish; and was not above discrete womanizing), in whose funeral service last week Monday at the Atlantic Hall of the National Stadium complex in Brookfields, Freetown, his bank-owner’s-face Nigerian-looking brother, Dele Awoonor-Gordon, said something like: ‘honor not Olu with your tears and fine words, but, by keeping aloft the flame of freedom he held so high and inflexibly…’.
Olu Gordon’s late-life regret at lack of revolutionary zeal in youth
Dele was garbed in a black and white ‘ashobi’ cotton that was worn by close relatives of Olu at the funeral (significantly, for a descendant of a Creole elite family, held NOT in a church, but, in a public hall; though presided over by white, purple and gold-robed Anglican Church priests; with the Chairman being SLPP presidential candidate aspirant, Andrew Keili). Dele’s ashobi was cut in three piece flowing Yoruba ‘agbada’ style. After his funeral tribute, Dele actually muttered a goodbye to Olu in the Yoruba language as he bowed with traditional reverence to Olu’s coffin draped in the African Liberation colors of red, yellow, black and green. After the tear-filled tribute of Olu’s wife, Dele in dispassionate tones highlighted the reality that Olu almost sacrificed his life because of the depth of his love for Africa, for Sierra Leone, but, regrettably, Olu’s grew more cynical during his last days as he got more appalled by the near incorrigible laziness and lack of revolutionary zeal of the youth of the country. I wondered as Olu’s casket was opened for public display for the last time, and the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma, barrel-chested, gray-haired, in dark gray French-suit, somber-faced, casted a minute-too-long glance at the man I have described as the “Greatest Philosopher of Sierra Leone”, whether a knowing wink, a last-before-the-grave whisper from Olu to Ernest – -something like, ‘You are the last hope of our generation. Don’t disappoint us. Ginger up the youth!’ – could make a significant difference in how the next fifty years of independence Sierra Leone would turn out like, especially for the youth of our country.
The youth that Olu Gordon sacrificed his life for, endured out-of-his-class deprivation for, were in their tens of thousands at the pop musical concert at the National Stadium on April 27, 2011. I posted my experience with them in the Freedom of Information-SL cyberspace forum on the 28th April, thus:
‘Yesterday, right up to about 01.00 a.m. this morning, I was at the National Stadium for the big pop music festival.
‘One important thing that reinforced itself in my mind was that President Ernest Bai Koroma is still very popular – and still evokes pop star-like excitement among the youth, especially females.
‘When he was announced at about 10:30 p.m., there was huge shout. He entered through the main gate into the main bowl of the stadium, where the band was, and where there were chairs placed for special guests – which was already over-spilling with people. As he marched towards the presidential stand where I stood, the women kept on ululating, and waving their arms excitedly.
‘Ernest was dressed in deep blue ‘gara-looking’ tie-dye long sleeve shirt; and he sported a white base ball cap, with the 50th Anniversary Independence logo on it. His white hair pushed out underneath his huge head on top of his boxer-type neck; and he waved with a white handkerchief, giving the crowd his trade mark film star smile, stimulating a of nearly idolatrous gust of song from the women. He walked energetically, like a commanding officer walking amidst his troops to inspire them.
‘The crowd at the stadium was incredible!!! All the stands were filled to the double. Then, the crowd overwhelmed the security to push into the main bowl. And, President Koroma walked through that crowd, shaking outstretched hands, climbed up narrow steps to the presidential stand, entering and leaving the stadium….’
Above all, we have “Religious Tolerance” to celebrate in Sierra Leone
Safe country!! Evanescent people! Youth. On the 27th of April, 2011, rushing from the National Stadium, I was a studio guest in Josiah Paris’ impressive two storey marble-housed Universal Radio in the clean-aired mountain at Regent, close to the acres of walled compound of the British military advisory mission in Sierra Leone, known commonly as “IMMAT”; along with 22 year old Sherbro indigene, a budding musician, ‘G.M. Star’ (real name: Gassimu Baimba), who had sang and put on CD plate one of the Jubilee-exclusive songs for our 50th Independence Anniversary Celebration. The organizer of the Lumley Beach musical festival, “D.J. Box”, in the office of the Chief of Protocol in the Vice President’s Office, James George Caulker, had promised that G.M. Star would perform “live” at the Lumley Beach. He reneged on that. G.M.’s star song, “Celebration”, has its lyrics wonderfully blending our lingua franca, Krio, with our main indigenous languages of Mende, Temne and Limba; plus G.M. Star’s native Sherbro – appealing and lively. At the Universal Studio when the song was aired in a one hour programme, the public phoned in with rapturous praises for the song. After the public complaint on that failure to live up to his promise by D.J. Box, during the evening hours of our ‘Independence Day’ of the 27th ofApril, the ‘Ambassador of the Youth’, ‘Junior Navo, gave me assurances that G.M. Star would perform at the National Stadium jamboree being organized by the biggest social group in the country today, AWOL; and even on the night of the performance, at about 8.30 p.m., Junior Navo again assured me right inside the main bowl. But Junior Navo failed to live up to his words. The patriotic song, I am sure, would have delighted the President and Vice President. But, as they sat in the Presidential Stadium they were made to listen to old love songs by local artists (not a single one of the ‘50th Independence Anniversary songs were sang for our two top officials by the AWOL organizers!!), and irreverent songs by Nigerian artists. GM Star’s ‘Sierra Leoneans celebrate song’ was ‘buried’…. Why?
As we hope to forge a far better next fifty years for ‘Mama Salone’ that would be dramatically different from the past fifty years, it is hoped that such apparently insignificant little things should be taken gravely, with we searching for deeper meanings in them. Sierra Leoneans must learn never to give their word if they don’t aim to live up to them, especially when they are dealing with youth. All human societies pivot on trust, and that trust hinges on the spoken and written word. When asked in Josiah Paris’ radio what we have to “CELEBRATE”, I had turned the spotlight, among other things, on the “religious tolerance” in our country, and the “immense mineral wealth” we are endowed with – one of the best jewelry diamonds in the world; the best grade of rutile on earth; the largest deposit of iron ore in Africa; some for the best shrimps in the territorial waters of Sierra Leone.
Also, there is the reality of the still latent wealth that is buried within our majority youth population – energetic, full of hope and faith; a generation still in the formative stage where they can dramatically be made to change their attitudes, and be goaded to be workaholics and bookworms; talented musicians like G.M. Star. Everything would hinge on how politicians like President Koroma, and civil society activists like Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai of the Society for Democratic Initiatives, mold the ‘raw material of youth’ – kindling trust in them, to translate the wealth they have within into tangible riches. That was the dream of the late Olu Gordon (which included his strife to snuff out the flames of those unprincipled governing class who, Dele Awoonor-Gordon, said last week, must be taught a modicum of principle) which he could have ‘whispered’ to President Koroma, passing on the flame to him, before he would make his final transition from this known world. For Heaven!. So, we can have heaven on earth in Sierra Leone.