By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
The main opposition party – Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) – is currently embroiled in a fraternal fight that could only be described as Kamikazi. The word has its origin in Japanese and it depicts the suicidal tactic employed by Japanese fighter pilots during World War II to plunge into United States targets in a suicidal mission. The inevitable outcome was death for the Kamikazi pilots and the annihilation of their intended targets: United States warships.
While the antics of certain opposition players is without doubt a journey of self destruction and the inevitable death to a credible, serious opposition, their action, unlike men of Japan’s 205th Air Group – the Kamikazi Unit – is without doubt not heroic.
The SLPP, founded more than fifty years ago in pre-independence era, was a great source of inspiration to many in the country, especially those who hailed from the provinces, and had to contend with Krio snobbery, condescension and discrimination. The party galvanized rural support to oust the Krio hegemony. This show of unity fast dissipated post-independence, and the rest is history.
Fast forward to the present. After losing power to the All Peoples Congress in perhaps the most dramatic fashion in 2007, it was expected that the party would go back to the drawing board and critically analyze how and why they lost power to a party which in 1996 could only garner less than six percent of the votes, and in 2002 a little over twenty-two percent of votes in the presidential race.
But alas! SLPP failed to embark on a thorough soul searching, as one would expect a serious party to have done. The party and its supporters were firmly ensconced in delusion, denying the outcome of, agreed, a controversial outcome, even when the means available to them – the Supreme Court – was all but thwarted.
Then came the mini-revival which saw John Benjamin emerge as a realistic leader and unifier of the former ruling party which was still adjusting to life in opposition. He was hailed as the ‘messiah’, while late Tejan Kabbah and Solomon Berewa were roundly vilified, blamed for the party’s election woes. But that new found status for the former National Unity Party stalwart was soon to erode, with the emergence of Maada Bio as first a flag-bearer aspirant, and later a presidential candidate. Benjamin, like Kabbah and Berewa before him, was called a Judas, abused, treated with scorn and unbridled disrespect.
Having fallen from grace, with accusations of selling out to the APC, Benjamin left with his tails between his legs, vowing, like war crime convict, Charles Taylor, to come back!
The new man on the block was the current Chairman and Leader, Chief Somano Kapen. The chief, who was forced to abdicate his throne in Mambolo chiefdom after he fell out of favour with majority of his subjects in the APC dominated chiefdom, was deputy to Benjamin. Overnight, he won hearts and minds of the party faithful, smoothening the way for him to Bo, where he defeated Ambassador Ali Bangura in the race to serve as chief executive of the party.
To demonstrate that he was the new man of the people, Somano, a northerner and Themne, was given a hero’s welcome in Kenema and Bo with many hinting that Maada Bio was instrumental in getting the erstwhile traditional chieftain elected to the highest position in the party.
But, the perennial soap opera in the SLPP would not end there. In fact, it is spiraling out of control as rival factions battle for supremacy in the party.
A day in politics, they say, is a long time, and that men and events have the tendency to change, some with characteristic rapidity. So too the SLPP rank and file. Thus, barely ten months after his triumph in Bo and subsequent triumphant entry in the southeastern heartland, Chief Somano Kapen is today a villain, a pariah within the ever radicalized section of the ‘grassroots’ for whom it is either Maada Bio or you perish!
This is the main crux of the current public spat between opposition actors who owe this country a lot in leadership and direction, but who have fatally let the silent majority down. Chief Somano’s fall from grace may have been triggered by his London trip, when it is alleged he did not publically endorse Bio. His current troubles may well have come about as a result of perceived talks about his support for Kandeh Yumkella, the respected United Nations top official who has been tipped to challenge Bio for the flag-bearer position. And perhaps, his worst crime was sharing the podium with President Koroma and Alimamy Koroma during the inauguration of the Mange-Mambolo road construction, where the latter jokingly invited his uncle to join the APC bandwagon.
That statement, whether innocuous or purposive, may have put Chief Somano in his current uncomfortable status, as he desperately bids to crush an internal rebellion, which he has laconically described as ‘a coup’, to fight for his political life and relevance.
Of course few will deny that the former Mambolo chief has gained more political clout since he was elected head of the opposition than he could ever had dreamed of in his chiefdom. Pride cometh before a fall, hence he is expected to fight with his last sinew to defeat those such as the garrulous Musa Tamba Sam and the crafty Dr. Prince Harding, who are gunning for his jugular.
In all of these, sadly, the SLPP is bound to lose and by extension our burgeoning democracy might flounder. It is no gainsaying that African democracies, with their penchant for being democratic only but in name or during periods of electioneering, need strong institutions, including the opposition. At least that is the minimum standard expected as obtains in countries which are nurturing their democracies: Ghana, Senegal, Kenya and South Africa.
One cannot say same of our only opposition party, the SLPP; the others are only parties to complete the count or for the purpose of sharing largesse from Nigeria (let me save that for another day). The SLPP, with its array of great minds, is expected to serve this country better, to challenge government on many critical issues, including but not limited to the current scandal in the handling of the Ebola outbreak, the Timbergate sequel, bad state of education, poor service delivery, etc.
Instead, the party, like most of the African teams at the ongoing World Cup in Brazil, has had a disastrous showing in Parliament since 2012: leaderless, clueless, and lacking any viable alternative. As though that and the many cases in court are not enough, the party has opened another front, as few political wannabes in Freetown, preying on the commonsensical deficiency of the majority, have dared to undo the reconciliation efforts of the Political Parties Registration Commission, Dr. Peter Tucker and many well-meaning individuals.
The outcome, by my estimation, may be precarious. What is certain, though, is that one does not need Dr. Peter Tucker to remind the hawks in the SLPP that they should either bury the hatchet now and allow peace, stability and constitutionality to reign supreme, or the octogenarian Dr Sama Banya to rhetorically ask whether they are cursed, to realize that their latest ignominy is akin to a Kamikazi. The only difference is that it lacks character.