By Sulaiman Momodu
In the run-up to the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections, a number of people, both at home and beyond borders, wanted to know which political party I was supporting. The enquirers were curious because of the rather neutral position I was taking and easily named a number of journalists who were publicly supporting either the All People’s Congress (APC) or the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). Admittedly, it takes a lot of efforts to remain neutral because media practitioners invariably become victims of bad governance.
With elections come and gone, for the purpose of this article, I hereby declare that I am an avid supporter of the governing APC. Come to think of it, some of us were born during the so-called old APC era. At the same time, although I had mentioned it before, my first lesson on what politics is all about was in Makeni. An APC official had pledged to help a struggling Makeni Town Council to a deafening applause at a fundraising venture. Months later when I reminded him about his pledge, his reply was that it was all politics and that politics is about fooling people. I was stunned. My story? “We fooled Makeni people” – APC.
Most people consider most politicians as a bunch of very dishonest people and rightly so. Not surprisingly, jokes about politicians abound. Most politicians simply lack principles; they betray, backstab, want short-term gains and are very selfish.
One joke I like sharing with my APC friends is about a politician who dies and goes to heaven but later ended in hell. How did it happen? While walking down the street one day, an APC politician is tragically hit by a truck and dies. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance who welcomes him. “Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem to address. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we’re not sure what to do with you.” “No problem, just let me in,” says the APC official. “Well, I’d like to but I have orders from higher up. What we’ll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity.”
“Really, I’ve made up my mind. I want to be in heaven,” says the APC politician. “I’m sorry, but we have our rules.” And with that, St. Peter escorts him to hell. The politician finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. He sees his friends and other politicians who had worked with him. Everyone is very happy and dressed in evening attire. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people. They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne. Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that, before he realizes it, it is time to go. Everyone gives him a hearty farewell. Next, the APC politician goes over to the doors of heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him. “Now it’s time to visit heaven.” So, 24 hours pass with a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns. “Well then, you’ve spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity.” The APC politician reflects for a minute and then answers, “Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell.” So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. Now the doors of the elevator open and he’s in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up trash and putting it in black bags. The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder. “I don’t understand,” stammers the APC politician. “Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and club, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now all is a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?” The devil looks at him, smiles and says, “Yesterday we were campaigning… Today you voted.”
As hilarious as the joke may be, it is a pity that we, members and supporters of the APC, are behaving just like the politician mentioned in the joke.
A few days ago Sierra Leone turned 53. Some 53 years ago, we campaigned to take our destiny into our own hands with a goal to make life better for all. Sadly, Independence was soon followed by years of bad governance and turmoil.
As a boy growing up in the 80s, I remember Independence Day as a time when our hungry-looking teachers, wearing I-look-up-to-God shoes will tell us to parade the streets in the scorching sun while waiting for some ridiculous politician. Those days an APC politician would usually appear with balloon stomach as if he had just swallowed a small cow and will make promises of better days ahead as poor teachers went without salaries for months. Even as a kid, such occasions were simply repulsive as it made us look like big time fools. Today, as a grown up, we celebrate Independence with pomp and pageantry. Independence Day is a time to listen to same old boring speeches, drink some champagne, eat chicken and salad, and laugh out loud…ha! ha! ha! while our people wallow in poverty and deprivation. We arrogantly display unexplained wealth as observers laugh at our flagrant hypocrisy to fight corruption.
You see, I belong to a party which returned to power in 2007 in very controversial circumstances. We boasted that Ernest Bai Koroma had more charisma than his main challenger, the SLPP presidential candidate, Solomon Berewa. We said Koroma was a successful businessman therefore he will be a successful president. That was a very illogical and absurd argument. We all know that business is all about maximizing profit. Or don’t we all know about business people or contractors who collect money for contracts that they never even begin, with government officials as their accomplices? The truth is, some people may have very short memories, but I have not yet forgotten that if not for Charles Margai, the then disgruntled leader of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change who instructed his supporters to vote for us and the apparently illegal cancellation of votes by the National Electoral Commission (NEC), our APC party would not have ever returned to the seat of governance. We had a controversial political victory and not the needed victory to govern the nation.
The APC created the 11 year civil war that killed a lot of people, made thousands destitute, maimed hundreds etc. Yesterday we campaigned on the platform of change. We have been in power for about seven years now but what have we really achieved to be proud of? From day one, the appointed Minister of Energy assumed office with the mindset to steal. Since then President Koroma has been busy sacking his ministers over incompetence. The 24 hours power we promised has become 24 hours unreliable power; Freetown is filthy; educational standards have fallen; and corruption is systemic. Our natural resources? We can’t even talk about them. We have frequent queues for petroleum products; our main airport became a major transit point for drugs the moment we came into office; we were recently the most corrupt nation in the world and the list is endless.
So far, we are lucky that the main opposition SLPP is beset by internal strife, but should the SLPP be united, most of us will not be surprised at our robust defeat at the next polls.
In my opinion, if we have even a few principled and committed people in our party and government, we can truly and sincerely change the fortunes of our country and our people. But can we? Can we when all we want is to behave like earthly gods and believe we won’t be successful in life except we are deeply corrupt? What future are we building for our unborn generations? A nation of crooks? The Makeni APC politician may have believed that politics is all about fooling the people, but times have changed.
Note: Sulaiman Momodu is former editor of the Concord Times newspaper. The views expressed here are personal. (email@example.com)