By Karamoh Kabba and Sidie Yahya Tunis
The Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Allhaji Chief Sam Sumana, the Official National Assistant to His Excellency, President Ernest Bai Koroma played the role of a Presidential messenger last week when he completed the first leg of a two-phase -biometric voter registration sensitization tour of the southern districts of Moyamba and Bonthe. Phase II will include Pujehun and Bo districts.
Phase I kicked off on the 18th and ended on the 21st February 2012. On the 18th, 19th and 21st, the Vice President held meetings at the Moyamba Junction, Shenge, Bomotoke, Sembehun Nestucker, Gbangbatoke, Manor Daseh, Nyamaquee, Senehun, Taiama, Bauya, Motobum, Bradford, Rotifunk and Moriba Town in the Moyamba district. He also visited covered Motuo, Tihun, Luawa, Mokeleh, Gbangbama and Matru Jong, in the Bonthe district on 20th February, 2012.
He left Freetown on Saturday, 18th February with a convoy of high-powered government officials and southern stake-holders with a clear sense of purpose of sensitizing would-be-voters of November 17, 2012 to register to vote in order for them to be able to exercise their right to vote and demonstrate their civic duty of re-electing the President, and in electing their Parliamentarians, District Council Chairmen, City Mayors and Ward Councilors.
The Vice President in his own words said “Our purpose is to encourage the people of the Southern Province to register to vote and the message is clear; if the people must vote for development, they must first become registered voters ,“ VP Sam Sumana stated before the convoy sets out for the South.
Since the inception of meetings, beginning from the Moyamba Junction the Vice President addressed a throng of Southerners in a consistent, straightforward and concise message throughout the tour. He listened to the Youth, Women and Community Leaders and the Paramount Chiefs with rapt attention at every stop before responding, “I have come to you with a message from His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. He has asked me to tell you that we have done and we are still doing all the things we promised to do in our manifesto when we took over the reins of government in 2007,” he told the attentive members of his audience at every stop.
The Vice President approached the issues with unwavering confidence bolstered by his President’s Agenda for Change, Social Democracy and National Policy when he said “I am very pleased that you have acknowledged our successes in the areas of free Healthcare to Pregnant Women, Lactating Mothers and Children under five’s. I am also very pleased with your expressed satisfaction with the Agricultural Programmes such as the Agric Business Centres, tractorisation and technical support to farmers as well as our drive for infrastructure in the construction of main highways, trunk and feeder roads all over the country and above all, in education and in good governance. I must inform you that we have walked a long road to peace and God has blessed us with a leader who is steadfast in upholding all the principles of good governance to achieve sustainable peace. But we have not yet finished. We are working on rural electrification scheme and many more schemes to deliver Social Democracy in your Communities.”
With a great sense of humour he went on, “Now, from everything you have told us it goes without saying that you appreciate the work of the President and that you need him to do some more. We have heard you loud and clear. I will take your message back to him. Candidly, it is true that five years is not enough to do all the things we have promised and those you have asked us to do over and beyond. And my message to you is simple; you must register to vote; and only when you register you can have the opportunity to make your demands very clear on Election Day by voting for Development.”
He further drew the attention of his audience to the roll-out programmes of the Agenda for Change, “I also want to draw your attention to Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma’s Agenda for Change that is bringing to you the Free Healthcare, more classrooms and improved schools, agricultural and infrastructural developments,” VP Sam Sumana explained carefully to his spell-bound audience at every stop. A very obvious trend was notable in all the speech-making and merry-dancing in the southern chiefdom the Vice President visited. The Chiefs expressed appreciation and sincerity by showering unsolicited praises especially for the Free Healthcare and Agricultural projects of the Agenda for change.
In Tihun, Sogbini Chiefdom, home town of Maada Bio [the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) flag-bearer], in part, the staff-bearer chieftain addressed the Vice President:
“His Excellency the Vice President Sir, you and your entourage are very much welcome here and this is indeed a great day for the people of Tihun, Sogbini Chiefdom. You are the first Vice President to visit this chiefdom and I want you to know that this is your home and your party is free to come here anytime and campaign,” Paramount Chief Steven P. Bayoh assured, before asking his Chiefdom Speaker to read the official welcome address on behalf of the people of Sogbini. “His Excellency the Vice President Sir, my Chiefdom people commends and appreciates very much your government, our government, the much needed effort by the present government for initiating the free Healthcare programme for children under-five years, Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers. And the Free Health programme has drastically reduced the maternal and infant mortality rate not only in this Chiefdom, but in throughout the Country. My Chiefdom will also thank the ruling government for making it possible with God’s blessing for the opening of two Agricultural Business Centres (ABCs) in this Chiefdom. His Excellency the Vice President Sir, it was never a mistake to open such centres in this Chiefdom, for the fact that this Chiefdom has economic potential in Agriculture with a vast fertile land enough for mechanical cultivation. It will be an immense help to this chiefdom if your party, our party, through you and our dear His Excellency, the President to help this chiefdom with tractors to kick off the mechanical cultivation on time.”Such sentiments were not limited to staff-bearers alone, but also from the youth. A youth Leader in Shenge expressed his appreciation of the Fish Landing Getty that was constructed in his Chiefdom by the Ernest Bai Koroma Government. He told his visitors that “the Getty has improved the earning power of young Fishermen in the Chiefdom. He appealed to the Vice President to “tell H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma to construct the road. We have big fish business going on here and have the potential of doubling its potential with the provision of good roads to the market,” he stated. The Women’s Leader of Matru Jong expressed appreciation for the President’s 30% affirmative action proclamation which is aimed at closing the gender gap in all public sectors and in political appointments in the country, and urge the Vice President to “tell the President to encourage his majority All Peoples Congress (APC) members in Parliament to make it an Act of Parliament before the elections in 2012.”
At every stop, a pell-mell of jubilant masses crowded the Vice President’s motorcade few yards down the road before its headed further South to the next stop. And it has been observed here that the people have seen not only light at the end of the tunnel, but actual light in the tunnel, and what is more, “the SLPP so-called southern strong hold is under serious attack by President Koroma’s Agenda for Change,” a high-spirited youth activist stated.
The on-going new biometric voter registration in Sierra Leone is a bold step in the right direction by the Ernest Bai Koroma government to strengthen its country’s existing fledgling democracy which had been marred by electoral malpractice, election violence and sometimes outright political violence since Independence.
And it all began with SLPP leaders hijacking of the post-Independence premiership against the will of its fellow negotiators with dissenting-elections-before-Independence view at Lancaster House. The foregoing perceived undemocratic maneuvers led to the formation of the APC. In 1967, the SLPP lost elections to the APC and instigated its senior military political appointee, Brig. John Lansana to seize power by force. Upon succumbing to Siaka Stevens’ APC one-party referendum in 1978, the SLPP spurred a rebel-war several years later to bring back multi-party democracy. Political pundits have named SLPP instigation as the cause of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) military takeover of President Momoh’s government even though Momoh had taken the right step in the right direction to revert the nation to pluralist government in 1991. Since Independence, the SLPP has won only two elections in post-war period in 1996 and 2002. Its reign was briefly interrupted by members of the Arm Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a combination of remnants of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and members of the disgruntled Maada Bio and others led-NPRC military junta. In 2007, attacks and counter-attacks between APC and SLPP were not uncommon. Thanks to the United Nations Integrated Observer Mission in Sierra Leone.