Should John Benjamin Sierra Leone Peoples Party Chairman and Leader Quit?

Journalists, political pundits, analysts, and trend observers, have through many articles in the columns of daily tabloids in Sierra Leone, warned this 60 year old grandfather of politics in West Africa – The Sierra Leone People Party (SLPP) of the possible danger of collapse into oblivion, if that party did not change course immediately. The lofty ideas that once lead members of the SLPP to believe in the prowess and capacity of John Benjamin to chair and lead their organ would appear to have faded away. For the last couple of days there have been unpleasant scenes at the main opposition SLPP office at Wallace Johnson Street.


The chairman John Oponjo Benjamin has been booed to “Go” and entourage reported to have been pelted with pebbles amid volley of absurd abuse, using unrepeatable language.


What has really happened to this darling of the Awareness Times Newspaper, who hitherto was welcomed everywhere with the chorus chanting “J.O.B.”, “J.O.B.” and so on? Has the hero suddenly fallen out of favour? The thirst for power is a kind of scourge that can never conceal itself even when you disguise and redress ambition with seeming sincerity to serve a group, or say a Political Party genuinely.


There was a National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the SLPP at Party Headquarters sometime back.  This is the Administrative organ of the party that takes decisions for the welfare of the party and its members, collectively and or individually

The SLPP has always been known to thrive on the fertile grounds of democracy, and not authoritarian and dictatorial tenets.  The ugly scenes that have become a feature at the Party’s National Headquarters, at Wallace Johnson Street in Freetown, appear to herald the end of the John Benjamin era in the leadership of the SLPP.


Readers would not recall such scenes in the long unchequered History of the party till now; why, one would pause to await an answer.  What could have gone wrong for the leadership of a man of whom people once said ‘was a God-sent’ for the rejuvenation of a party that seemed then, to have lost its meaningful direction?  The charismatic John Benjamin, fearless and intrepid, that could stand his ground firmly with any government, would seem to have turned the fire on his own Party supposedly or must we simply say the party he now leads, in name only.


Several commentators at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting just ended at the party office on 19th April 2011 said the way and manner in which the meeting came to a close spoke it all for itself.


A flag bearer it has been reported drew attention to the fact that, the current governing body of the party was an interim one, since the tenure of the elected executive came to an end on 10th March 2011 last.  The reference here seemed to be therefore that the interim administration could neither initiate policy, nor indeed take binding executive decisions.  This angered John Benjamin chairing the NEC meeting.  He went into frenzy, asserting his authority, and abruptly brought the meeting to a close to the absolute surprise of everybody.  Hitherto, meetings were closed by a motion to do so and seconded accordingly.


Earlier, efforts were being made to discover the best approach to the Supreme Court Injunction hanging over the operation of the Party.  That since the invalidity of delegate at a Party Conference to elect a National Executive and Flagbear was the issue, free and fair elections of District, Constituency, and Regional Executives countrywide, who constitute the bulk of the delegates at a Party Conference, would obviate the difficulties surrounding that matter.


These elections have been successfully conducted in the North, South, and Eastern regions of the country, with the exception of the Western Region where all but one District Executive election and the Regional Executive election were petitioned and await a resolution.  An interventionist Committee of NEC was set up to look into these complaints and to re-conduct those elections if necessary.


A motion was therefore put and carried to the effect that all District, Constituency and Regional elections held in the North, South, East and Western regions be approved except the two elections awaiting resolution in the Western Region.


That done, the issue of legitimating the Party Conference to enable National Executive and Flag bearer elections to be held was put before the NEC.  Some legal interpretations of the interim injunction was proffered to the effect that the interim injunction only affected a conference slated to elect a flag bearer and did not affect conference being called to elect the National Executive of the Party.


It is being suggested in brief, that the interim injunction says, that no SLPP Party Conference shall be held for any purpose whatsoever until after the case in the Supreme Court has been finally decided: so no election of either National Executive or flagbearship can take place until after that.


It should be noted also that by clause 4(A) (3) (g) and (i) of the party Constitution both the National Executive and the Flagbearship can only be elected at a National Party Conference, whether at one or separate such conferences.


Indeed John Benjamin did suggest at the NEC meeting that if the plaintiff in the matter at the Supreme Court did not agree to compromise on the issue, the Party would apply to the court to lift the interim injunction for National Executive Election to be held pending the successful election of other Executives Countrywide.  Apparently, Dr. Bu-Buakai Jabbie was invited to the NEC meeting of 19th April 2011 but declined for the reason advanced in his letter to the Chairman and leader dated 12th April 2011 to wit: “it would not be advisable that I as plaintiff attend meetings wherein the Defendants are also seeking to determine their further course of action in the said matter.  And so I will not be attending the above NEC meeting of 19th April 2011.” Published at page…. of this paper is a letter to the Supreme Court from the Defendants which speaks for itself.


Looking through the myriads of all these matters, one can only but admire (in disgust though) of the manipulative skill of John Benjamin to have his way at all times and in all matters.  When one reflects, as narrated many months ago in 2010, that even though the Party Conference approved a new draft Party Constitution at the 2009 Conference, and ordered that the draft be forwarded to PPRC for formal Registration, Mr. Benjamin did not like the clause giving him the same powers as the Secretary General and convened a whole new conference in Bo, to alter that.


The constitution was then relegated back to the drawing board of the Constitutional Review Committee to make the necessary amendments, with instructions to lay it before Conference in 2011.  That Constitution has not been reviewed and is not scheduled for Party Conference this time round.


The massive Police reinforcement at the National Party Headquarter during NEC meeting is unprecedented, and for the Party’s overall image must never be allowed to be repeated. Leadership and power are two concepts of great importance in human relations.  You either have them or you don’t and if you find you are over burdened by them, quit and find a level ground elsewhere.


Alternately, this could now be the most appropriate time to relegate these matters to the Elders Council to mediate and resolve. In light of the above and the continuing depravity of conduct towards the chairman and leader of the SLPP thereby denigrating the Party’s image, should John Benjamin yield to the call to go now gracefully or wait to dance to hostile political music at a Party Conference?  The choice is to whom it concerns.

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