Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Encounter With Ernest Koroma

image One afternoon I heard a quiet but firm voice warning a friend of mine who was serving as the Interim Secretary General of SLIBA to stop abusing the privilege extended once. The voice was that of the then Managing Director of the insurance company and I later learnt that his name was Ernest Bai Koroma and from that day I concluded that Mr. Koroma was a man of principle.
When he later became the flag-bearer of the All Peoples Congress during the 2002 presidential poll at the expense of Lawyer Edward M. Turay, I knew that the APC was on the way to regaining its flagging fortune. For a party that had won only 5 seats in 1996, this number more than quadrupled six years later in 2002 with 23 seats.
With the leader’s unblemished track record he was seen as the one destined to sanitize the once demonized party.
I got close to Honorable Ernest Bai Koroma sometime in 2005 during the State Opening of Parliament. Here was this towering lumbering figure in dark stripped suit with silver- grey, slightly balding in the middle. He stood admiring the arrival of his senior colleagues, the
Vice President and President Tejan Kabbah and passing through the outer wing leading to the car park at the back of the House of Representatives.
Hon. Koroma’s demeanor in the said occasion showed himself to be a man of patience with a stout heart.
The next time I came in face-to-face contact with Ernest Bai Koroma was in early June 2006.
It was at late Chief Sheku Dabor’s compound, Pipe Line, off Wilkinson Road.
The occasion was to receive the corpse of late P.C. Balla Kallie Koroma II of Nieni Chiefdom, Koinadugu District who passed away in far away Ghana where he had gone to seek medical care.
Honorable Ernest Bai Koroma’s earlier arrival and the corpse finding him ahead of all the SLPP big guns associated with the funeral was seen by the latter as a defeat.
That the then Opposition Leader outsmarted them and his earlier arrival spanked off a flurry of activities, courtesy of the consummate mobile phone culture.
Just after the traditional presentation of the burial money by Hon. Ernest Bai Koroma, an SLPP delegation arrived on the scene led by Brima Koroma, Administrative Secretary of the SLPP who conveyed the heartfelt sentiments of the Vice President.
Many such reactive encounters were contested by the two major political parties as the race to State House became hotter.
Another opportunity to see Honorable Koroma again presented itself on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2007.
It was at late Alhaji Massi Barrie’s plantation at Katombo outside the Kabala Township.
A big picnic had been organized by the APC supporters spearheaded by Hassan Barrie, a college mate of mine at FBC and the son of the late Alhaji. When I heard about the event, I had to hire a bike taxi (okada) to get me to Kotombo in good time.
The high-point of the picnic was the presentation of APC membership cards to three SLPP defectees, one of them known as Ishmail Sesay, alias Marshall, a fond reference to his ability to mobilize supporters.
Did the SLPP see the writing on the wall? I wonder.
Among some of the things Honorable Koroma said that New Year’s Day were “the next time, I come back here I shall be referred to as Ernest Bai Koroma,” he declared amid thunderous chorus of “APC, back to power!.”
I am sure he did campaign in Koinadugu before the first and second sounds of the Presidential polls, while he was still the Presidential Candidate. But suffice it to say 8 months and 11 days later, Honorable Ernest Bai Koroma clinched the Presidency of the Republic of Sierra Leone.
I did not see much of the APC flag-bearer until close to the campaigning proper.
On Monday June 11th 2007, I had another close encounter with Ernest Bai Koroma when he went to address students and lecturers at the Goderich Campus of the Milton Margai Polytechnic where I had been teaching French for the past 16 odd years.
When he got up to speak his message was short but to the point.
He first of all catalogued the achievements of the APC old guard, but was humble enough to admit that along the way mistakes were made.
He was quick to point out that we need to make a clean break with the past and then make the change together.
EBK then drew a lot of laughter from his audience when he asked, in a retort to a much bandied statement by the former Vice President and SLPP Presidential Candidate, Solomon Berewa that of all the front-running candidates of the three major political parties, he was most qualified.
“Can the Vice President, show me a school where Heads of State are trained?” On concluding his concise but thought- provoking address at the Great Hall, he was acclaimed with a thunderous round of applause lasting for over ten minutes.
The following Saturday, June 16th, I ran into EBK almost by accident at the Stop Press Restaurant. He turned up rather unexpectedly in short sports shoes and a trade-mark red- striped T-shirt with a matching red base-ball cap. Seeing him alone, Pious Foray, the proprietor was quick to ask, “where are your bodyguards,” to which question EBK replied, “do I need bodyguards to move around?”
Just a moment ago, a delegation of SLPP stalwarts and aspiring candidates had just left the restaurant before EBK’s arrival.
He added, “I don’t think I need bodyguards to move about.”
On ordering a Heineken Beer, he sat down and remarked, “thank God, Parliament is closing down on Tuesday (June 19) and thereafter we shall be going “bone-to bone.””
However, he was quick to correct himself that “bone to bone” in the given context did not mean physical confrontation but being on a level playing field with the party in power.
And indeed, parliament closed down settings in motion a political mechanism that favored change.
EBK is today installed as the President of the Republic, the Fountain of Honor and Justice.
I am calling on your Excellency not to forget the Koinadugu people, especially brother Marshall and those instruments of change.
They had promised six seats out of six but only succeeded in obtaining four.
Koinadugu District lives on and her children are now determined to make the change together with their new Head of State.