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NEWS : Politics  

Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) Kenema Convention Suspended by Violence
By Musa Kuyateh, Samuel Tamba, Fayia Amara in Kenema
Feb 2, 2009, 00:37
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The opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) District Convention for Kenema that was slated for last Saturday 31st January 2009 was erupted as a result of suspicion of rigging in favour of one Musa V. Kallon against the apparently more popular choice of one Arthur Koroma. All hell broke loose inside the 18 Hangha Road SLPP Party Office Hall where the Mini-Convention was being held as supporters and delegates went at each others throats over the sudden shift change of the manner in which the Elections were to be conducted as had been earlier stated by the Electoral Officers.

Accusations of malpractice & buying of delegates marred Kenema Districts SLPP Mini-Convention last weekend but SLPP Port Lokos went very well.

It all started when the Electoral Officers decided to go straight to the top and run the elections for the SLPP District Chairmanship after delegates first voted for the Districts Chief Imam which is the least position. Some supporters of Arthur Koroma condemned the sudden change whilst others of his supporters requested that the candidates give two minutes speech each as had been done in the case of the two contestants for the Imam position. The Electoral Officers apparently kicked against this latter request and also insisted that they were now changing to the top-to-bottom approach.

Supporters of the two Candidates for the District Chairman were heard hurling invectives at each other. As if the verbal abuse was not enough, then came the physical confrontations amongst supporters of the two Candidates.

Chairs and Tables were vandalized; Delegates, Parliamentarians, Observers and local Journalists were forced to quit the Conference hall for their lives. Irate youths stoned the office and forcibly placed off the Public Address system making the situation even more chaotic. The police officers deployed were not expecting such a show of violence and tried their best to curtail the situation.

Harding Torto who headed the Electoral Commission, together with Francis Hindowa and Moijueh Gbetuwa struggled to protect the Election materials from irate youths before they also quickly fled the scene leaving delegates from various constituencies abandoned.

Later, Arthur Koroma believed to be the favourite for the position, was spotted on shoulders of his supporters dancing through streets of Kenema chanting "No Arthur Koroma, No Convention, No SLPP".

The regional Chairman Mr. Mohamed Abu Sandi was accused by many of Arthur Koromas supporters as having bribed millions of Leones of his wealth to the voting delegates so as to sway them to vote for Kallon whom they say is unpopular. They allege Sandi to be the confusing agent for the unfortunate situation. On the other hand, supporters of Musa Kallon accused John Benjamin of sponsoring intimidation against them because he wanted Arthur Koroma to win. John Benjamin and M.A. Sandi deny the charges levied against them. John Benjamin points out that at the time of the violence, he had no longer been inside the Hall whilst Sandi alleges that it was not him but "outsiders" trying to sway the minds of the people of Kenema.

Earlier, the people of Kenema including delegates and observers had shouted NO! NO! NO! at M.A. Sandi when he had taken the podium to offer himself as the future National Chairman of SLPP. The crowd screamed out their rejection of his candidature right in his own hometown of Kenema in the presence of his rival, John Benjamin who hails from neighbouring Kailahun. A shamefaced Sandi had then quit the hall before the elections started. Shortly after, John Benjamin also quit the Hall so the two men were not present at the time the physical violence erupted.

What also emerged clearly in Kenema over the weekend is that the issue of factions supporting former Vice President Solomon Berewa and former President Tejan Kabbah needs to be speedily addressed by the two elder statesmen if the two men really care for the survival of the SLPP, the party that brought them both into national prominence. The recent announcement by Kabbahs wife, Isata Jabbie Kabbah that she was challenging Solomon Berewas close confidante Hon. Bernadette Lahai for the position of National Womens Leader of the SLPP, has just widened the gulf between the two factions.

It has been touted that Arthur Koroma belongs to the Kabbah faction whilst Musa Kallon belongs to the Berewa faction. Several Kenema Constituency Chairmen openly told journalists that even though Arthur Koroma was a far more credible candidate than Musa Kallon, Arthurs alleged association with Tejan Kabbahs wife and the lack of endorsement of his candidature by Berewa was militating against his interests.

"Arthur is more fitting than Pa Kallon but as long as he is backed by Tejan Kabbah, Arthur will never win elections in Kenema," Musa Jusu, a strong SLPP supporter in Kenema stated firmly.

However, speaking to journalists after the violence had curtailed, respected SLPP stalwart and former President of the National Union of Sierra Leone Students, Mr. Alex Bonapha, explained that SLPP supporters were not likely to endorse any quiet person for any of the chairmanship positions whether at District level or at National level. He dismissed the talk of Berewa and Kabbah factions disrupting SLPP and said as long as there were young and energetic people like him in the SLPP, "no dull-dull man will enter any Kenema District position let alone National SLPP Executive."

"Any attempt to impose any unpopular coward on the SLPP will be met with strong resistance; we need vibrant, brave and credible people to face 2012; people like John Oponjo Benjamin and Arthur Koroma," Bonapha vowed in Kenema.

Meanwhile, as at press time yesterday, there was no word as to when the suspended elections would resume.

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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