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Philip Neville vs. SLAJ:A Case of No-Win Battle
By Ibrahim Karim-Sei 030-205-357
Feb 10, 2009, 17:02
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Many will agree that the legal battle between the Executive Editor of Standard Times newspaper and two members of the northern branch of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) is not a happy beginning for the three months administration of the Umaru Fofanah Executive.

It is an unwelcome development that any well-meaning SLAJ member should stand against. It is seemingly working against the unity and one-family philosophy of the association. It should therefore not be ignored and think it is a small affair between Philip Neville and Stanley Bangura. It is beyond that scope and has the tendency to split us apart, if allowed to progress beyond its present stage.

There is no denying that the standoff between Neville and Stanley is the aftermath of the last National Executive Executions in which Philip Neville lost to Umaru Fofanah. As I see it, it is the rippling effect of an election that saw the creation of political camps by those presidential aspirants who thought it was the best strategy to win the election, the first in the history of elections in SLAJ.

True to say, the elections were not fought on issues but on the individual candidates ability to create as many camps as possible.

If I should recall, I was a candidate for the position of President in the election of November 29, 2008, which I too lost but accepted the verdict in the true spirit of our one-family fraternity.

However, during my campaign I did condemn the creation of these camps, as we were setting a very bad precedent for future SLAJ elections. Nobody heard me as we were all badly desperate to grab a title. As a matter of fact, money was the influencing factor in the creation of these camps ahead of the elections. We allowed money and other gifts to influence our thinking as well as our consciences and voted the way we did.

Naturally, people will not be happy when they lose an election whatever position it might be; and for Philip Neville who had invested huge sums of money to win the presidency, he saw no reason why he should lose that election. And so when he attempted to re-possess an office building he had rented for SLAJ Northern Region and he was being confronted by a daring resistance from Executive members in Makeni, he thought he should flex his muscles a bit to redeem his respect. Fair enough!

On the other hand, the guys in Makeni stood their ground, arguing that whatever claims Neville was making in respect of any offer made to them during the electioneering period had no legal basis, hence their plea of Not Guilty to the five-count charges preferred against them in the Magistrate court.

Consequently, in a demonstration of solidarity to the Makeni members, the Umaru Fofanah Executive has not let the matter go Philip Nevilles way. The executive has been and continues to mobilize support for the defendants Stanley Bangura and Mohamed Kabba. The two are believed to have masterminded Umaru Fofanahs victory in the Northern region.

For Fofanah and his executive, the case against Stanley and Co is a case against the entire membership of SLAJ. Fair enough!

But the question is how do we ameliorate the situation? How do we ensure that this matter does not erode public trust or undermine our ever cherished unity?

Mr. Neville insists that he was not targeting SLAJ as a body but only fighting to regain his respect. Whatever that means, SLAJ should not dismiss Nevilles belligerent posture as a wasted effort. He may not be alone in his battle

The drama that took place in the Makeni Magistrate court on Thursday February 5, 2009 before Magistrate Manuela is enough indication that the loser in all this is SLAJ. This was re-echoed by the Magistrate herself who would have preferred that the journalists wash their dirty linens in their backyards than in an open court. She had warned that if we dont put our acts together and behave sensibly the matter would only succeed in driving a wedge deeper into the fabrics of a once cohesive professional media organization.

At the start of the palava, SLAJ appointed a five-man committee comprising senior members of the profession to mediate between Neville and the Makeni group so that we do not unnecessarily open new wounds after a strongly contested election. All that the committee achieved was a deadlock. From what we were later told, Neville was not ready for a truce but would rather pursue the legal course.

This is where we now stand. Indeed, this whole episode is an embarrassment to the association; it is a bad start for the Fofanah administration which has been caught up in the legal wrangling and in the process distracted from other activities that would be beneficial to the association.

Again, the question is how do we resolve this matter in a manner acceptable to all partiers?

Some say Mr. Neville must be dissuaded from pursuing his agenda. They suggest that the same committee (though hurriedly disbanded) must be re-constituted to dialogue again with Neville for him to see reason that he alone cannot fight the association and think he will succeed. Whatever financial or other assistance he had made to his colleagues in Makeni while bidding for the SLAJ Presidency he should now consider it as a sacrifice so that it remains a legacy of his personal contribution to the development of his association.

On the other hand, the Makeni guys must swallow their pride and apologize to Neville for any molestation they must have done to him. Neville considers himself a senior and respected member of SLAJ, Stanley and others must accept him in that light, and lets bygones be bygones!

All parties to this case must swallow their pride for the sake of the association. If we do so then, only then shall we have a win-win situation. Anything short of this would amount to a no-win battle.

I was merely thinking aloud!

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

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