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Opposition Leader's Rejoinder To The Address By Sierra Leone President
By John O. Benjamin
Mar 20, 2009, 14:46
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Fellow Sierra Leoneans,

Following the Presidential Address on March 17, 2009 and having read the full text of the address in a local newspaper, it behooves me as National Chairman of a legitimate opposition Party, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), to offer a rejoinder to that address.

It would be recalled that on Friday, March 13th 2009, partisans of the All Peoples Congress (APC) led by the Mayor of Freetown, His Worship Herbert George-Williams and Sylvanus Koroma, the younger brother of the president staged an unprovoked attack on the headquarters of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). There was a huge damage to the premise, including the burning down of two vehicles parked in the compound. Again on Monday, March 16, 2009, the same group, this time led by a close-protection guard to His Excellency President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, Idrissa Kamara a.k.a Leatherboot broke into the office. During the two attacks, the office was systematically vandalized, properties worth millions of Leones looted and tens of persons injured. My heart bleeds to even mention here that at least six women found in the office were gang-raped, including an eight month old pregnant woman by the attackers. What is most heart rendering about all of this is that this is not the first time this is happening. In fact, our party offices have been serially attacked around the country since the APC assumed the reigns of office in September, 2007. There have been at least four attacks on our office in Freetown, one in Bo, Yele, Tongo and other places. To the dismay of most Sierra Leoneans, there has never been a time when our president or any member of the ruling APC have publicly dissociated themselves from this wanton act of barbarism.

My fellow country men and women, we are appalled by the conduct of the police through out this period. Following the Friday event, we were convinced by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) that they were fully in charge of the situation. The events of Monday 16th March proved that the police were either unwilling or unable to protect lives and property as is their statutory responsibility. We are very disturbed by this conduct. We demand an independent investigation of this unfortunate whole episode.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, at the time of the attack and destruction, the office was under the full protection of the Sierra Leone Police. Meanwhile, a comprehensive estimate of the destruction is being prepared. We shall inform you in due course.

In his much anticipated address to the nation on Tuesday, March 17, 2009, His Excellency our President failed to categorically denounce the actions of his party supporters. What is most disheartening is that the president failed to even acknowledge that women have been raped, let alone condemn the act. This is an insult to the women of this nation. Instead of stepping up as the Father of the Nation, which we in the SLPP recognize him to be, the president spoke as the Chairman and leader of his party. This is rather unfortunate.

My Fellow Sierra Leoneans, since the unfortunate events that have left our party offices completely destroyed and vandalized, Sierra Leone has again been in the news for exactly the wrong reasons. This unfortunate incident has warranted the International Community in our country to remind us of how much sacrifices in terms of finances and human resources they have made to bail us out of the deadly mess we created for ourselves for over a decade.

We in the SLPP and indeed the vast majority of our compatriots recognize their sacrifices and we cannot thank them enough. It is for these same reasons that we in the SLPP have shown restraint, and will continue to show restraint because we are the architects of the peace and we want to maintain our hard earned peace.

What we will not mortgage, however, is our rights as a legitimate opposition to respectfully disagree with the policies of the government and to offer our complementary policy positions. It is important for this nation that we pursue that path. The whole world agrees that there is progress in democracy; Sierra Leone cannot be left out. In the 11 years of SLPP rule, we persistently adhered to the rule of law and democratic governance. We allowed the opposition to operate freely without hindrance. In fact, I can proudly say that our President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma is a beneficiary of our commitment to democracy and political tolerance.

Regarding the suspension of our radio by the Vice President, we would like to register our dismay to the Government for this illegal act. We consider this as an attempt to silence the opposition and a breach of the constitutional provision to freedom of expression. We would like to commend Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ) for their firm position on the matter. We shall make efforts to ensure the resumption of broadcasting on Unity Radio FM 94.9.

We therefore call on President Koroma and the APC to clearly denounce violence in all its forms and to commit to democratic governance and the maintenance of the rule of law. We strongly urge him and his party to endeavor to practice political tolerance.

On our part, we are resolved that we will uphold the true tenets of democratic governance with respect for all and malice for none. Yes, we respect President Koromas position as President of the Republic and the APC as the sitting government. We also expect President Koroma and his APC party to recognize our party as the legitimate opposition party. Therefore we again call on our membership and supporters to continue to be law abiding and to trust their leadership to continue to work to make our country a better place for all of us, regardless of our political affiliations.

May God Bless us all and continue to keep the peace in our nation!

John Oponjo Benjamin
National Chairman
Freetown, 19th March 2009.

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

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