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Sierra Leone's Opposition Leader delivers Stirring Statement at Ruling Party Convention
By Abdul Karim Kabia
Apr 16, 2009, 18:18
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John Oponjo Benjamin, the Opposition Leader in Sierra Leone, has today April 16th 2009, received a roaring, positive response at the Makeni Wusum Fields during his delivery of a three paged Speech at the Opening Ceremony of today's ruling APC party National Convention. Dressed smartly in a dark suit and sporting a green neck-tie believed to have been given to him by the ruling party Leader, President Koroma, Benjamin received thunderous applause after virtually every single paragraph he rendered. The warm response accorded to Benjamin is currently the talk of the town in Makeni which is itself in the heartland of the ruling party. Prior to the ongoing reconciliatin and political tolerance in Sierra Leone, it would have been unheard of for the Opposition Leader to get such an applause on Wusum Fields. Benjamin's Statement is reproduced below:


John Benjamin: Sierra Leone's Opposition Leader

Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, the Vice President, Alhaji Sidique Sam-Sumana, the First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma, Ministers of Government, Honourable Ambassadors, Honourable Members of Parliament, Officials of the Diplomatic Corps, the Chairman, Executive and Members of the All Peoples Congress, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me take this opportunity to once again thank you, Your Excellency and the red APC party for extending an invitation to the Green SLPP Family to make a statement at this occasion. This is a unique gesture which starts to manifest that indeed your Government now intends to view all Sierra Leoneans as One People in One Country, regardless of party colour, tribe, region or religion.


Before proceeding, Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I ask that we observe a minute silence for the death of those who set out to promote democracy in Sierra Leone with their presence but who have since left us. 


Now, the month of April is significant to us all. Your Excellency sir, we will be celebrating 48 years of Nationhood. At the same time, we will be celebrating 38 years as a Republic. Our country Sierra Leone has always cherished itself as the land of the free. Even our National anthem attests to this. The first stanza reads: High we exalt thee, Realm of the free. However, there have been times when our leaders have not granted freedom to the citizens; times when we have abrogated our responsibilities as leaders. This neglect of our duties has severally led to unfortunate developments.


Maybe a trip down memory lane could help us better savor the significance of my statement today which is a call for us to come together, live up to our duties and responsibilities and build Sierra Leone into a developed, democratic Nation our children can be proud to call their home.


Ladies and Gentlemen, our country was plundered in the seventeenth century. The young, the energetic were carted away as slaves. Our soul was depleted. But in essence, our tribal and community wars acted as catalysts for the slave trade. It will appear that we seem to delight in actively partaking in weakening our human resource base as the smallest perceived offence is easily taken as an excuse to hurt our fellow citizens.


Yet, we have a remarkable resilience to be an outstanding people. So it was that by the nineteenth century, we became the haven of freed slaves. We became the citadel of Christianity. We became the bastion of education in West Africa.


Sierra Leoneans have never had differences as a consequence of religion. We have never had differences as a consequence of tribe. Yet we have been extremely slow towards development. The Pull-Him-Down syndrome has been developed into an art in this country. By using bits and pieces of tribe, religion, party, etc. etc. we find enough reason to beat each other down to the ground.


The war was a culmination of a Nation doing all in its power to destroy itself. We spent 11 years on a senseless war. No one could put a finger at the exact reasons or causes. Yet we exhibited the most barbaric of actions against each other. Why? No-one exactly knows why.


It is thus imperative on our generation that has witnessed economic stagnation and negative growth to take sober reflection of our dire circumstances and do those things that are uplifting to the spirit of us Sierra Leoneans.


Leaders of any country have the duty to lead to motivate the young to create an enabling environment for individuals to prosper and bring out the best in themselves to create an environment for the young to feel proud of being born on these shores. Yes, I repeat that it is our duty for us to ensure that the young feel proud of being called Sierra Leoneans. But can we do so by the demonstration of hooliganism and thuggery that we sometimes seem to display so wantonly in the name of propagating political differences? Surely the answer is NO!


We belong to different political parties because the practice of democracy calls for a plurality of ideas. Democracy must allow space for all parties to coexist. Two friends belonging to different political ideological groupings does not mean they are now to be considered enemies. NO! We all have a common goal; to move this country out of the poverty trap onto the path of sustainable development.


Together, with a unity of purpose, we can do it. I must register profound gratitude to the international community and the diplomatic corps in Sierra Leone for their untiring efforts to help us come together in this atmosphere of political tolerance. Sierra Leoneans record eternal gratitude to them. However, it is sad that foreigners had to act as peacemakers for us. We must take pride in resolving our differences our selves. We must take pride in our Sierra Leoneaness. This is why the call by our President for an imbibing of our Sierra Leone culture especially on Fridays, is a very commendable one. Tomorrow, Friday it is for sure that I will be wearing my Sierra Leonean Gara outfit as requested of us all by our President. Indeed, Your Excellency, this is the time to uplift the spirit the Sierra Leonean. The moral duty to sustain the peace and lift our spirit is now in our hands. I am in Makeni representing the Green Family to manifest this.


I am also in Makeni to pledge our fullest support to Your Excellencys moves to implement the Joint Communiqu that our two parties recently signed on April 2nd 2009. I urge you Sir to fast-track the setting up of the proposed independent Inquiry and independent Review. Any semblance of delay in the implementation of any aspect of what we have jointly agreed upon, could cause undue speculations as to the reasons behind any such delays. Our country needs to move on and carry out our development plans.


The Green Family believes that the SLPP Government did a tremendous job serving Sierra Leones development aspirations but, as dictated by the results of 2007 Elections, we have handed over the mantle for the APC-led Government to carry on our initiated programmes with speed; the near completion of the Bumbuna Hydroelectric project and the Bo-Masiaka Highway are just two of numerous such programmes we initiated and handed over to the APC. However, the APC now has its own brand new initiatives. An example being a sustained emphasis on Attitudinal and Behavioural Change; It is novel and vital for the development of our country. This, amongst similar others, indeed is a big credit to Your Excellency.


I assure you all here present today that the SLPP will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in the APC to support you even as we constructively criticize your Government when it is necessary to do so in the interest of our people. You can count on the SLPP to fully support you when necessary and, I dare say, to fully criticize you also when necessary.


APC, SLPP and all other political entities have no option but to work as a people, as one nation facing the challenges of todays global economic difficulties. The SLPP is here today in Makeni to assure the APC that we will work with you to build Sierra Leone into a worthy Nation. We all have to do so before we pass the baton to our children.


Right now, the path we have chosen, the path of political tolerance would build this country. We are a unique people. Let us seize the time and take our country forward. The dynamics of putting people together of different cultures and ideologies has always been difficult but yet we have been able to amalgamate as one people.


Only as one people, with no other country but Sierra Leone can we ever hope to lift ourselves out of the doldrums. Are we therefore ready to take up the challenges facing us? The SLPP believes that Sierra Leoneans are capable of doing it. The APC must surely hold the same view as evidenced with my presence here today upon your invitation. We are a proud Nation, united under God and together, we can lift Sierra Leone sky high.


Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of my party, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), I thank you for listening to our words of fraternal felicitations. We wish you well in the APC because SLPP needs the APC as much as the APC needs the SLPP. We all are integral parts of the democratic culture of Sierra Leone. Let us co-exist in peace. May God Bless Sierra Leone and May God bless us all. I wish you happy deliberations and a successful 2009 APC Convention.

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

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