B S Massaquoi was married to my sister Nancy. He and I were members of the Methodist Church on Koroma Street in Kenema. B S as he was popularly addressed was to contest the Kenema Central constituency seat under the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party SLPP. Before the official election campaign began he and I addressed the congregation during the service in which we stated the position of our respective parties. It was all so very friendly.
After a few days in the Nixon Methodist hospital I was evacuated to the Military hospital in Freetown. After investigations which again included X-rays of my face and skull, I was flown to the United Kingdom for further diagnoses and possible surgery. The orthopedic surgeon at St. Steven’s hospital informed me after theatre that he had only removed the bullets in my face as those in my head were resting on my brain. I made an uneventful recovery and returned home to learn with great sadness that my brother Sama Baoma and my cousin Bobor Ngombu had both died during the attack. On my way to Kailahun I called to the Nixon hospital to express my thanks and gratitude to the doctors and staff there.
News of my arrival quickly spread and lots of people soon gathered at the hospital to get a glance at me after the shooting. There an apparently young man presented me with a lot of photographs of me on my hospital bed with my bandaged head. There were other photographs of me being put in the hospital ambulance and of being loaded and put on the Presidential helicopter. The young man had also travelled to Mobai in my absence and taken photographs of my bullet ridden vehicle. He charged me one thousand Leones for the lot and I gave him five hundred thousand Leones and asked him to call at my hospital whenever he was in Kenema to collect the balance. I did not ask for his name and I did not set eyes on him again until the man Foday Sankoh stretched out his hand to me in Yamasoukoro, not to shake mine, but to demand his Five hundred Leones. He could see the bewilderment on my face and he quickly reminded me of the Photographer in Segbwema 19 years earlier. All I could say was “you?” The man was Foday Saybana Sankoh the RUF leader.
I have narrated already about our encounter. Readers could now see the malevolent lies that Sylvia recently told about how I had cheated Sankoh and all that rubbish. During the war I had written letters to Foday Sankoh which I asked our Kamajors to drop in my rebel held town of Kailahun. In the letters I took Sankoh to task for all the atrocities he and his murderous gang were committing. I had also taken issue with the BBC Focus on Africa’s Robin Whyte for presenting Sankoh in one of his programmes as if the latter was a head of state. So when Sankoh went in for me at the peace conference he was merely hitting back. He told me that he was not the demon that I had tried to portray him. As I wrote recently the SLBC would have a copy of the video cassette in their archives.
Of course Dauda Sandi beat me at the polls by some four thousand votes. But I had learnt that on polling day I did not have a single agent at any of the polling stations except in Pendembu and almost everyone agreed that I had done extremely well, that is except Sylvia Blyden and her gang of liars. There had been violent clashes between SLPP and APC supporters in Charles Margai’s Gbangbatoke constituency, Dominic Ngombu’s Segbwema constituency, in John Panda’s and in the SLPP heartland of Bo town. Because of the heroic stand of the Bo people in the Njagboima section that part of the township became known as Katanga. The elections were called off and the result annulled while a state of emergency was declared. The SLPP candidates Charles Margai, Dauda Sandi and Dominic Ngombu were all incarcerated at Pademba road prison where they remained until their seats were declared vacant under the 30 day standing order of Parliament. The party had decided long before the bye elections not to put up candidates. Again where did all those stories of intimidations and road blocks between Pendembu and Kailahun emanate? Perhaps Sylvia Blyden knew the intending candidates who were prevented from travelling to Pendembu to oppose me.
Readers may also recall that I had declined armed personal security throughout the election of 1977 campaign. I was returned unopposed in the subsequent bye election of February 1978. Both in Parliament as well as in Cabinet I soon cultivated very warm friendships among my colleagues. Without any contest my Kailahun district colleagues all of who were already in Parliament elected me as their leader. In April 1978 President Stevens appointed me as Resident Minister east. Most of the Paramount Chiefs and prominent citizens of the Eastern Province were at Kenema airport to welcome me when I arrived to assume duty. In August of the same year he appointed me as Minister of Development and Economic Planning where I took over from Solomon Pratt (Jolly Boy). The portfolio entailed much travel to attend international conferences including the Mano River Union MRU and Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS meetings.
One morning as we waited for Sheki’s arrival for the weekly cabinet meeting, his ADC entered the cabinet room to summon me to his Excellency. The President informed me that he had decided to give me the portfolio of Finance at a date to be announced soon. It took another six weeks and although information was meant to be a secret between us, one or two of our mutual friends were already congratulating me quietly. On my return to the cabinet room, Idrisa Fofana took one look at me and whispered quietly that I had heard some good news, I tried as much to convince otherwise but he didn’t believe me. And so it was that I was appointed Minister of Finance, taking over from Francis Minah.
In those days whenever there was a vacancy for a Vice President as a result of the President or one of his Vice Presidents being away, the Minister of Finance was sworn in as Acting Vice President to fulfill a constitutional provision. One did not even have to move over from ones office. After my spell in Finance the acting appointment became an open event depending on the whims and caprices of his Excellency. There was such a vacancy on the day of my appointment and I became Minister of Finance and Acting Vice President. The appointment never lasted more than a fortnight at any one time.
Today my detractors and President Koroma’s praise singers describe it as assuming the second highest position in the land. The negative effects of hosting the OAU summit began to bite just as the bills continuously piled up. A month after my appointment and while I was in Washington for a meeting with officials of the World Bank and I M F, the ‘vouchergate’ financial scandal broke out. There were police, administrative and judicial investigations depending on where any of the President’s ministerial friends were involved. Many heads rolled. One result was that for the first time the ministry of Development and Economic Planning was added to that of Finance. With me as deputy minister was a young man whose quest for power had no limits. He was known to boast to his friends that he had got rid of a lawyer and causing my removal from that office was only a matter of time. He couldn’t wait to take over the ministry by any means. To his disappointment when the President relieved me of the portfolio of finance the ambitious young man remained where he was.
The head of state and I often disagreed over priority of payments. Where I insisted on a routine system my boss often expressed anger whenever I did not prioritize and was also accused of over spending. That resulted from having to make payments beyond what we scheduled for a particular period.