While we won’t dwell on the impact of these defections– or more accurately the lack thereof - it is worth putting them briefly in their proper perspective before we discuss the question posed in the title of this article.
Dauda is an old hand who could legitimately be called a serial carpet crosser, having served as Second Vice President under the APC, Minister of Finance under the SLPP and now Foreign Minister under the current APC Government. Clearly this is someone who is prone to changing party for personal gain, and his return to the APC to take up another senior position after vying to lead the SLPP only validates his opportunistic persona.
In a similar fashion, Nyuma’s long-anticipated decision to hang his hat with the APC is hardly surprising and - for that very reason – not particularly damaging to the SLPP. The decision has all the telltale signs of one based on raw politics: political ambition at its basest – where only personal interest and self-preservation matter. It is no secret that the APC had courted Nyuma with a luxury 4x4 vehicle and made him a member of Government delegations abroad. It was only a matter of time that Nyuma would jump ship. But there’s really no need to speculate as to motivation since Nyuma states bluntly in his letter of resignation from the SLPP that, his decision was “entirely as a result of personal considerations…”
In the same vein, former Ambassador, John Leigh’s departure from the SLPP belies any notion that he left for anything other than self-serving reasons. Leigh, as history and experience already inform us, merely behaved like the twice-jilted suitor he had become after failing to become the party’s standard bearer on two succeeding attempts.
No matter what the reasons are for Mr. Leigh’s abysmal showing in the two contests he entered, it is rather telling that in both instances, having failed to become the flag bearer, he went on to disseminate false and misleading claims – ludicrous allegations of rigging, tribalism and the practice of “ voodoo” which the party wisely did not countenance. Lansana Fadika’s defection, following equally hollow and baseless allegations of marginalization and “ungratefulness” by the SLPP, was as uneventful for the party as was John Leigh’s. A controversial individual with a propensity for being involved in violent confrontations, Fadika, who once declared famously that “I am SLPP to the backbone,” may be more trouble for the APC than they may realize. Not to disappoint, soon after moving to the APC, Fadika was in the middle of a violent election-related incident, suffering a stabbing in a melee most believe he instigated.
Having put these defections under the microscope for a brief look, one can better appreciate the self-serving nature of the judgments made by each of these defectors. However, what is even more intriguing to us and worth a moment addressing is the question of whether any of them actually gave serious thought to the sort of company they would be joining by moving over to the APC. We are certain they, like all Sierra Leoneans, are aware of that party’s dogma as well as its dismal record in governance - a veritable tale of economic mismanagement, corruption, political intimidation and violence, beginning with its founder and longest-serving leader, the late Siaka Stevens in the late 1960s.
We are thus compelled to ask how one can feel welcome in a party that recklessly plunged the country into an economic free fall in the 1980s rather than accept that it could not afford to host the annual OAU summit in 1980. Even more criminal was the fact that this was done solely because the APC’s megalomaniac leader desperately craved to be named Chairman of the organization that year – the prize for hosting the exorbitant annual meeting. And lest we forget, the party to this day cannot shake off logical accusations that it was involved in the mysterious murder of the then-Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone, the late Sam Bangura, a courageous and dedicated public servant, who voiced professional advice against this senseless and irresponsible fit of vanity, as did the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who refused to bankroll the APC’s lack of prudence.
The APC under its next leader, Joseph Saidu Momoh, fared no better. Under his tutelage, the APC allowed an internal conflict to fester and eventually expand to every corner of the country - with the now all-too familiar devastating consequences, rather than commit resources to end it. The reason for this abject failure: the inept and weak APC Government needed a pretext to delay upcoming national elections that it believed (justifiably so) it would lose.
Before ultimately being denied that second term – on account of other circumstances, as it would turn out – Momoh presided over perhaps the most ineffectual government in Sierra Leone’s history, a government that will forever be associated with incompetence, indiscipline, unchecked corruption and economic mismanagement. That verdict by itself is bad enough; but because Sierra Leoneans had been overjoyed to see the back of the despotic Stevens in 1985, they saw in Momoh, the soldier-turned-politician, a potential “saviour.” And Momoh heightened their expectations, promising, with much fanfare, to usher in a “new order” - to clean up the mess left in the wake of the disastrous Stevens’ years.
But hopes were soon dashed, however, with the emergence of what became known as the “Binkolo Mafia”, a criminal APC-led cartel that ravaged the nation’s resources with impunity, causing a downward spiral that led directly to the 11-year national tragedy that came to be known as the “rebel war.” This only solidified what the people already knew instinctively about the APC: a leopard cannot change its spots.
If there are any doubts, one only needs a cursory glance at the disastrous performance of the current President and his administration and their dishonourable approach to governance. President Koroma came into office, like Momoh, full of promises - this time it was the “New APC.” There were lofty promises of “national unity” and “zero tolerance” of corruption. The buzzword once again was “change,” more specifically “attitudinal” and “behavioural” change; but somehow, the rhetoric has failed to translate into reality. What we saw at the onset was a bloated cabinet – once the APC actually got around to appointing one – that was shamelessly skewed to the Northern region; at the same time, an unmistakable campaign was unleashed to purge the civil service of persons deemed to be supporters of the SLPP. Needless to say, it was directed primarily against individuals who hailed from the Southern and Eastern regions of the country.
Soon after, corruption on a massive scale began to set in, as evidenced by the Income Electrix; NASSIT ferry; basmati rice and timbergate scandals, to name a few. But even worse, perpetrators with known connections to the highest levels of the administration were given what amounted to a slap on the wrist - if that. So much for the President’s vaunted zero tolerance of coruption. Likewise, all the talk about “asset declarations” and “performance contracts” for Ministers proved to be nothing but a smokescreen.
Awarding of contracts and other Governmental largesse has become a family affair as relatives of the President, his ethnic kinsmen and cronies have illegally received the lion’s share of lucrative contracts. In most cases, the contracts have been untendered and also inflated. Unsurprisingly, in many instances, the contractor failed to deliver as required. And because of their connections to the Government, these contractors, particularly the President’s two brothers and sister, have been untouched.
On the economic front, if we could capture in one word the cumulative record of the Koroma administration it would be “underperforming.” Having inherited from the outgoing SLPP regime in 2007 a country at peace, and with a stabilized economy, Koroma merely needed to implement prudent policies to keep the ship on the right course. Significant post-war reconstruction and development strategies as well as reforms had been introduced by the Kabbah regime in all sectors, such as security, good governance, revenue collection, procurement, and public financial management. This laid the foundation for improved economic management, service delivery, and poverty reduction. In addition significant infrastructural and development projects were already financed and in the pipeline, including the long-delayed Bumbuna hydroelectric project, which was close to completion.
However, proving that the APC truly is a party that focuses on the short-term goal of winning elections rather than on the longer-term interests of the nation, Koroma, right out of the gate jettisoned Bumbuna, choosing to go instead for a popularity and political victory. Having promised to “bring light” to the masses, he was compelled to procure emergency electricity supply for Freetown at the staggering cost of close to $5 million a month. And today, after sacking the internationally well-respected Energy Minister – many say because he had expressed professional reservations about contracts awarded to the President’s “preferred” service providers - the exact state of viability and sustainability of the Bumbuna project remains mired in confusion and uncertainty.
President Koroma has also injected politics into other infrastructural projects inherited from the SLPP, particularly roads, claiming boastfully that, the projects had been abandoned by the SLPP and subsequently resurrected by his administration. Is it any wonder then that the Koroma has gone on an unrestrained spending spree to fool the population into believing it is actually doing something positive? Well, you can’t fool everyone. This foolishness has caught the attention of our development partners, prompting the IMF Mission Chief to, among other warnings, caution the Government after its mid-April mission visit, to “constrain non-priority spending” and “enhance expenditure and treasury flow management.”
But, we hardly need the IMF to tell us what the Government is doing wrong in its stewardship of the nation’s economy. Just ask the average Sierra Leonean. They are the ones being impacted by high inflation, rising commodity prices and a stagnating economy. They – particularly – the youth know what it feels like to be in a permanent state of unemployment, with a college degree virtually worthless for so many because the Government has failed to grow jobs as it had promised. Or speak to the children whose parents are unable to provide more than one meal a day or to pay their school fees or transportation costs.
All of this hardship and poverty the average citizen must endure in the face of the opulent lifestyle of unsympathetic Government officials and their coterie of sleazy and corrupt enablers who amass multiple luxury dwellings and even pricy homes overseas. Needless to say this is a lifestyle that cannot be supported by the salaries received by these Government officials.
This unrestrained corruption and lack of concern for the poorest and least influential in our society is surely an indication of how a corrupt APC regime would mismanage and squander the country’s projected revenue spike over the next few years from extractive industries and the ongoing oil exploration projects if given an opportunity. And, there is ample evidence it has already begun to do so. Just take a look at the Government’s woeful mining policy and unfavourable agreements signed up with foreign companies including that of the President’s reputed campaign financier, Frank Timis, the billionaire CEO of African Minerals Limited, who is heavily involved in oil exploration and iron ore mining in Sierra Leone.
Timis is the man whose private jet whisks the President and his entourage wherever necessary, and one can only imagine what else he is willing to do to protect his investments. Is it any wonder then that workers at Timis’ company were fired upon with live rounds by the Police during a recent work stoppage and protest over poor working conditions and pay, resulting in one death and critical injuries to many others? And this latest brutality comes after landowners were similarly assaulted with tear gas and live rounds in November 2010 by the Police near another African Minerals mining site following a land dispute with the company.
It is this propensity for violence and intimidation, particularly during (and the run-up to) elections that worries Sierra Leoneans most about the APC – past or present. Whether it’s the brutal paramilitary outfit, the Internal Security Unit (ISU), the precursor of the equally vicious Special Security Division (SSD) and today’s Operational Services Division (OSD) of the Sierra Leone Police, the APC is synonymous with political violence and intimidation. As we saw recently with the Government’s questionable importation of heavy weapons for the OSD and the killing of unarmed protesters in Koidu and now Bumbuna, the APC is simply incapable of shedding its legacy of violence and obsession with “regime security.” And as we see from its targeting of leading opposition figures and supporters through the judiciary, this is a party that is concerned more about winning elections than governing democratically or protecting the human rights of its citizens – one that will stop at nothing to achieve that goal; as the recent arms scandal demonstrates, the APC has absolutely no qualms about subjugating national interest to its parochial concerns regarding perceived threats to its re-election.
If this is the kind of party that Joseph Dauda, Lansana Fadika, Tom Nyuma and John Leigh have consciously chosen to defect to one can only wonder what they hope to offer to it. Experience tells us that they will have neither influence nor standing in the party. Their only benefit to the APC will be their perceived short-term propaganda value. For this is a party that has shown that it cares only about gaining power: winning elections – by any means and at any cost.
These defectors are merely pawns in the APC’s calculated plan to secure what even it knows would be an undeserving second term – a goal it will pursue by any and all means possible, mindful of the projected oil and mineral wealth in the offing.
And if these converts to the APC harbour any doubts about our dire assessment, we ought to remind them of this: a party whose leaders have famously battled over who is the “real Temne” has no place for a Nyuma, a Leigh or a Fadika. They also would be wise to ponder the fact that most defectors make the initial splash - if that - then merely fade into oblivion once they have expended their usefulness.