On the day, Ibrahim Ben Kargbo was nominated for the post of minister of information and communication, I received a call from a friend who congratulated the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, SLAJ for the nomination and asked if IB, as he is popularly called; would accept the job. I couldn’t speak for IB but I suggested that he may have given his consent before the announcement. Anyway, I later called IB and congratulated him. We spoke for a few minutes and I was left with the impression that IB was very much aware of the challenges facing his ministry and the government as a whole.
My mind raced back quickly to one hot Wednesday afternoon in 2003 when a few of us journalists met at Talking Drum Studios office in Freetown to discuss the hated criminal and seditious libel provisions in the Public Order Act of 1965 and make recommendations to the Law Reform commission for consideration. In the last four days leading up to that event, Freetown was awash with rumours that Alhaji Kabbah was about to reshuffle his cabinet and that IB was going to be made minister of information. As soon as he entered the room that morning, proceedings were disrupted with some people openly congratulating him in advance of the announcement that was expected that afternoon.
IB knew what was happening but didn’t pay too much attention to it. He worked really hard on the final document as he has always done with SLAJ matters. His commitment to the organisation is unquestionable. He attends all meetings and spends his own money to get things done, whether in the executive or not. He is a consummate professional and a man of extreme physical durability.
In the event, no announcement was made. I learned from a friend later that Alhaji Kabbah changed his mind because he realized at the eleventh hour that if he sacked any of his ministers, ‘their families would suffer’.
As it turned out, that event at TDS was the last act of the SLAJ executive led by Ibrahim Tayib Bah. By that time, he was the only man running the organisation. Almost the entire executive had resigned and because Tayib was almost always in the air attending this and that conference (some at his personal expense);things were rapidly falling apart in SLAJ- morale was extremely low, no dues were paid, there were no quorums at meetings and accusations of impropriety were flying all over the place.
It was this journalistic Tower of Babel that IB Kargbo took over unopposed. Every journalist in this country will confirm the solid achievements of SLAJ under IB. He is a modest man so let me make the point that he improved the public profile of SLAJ tremendously; many young journalists received training at home and abroad and when Paul Kamara was jailed in the ‘pound of flesh’ case brought by the Alhaji Kabbah, IB stood with SLAJ in the struggle until Paul walked free from the court of appeal.
IB, you made great personal sacrifices to fight for Harry Yansaneh to get justice. We expect you to pursue that case now with greater vigor. The government you now serve made what amounts to a manifesto pledge to decriminalize libel and enact a freedom of information law. We know what it is like when people enjoy the luxury of opposition but please try very hard to avoid the bizarre situation of SLAJ going to the supreme court (an action you initiated) to challenge the constitutionality of those contentious clauses in the Public Order Act of 1965. Remember how hard you campaigned against those obnoxious clauses.
IB, SLBS has no business being a government department. It should be made a public corporation, with a credible board and a professional head with a secure tenure and a free hand to serve every Sierra Leonean. Already look at the naked opportunism that we are hearing about at the place. Everybody falling over themselves to take position at strategic political offices, bypassing laid down procedures. You have to stop frogs trying to become cows now.
There’s enough material at hand to move the corporatization process forward. You may however decide to have a fresh start. This is a really urgent assignment. It deserves a deeper understanding of what obtains at SLBS and best practices from South Africa, Kenya and Ghana. To wake up one morning and discover that SLBS could no longer go on air on you watch will be a shame.
The transitional management team’s handling of the recent SLBS crisis is as confused as the deeply flawed process by which the Presbyterian Church minister was recruited in the first place. In fact to remove Kasho and replace him with an old and ineffective Kabbah-crony is equally laughable. In covering the whole affair, the journalists at the station went way over the top. They could have been more professionally measured.
Today Kasho is being blamed for all the troubles at SLBS-how disingenuous. I hold no brief for him. Frankly, he made a very bad job of running the place. Up to the day he was disgracefully thrown out of office, Kasho was quoted in a newspaper arguing that as director of SLBS, he must have an office at State House. And what is that supposed to mean? The day the director general of the BBC moves his office to 10 Downing Street, the whole debate about the fairness of the TV license fee would end with victory for those who hate that unnecessary tax.
Somehow, TV viewers in Sierra Leone had managed to come to terms with Kasho’s flat, long and boring so-called topical interviews to which he gave a disproportionate amount of his time but his brusqueness in handling staff matters and his abiding conviction that his contacts at Youyi building and State Lodge would protect him proved his undoing.
For howelse can we explain this? on the day his staff perform a technological miracle to broadcast live pictures of President Koroma’s maiden address to parliament using what he called ‘iron age’ equipment, Kasho was telling a newspaper that none of his workers are ‘competent’. To be so dismissive of other people’s efforts is truly shameful.
In a wider sense however, I think the problems of SLBS began the day Alhaji Tejan Kabbah walked into State House. Everybody in this country know how much work the NPRC did at SLBS; from restoring television which died under Siaka Stevens, to hiring some of the best brains in the business.
During Kabbah’s tenure, SLBS suffered from chronic zero investment and official snobbery. He once told a huge gathering at the national stadium that when it comes to mass sensitization of the people, Freetong Players were better than SLBS. I know something politically incorrect comes out Kabbah’s mouth every time he makes a statement at the stadium but to demonstrate such disregard for the national broadcaster and its long-suffering staff was really breath-taking.
IB, you see the weight of the responsibility on your shoulders now. As you know you are bound to run into stiff opposition from some of your cabinet colleagues in pushing through the necessary reforms but you have to fight on. IB, if you fail in office, that friend of mine who called me on the day you were offered the job will hold all SLAJ members responsible. Wishing you all the best.
By Isaac Massaquoi