I had met with Hon Ernest Bai Koroma on several occasions prior to his election into office as President of this republic. I had a number of interviews with him while in opposition. He was very media friendly and for most times, he knew how to work with the Media at the time and for most times, he would prefer giving you a call since it had to do with matters of his political chances in the pending national elections. He was a master of that type in dealing with the media,
Reasons for the friendly relationship between Ernest Koroma and some sections in the media could be two folded; he was going through a number of political challenges, among them, the political cases that he had at the time in our courts of law and these cases were orchestrated from within the APC fold. Efforts were made by his then opponent nationally to get him out of the political race; his bodyguard was implicated in a matter that dealt with unlawful possession of arms; Acha Kamara, who still happens to be our Inspector General of Police, was very instrumental in prosecuting one Ibrahim Sesay, the bodyguard to Ernest.
Coupled with these and many other issues, Ernest was able to gain the sympathy of most people, to which the Media were no exception. He was more of a news maker at the time, – his news items used to occupy the front pages of our local tabloids, and even critical minds like Olu Gordon, Paul Kamara, David Tam Baryoh et al were seen sympathetic with Ernest Koroma and this was manifested in their writings, commentaries and even in the way some used to run their ‘Monologue’ Programme. That was the time when, anyone spared by these people was bound to succeed in any political venture.
The road leading to the premises of Ernest Koroma was very wild and open. People like Umar S Jah who was working for Democratic newspaper but now in Germany, and even Abdul Karim Koroma of Concord Times, now Press Attaché designate to Ethopia were all people associated closely to Ernest when he was in opposition. Those were the days when a call from a journalist to the then opposition leader was always answered not by another person but by the leader himself.
But alas! things have changed. The Ernest Koroma I used to know is not the one I am hearing of at present. I can understand, occupying that seat (the presidency) means a lot and once a person occupies such a position, he is expected to put on a different face, which is what somebody said, an assertion I could not accept, not even for a million dollar offer!
I have attempted on several occasions to meet with president Koroma. I had sent emails to his Press Secretary, I had made a number of calls that I want to see the president for an interview on some issues of national concern. But even with the appointments and several calls being made to the Press Secretary to the president, there was no way I could see him. He has been caged, this is what I believe, either you take it or you leave it.
There is this view by many over the years that, a political leader is bound to succeed pending on the type of people around him or her. I had discussed this issue of the president being caged from the public, especially the media with a senior colleague and he was very blunt in telling me that it was not going to be easy for me to see him. In fact am told that even Umaru Fofana of the BBC had wanted to have an interview with the president but the ministry of information was not prepared to allow that. You see, in politics, those in it must not be frightened.
President Koroma no doubt actually wants to see this country at the apex in terms of development but that is bound to occur when he has a very good team of people around him. I see no reason why he should not be allowed to talk to people, especially the media when such talk has to do with national issues. All what I had expected when he assumed office was that, there was going to be a system in place for him to be meeting with the public through the media.
The power of the media need not be underestimated for any reason. Preventing the president from meeting the media once in a while sends bad omen not only to us but to the general public. I can understand, that there is the APC radio which has almost dominated the national radio, but one common fact is that, not everybody is listening to that station for it is more APC in coverage of issues than nationalism is concerned.
A colleague journalist at Awoko, Ishmael Bayoh had reason to submit that he was not pleased when the president addressed the nation using the APC radio station. For him, the president is president of Sierra Leone and not president of APC. In fact it was President Koroma that told us, he was not going to be a quiet president but one that would be talking to the public through the press. But he has been caged, he has been surrounded by people that are egocentric in character and nature, he has been taken into the ‘die-hards’ or the ‘old cabal ‘group of the APC as he used to be with those I would refer to as moderate APC people.
One can understand what it means occupying that position and at the same time, having people around you that think the self rather than the national interest is paramount. Let me take you to the recent past government. When President Kabbah was in power, he saw the media as his enemy to the point that, reaching the public through the media was a bit difficult for him and his SLPP party. Even people like JJ Blood and Sama Banya were not friendly to the media. The result was devastating; the government was perceived as anti media and as such, Kabbah was blamed for not talking to the media.
He relied so much on his ministers at the time that, when disaster was matching towards the corridors of the SLPP, Berewa was again blamed as a candidate that was difficult to market to the people of this country, thus the political tsunami the SLPP experienced. I wish my friend and colleague at ‘For Di People’ Jai Kangbai was in the country to tell the rest of the story. Even the coming of Professor Septimus Kai Kai could not help salvage the political disasters of the SLPP.
In actuality, what am portraying here is that, our current president, Hon President Koroma is believed to rely so much on his ministers, especially his information ministers in communicating the policies of his government to the people of this country. No problem with that, but there is again, the dire need for him to be meeting with the press as well. IB Kargbo and his able deputy, Mohamed Koroma are doing their bits but we also need a talking president. President Kabbah’s government was referred to as a ‘mumu’ government and we actually don’t want that to happen with president Koroma.
In the United States of America, there is the White House press corps which is a group of journalists or correspondents usually stationed at the White House to cover White House press briefings. In fact in the US as well there are congressional correspondents, that is, those journalists who are specialized in covering the upper and lower house of the US congress. But here in Sierra Leone, that is not the case because, even the Press Secretary to the president has never thought of establishing a press corp. that should be reporting on activities within statehouse.
I have not been to Liberia yet but those who have been there say, the Liberian President is often interviewed by that country’s Journalists. To be fair with president Koroma, it won’t be easy to reach him at all times due to his current status but that does not mean he should not be talking to the press So may I ask that people stop caging the president and allow him talk to the press? Over to those who may want to respond.
By John Baimba Sesay