Had it been in the Olympic Games or the Inter-Secondary School track and field events, former Vice President Solomon Ekuma Berewa would have been disqualified for gun-jumping.
Though the 2007 presidential election was far away by June 2003 he had already declared his intension for the presidency and formed his presidential campaign team-the Working Group. Since then he used most-if not all-official functions to advertise his credentials to be former President Tejan Kabbah’s heir apparent.
I will now examine Solomon Ekuma Berewa the public figure. Writing in the New Vision newspaper of April 20, 2005, a guest writer, Foday Fofana, believed that Mr Berewa was “a great and deadly strategist in politics.” Probably this might be true because the manner in which he emerged from the blue to become Vice President and also the manner in which he jostled fellow contestants for their party’s leadership during the 2005 Makeni convention would no doubt have even startled Siaka Stevens or even President Robert Mugabe.
During his stewardship as Vice President, Mr Berewa exhibited traits that were hotchpotch of democracy and dictatorship. Say what you may of this man, he has everything that can be used as a yardstick for a successful man: good education, success in his profession and wealth of experience, wealth, and fruits of the semen. But one main ingredient he lacked as a politician was popularity within and without his party.
Unfortunately for Mr Berewa, one of the credentials he frequently used to flag at voters’ faces, before and during the campaign, to accept him as their would-be president was that he had done his apprenticeship under former President Kabbah. But it was no secret that ex-President Kabbah was an inept, indecisive and a no-do-gooder leader. So for such a man to pass on his trial and error experience to his No 2 would have spelt disaster for Sierra Leone. Mr Berewa himself knew this that’s why he made a slip of the tongue in the April 22, 2005 edition of the New Vision that, “If I become president of Sierra Leone, I will not be like President Kabbah. I will pursue his policies but not necessary like he is doing.” This was an indication that a President Berewa would have been like ex-President Kabbah with a little pruning on an old script.
Even The Democrat newspaper of 26 November 2001, had clairvoyance when it said, “both Solomon Berewa and Ahmad (or “Ahmed”, delete where applicable) Tejan Kabbah have made a habit of improperly using high offices of the Republic of Sierra Leone to pervert justice, defraud and defame people and undermine the integrity of the state.”
Of improperly using high office to prevent justice? The Standard Times newspaper of March 30, 2005, bannered with the former Vice President “abuse of power” and wrote that, “very recently, some of his security guards alleged that the Vice President [Berewa] few days ago used the power vested on (sic) him by the constitution…to prevent the police from performing their duties in a matter that is related to wounding and malicious damage.” And of defaming people, political pundits witnessed how Mr Berewa played cheap politics at the Sierra Leone People’s Party’s mini convention in Kono in April 2005 by accusing without proof Julius Maada Bio of serious financial embezzlement before the latter handed over power to his “uncles” in 1996. He even went further with a subtle blackmail by telling his then opponent for the party leadership that he had secret documents on him which he would make public at the “appropriate time.”
But that venom made me saw the inner Berewa through Maada Bio who replied in the Monday May 9, 2005, edition of For di People newspaper that, “…the Vice President is intolerant and is more of a dictator than any military leader.” And he (Bio) wondered why Mr Berewa was so desperate to become president [at all cost] thereby eliminating all forms of opposition.
That accusation of desperation to become president of Sierra Leone at all cost was manifested by Mr Berewa himself when in late May 2005, he told a thin audience at the Harford School hall, in the southern Moyamba town, that, “any country which fails to vote their Vice President to succeed a substantive president, is a country heading for serious trouble, which cannot be easily resolved…” This was one of the many instances where Mr Berewa made Freudian slips that he was ready to use threats and blackmail to become president of this country at all cost. He was so consumed by the thirst for power so much that the Concord Times newspaper of August 31, 2006, quoted him as telling the people of Jenkins Street in the east of Freetown that, “I wish 2007 were here so that I become President of the Republic of Sierra Leone…” Indeed, he had all the rights to be daydreaming. Because having the gambit of incumbency; a deep campaign chest with backing from NaCSA’s Kanja Sesay; access to donor fund, and with former coupists like Tom Nyuma and Maada Bio in his fold, he was right to have played the proverbial African lizard.
But did Mr Solomon Ekuma Berewa show any respect for the courts of law during his stewardship first as Attorney General and Justice minister and later as Vice President? Forget about the Lillian Lisk and Dr Abass Bundu “out of court” settlements. The Peep! newsmagazine of April 13, 2005, believed that, “Berewa failed to show proper respect for the court.” A critical look at how, as the then Attorney General and Justice minister in 1998 made nonsense of the country’s judicial system by advising the then ruling SLPP to try by court marshal junta soldiers just showed the disdain this man had for our legal system. And the charade of treason trials in which he was chief prosecutor was not only reminiscent of the “Moscow Trials” of the late 1930s, but his performance in them would have done proud Josef Stalin’s chief prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinsky. These Freetown trials were eye openers to some political commentators of how Machiavellian Mr Berewa could be in his pursuit for the ultimate national prizethe presidency!
And this man’s vindictiveness was legend. He exhibited an iota of his true self just after the 2005 Makeni convention of the then ruling SLPP when ministers Joseph Bandabla Dauda, George Banda Thomas and Emanuel ‘Toesman’ Grant were fired from cabinet in similar style Josef Stalin purged from the politburo the United Opposition of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamen who were in open challenge to his growing control and manipulation of the party.
While he was at the height of his “sensitization” tours in early 2007, Mr Berewa said the position of president required somebody with ability, character, dignity and clout. But if I should analyse his “character” and “dignity” I noticed that when it came to the issue of truth-saying during the period under review the former VP had a high percentage of deficit. In his confrontation with Maada Bio at the Fachima Hall in Koidu town in April 2005, he stated that he had been a member of the SLPP since 1961. But around November 28, 1995 or thereabouts when some members of the SLPP met him to beef up the party, he reportedly said not “all Mendes must belong to the SLPP.” The inference? He was not an SLPP member despite he was a Mendeman! Again, during his historic confrontation with Bio he reportedly told him, according to the Standard Times of April 9, 2005: “Look at you from my oldest son to the least they are all older than you.” Except Mr Berewa wanted to tell me that he was just half joking because he knew that two of his sons, Martin and Francis (both of them and I were at the Prince of Wales School at the same period, though Martin was a year my senior and Francis two years my junior), were younger than Bio. My point here is that if the former Vice President could show penchant for lying on trivial issues as to the ages of his sons, what would he have dished out if he had become the president of Sierra Leone.
On Mr Berewa’s ability to lead this country, former Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the USA, John Leigh, told the Salone Times newspaper of February 10, 2005, that Mr Berewa was unfit to rule the country. “I don’t think Berewa has the qualification to lead me. I cannot work under somebody like Berewa under any circumstance, period”, Mr Leigh told the paper’s editor, the late Christian Keili, in an exclusive.
Even the then fragmented-internal-squabble-ridden APC believed in 2005 that Mr Berewa was not a political commodity fit for the shelf. The APC had hoped that it would be assured of victory should Mr Berewa flag the SLPP because he was not a saleable material (courtesy the Standard Times of Wednesday March 23, 2005). And when Mr Berewa finally flagged the SLPP after lots of schisms and scheming, we saw the emergence of people with what Charlie Hughes called “Ariobo abada” with “APC Back To Power” embroided on the back. Indeed, history proved them right!
Was Mr Solomon Ekuma Berewa a presidential material for Sierra Leone? Charles Margai, the leader for the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) who was disqualified in 2002 on absurd technicalities from contesting the leadership of the SLPP, did not think so. He was quoted by the Salone Times of Friday May 20, 2005, as saying that, “when an unskilled politician [referring to Mr Berewa] stands on public podia to make speeches, he just uses words as he likes and ends up regretting.”
That’s exactly what happened in mid May 2005 during the mini SLPP convention in the southern city of Bo. There the former Vice President made an allusion that later angered half of Christiandom in Sierra Leone. Referring to Maada Bio who was challenging him for the party leadership he reportedly said, “Jesus Christ died because he outrightly challenged the Roman elders of his time…And even if he comes back, he shall never forget Good Friday.” This showed the vindictive manner he had intended dealing with the opposition or dissenters within his party if he had won the presidency. As predicted by Charles Margai, Mr Berewa regretted that statement when it made banners in the press. His PR specialists like Pious Foray of The Democrat newspaper and himself went to work, doing crisis management but the damaged was already done.
Under the strapline: “Blasphemy” followed by the headline: “Berewa says Jesus Killed for Insubordination”, the For di People newspaper of May 20, 2005, quoted an unnamed political analyst as lamenting that, “…it is spiritually offending, religiously criminal for someone to scapegoatise a religious prophet to advance his political and selfish ambition.” Indeed, that showed how desperate Mr Berewa was to become President of Sierra Leone at all cost, even at the expense of Jesus Christ’s reputation.
On Wednesday June 15, 2005, on the same blasphemy issue, Mr Berewa was proven to be a ‘lairholic’ by one of Sierra Leone’s greatest critical journalists, Olu Awoonor Gordon, of Peep! newsmagazine who published transcript of an audio tape (dubbed: “The Jesus Tape”), proving that despite the former Vice President’s gospel denials on the BBC and state TV, he indeed blasted Christ. It also emerged from the tape that Mr Berewa who beat his chest of being “a fervent adherent to the Christian faith…and cannot put my belief in Christianity on the same pedestal as other things” believed in juju to clinch the presidency as he boasted of going to his village, Bumpeh, where he would be “put in a hammock and certain traditional ceremonies perform” for him under the “Cotton Tree” there. This again showed that despite a professed Catholic who sometimes boasted of “having a rosary constantly hanging over my table”, Mr Berewa could be so heathenish as to seek the power of juju over the Holy Bible just to gain power.
The final straw that sealed Mr Berewa’s ‘lairholic’ status and concretized the international community’s belief of a “Regime Change” in Sierra Leone, was a press conference hosted and held at the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) conference room, at Aberdeen in Freetown, where the former Vice President made a Freudian slip that, “donors are not people who make lied promises like I do.” Here, in the presence of the then Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Sierra Leone Victor J. Angelo, he confirmed that he should not be taken by his words. And that he’s a man that should not be trusted because he had a Jekyll and Hyde personality!
Now in hindsight, had Mr Berewa won the presidency the nation might now be awashed with hints of coups and counter-coups because of his innate paranoia. When he started active “sensitization” tours long before others started, he showed constant penchant for paranoia. When he clashed with Charles Margai in the southern city of Bo, during the annual prize-giving ceremony of the Christ the King College (CKC) in November 2005, his pen goons in the press hinted about an “assassination attempt on the life of the VP”. When Omrie Michael Golley was arrested in January 2006 at his Cape Sierra Hotel in Freetown, the public was told that Mr Golley had wanted “to assassinate the Vice President”. In early June 2006, when an alleged bodyguard of the then leader of the opposition, Ernest Koroma, was found with a gun at a funeral service also attended by Mr Berewa, the nation was told by the Berewa newspapers of “an assassination attempt on the life of Berewa.” If this man was constantly frightful of being assassinated as Vice President I wonder whether he would not have been sending people everyday to prison if he had become president of this country, just as Stalin was sending people to the gulags.
After his repeated chest-beating of beating Ernest Bai Koroma (now president) hands down, I will now safely say Mr Berewa was living in a world of phantasmagoria all along. But reality snatched him from that phantasmagorical world during the run-off in August 2007. While out and about to a handful of polling stations, he realised that those who had been missing from his historic Spur Road Lodge (which was colloquially dubbed “Commercial Bank”) queues were police and military personnel. He retired home, dejected, and withdrew into his bedroom. When a group of journalists knocked at his gate later on that day, he told them: “I am devastated…the police are against me and my party…” This was the very first time, in his eleven-year-old political life, that he came very close to political reality. And the second time was when the National Electoral Commission (NEC) created the “Kailahun Court Baray” phenomenonin Siaka Stevens’ style.
And ironically, after he had been beaten hands down, while his lieutenants in the SLPP were busy finding holes in the final released NEC results, Mr Berewa played the dumb and became a political hermit. He threw away his pre-election ‘mediamania’ and became ‘mediashy’.
He was only beaten out of his newfound ‘mediashyness’ by the Awareness Times newspaper which came out with an exclusiveironically on the day when President Koroma was inaugurated at the National Stadium in Freetown. In that interview, for the first time in eleven years I was able to see the private citizen Solomon Ekuma Berewa through his own words. I realised that this man was only cut for courtrooms where battles are fought with archaic Latin phrases not the real world where people strive on practicalities and street-wise sense of humour. I realised that despite his former Jesus Christ bashing, Mr Berewa had decided to come closer to his God through the very Christ he had bashed. He came out as a man with enormous courage. In that his first post-elections interview and later his second with the BBC and third with the Awareness Times of Monday 12th May, 2008 (yesterday’s), he came out as a man who, despite his pathological thirst for power, would not want blood to be spilled in his name.
Despite he would now be consigned to the footnote of Sierra Leone’s contemporary political history, Mr Berewa has now become an archetype politician who will fight the good fight for power but will concede defeat in the interest of peace and unity. I only hope President Koroma’s heir apparent will emulate Mr Berewa’s sense of political decency if faced with similar situation?
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