Amid chanting and songs of welcome from opposition supporters, President Ernest Bai Koroma on Saturday paid a surprised visit to the headquarters of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party exactly three weeks after the building twice came under attack apparently by supporters of his All People’s Congress party. Looking casually dressed in short and t-shirt, the president told opposition supporters that he was at their office to push forward the peace pact the two parties had signed to forestall any future political violence in the country. He assured them of their safety and the safety of their office.
Speaking to Awoko, the president said the damage he saw to the party’s office was “regrettable” and committed his personal and state resources towards fixing the building to its former status.
John Benjamin, the opposition leader who was not aware of the visit before it happened, told this press that he only received a call from the president once he had got to the office saying, “Where are you? I have taken over your office”. Amid laughter, Mr Benjamin jokingly replied to the president thus: “You can only do so through the ballot box”. He referred to the president’s visit as “a positive move” saying he and his executive had been invited by the APC to visit theirs which he said they would do in the coming days and would meet with President Koroma there. The opposition leader assured that both parties were now looking forward to “decent politics” and would not allow “a few people to distract us”.
The women’s leader of the SLPP, Isatu Kabbah expressed happiness and appreciation for the “magnanimity” of the president’s visit, saying she had been looking forward to it.
As the president left, SLPP supporters jostled to shake his hand and to thank him for his move. Looking relaxed, the president shook quite a few hands before boarding his private vehicle.
It will be recalled that the SLPP headquarters was attacked recently on the 13 and 16 March following disagreement between supporters of the two parties. The building was comprehensively looted and damaged, and there were allegations that some opposition supporters were raped.
Addressing the signing ceremony last week by the two parties to eschew violence, President Koroma instructed the police to speedily investigate the recent political disturbances especially the alleged rape.