(Archive) Getting to chat with a sitting West African Vice President

18 Jan

Here is a modified version of a chat I had with Sierra Leone’s former Vice President, Solomon Ekuma Berewa (now a respectful elder statesman) around this time in 2007. As the sitting VP and his party’s flagbearer for a coming election some months later in the year, the words he shared on the fateful morning are still living with me. I believe they’ll still be even after he might have departed to the great beyond. Most importantly, I learnt a key lesson about politics in West Africa which has stayed with me ever since.

Honestly, I was elated to talk with him. Though it was delayed, it took me (and my colleagues) some extra patience to get into his presence. But to be candid, the discussion was worth waiting for as it turned out to be memorable.

Something terribly unfortunate tried to hinder the interview session though: time. It was not on our side. Immediately we stepped in, we knew we cannot cover all the supplemental questions he might have prepared for. However, we succeeded with a minor barrage of questions at him. Berewa too emphasized his desire to discuss with us for much longer but couldn’t due to certain factors – which were quite understandable.

As I’d mentioned earlier, he was the Vice President at the time, and was preparing for elections slated for eight months later. He was practically running the country. It was like his boss, late Pa Ahmed Tejan Kabba, had handed over to him unofficially. His office along Spur Road, few metres to the British High Commission in Freetown, was filled to the brim right from the gate of the massive building (which I heard has now been transformed into a guest house) to the main door to his office. I felt amazingly exuberant to step into the presence of the president-to be. It was a wonderful experience.

For this reason, he promised to engage us in further discussion at a later date which we all knew won’t come soon if at all. Performing the task of Vice President (with extra responsibilities conferred on him by the President as part of the strategy to “groom him” for presidency) and a party flagbearer for the forthcoming presidential election, Berewa dare not step out of his office without any tangible reason that can be bought by the mammoth of Sierra Leoneans waiting earnestly to see him.

While some are there on official visits, others like the Lumley Association of Intelligent Drivers (so did the inscription on their banner reads), come in groups to show their ‘solidarity and support’ for his political ambition. Diplomats too, came for one meeting or the other. In fact, the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone‘s visit to the VP delayed our turn on the particular day.

Before her arrival, VP Berewa had invited us into his office just to crave our indulgence on the slight change in his meeting with us. But the three of us were quickly dismissed as soon as Ms Sarah Macintosh’s unscheduled meeting was announced.

We resumed our waiting exercise – it’s been over three hours in front of his door. The High Commissioner’s visit, we later assumed, served us right. Why? We presumed she came to clarify certain facts about our (Concord Times February 8, 2007 publication) front-page story on Britain‘s complaint on UN’s over-spending in Sierra Leone. We drew this swift conclusion because the VP made reference to the issue immediately we called back into his presence.

Later in our discussion, Berewa made comments about journalists’ attitude in Sierra Leone, citing the practice of writing unconfirmed reports, which he believes has ‘spiritual repercussion,’ as becoming habitual. He said they (such writers) would go to church or mosque to seek forgiveness after they might have destroyed the reputation built for years in just a matter of days, not knowing that God will not forgive them.

At this point, I questioned myself of his religiosity and I was informed by my senior colleague, Ibrahim Seibure, that he is a Catholic Church member. Alas! I blamed my forgetfulness that Solomon was a Christian name then I related it to his hastiness during the interview session. I imagined what could have made the former Attorney General be conscious of time on a fateful Friday to go for prayers at a mosque in Lumley: Politics.

Though this country is blessed with citizens that have little or no consideration for religious intolerance, up till today, I could tell that Mr. Berewa, in his capacity, was too occupied for a prayer session that would not yield any political goal.

Talking politics, he may wonder (or may not) why I was so inquisitive to know this or that about his political life. In fact, I was so nosey that I restricted all my questions to him within the political realm. Thank God he answered most of them (you’ll have to read the comprehensive interview) but I kept the remaining ones for another day because an adage in my language says, “A ram reverses to reinforce its energy” (for a fight). Another popular expression says, “He who runs away in a fight, lives to fight another day.”

I didn’t conclude that Mr. Vice President actually escaped my double-barrel questions. Despite his calmness and confidence that prompted me to ask more deeply-rooted questions that I’d believed could have changed his voice’s tempo, it proved to no avail. Berewa continued to choose his words one after the other as if some spirits had already shown him what was on my mind.

He boasted that his past record as the Attorney-General and the Vice President role he has been playing for quite some time then, were enough to speak and even work for him in his bid to become Sierra Leone’s next president.

I wasn’t sure he was trying to make it real to us that he would be the next man to lead his country. But even if it was a faked victory, it is right to say that he was very good at it because he sounded cool and looked unperturbed at the mention of his likely challengers whom he claimed had not given him any sleepless night.

Though many people were there to see the VP, we were fortunate (so to say) to get him talk to us. It was certain that many others would have had to book another appointment to see the stout Mende man. Although right from the gate to the building, through the reception room (at the protocol officer’s desk) and security personnel, we experienced some difficulties, the meeting was a golden opportunity.

However, what could have relived the encounter with this man with a husky voice on my reading desk for some time was hindered. I told the VP, “Sir, I’ll like to take a pictue with you, our president to-be.” He consented but the camera disappointed me. It did not capture the desired image quality I’d expected and because our host was in haste, I accepted my fate.

Anyway, I didn’t relent in scrutinizing him from afar. I observed whatever Mr. Berewa said afterwards in print or radio broadcasts to conclude on what he is truly made of.

Read the second and concluding part tomorrow.

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