SIERRA Leoneans in the UK, particularly in South East London, have been urged to not rush to ‘pass judgement’ on the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) government of President Julius Bio in Sierra Leone.
The country’s Deputy High Commissioner in the UK, Yvonne King-Odigboh, said that although there were ‘genuine critics eager to see the national ship sail faster and further, yet in our rush to pass judgement, we should not forget to give deserved credit to the remarkable leadership’ of Bio and the ‘commendable work of his New Direction government’.
She was speaking at a thanksgiving service this week in a South East London church to mark the 61st anniversary of Sierra Leone’s independence from Britain.
King-Odigboh said the government was ‘creating the right conditions for the participation of all Sierra Leoneans, including members of the diaspora’, whom, she said were an ‘essential part of the president’s development agenda’.
She said major sectors of progress included agriculture, healthcare, road construction, electricity, education, and mining.
‘In every single sector, there are things happening that have never happened before,’ she added.
King-Odigboh said that two such sectors that were usually easily overlooked by critics of the SLPP government ‘are the very things that constitute the fundamental bedrock of our democracy’.
One of this was the repeal of the death penalty, ‘something that may not properly register on people who may not find themselves or their families trapped’ in this situation.
With regard to the repeal of the Public Order Act of 1965, ‘anyone could easily relate’ to it because it had ‘given a solid boost to freedom of expression’.
But King-Odigboh suggested that instead of using ‘freedom of speech as a weapon to wrongly attack and malign other people’, Sierra Leoneans should ‘seize the opportunity provided by the new lease of freedom to go out there and spread the many beautiful truths about our changing realities as a nation’.
This was clearly directed at the many Sierra Leoneans who made South East London their home when they arrived in the UK in numbers as refugees during the civil war in their country in the 1990s.
Bio himself lived there for a while.
The area has since been a hotbed of partisan politics, with supporters of the two major parties in Sierra Leone, the SLPP and the All People’s Congress (APC), and a smattering of smaller parties, furthering the political agenda of their parties back home.
These groups have managed to get their local British MPs involved in politics in Sierra Leone through what the APC or SLPP government in Freetown, one time or the other, viewed as either misinformation or disinformation about politics and socio-economic issues in the country.
Simon Hughes, former Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, owed his 32 years in the UK parliament to the solid vote he received from his Sierra Leonean constituents.
He played the game well; never taking sides, while always arguing in favour of what he felt was good for Sierra Leone – more so calling for a halt to the civil war, which ended in 2002.
But he eventually lost to Labour’s Neil Coyle in 2015 and failed in 2019 to retake the seat.
Coyle, arriving newly on the scene, went straight into the complex nature of South East London Sierra Leonean politics without carefully studying things.
In September 2018, he joined rattled APC supporters in his constituency in their campaign to ‘uphold human rights and the Constitution in Sierra Leone’ after Bio’s newly-formed government uncovered corruption on an industrial scale during the administration of the APC, which lost to the SLPP after 11 years in power.
Coyle, a controversial figure, completely misjudged the mood that prevailed then in Sierra Leone.
He is currently sitting as an Independent MP after he was suspended from the Labour Party in February this year for allegedly making degrading statements about Chinese people, following a string of controversial tweets, swearing and use of obscene language.
He was also banned from all bars in the Houses of Parliament.