There really was good reason for Sierra Leoneans in the Nigerian Diaspora to let go and unwind the way they did recently: it was the annual Independent Day Celebration and what I witnessed was part of activities always lined up for the nonce. It was a variety night, a precursor to the main course or the climax to the occasion of the Independence celebrations of April 27, 2006. There had been other celebrations that had the same atmosphere of conviviality as this one but I should like to see this as mostly akin to the cheer and celebrations Germany let off when the Berlin Wall came crashing down sometimes ago.
Yes, there was something to cheer about. At least if not for the simple reason that the celebrations in the past were held as a matter of course, but that Charles Taylor is now in the cooler and that there is relative peace in Sierra Leone. There is a new government in place via democratic methods and generally accepted by all and sundry. There is hope. There is a determination to bring Sierra Leone back to its days of hey, hah and sunshine, and it is these days of hey, hah and sunshine rather than its sad history that I am mostly interested.
But if you are conversant with its history and story, Sierra Leone had been a victim of a lot of international plunder and debauchery. Way, way back in 1786, the London Black Poor and Sierra Leone Settlement Plan ended up a disastrous ploy to relocate some of London’s black poor to Sierra Leone. Hatched by the unscrupulous Henry Smeathman, the LBPSP was seen in many quarters as a demonstration of English racism and oppression, despite the fact that there were humanitarian (mostly from the Granville Sharpe end of the deal) and monetary considerations in the LBPSP. Smeathman proposed that with only four pounds per person paid to him, it was advisable for the British government to relocate all of London’s Black poor (an estimated 10,000 including white prostitutes) to Sierra Leone where they could turn out to be of economic relevance to the British.The plan did see the light of day after Smeathman’s death but it was fraught with a lot of setbacks.
The same precept of international wayo took place right after the American revolution, a fight that took place between Britain and her American colonies. While the colonies fought with the help of American slaves on the grounds that the colonial lord deprived them their freedom and liberty, the same slaves that helped the colonies fight the good fight of the freedom that was mostly at stake in that war were left in the lurch much later. Frustrated because of the unfulfilled promises from their white field commanders that they would be free if they fought on the side of the Colonies, a great many of them took their destinies in their hands and moved to Freetown.
Thereafter, Sierra Leone after Margai and Stevens became a real mountain of man-eating lions, a battlefield of sorts for those who had no love for that unarable land-among Momoh, Strasser, Bio, Foday Sankoh, it really is not difficult to guess at the motives they had for plunging a budding a country as Sierra Leone in the throes of war. Greed.Pure, unadulterated greed.
My intention in this essay is not to dwell on the factors that led to the theatre of war that that country became. All of that should be in the archives now. I want to focus on reasons why Sierra Leoneans in Nigeria and elsewhere in the Diaspora have to celebrate this one Independence Day in a robust way. I am not aware what Sierra Leoneans in the US or wherever have put in place on the auspicious day of their country’s emancipation from the marauding lions that had held their country prisoner. Trust them, Sierra Leoneans in the US are said to be famous for enjoying the good life, probably from the saying back home that whatever enjoyment there is anywhere on earth begins and ends in Freetown. But let me say something here about the seminar that was held at the Federal Civil Service Club at Awolowo Road in Lagos. My Prof, Professor Ikhariale was in attendance and as usual he did not disappoint. He did justice to a certain question posed to him from the audience concerning the applicability or otherwise of democratic tenets in a country (wrongly) referred to as the poorest in the world. According to him, democracy is not about poverty or affluence but about equity, fiscal responsibility and the rule of law. Countries may be rich or affluent but if there is avarice on the part of the politicians, there is no way true democracy can thrive or survive. The Sierra Leone ambassador to Nigeria Mr. M.P. Bayor, however, did disappoint. First, he did not even deign attend an occasion as august as the 45th Independence anniversary of his country that was bankrolled by an individual who may not want his name mentioned on this forum. Then, he did a most bewildering thing: Mr. Ambassador sent a paltry N12,000.00 (about $100.00) to the organizers of that big event. Trust Sierra Leoneans. They promptly sent his money back to him and wanted to send twelve envelopes containing a thousand naira each to the worthy ambassador if they were not prevailed upon not to. I daresay here that this (the ambassador’s) was an irresponsible and less than an ambassadorial a conduct to present to us here in Nigeria and we suggest that Mr. Bayor be summoned by President Tejan Kaaba to explain why he should not be served a query or recalled outright.
The main course of the 45th Independence celebration was served on a platter in the old Ikeja GRA, Crescent Hall College to be precise. Surely, it was not a showcase of the old traditional festivals like the Poro or Sande, (those guys were eerily famous for their uncanny ability to walk about the streets with their heads held in their hands, literally) but an aspect of what Sierra Leone should have been without all of the skirmishes of that war that prevailed in the last decade or so. Friends of Sierra Leone from Guinea, Niger Republic, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and a good number of our brothers and sisters who have carved a niche for themselves here in Nigeria did not miss the opportunity of this musical extravaganza to ‘bubble and shuffle’.
Now, I will talk about the musical group X-Project as an example of the direction that resilience, a determination, raw talent and first, the recognition and then the promotion thereof can get you. The group (made up of Majeed, Saal and Slez) was discovered at the Oru Refugee Camp in Nigeria by Sam Kargbo and nurtured to local and international stardom (the guys were on CNN!). I talk about local stardom mostly in terms of the fact that here in Nigeria, their hit single, Aiyemi rules the airwaves much the same way as groups like P-Square, Style-Plus, D’banj or much the same way as the international award-winner 2Face-Idibia would. In Sierra Leone however, they are number one and have stayed there ever since. A lot of people usually go for the funky, sassy Tumba Dance with its Yoruba remix with the Y-Project but I would rather Aiyemi or Am Police or Na wa or Aran’nbada; great crooning from that debut 15-song cracker of an album. One of the highlights of the variety night that took place on Friday, 28th April 2006 was a performance by X-Project who are not known to be squeamish on stage and no be me dem go gist how the tin waka that night!Rather, I tell you all about it now, you who missed the Ashete ( a Sierra Leonean culinary masterpiece of steamed garri, mayonnaise, cucumber, onion-stew, laced with fish and boiled eggs), the frolic and the revelry.