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It was a night when even the UK Government Adviser and Deputy Leader, Rt Hon Simon Hughes (MP), of one of the two governing parties of the UK Coalition Government had to stay till after 1:00 a.m. just to welcome the Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio to the United Kingdom. In fact, one of the journalists from the international press team who stood by me was so carried away by the hundreds of women who welcomed Maada Bio’s entourage into the hall that he whispered to his other colleague “Wow, the Presidential Candidate really looks likeable and charismatic”. Where I stood, I only smiled and said to myself “I wish the APC and their Spin Doctors could have heard that compliment”.
As the Rtd Brigadier Julius Maada Bio walked through the crowd, smiling and waving his hands to about a thousand people who sat on both sides of the hall, the people started shouting the “TORMENTOR”. A name which Maada Bio now carries as a result of the sleepless nights his ever-growing popularity has given the APC leadership. From this point, I could start feeling that the Biomania had hit the hall. As you could expect in such a high profile welcome ceremony the audience had a blend of representatives from International Press, English Press, Foreign Investors, Members of UK Parliament and Sierra Leoneans across United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England.
When the programme started proper, the electrifying atmosphere could still not lessen as there were hundreds of flashes from smart phones and digital cameras as people in the audience scrambled to take pictures of the Rtd Brigadier Maada Bio (THE TORMENTOR). At this point you could actually tell from the face of the flag bearer that he had been so overwhelmed by emotions as the audience continued to shout “Father of Democracy” reflecting back in 1996 when Rtd Brigadier Julius Maada Bio graciously handed over power to the first democratically elected President Kabbah thereby respecting the wishes of his people. But when we came to the short speeches, the excited audience was ready to listen to their leaders and there were three important speeches.
The first major speech came from the distinguished SLPP UK and Ireland chairman, Mr. Jimmy Batilo Songa. A very popular and hardworking Chairman and as he took the stage you could sense a feeling of great achievement on his face because of the massive support from Sierra Leoneans to welcome the flag bearer. As he welcomed the flag bearer, he referred to him as the next President of Sierra Leone, a title which raised the whole audience on their feet with a loud applause. But, the most striking aspect of his speech was when he reminded the audience that Sierra Leone was at a crossroads and that the APC have only brought hardship to our people. I think those households which struggle to feed on a meal day whilst the APC government offers no hope will surely support Mr. Songa’s view.
The other most important speech for the electrifying night came from the UK Government Adviser and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Rt Hon Simon Hughes (MP). As he stood up, he was greeted with such a thunderous applause from the audience that he had to confess that as a Member of parliament who represents the highest number of Sierra Leoneans in UK Parliament, the welcome ceremony was the largest number of Sierra Leoneans he had ever addressed in his over twenty-years of MP career. As a Deputy Leader of one of the parties in the UK Coalition Government he welcomed Maada Bio to the UK and stated that as a government they will always support democracy in Sierra Leone. I know by now the APC spin doctors must have been in a pool of shame because with all their cheap insults against Maada Bio as a “human right abuser”, “murderer” etc it took the renowned Deputy Leader of the governing party to gladly welcome the very Maada Bio in the UK thereby making all the APC allegations look like a pile of rubbish. In fact, admiring the youthfulness of Maada Bio, Rt Hon Simon Hughes also advised the audience that the future belongs to our young people and we must all do what we can to support our youths.
Undoubtedly, the biggest cheers for the night came when Maada Bio stood up to give his short remarks. With a smile on his face, he started by taking a swipe at the APC government and their spin doctors when he jokingly said “APC said I will never travel to overseas but I have surprised them as this is the start of my European Tour as I will be going to other European countries”. The confident Bio went on “The time of Ernest Bai Koroma is over and SLPP is poised to go back to State House”. This statement prickled the Biomania in the audience as the people responded with loud applause. However, the message of the Presidential Candidate was clear that the APC has messed up the country and that the people are crying for a NEW DIRECTION. Well, I suppose in a country where people now see LIGHT in their houses as a miracle, where WATER is now as scared as diamonds and with prices of basic food stuffs almost tripled since 2007 the people must be surely crying for change sir.
Furthermore, the Rtd Brigadier Julius Maada Bio also spoke of his enormous experience as former head of state to effectively run the country but he cautioned the euphoric audience that the SLPP must continue to work hard and always be peaceful. He ended his short remarks by inviting the audience to his Maiden International speech at the Chatham House in London on Thursday 10th May where he will be giving detailed policies on a range of issues. As he ended, the audience got to their feet endlessly shouting the “tormentor” whilst hundreds of people had already queued up just for handshakes and photo opportunity with the smiling Maada Bio.
At this point, the Biomania had so enveloped the hall that what was meant to be a welcome ceremony for the flag bearer became a meet-the-people event as the MODEST and HUMBLE Bio suggested that he wanted to be servant of the people so they did not have to queue rather he was going to meet the people individually at their guest tables for handshakes and photo opportunity. Believe you me, it was only going to take a down-to-earth leader like Maada Bio to spend hours going through rows of tables and chairs to shake people’s hand and take pictures with them. He spent almost two hours going round to talk to people individually but he was never tired as he was smiling, laughing and as happy as the people to talk to them and take photos.
As Maada Bio went around, a friend of mine (who voted for the APC in 2007 but now very disillusioned with the APC government) said to me “Well, I think Maada Bio has convinced me tonight because he seems so genuine and comfortable with ordinary people”. Whilst my friend was saying that, he quickly then showed me where Maada Bio walked towards this disable Sierra Leonean in a wheel chair and Bio had to bow down to shake the disable’s hand. You could see the beaming smiles on both the disable and Maada Bio’s face. For me, this was my highlight of the ceremony as the flag bearer was putting smiles on the face of a Sierra Leonean disable.
However, the Biomania did not only stop at the two (2) hour sessions of handshakes and photo opportunity but also the charming leader danced with the people. As you could imagine hundreds of women surrounded the flag bearer dancing and all they kept on shouting was “Oh Fine Boy”.
So, stay tuned our APC friends for the Next Stop.
By: Yusuf keketoma Sandi BA (Hons), LLB (Hons)
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