Albert Margai’s Republican Bill had been passed by the required majority in Parliament in 1966. According to the Constitution, elections then had to be held, which in fact they were, and the same Bill had then to be passed by the requisite majority of the newly elected Parliament before it could take effect. This meant, in fact, that all we had to do to bring about a Republic was to reintroduce the Bill into Parliament and ratify it, which, with the majority of seats we held, would have presented no difficulties. But to my mind the step we intended to take was of such national importance that I believed the whole country had to be totally involved. I therefore set up a Commission, representative of people from all sections of the com munity, to review the new Constitutional Proposals and to sound public opinion on the issue throughout the length and breadth of the country. When this was done, I planned to hold a general election in November or December, 1970, so that the people would have ample opportunity to vote either for or against a Republican Constitution.
As far as the British Government was concerned, there was no question of its standing in our way over the severance of these last links with colonialism. All we had to do was to make our own internal arrangements and give them due notice of our intention so that the necessary formalities could be effected in Britain.
Within a month of my announcing the A.P.C. Government’s intention to go ahead with the matter of a Republican Constitution, a new opposition party, the National Democratic Party, was formed by Hamid Taqi, brother of my Minister of Development, M. Bash-Taqi, and of a former Minister of Information & Broadcasting in my Government, Ibrahim Taqi. Of course, the Taqi brothers were entitled to form a new party if they wished, but I felt there was a smack of opportunism about the new enterprise. They were not really against republicanism in general; there were no valid grounds for objection at that stage, since detailed plans awaited public consultation by the Constitutional Commission. The new party could hardly have any means of generating support except by creating rumours and an atmosphere of prejudice against proposals we had still to formulate.
Ibrahim Taqi, who was in London at the time, was asked in an interview by the B.B.C. if there was any truth in the speculation that he might be co-opted into the leadership of the new party. “Let me make this very clear,” he is reported to have said, “that I have been a leading member of the A.P. C. and, notwithstanding the fact that in very recent times I have been removed as a Minister, I believe that we can change the hierarchy of the A.P.C. from the fold of the A.P.C. as a political organisation.”
A month later Dr. J. Karefa Smart, one-time Minister of External Affairs in Milton Margai’s Government, who had taken no active part in Sierra Leonean politics since, after crossing the floor to join the A.P.C. in 1964, he left for Columbia University, suddenly returned to Freetown from Geneva where he had held the post of Assistant Director of the World Health Organisation. He was met, on arrival, by Ibrahim Taqi who kept the press at bay and drove him off in his car. Rumour had it that he had returned to Sierra Leone to lead the N.D.P. This he denied in a letter to the Editor of West Africa , published in that magazine on July 18th. “…1 am a loyal member of the All People’s Congress (A.P.C.)” he wrote, “and I have no intention of making any contribution to the political life of my country from outside this party…”
Early in August, while I was on a visit to Jamaica, a meeting of the N.D.P. took place at which Hamid Taqi disclosed that he ha approached Karefa Smart and intimated to him that he would be formally invited tolead the N.D.P. Karefa Smart was reported to have replied that he had not yet fully made up his mind and wanted time to study the situation. He was anxious, he said to meet with people from all over the country, as well as myself, the leader of the A.P.C., as soon as I returned home.
Karefa Smart came to see me the afternoon following my arrival from Jamaica, on August 13th. He expressed his desire to make a worthwhile contribution to the national effort and wanted to know what I had to offer him by way of a post. I told him that the best course for him to pursue, as I saw it, was to get back into Parliament, but this could not be done without a vacancy being created. With the general elections scheduled only a few months ahead, it would hardly be practicable to hold a bye-election before then. I therefore urged him to wait for the general election.
He was not too happy about this and suggested himself for the post of Governor-General. I was frankly astonished. I knew him to be a close friend of Banja Tejan Sie, and although this fact might not deter him from taking his job away from him, I knew instinctively that there was another motive behind this proposal, as yet unclear to me, and that he would have been utterly nonpiussed had I agreed to his request. I explained to him that I had excellent relations with the present holder of that office and would very much like to continue working with him.
I then suggested that he might work for me in the interim as my right- hand man, so to speak, which I felt would in fact be of most benefit to him since he had been off the political scene for six years. He said he would have to consider it and first consult his people. The next thing I knew was that he had reported to the Acting Governor-General that I had offered him the job of my personal secretary!
The interim left me feeling unesasy. I genuinely wanted Karefa Smart to find a proper outlet for his immense talents in the service of the country. I had been proud to have him in the A.P. C. and looked forward to working with him. I had known him a little in the old days, when we were members of the Sierra Leone Organisation Society together, but we had drifted apart politically for a long time after that. He was a latecomer to the A.P.C. He had not, so far, played an active part in the party. We therefore had to get to know each other over again, and for my part I had hoped our interview would be a chance to build a political partnership and friendship in which we could work together for Sierra Leone. In the event, however, the interview disillusioned me, just as it obviously disappointed him. I was alarmed at his impatience, perturbed by the scale of his ambition. It upset me to feel that he was rejecting my efforts to find a just and useful role for him.