On September 20th, Karefa Smart dissolved the N.D.P. and formed a new party, the United Democratic Party (U.D.P.) supported by M. Forna, Bash-Taqi, Hamid Taqi and Dr. Sarif Easmon. Referring to the seizure of the passports of himself and his colleagues, and the declaration of a State of Emergency, he declared in a circular letter touting for members to his new party: “These things, fellow countrymen, have happened even before Mr. Stevens becomes Executive President and they are only a foretaste of what is to come under an Executive President. We wish to state,” he wrote, “that our fundamental difference with the Prime Minister is his ambition for unlimited power to be achieved in an executive presidency whereby all powers of the State would be concentrated in his hands. We have decided therefore that the only solution and safeguard to our liberties is the formation of a new party embracing people from all sections of the country…”
On September 2 2nd, I sought and obtained the Queen’s approval to appoint Banja Tejan-Sie, Acting Governor-General, to the substantive rank of Governor-General. Meanwhile, more and more delegations from all over the country flooded my office daily to pledge their loyalty and support to me and the A.P.C., and many of them brought with them reports of violent clashes between U.D.P. and A.P.C. elements and rumours about plots by the U.D.P. to force me out of office. Unity one day claimed that a plot had been uncovered whereby imported ju-ju men had undertaken, for the princely sum of Le28,000, to make me lose the affection of the people and to cause me to become so unpopular that I would decide to resign from office quietly.
On September 23rd, I called a press conference at which I made a statement for the benefit of the public concerning the number of accusations that had been levelled against me during the past few weeks. “It has been alleged,” I said, “that I have caused public funds to be misused in the purchase of army equipment, etc. The answer to this allegation is that all monies spent outside the 1970/71 Estimates had been approved by the Cabinet, and up to the time of the resignation of the two Ministers, there had been no reports of dissent from any quarter.
“In a pamphlet dated September 18th and signed by Dr. Karefa Smart, it is alleged that I was responsible for the expulsion of five top members of the A.P.C. My answer to this allegation is that, as you all know, I was not in this country when the A.P.C. Central Committee took this action. The Central Committee found it necessary in the interest of the Party to expel these men on Friday, September 11th, and I arrived from overseas on Sunday, September 13th. I have, since my arrival, pointed out that the expelled members have every right to appeal according to the Constitution of the Party, and if and when they do appeal, the pros and cons of the expulsion will be thoroughly investigated.”
It had also been alleged that I wanted to get myself installed as Executive President of Sierra Leone. “In this connection,” I declared, “let me say that I have never expressed a desire to become Executive President df Sierra Leone and, in fact, as members of the public must be aware, I cannot make myself Executive President. The final decision on the form of Republican Constitution which this country gets rests entirely with the electorate, and the electorate has shown over and over again that they know what is good for them.
“It is true,” I continued, “that representatives of the A.P. C. held a meeting in August this year and passed a resolution for an Executive Presidency, but I must point out that such a resolution would need to be endorsed by a full meeting of the National Delegates Conference, which is the supreme body of the Party, before it could be finally adopted by the Party, and I have no doubt that such a Conference would take into consider ation not only the views of Party members, but the views of the country as a whole.”
I went on to say that if some people wanted to form a new party, “let them do so without trying to find fault where there is no fault.” The A. P.C. was bound at all times to take full cognizance not only of the wishes and desires of its members, but of the wishes and desires of the country as a whole in making up its mind on all issues of national importance.
“Speaking personally,” I said, “I have enough political experience to realise that I am in duty bound at all times to respect the wishes of the people if my administration is to be successful.” I appealed to all members of the public to remember that each one of us had a part to play in the maintenance of law and order in the country and that it was our duty to play that part.
To a question about the allegation made by opposition elements that I was responsible for the outbreak of violence in some parts of the country, I replied that I had never advocated violence and because of this some people said I was soft and even accused me of being a coward when! refused to take certain steps. “I am a man of peace. I do not stand for violence,” I declared. “I have been in politics for forty years and it is too late in the day to change. I will not encourage violence in my political career.” I assured my audience that violence never paid in the end and said I would investigate reports that A.P.C. supporters, particularly the youths, had been molesting and threatening political opponents in the country.
Asked whether in the interest of peace I would not defer the proposed elections and allow the Government to run its full term of office, I said that I realised that every Member of Parliament, including myself, wanted to enjoy his full five years, but that when there were important issues at stake, in particular issues that involved raising the status of the country, if an election became necessary, we would have to face it.
There was no doubt in my mind that the root of the trouble we were going through was in Government’s proposal to acquire a 51 per cent share in all the mining companies in the country and it was becoming increasingly clear that those involved in causing the crisis were being encouraged and financed by people outside Sierra Leone. For instance, two Sierra Leonean students studying in London on Government scholarships were given free air tickets by a foreign firm to return to Sierra Leone. Shortly after their arrival here they announced their resignations from the A.P.C. and said they were joining the U.D.P.
There was evidence that the U.D.P. had appreciable financial resources at its disposal — funds which it would have been virtually impossible for a new party, or even an older one, to raise in such a short time from the contributions of local supporters. On just one occasion they were reported to have ordered 14 brand new Land Rovers and some Volkswagens and vans.
Naturally, we did not and could not object to a political party raising and using funds for the purpose of publicising its policies. However, the danger to the internal stability and security of the country arose from the fact that the U.D.P. interpreted too literally the expression “fighting fund”, using their financial means less for the purpose of propaganda than for hiring professional thugs to cause disturbances and physically attack A.P.C. supporters, civil servants and even those entrusted with the maintenance of law and order. Doubting, as they did, their ability to win an election, their strategy now consisted in causing a massive breakdown of law and order in the hope that the confusion would give them an opportunity of seizing power.
By October 8th the situation had deteriorated so rapidly that my Cabinet colleagues and I felt compelled to take effective measures to prevent chaos and loss of life. These were explained in the following statement which I issued on that day:
“1 declared a State of Emergency on September 14th, 1970, owing to the tense situation that existed at the time in this country. I did not bring any regulations into force under the Emergency, in the hope that after my declaration, reason would prevail and peace and quiet be restored. This has not happened and following a series of incidents in which people were attacked and wounded, with two deaths, the situation has worsened.
“It has therefore become necessary to adopt urgent measures for the protection of life and property. The measures to be taken are as follows:
a) The United Democratic Party is banned forthwith. The existing Parliament comprises the ruling government party, the All People’s Congress (A.P.C.) which was in opposition for some seven years, and the official opposition party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party(S.L.P.P.). Since the advent of a third party about six months ago, a party which has changed its nomenclature thrice (S.L.P.O., N.D.P. and U.D.P.), a noticeable change for the worse has developed in the political atmosphere of the country, especially with the return to this country from abroad of Dr. John Karefa Smart, who had been away from Sierra Leone since 1964. It is therefore evident that the emergence of this new political party is responsible for the present unrest and therefore must be banned.
b) The publication of all cyclostyled news sheets is hereby banned, except for publications put out by embassies in Sierra Leone and educational institutions. Government has no intention of interfering with properly organised news media, but there has recently sprung up in Sierra Leone a very irresponsible type of news media which has made it possible for anyone with a typewriter, a roneo machine and a supply of duplicating paper to cover the whole country with the most irresponsible type of information, whether such information was to the detriment of the country or not, and the important point to remember about these publications is that they have very few assets which could be appropriated in the case of judgements against them in legal actions.
c) Certain other measures will be taken in the interest of national security. The operation will be a combined military! police operation. There have been reports about a number of people carrying arms and the warning is hereby issued that if anyone uses arms against the army and the police during the operation, then these security forces will be forced to take appropriate action.
“Parliament will meet on October 19th to ratify the State of Emergency and the measures taken thereunder.” Orders were issued for the arrest and detention of Karefa Smart and the leaders of the banned U.D.P. Around 10.30 that night one of my security men came to my room and informed me that an officer and an N.C.O., both fully armed, were downstairs demanding to see me. I said I would see them one at a time. The young officer had, on one or two occasions, accompanied me on visits abroad as an A.D.C., so he was familiar both to me and to my security guards. When my security officer requested him to divest himself of his weapons before seeing me, he laughingly objected. “Do you think I would harm Pa?” he asked. “Nevertheless …“ said my man, firmly grasping the weapons and taking them from him. Something, he sensed, was very wrong but although he could not at the moment think what it was, his instinct warned him to take no chances with these two soldiers. Each one of them told me that he had come to report to me that they had already rounded up most of those to be detained and promised to complete the job within an hour or so. I shook hands with them and commended them. It was not until they had left the house that my security officer remembered what it was that was worrying him. He came to me at once and said: “There is something very strange, Sir.”
He then told me that only that morning the officer, my one-time A.D.C., had come to my house in civilian clothes saying he was on leave. He had heard, he said, that trouble was expected in the barracks that night and he asked permission to bring his wife and children to my compound for safety. My wife, who, of course, knew him, gave him permission.“What worries me, Sir,” my guard said, “is that there is no sign of his family, nor did he mention to you about the possible trouble in the barracks.
Also, if he said he was on leave only this morning, how is it that he is tonight in uniform and detailed to undertake the arrest of these key figures in the U.D.P.?”How fortunate it was that my security officer had insisted on disarming the two of them and had not allowed familiarity to throw caution to the winds. For I later learnt that the plan, which we foiled, was that by the time the two of them entered my house, reports would be received that a commotion had broken out in the barracks.
In the midst of the confusion it was expected this would cause, I would be disposed of by these two men. It came to my mind that the only lie the officer had probably spoken that day was that he was involved in the arrest of the U.D.P. leaders. I am inclined to believe that when he came to my house earlier in the day he was actually on leave and had no idea that he was to be used in the role of assassin that night. He had picked up the rumour of trouble brewing and was anxious to insure the safety of his family and himself The fact that he did not bring his family to my compound was proof enough tome that, having later learnt of his mission, and realising the bloodshed and chaos that would ensue, the very last place his family should be was in the centre of such activity.
What more wicked and cleverly devised plan could my detractors have evolved than to choose as the man to dispose of me one so familiar to me, one whom I had trusted and relied upon as my personal aid and who would be assured of a welcome reception both by my guards and by myself, his friends. Was the wretched officer of such poor calibre that, despite an order from his Force Commander, he was unable to judge for himself right from wrong, battle against an enemy of the State as opposed to the elimination of the head of the Government of that State and the Minister responsible for its defence? Would he allow himself to be involved in a heinous plot to commit murder and treason? It seemed impossible to believe.
Although that night I had little but the disturbing report of my security officer and my own intuition to give rise to the feeling that there could be treacherous planners at work in our midst and that the two soldiers had actually had an ulterior and sinister motive in coming to see me, I nevertheless immediately reported the matter to Bangura and insisted that he apprehend them and thoroughly check on them. The only action that was taken was a temporary reduction in their rank.
My suspicions were more than confirmed the following morning shortly after seven, when Sembu Forna, my Minister of Finance, arrived at my house to tell me that he had just received a telephone call from a reliable source advising him that a coup was being planned and that he should inform me immediately.
“What is more,” he said, “contrary to your instructions, the U.D.P. office is not closed and there is a crowd of people there which gives the impression that the job of clearing the place was not thorough enough.” Bai Koblo, who arrived at my house shortly afterwards, confirmed this fact.
The telephone rang and a soldier from the barracks reported that some senior officers were behaving in a somewhat extraordinary manner. I tried to get in touch with both the Force Commander, J. Bangura, and the Commissioner of Police, J.E.N.G. Smith, but they were not available. Then I received a message from the Governor-General to say that he had arranged a meeting at nine o’clock that morning between leading A.P.C. politicians and army and police officers to discuss the present situation in the country and to decide how best the problem of security could be solved.
“Surely, Sir, the initiative to call such a meeting should come from you as Minister of Defence,” Sembu Forna rightly remarked. “I agree,” I said. “But don’t worry. We’ll attend the meeting and we’ll put up a show of strength to let them see that we are ready to deal with any situation that may arise. Go at once and alert our people and get them organised. We haven’t got much time.”
Sembu Forna and Bai Koblo left immediately to contact our supporters and those elements in the army who were known to be loyal to us. It is at times fortunate that the speed at which news and gossip travel from person to person in Freetown equals that at which fire demolishes a straw stack, for within the space of an hour a large part of the city’s population was fully geared for action.
My two colleagues then proceeded to the Governor-General’s office. As they arrived they met the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of the Interior, and the Commissioner of Police leaving the Governor General’s office. The time was only just after 8 a.m. and Sembu Forna’s suspicions that there was something unhealthy being planned for us at the meeting were even more aroused. He wasted no time on niceties and shocked even Bai Koblo by the harshness of his words to the Governor General.
“We know exactly what is going on,” he told him. “And I warn you that you are playing a dangerous game hobnobbing with the army and the police in this way. We are prepared for any eventuality when we attend the meeting, and I may as well warn you that if any shooting starts, not one of us will live to tell the tale.” “All I want is to iron out differences,” the Governor-Genera l explained, shocked but managing to retain his poise in spite of it. “Don’t you think that is the business of the Minister of Defence?” Sembu Forna asked.
We arrived at the meeting promptly at 9 a.m., each of us armed and making no secret of the fact.“And we know very well how to use them,” one of our number assured an army officer who appeared worried at the sight of our guns. We had to wait ten minutes or more for the Force Commander and some of his officers, who swaggered into the room without even apologising to the Chairman for being late.
The Governor-General opened the meeting by stating that the Force Commander and the Commissioner of Police had earlier reported to him a drop in morale of the troops since operations began under the State of Emergency, and he asked the two officers to repeat their report for the benefit of the politicians present. After listening to what they had to say, I made the observation that both of them, by reporting direct to the Governor-General, had side-stepped me as Minister responsible for both the police and the army. This was not only discourteous and out of order, but showed they lacked confidence in me.
“And how is it possible,” I asked, “for the morale of the men to drop so suddenly, when the operations were only begun last night? I would like to know in particular why, when the Force Commander went to report to the Governor-General, he did not take with him his second and third in command, Col. Momoh and Major King.”