On September 4th, 1970, I left Freetown for Lusaka, Zambia, to attend the Conference of Heads of Non-Aligned States and to return a visit which President Kenneth Kaunda had paid to Sierra Leone the previous year. On former occasions when I had been absent from the country I had delegated my duties as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence to the Minister of Finance, Dr. M. S. Forna. On this occasion, however, in keeping with my policy of giving as many people as possible a chance to prove themselves, coupled with the fact that Forna was due to attend a conference abroad within a few days of my departure, I left my ministerial responsibilities in the hands of the Resident Minister, Southern Province, S. B. Kawusu-Conteh, a tried and tested colleague of some years’ standing.
I made it clear to Forna that this action of mine must in no way be interpreted by him as lack of confidence in his abilities or disappointment in his past performance as Acting Prime Minister. But power can corrupt in curious ways. It makes people self- important. It makes them ridiculously sensitive about status and dignity, like officials quibbling over precedence in a despotic court. It makes them confuse personal grievances with political issues.
On September 9th, five days after my departure, the independent newspaper Unity appeared with front-page headlines: Two Ministers “V Plan a Showdown. Dr. Forna to Resign? A Unity reporter, it said, m trying to confirm the rumour, met Dr. Forna in his office “apparently packing”, though he denied that he was resigning. “I have many conferences to attend to,” he is reported to have said, “and I would not make such a move as the man for whom I am working is away.” It was pa rumoured also that the Minister of Development, M. Bash-Taqi, might resign. “The cause of the dissention,” the report went on, “is understood to be the choice of Mr. S. B. Kawusu-Conteh as Acting Prime Minister. w Hitherto Dr. Forna had always acted in the absence of the Prime to Minister…”
On September 12th, both Ministers resigned from the Cabinet, despite the absence of’the man for whom’ they were ‘working’, and they i circulated their letters of resignation, addressed to me, to the press.
Shortly after this the A.P.C. Executive announced that it had expelled three former Cabinet Ministers Forna, Bash-Taqi and Ibrahim Taqi and two other party members. Noting the confusion and potential threats to law and order which had emanated from recent public ix meetings, Government viewed “with great concern the undertone of ix subversion and the active attempts by ill-disposed persons to create discord in the security forces” and decided that further public meetings in the existing circumstances and conditions were not in the public interest.
In spite of the well publicised and repeated announcement of the suspension of public meetings, loudspeaker vans toured the city throughhout Sunday, September 13th, noisily announcing that a b meeting of the N.D.P. would take place that afternoon. At that meeting Karefa Smart, remarking inter alia that he had made several attempts to work with me and had been told he could only do so as a secretary, announced his resignation from the A.P.C. ‘for the good of the country’. S Stones were hurled into the assembled gathering causing several casualties, and riot police arrived on the scene to disband the meeting SI and restore order.
And Shaki Flies Back, proclaimed Unity. As soon as my plane landed that Sunday morning avid reporters flocked about me like so many vultures fighting for a chance to strip the flesh off my bones. What, they asked, were my reactions to the resignations of my two Ministers and to the proposed meeting of the N.D.P. in spite of the ban imposed on meetings? “I haven’t yet seen the Ministers’ letters of resignation,” I said.
When these reach me I will study and discuss them with other A.P.C. members before making any recommendations to the Governor- General.” I told them that I had come back as a result of what I had heard and what I had read in the London Times, that I had not yet had an opportunity to study the situation in the country so was not in a position to say what was wrong or what was right. “What I will say, however,” I declared, “is that I feel strongly that if any member of the A.P.C. has anything against the Party or any of its members, he should wait for the forthcoming general election which is imminent. And I want to stress that the Government will not stand for anything that will disrupt the peace and stability of this country.
The A.P.C. Government has done a lot to restore peace, unity and stability in the country in the past two and a half years and any attempt to cause unrest will be dealt with drastically. It did not take long for sufficient evidence to be supplied to me that forces were urgently at work to pitch the country into a state of chaos and confusion. Every possible attempt was being made to discredit me personally and the A.P.C. Government, with accusations of misuse of public funds, of my forcing myself on the people as Executive President before the appeals of those sentenced for the 1967 coup could be quashed by the Privy Council, of my personal ambitions as autocratic ruler, and so forth.
I learnt, too, that arrangements had been made the previous week for about 50 or 60 lorry loads of people to proceed to Freetown on Sunday, September 1 3th, on the pretext that they were to attend an A.P.C. meeting, when in point of fact no A.P.C. meeting had been arranged. Fortunately, somebody had the foresight to intercept these people forty-seven miles outside Freetown. I dread to think what would have happened if this large number of people had arrived in the city to find that they had been misinformed and duped by the N.D.P. Scandalous leaflets and bulletins had been published in Freetown which so involved the army that Government had to issue an official statement rebutting the false rumours.
There was only one thing I could do if effective protection were to be given to the lives and properties of the people and the security of the nation assured, and I forthwith declared a State of Emergency to take effect from midnight on September 14th. In a broadcast announcing the State of Emergency, I declared:
“There are clear indications that a small group of people who want to get into power by every possible means or who have lost positions of authority, are doing their utmost to disrupt the peace and good government of this country.
“…Bearing in mind the great difficulties which this country has gone through within the last two years and taking into consideration the fact that the country as a whole has been able to rehabilitate itself to the extent that new investors have begun to come in, and bearing in mind the fact that Sierra Leone has been able to earn respect from outside, particularly in the economic field, the Government is determined to see that nothing is allowed to disrupt the peace of the country or to retard development.
“Peaceful citizens have nothing to fear and should go about their normal duties, but I should like to make it clear that if anyone by word or deed tries to stir up disaffection in Sierra Leone, the Government will take the most drastic action in the matter.”
As an additional security precaution, the passports of Karefa Smart and his henchmen were confiscated. The same day I announced that the portfolios of Finance, Development and Transport and Communications had been assigned to A. G. Sembu Forna, A. Khazali and E. J. Kargbo, respectively.