By: Winstanley R Bankole Johnson
For decades to come the history of this country will continue to reflect grave inaccuracies. This is because contemporary narratives continue to be challenged by two variables: The authors and the political dispensation during which they are/were written. South-Eastern authors believe that the history of this country is incomplete without detailed references to the exploits the founding fathers of their Party at our attainment of Independence, whereas Northern authors arriving post-independence would, each time they assume political power, spare no effort to correct what in their views are distortions of facts grounded on narrow ethno-regional considerations. The sustained determination of both to name and rename places and institutions in the Capital so as to entrench their respective cultural heritage and values have their immutable origins in those concepts. And the choicest location for expansion of ethno-regional dominance is Freetown; the weakest link. The latest affront was the recent brouhaha accompanying the renaming of a bridge in the far West of Freetown from the Wallace-Johnson to Sengbe Pieh, which brouhaha in fact is a further clear depiction of not only our growing disrespect for each other’s heritage and cultural values, but also of our permeating divisiveness since the advent of the present political dispensation.
“Qs” and “As”
In actual fact there’s nothing injurious about the re-naming of the bridge is you ask me, especially as both I.T.A Wallace-Johnson and Sengbe Pieh are our national heroic icons. So where then did what was intended to be a genuine gesture by the government go wholesomely wrong? Let’s do some quick “Qs” and “As” to strive to get to the bottom of the matter.
1. Is I.T.A Wallace-Johnson as much a national heroic icon as Sengbe Pieh? The answer is a resounding “Yes” – albeit they belong to different era in our political history.
2. Is it wrong to name anywhere in our capital city of Freetown after Sengbe Pieh? In my personal view as a nationalist, the answer is a big No!! In fact nowhere in the country is exempt to be named after Sengbe Pieh, because his exploits and legacy, just like those of I.T.A Wallace-Johnson still have historical relevance and contemporary resonance. But as we shall see in Point No.8 below – and in the views of the late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Prof. Aiah Gbakima, incumbent Minister of Secondary and Tertiary Education – and I’m quoting both here now – according to Alfred Marder, a life-long Connecticut Peace Activist: “Sengbe Pieh has no relevance to Freetown”
3. So if it isn’t wrong to name anywhere in Freetown after Sengbe Pieh, then why the resentment? Well, it was the way and manner it was done by State House, unilaterally – without consultations with the Freetown City Council (FCC) – but rather crudely and seemingly with an intention to spite a particular classes of people, more particularly the Krios from amongst which Clan the Late I T A Wallace-Johnson was a descendant. And no one could deny that because if after the outcry of disapproval State House was quick to counter that there was no actual re-naming of the original Wallace-Johnson Bridge, but it was the new lane running parallel to the existing Wallace-Johnson Bridge that was named after Sengbe Pieh, then they ought to have adequately sensitized the citizenry on changes to the nomenclature of such a critical landmark, to forestall resentment, misunderstandings and misrepresentations. But the idea was never floated for public discussion to evaluate public perceptions and or reactions.
4. So how could the government have gotten around those resentment and misunderstandings seamlessly? Simple. They could have achieved that by working with the FCC through consultations – especially as cordiality between the two is deepening – whose remit it is to name places and Streets within the Freetown municipality. It is the FCC that is best positioned to have articulated any proposed names alignment or changes.
5. Do I have any evidence of where such prior consultations with the local authorities preceded the renaming of any prominent site in this country so as to forestall social unrest? Of course yes! That was exactly what the former government of Ernest Bai koroma and the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA) did before arriving at the name of “Moa Bridge” for the reconstructed overpass formerly called “Daru” bridge. And not a whimper was heard here in Freetown. It has to be noted here that of all the many names touted before arriving at “Daru” for that bridge and as with hundreds of other rehabilitated and reconstructed provincial locations, not a single one was of Krio origin or heritage to wit: Galba-Bright; Esther Coker; Constance Cummings-John; H M S Boardman; Sir Samuel Lewis, Africanus Horton; Thomas Peters etc; even though those illustrious sons and daughters of Krio origin also made valuable contributions countrywide, but more especially in provincial localities just like Sengbe Pieh. The most galling thing here is that whereas bona-fide Krios know and concede that persistent references to their traditional Krio names on prominent provincial locations is anathema, the converse is not the case for Freetown.
6. Apart from the re-naming of the bridge from Wallace-Johnson to Sengbe Pieh, has anything like that happened before in Freetown? Oh Yes!! At the memorial Mass for the Late Pope John Paul at the Sacred Heart Cathedral along Siaka Stevens Street, former Catholic Archbishop Ganda (without prior reference to, or consultations with, the FCC exuberantly pronounced the renaming of an extension of the Syke Street Bye-Pass as the Pope John Paul Road. I was the sitting Mayor and even attended that Mass but to let sleeping dogs lie, would rather just quote the usual phrase: “And the rest is history”.
7. So the next question is: why did the SLPP government decide to act so unconscionably on the re-naming of the overpass from Wallace-Johnson to Sengbe Pieh Bridge? The answer to that is as myriad as follows-:
– The SLPP know they are thin of the ground in the Western Area and believe (perhaps rightly so) that the APC was only able to capture the hearts and minds of the Western Areas by their overrunning and unofficially renaming various localities here on account of mass migration during the war years. For example, Allen Town has since been engulfed by “Mayekini”; Okay Murray is now swallowed up by “Sorie Togn”; the Aberdeen Creek is now “Dorkortee”; Upper Lumley/Passanday is now “Kamayama”; Riverside Drive is now “Kaningo” and a greater part of Wellington is now “Pamuronkoh” – all predominantly inhabited by those with dialects akin to the North.
– Present day South-Easterners on the other hand hate moving away from their homelands and so lagged behind in the aggressive repossession and renaming of western Urban Areas to establish footholds. This was either because their areas were more secured during the war or they were better capacitated and prepared to defend themselves. Demographically that lag has not helped them in in the Western Areas as past elections results continue to show. So it is probably a desperate desire to establish serious presence and ethnic influences that they have embarked on renaming prominent sites here after their cultures starting with renaming of the Wallace-Johnson Bridge to Sengbe Pieh. Only those old enough to recollect that previous South-Eastern footholds within the City such as Mende Togn/Ginger Hall have disappeared would understand that desperation. And Mortormeh which was a creation since the days of late President Tejan Kabbah remains a tragic dent in our history. May God continue to rest their gentle souls in peace!
Perhaps I should throw in a word of caution to the Krio Clan. The obliteration of Krio heritage sites; the dispossession of Krio lands is a concerted joint enterprise by both the APC and SLPP, and you can discern that from their choices of Ministers of Lands specifically for the Western Area. The Western Area because though they are all of Cabinet rank, the zeal with which they have been executing their remits in the past twenty (20) years, without any of our incumbent Heads of State batting an eyelid speaks volumes. Hardly do we hear of those same exploits to “repossess” government lands beyond Waterloo, because they have no intention disrupting their own traditional provincial social structures. Those among them that do not angrily question Krios lands ownership within the Western Areas (South-Easterners) make the occasional reference to the “Ass’ Head” (Northerners) as their basis for “reclamation or repossession” by whatever means because after all it was originally “rightfully” theirs’. The bottom line is a concerted effort at Krio extinction – through a systemic obliteration of all historical and contemporary evideces. So una nor biliv dem non!!
In fact the only reason we tend to be having APC sympathy is because we are not in power. As a gentle reminder, the Cathedral School is gone, and with it all our monuments and relic (tombstones; plaques; mementos) of Anglicanism. Not a single one was retrieved and preserved for posterity. Ours is the only Cathedral in the Sub-region (if not the world) without an Educational wing. Yes; even Battenberg Hall that used to host State Dinners etc disappeared over time. No trace of it. Fort Thornton is in the pipeline to be relocated to Gloucester. And but for my stoicism the Annie Walsh Memorial School would have disappeared first, replaced by Markets – sacrificed on the altar of personal greed. As Christ aptly put it in the parable of the Sower in Mathew 13:28-: “An enemy (among the Krios) has done this”. But more anon. Leh we dae go normor!!
Of the 71,740 Sq.Km making up Sierra Leone’s fourteen (14) political districts, Krios occupy less than 10 Sq.Km within what comprises Freetown, yet whereas as “Non-Natives” we are prohibited from owning freeholds in the Provinces, no consideration or priority is given to Krios in the allocation of government lands in the Western Areas. Soon the Western Area Land Bank will become depleted, leaving our own descendants landless and with nowhere else to turn.
8. But ignore the digression. Back to my “Qs” and “As”. Does Sengbe Pieh really have relevance in the Western Area? Per my responses to questions (1) and (2) above the answer again from my own nationalistic perspective is, Yes. But from the views of both late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Prof. Aiah Gbakima as relayed to me in Washington DC by Alfred Marder he doesn’t. The background reads thus:
Circa 2005/06 on account of the close ties between Freetown City Council and New Haven in Connecticut and following our successful hosting of the Amistad delegation here in Freetown, a 15-man delegation was invited to visit New Haven during which among other gifts, two huge man-size busts of Sengbe Pieh and two container loads of gifts were presented to the Sierra Leone delegation for the FCC benefit, with a specific request that the two busts of Sengbe Pieh be prominently located in Freetown. For obvious reasons back then my name was struck off from that delegation at the last minute. According to Alfred Marder, he was utterly shocked and disappointed when their request for the busts to be prominently located here in Freetown was furiously turned down by both President kabba and Prof. Gbakima on the grounds that (according to them, and I quote Alfred Marder here again) -: “Sengbe Pieh has no relevance in Freetown…..and (that) they will be of more relevance in Bo”. President Kabbah is translated and God continue to rest his soul, but the latter (Prof. Gbakima) like Alfred Marder is alive and I challenge him to rebut this affirmation. Now with that in hindsight, what’s all the fuss about naming a bridge here in Freetown after someone whose descendants are of the view and conviction really has no relevance here in Freetown? Or is it that Prof. Gbakima was also not consulted before the decision was taken? Incidentally as with those Sengbe Pieh busts, our Council has never set eyes on the contents of those two container loads of gifts from New Haven to this day.
9. But whether historical or contemporary relevance is contextualized – Re: Sengbe Pieh /Joseph Cinque Vs I.T A Wallace-Johnson – was it prudent, having regard to the fact that neither roads networks nor bridges existed in the days of Sengbe Pieh, nor did he ever live in the locality (he left and came back by sea routes) to have erased and replaced the names of a son of the soil (Isaac Theophilus Akuna Wallace-Johnson) with his – Sengbe Pieh? Certainly No!!
10. Would President Bio ever attempt to erase, replace and rename any prominent site in any Provincial City with names not akin to their heritage – for example, renaming Masuba in Makeni as Kakua, or Nongowa in Kenema as Makarie Gbanti Chiefdom or renaming Dambara or Mahei Boima Roads Road in Bo as Bakeh-Lokoh and Bankole Johnson Avenue respectively – without invoking civil strife and loss of lives in those Cities, just as it happened in Kabala when the last government merely relocated the Youth Village Project from there to Mile 91 axis? If not then why is President Bio riding rough-shod over Krios considerations?
11. So is it now an offense or evidence of weakness to the extent that peaceful and law-abiding minority Clansmen (including others born and raised in Freetown who are also technically “Non-Natives”) always comporting themselves within the law, without the need for Traditional Tribal Headmen to monitor their behavior, and absolutely no financial burden on governments, can be bullied into oblivion? Would President Bio have shown more respect and consideration for Krio sentiments if he knew Krios too have the same “bone to bone” “Tit-for-Tat” orientation, and of course, the numbers to be jumping out into the streets and baying for the blood of our opponents each time were are offended as others do? These are the soul-searching questions our international moral guarantors – particularly the UNDP – ought to be asking our present political leaders, instead of wasting money on Peace and Reconciliation Conferences, knowing full well that the protagonists warranting the convening of those conferences are the same as those causing our national malaises, whilst the peaceful and law-abiding ones (from other minority Clans as well), are hardly opportuned to articulate our grievances in any forum.
Last week a local TV hosted a Dr. Lahai, presumably a diaspora historian returnee who was passionately articulating why the name of our country and of course our Capital Freetown ought to be changed to some more traditional names. His view was that Pedro Da Cintra must have awoken from a drunken stupor and having a serious hangover when he named this country Sierra Leone. And I suppose his view is of the same for those who named here Freetown, so both must be changed before our next elections. I hope you get the drift. I do, and would respectfully suggest they start with the renaming our two Bormeh Dumpsites at Granville Brooke, Kissy and King Tom.
Meantime Sierra Leoneans, never encouraging dull moments even in these difficult days have decided to ignore the furore intended by government over the renaming of the Bridge from Wallace-Johnson to Sengbe Pieh and without any referendum on the matter, unanimously adopted the name of “Two-Sim Bridge” instead.