A Not-So United Front | Fantasy History 8

In this undated photo, Dr. Milton Margai dances with Britain's Queen Elizabeth
Following the 1957 elections, the United (Sierra Leone) Progressive Party was the official opposition to the Sierra Leone People’s Party, which had the most members in the House of Representatives, plus the support of traditional rulers, the Paramount Chiefs.

A shrewd political leader although not a dominating personality, Dr. Milton Margai, leader of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, was seen to have "a remarkable grip on his party." 

According to Maurice Dorman, who became governor of Sierra Leone in September 1956, Margai was undeterred by “the exuberant opposition.”

In the House of Representatives, the United Progressive Party (UPP) consisted of Cyril B. Rogers-Wright alone, but he had the backing of vocal skeptics in Freetown's influential social set.

One of the shrewdest lawyers of his time, Rogers-Wright had been disbarred three times. Once reputed to be fabulously wealthy, he reportedly lost much of his money on politics and legal battles.  He was also said to be largely responsible for the Northern Province anti-tax riots.

H. R. S. Bultman, a former corporal clerk in the Royal West African Frontier Force, joined the UPP in the early days. 

Bultman ran with wealthy playboy, John Arnold Nelson-Williams, who had made quite a hobby of politics. Bultman served on the staff of Shekpendeh, the official organ of the UPP, writing and publishing articles, while Nelson Williams secured the position of UPP secretary general.

J. Barthes-Wilson was another founder member of the UPP. He was an accountant with a European wife, who was a barrister.  When he left the UPP, Nelson-Williams quickly followed.

Together, the UPP defectors formed the Independent Progressive Party and did all they could to stop Constance Cummings-John from taking up her seat after she contested the 1957 General Election with an SLPP symbol.

Although elected, Constance immediately resigned following an appeal by John Nelson-Williams and the strongly right-wing Creole party, the National Council of Sierra Leone. 

Founded by the late Dr. Bankole-Bright, the National Council of Sierra Leone represented an older generation of Creoles, who had served in the Legislature and Executive Council before Ministerial Government was introduced. 

Universal suffrage in Freetown had led to the National Council of Sierra Leone party being swamped by the Protectorate vote. It had no member in the House of Representatives and many of its members joined the UPP or the Independent Progressive Party.

One of the smaller minority parties was the Sierra Leone Progressive Independence Movement (SLPIM) led by T.S. M'Briwa, “an ex-government dispenser with a bellowing voice.”  

Formed in 1956 by Mr. E. Blyden, the SLPIM had a thorough manifesto, referred to as a "Charter of the People" and were actively involved in raising political awareness in the diamond areas, where M'Briwa hailed from.  

M’Briwa was described as a “fanatical nationalist who [had] pledged to expel the Sierra Leone Selection Trust from the diamond mines and obtain it for the Konos.”
The Sierra Leone Selection Trust was formed in 1934 following an agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the Consolidated African Selection Trust Ltd (CAST). CAST was formed in 1924 and was part of a much larger mining finance house Selection Trust Ltd that had been founded in 1913 by Alfred Chester Beatty, an American mining magnate.

SLST Corporation, which had exclusive mineral mining rights in Sierra Leone beginning in 1935, was scheduled to last for 99 years. In 1955, the SLST abandoned mineral mining and settled on mining the Yengema and Tongo Fields.
As leader of the People's National Party (P.N.P.), Albert Margi had pushed for amalgamation with M'Briwa's Sierra Leone Progressive Independence Movement.
Albert Margai’s aggressive and critical approach to the British administration and his wide-ranging attacks on the colonial regime won him a considerable following among the younger educated men of both the Protectorate and Freetown.

 By 1957, the conflict between the Margai brothers came to a head at a post-election party caucus, which twenty-two votes to twenty-one chose Albert over his brother as a party leader. ("Milton and Albert Margai: a Portrait of Two Leaders," Political Leadership in Sierra Leone, pp 99)

This is how Banja Tejan-Sie recalled events when Vitabu interviewed him at his Tracey Avenue residence in Willesden, London.

T.S. MBriwa got held up by traffic and got to the lodge at a few minutes past 4 p.m. He pleaded with officers guarding the gates to allow him to enter the building and to take part in the proceedings, as he was anxious to record his vote. The officers refused to allow him in. He managed to get a message through to Dr. Margai but was sternly rebuffed.

When the votes were cast, Albert Margai won the nomination for leadership. 

If M’Briwa had voted there would have been a tie. The chairman of the meeting, who was Mr. J.C. O Crowther, was a supporter of Dr. Milton Margai. He had a casting vote, which he would have used as he told me later.

Siaka Stevens and Yankay Sisay, who were devoted supporters of Albert Margai, walked out of the meeting when Albert, after pleas from several elected members, decided to stand down in favor of his brother on condition that he became an effective member of the cabinet with a senior cabinet post.  The post he had an eye for was that of Minister of Finance.

Siaka Stevens resigned from the SLPP in July 1957. 

Dr. Margai went on to form a Cabinet. I disagreed with the way the doctor treated his brother after the episode. He did not give him the cabinet post he wanted, nor satisfy any of the conditions  for which his brother stood down. Instead, he appointed the non-radical members as cabinet ministers. Many who had worked hard for Dr. Margai, like J.C. O. Crowther, did not get any cabinet post. Arthur Massally, my friend, was elected a member for Pujehun. He had been one of Albert’s supporters. After this Dr. Margai offered him the post of Minister of Works.

Dr. Margai then delivered the masterstroke by writing members of the opposition to join him in a united front following the completion of the pending Constitutional Talks.

Of course they had to agree. Their parties and what their parties stood for were now irrelevant. The elections had demonstrated that the SLPP, backed by the chiefs was the only powerful, effective and all-embracing political entity in the country. 

Besides, what was most tempting and alluring was the possibility of being offered a ministerial post. Dr. Margai knew this and he exploited it to the full. Politicians in the country were a small group whose private lives, inclinations and weaknesses were and could be known with little effort. They simply wanted a job.

Albert Margai, now leader of the People’s National Party, resented his brother standing in his way of power.  He took the portfolio of natural resources. Cyril Rogers-Wright, leader of the UPP, was given Housing and Country Planning, formerly in the Ministry of Works. Dixon Thomas, an Independent People’s Party MP was given Social Welfare, John Nelson-Williams and S.T. Navo were made Ministerial Secretaries.

However, C.B. Rogers-Wright still stirred feelings by claiming that the SLPP was Mende-dominated. This last allegation was bound to hurt the Northerners pride. Dr. Margai was not that friendly with Rogers-Wright, who had on many occasions embarrassed the doctor with his vitriolic speeches and articles in the newspaper. Rogers-Wright and I were good friends at the Bar. We had appeared as counsel for a number of cases. 

Dr. Margai asked me to explore the possibilities of arranging a meeting with Rogers-Wright. He was then living in a sumptuous bungalow on the Freetown regent Road.  We arranged for a secret rendezvous at his home. Dr. Margai himself drove the small car, which took us to his home. We found he had already prepared a bottle of champagne.


Popular posts from this blog

Summer hangout with Pede Hollist's So the Path Does Not Die

Vitabu features the memorable sixth chapter of Bakar Mansaray's new book

Vitabu Reads | Transformation in Transition by George Coleridge-Taylor