By Sullay Adekulay of Expotimesonline editor in London :
It is not the happiest of moments for one to write a tribute of a fallen pal; the last time I did such a piece was for Mohamed ‘champion, who as of the time of his death was the second Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation of the West African State of Sierra Leone.
About a little over a year now, I am again taking this herculean task of recounting the great contributions made to journalism and by extension to the development of Sierra Leone by one of the country’s finest writers. It was an evening (Thursday 16th August 2012) I will not like to recall when news of the death of Tatafway Tumoe was broken to me. I screamed at my informant with these words “Are you sure it is Tatafway or you might have read an epitaph dedicated to his late brother, Sam Tumoe, who died over a decade now. My informant insisted “I am 100 percent sure that Tatafway Tumoe is dead”. I kept on screaming “No! No! It can’t be true”. But I finally accepted the reality of his death when I sent a text message to the current Deputy Minister of Information(Sheka Tarawalie) about news of his death and he replied in the affirmative with these precise text message “…Heard News… Will Call Later”.
I was in a kind of a state of denial because I can’t fathomed that the pangs of death could be so cruel to hold captive one of Sierra Leone’s finest pen pusher. I met Tataway from his days at Concord Times on my occasional visits to Shekito; and ever since I have been a consistent reader and admirer of his feature articles. I was so much in love with his writing style, more so with his choice of words that often aptly fits the situation and the scenery he was writing about.
I had the opportunity of being a work colleague of Tatafway Tumoe when a group of young, prolific and radical thinking journalists headed by Sheka Tarawalie, now Deputy Minister of Information in the current Ernest Bai Koroma APC led government broke ranks with Concord Times, which was the then highest selling and widely read newspaper in Sierra Leone and established the fire brand TORCH LIGHT newspaper in September 1996. Others that were part of this team are: Sorie Sudan Sesay, currently Press Attaché in the Sierra Leone High Commission in London as well as publisher of Sierra Update newspaper and magazine. Another was Pasco Temple, who is now Press Attaché to the United States. Mohamed Sankoh, who is now the publisher of the widely read Nationalist newspaper. The reason they gave for parting company with Concord Times was” We believe we can do a better job in terms of fearlessly exposing corruption in high places with The Torch Light newspaper.
I can still recall that very first publication of the Torch Light newspaper, which carried the front page headline” Tejan Kabbah and Foday Sankoh Are One”. The article pointed several instances wherein Kabbah and Foday Sankoh had different attributes, but also highlighted that their only similarities was their inconsistency in their commitment towards the Abidjan Peace Accord. For this President Kabbah ordered the closure of The Torch Light newspaper through his then Information Minister, Banda Thomas, a decision Sheka and Tatafway robustly challenged and thus led to the subsequent reinstatement of the newspaper.
I still recall one of Tatafway’s most popularly read and admired features article that was entitled “MADE IN NIGERIA, the captioned and contents of that article was so moving that, a good number of his readers requested for its republication. In that article Tataway outlined how Sierra Leone was going Nigerian in terms of Sierra Leoneans’ taste for Nigerian music, movies, cosmetic goods and to crown it all was the effrontery of President Kabbah to hire Nigerians as his state security guards, which he deemed as a complete show of disrespect of the security competency of Sierra Leone national army. Coupled with his critical stance on the formation of the ‘Kamajor’ militia and its relentless attacks on the national army. Tatafway believed such acts were fanning the flames of another military intervention in Sierra Leone and It was therefore not surprising when the AFRC overthrew the SLPP government in May 1997, which later events led to the intensification of Sierra Leone’s conflict and resulted to the streets of Freetown becoming intense battle fields between the then disbanded Sierra Leone army and the SLPP Nigerian backed ECOMOG force. This was an unrest that claimed the lives of so many Sierra Leoneans and led to wanton destruction of properties.
When the SLPP was eventually reinstated in 1998, Tatafway Tumoe, Sheka Tarwalie and I were on their ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ list. The desperate yearning for our blood by the then SLPP government led to Tatafway, and I seeking refuge in Guinea and subsequently went to the Gambia. Whilst in the Gambia, the love of journalism made him pitched tent with the opposition Independent newspaper, where he acted as a news editor. Apart from being a fearless writer, Tatafway has this peculiar attribute of sharing his fortune with friends; he showed this side of his humanity to me when he helped me secured a reporter job with the Independent newspaper in Banjul.
There was one particular occasion that I will ever live to remember and this was when Tatafway demonstrated his generosity to me. He rang me up one morning and informed me of having a wind fall of $500, 00 from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and I should meet up with him that afternoon after he had picked up the money. I met up with Tatafway that afternoon in his flat in Serekunda. Upon arrival, I met his flat full of his landlord’s children and wives eating and drinking their own share of the windfall. Tatafway was so loved by his landlord’s family to the point that, his landlord never bothered him if he did not have money to pay his rent at the end of the month. This was so because his landlord was fully aware of the fact that when fortune smiles on him, he will go beyond just paying his rent, but to the extent of sharing other goodies with them.
Back to his spending spree with his CPJ $500 windfall, Tatafway started buying new clothes and shoes in Banjul no sooner he picked up the money. In fact he left his shirt, trousers and shoes that he wore when went to pick up the money in the shop that he bought his new clothes and shoes-that was a typical attribute of a Kono man. We started drinking from one pub to another and for any time we were moving to another pub, Tatafway hired a taxi for a distance of less than 50 metres, when I complained about his lavished spending, he shut me up by saying” there is money to be spent”. Another interesting aspect of his spending spree was when he paid a taxi driver 50 dalasis even though he charged him 20 dalasis, and when I queried him for that, he told me “I am paying more for them to drive me safely”. Tatafway went to the point of treating owners of pubs by serving them continuously with pints of beer. When we eventually got to the last pub in Serekunda that night, he gave me and other friends that were with him 100 dalasis each so that we can hire women of our choice for that night. I decided not to hire a girl and kept my money.
I have recently read articles where he had stoutly defended the first lady Sia Koroma against Charles Margai’s attack relating to a land issue in Aberdeen. I am also made to understand that he was the journalist that covered Alhaji Asumana during the 2007 general elections campaign trail. But what I cannot digest up to his death is the fact that, despite his contributions in promoting the current APC government, his name was conspicuously absent on the list of numerous Press Attaché’s appointed by the APC government. Let no one tell me that it was because Tatafway likes having a drink, but what about President Koroma who stood firmly behind the late Hindolo Trye, despite every filth been thrown at him as one that urinates during public functions. I am calling on the APC government, especially President Koroma, the first lady, vice President Alhaji Sam Sumana and the Deputy Minister of Information, who is a close pal of the late Tatafway to remove his body from mortuary where I am told he is currently lying and give him a befitting state burial, because he was an unsung hero that contributed a lot in changing the political landscape of Sierra Leone. Sleep Tatafway until we meet again.