By Oswald Hanciles :
“O, my God!! He is such a perfect gentleman! I will now add to the titles of President Ernest Bai Koroma: Just like we have Doctors without Frontiers, so we he is now ‘Doctor Without Religious Boundaries’. He is a Christian, but, he supports Islamic causes. He is well calculated. He does not discriminate. He has great compassion. May God give him his second term in office. …My appeal to people is to look at what President Koroma has done for the nation…. He has done those things which no other president has ever done before. He is not even comparable to other presidents….The Quran enjoins people to give thanks, so that more would be given to those who give thanks for God’s bounty. May we have the courage to change our constitution that limits his term of office to just two terms.. Give President Koroma more chance, he will do more….”
Alhaji Mustapha Coker, Chief Imam of Coronation mosque in Bo, Chairman of the Council of Imams in Bo District.
When I met Alhaji Mustapha Coker in his residence in Bo Town a week ago, he was ebullient, erudite, articulate, and his manners were unguarded, with that natural ease of an achiever who does not have anything to prove. For a man of his background to utter the profound words above on President Koroma, a man speaking from a district which he said would have a population of “about 85 percent Muslim”, it should send jitters down the spine of the political opposition that perceives Bo District as one of its strongholds.
Alhaji Coker was born in Jimmy Gbagbo, Bo District, in 1951. He did part of his secondary schooling in Cairo, Egypt, after leaving Sierra Leone to study there in the early 1960s. He studied English/Arabic and Islamic Law in one of the oldest universities in the world, Alhazar, for almost ten years. He lived in Egypt between 1963 and 1978. He taught at the tertiary-level Machar bin Jabal Institute in the southern part of Saudi Arabia for 25 years, between 1978 and 2005. Married to an Egyptian, with all his four children still studying at university level in Cairo, Alhaji Coker, the highly cerebral Islamic leader who lived in relative affluence in the Arab world, would normally be guarded in his words, but, he was rapturous in his praise for what President Koroma has achieved.
As we video-taped him in front of his mosque in Bo Town, he enthused: “Before you leave Bo Town, visit the Bo Government Hospital which has been refurbished by President Koroma’s government. You would think you are in Europe!! They even have T.V. for their patients to watch. It is so clean. It used to be a dirty hospital before President Koroma became President….”
In that same tone of an enthusiastic teenager, the highly educated Islamic leader said: “Before it was a nightmare to travel from Bo to Freetown; now, with the Bo-Freetown road constructed by President Koroma’s government, I can go and come go and come on the same day, and enjoy every bit of my travelling….”
“Look at the fence around the Great Bo School”, he thrilled. Alhaji Coker spoke of the “religious tolerance” in Bo District between Christians and Muslims and believers in the traditional Poro Society which has caused them to live without psychological fences. He said that even a year ago when a misguided youth in Bo Town urinated on the Holy Quran, the Interreligious Council comprising of Islamic and Christian leaders quickly met, with the Christian leaders fervently denouncing the youth, and helped to defuse the brewing vindictive anger of some of the Islamic youth.
Philosophical Former Physics Teacher Now Paramount Chief Praises ‘Ernest’
On a capacious veranda at his residence in a spacious compound with venerable old trees in a leafy suburb of Bo Town, I met with the rotund-cheek Paramount Chief of Kakua Chiefdom, Bo District, P.C. Lappia Boima. He spoke with a tincture of intimidation that is typical of former school masters. Indeed, between 1997 and 2007, P.C. Bioma was a Physics and Maths teacher in the famous Bo Government School in Bo Town. He headed the Computer Science Department in the school before he left for the greener pasture of the mining giant company, Sierra Rutile, in Bonthe/Moyamba districts. There he was dredge supervisor (the main equipment used to mine titanium from the bowels of the earth), and when the dredge capsized, he became Receipt Bill controller, then, Coordinator of Logistics – wielding considerable powers. His background is broader than narrow physical sciences. In a measured tone, he said, “When the wise abstain from politics, fools would rule them…”. He would not be drawn on elaborating on that thought-provoking statement who are his “fools” in politics.
In emotionally controlled but provocative tones, the paramount chief, who is also Chief Auditor of National Council of Paramount Chiefs – where he puts his Maths and computer knowledge into play – said that “one should not just take hook line and sinker all what is in religion”. (I joked with him that if he were living in Dark Ages Europe and had dared to philosophise Christian dogma, he would have been “burned alive on a stake”. Almost as if parrying in a boxing tournament, he responded, “We are not living in the Dark Ages today”). He extolled the “high sense of hospitality of Mende people” who predominate in the “academic town” that is Bo city. So, when a man of such sterling calibre praised President Koroma for refurbishing the Bo Government Hospital and fencing it; and lauded President Koroma as being “a good President” who “has exhibited a democratic type of leadership”; a president “who listens” to other people and solicits their views, you would more fully appreciate the consensus among nearly all people in the country on the quality leadership President Koroma is providing our country. Implicitly, or, expressly, even before President Koroma wins a certain second term in the November 2012 elections, so impressive has been his performance to a majority of the citizenry that there appears to be a crescendo for a ‘Third Term Ernest Bai Koroma Presidency’. More work must be done to forge an unprecedented national unity for our country with the spiritually-inclined President Koroma. But, we have a wonderful opportunity in our beloved ‘Ernest’.