Sierra Leone at 55: The Nigerian connection

Sierra Leone at 55: The Nigerian connection

Tuesday, April 5, 2016 12:11 pm

President Ernest-Bai-Koroma of Sierra Leone

President Ernest-Bai-Koroma of Sierra Leone

Africa and the world will celebrate with Sierra Leone as it commemorates its 55th independence anniversary on 27 April, 2016. Among the well wishers is Nigeria, which has over 200-year mutually beneficial relationship with the country, even before its political freedom from Britain


As Sierra Leone marks its 55th independence anniversary on 27 April this year, the country, its West African neighbours and foreign well-wishers are in an upbeat mood already. The doors to foreign investments are beginning to open after its recent challenges.

Indeed, Sierra Leone is a survivor of many catastrophes. However, its uncanny resilience makes it appear as a cat with nine lives. It has survived a civil war and the most recent challenge was the Ebola pandemic. In all these, the country came out strong and raring to go! In fact, overcoming the Ebola scourge is, to many well-wishers, one of the greatest anniversary presents for the country.

The Ebola Challenge

The World Health Organization (WHO) on 17 March, 2016, declared Sierra Leone an Ebola-free country for the second time. The road to zero has been very bumpy, with twists and turns, as the country commemorates its 55 independence anniversary.

The Ebola epidemic left in its wake a death toll of about 4,000, with a corresponding 4,000 survivors, mainly women and children. The WHO representative in Sierra Leone, Dr. Anders Nordstrom revealed to this medium that “when people survived Ebola and depart the Ebola Treatment Centres (ETC), everybody celebrates.”

He went on to reveal that “emerging from ETC is just the beginning of a long, hard journey to regain health”. The country’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brima Kargbo, recently remarked that “the survivors are posing severe health hazards to the country as the disease still persists in the semen, with a possibility of further transmission, due to non-use of condoms provided by Health Authorities”.

The United States National Institute of Health, NIH, recently revealed that the over 17,000 survivors will have long lasting problems in the three affected countries, mainly depressive symptoms as memory loss and weaknesses. According to the NIH, Ebola Survivors suffer from long term consequences as recently demonstrated by a Scottish Nurse, Pauline Cafferkey, who was recently hospitalized twice in London at the Royal Free Hospital after recovery from Ebola.

This is compounded by the reality that the country’s health infrastructure is poor and its people lack basic services, particularly in the rural areas. To address these problems, WHO recently hosted a scientific conference in Freetown, aimed at producing a comprehensive care plan for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Survivors and identify research needed to optimize clinical care and social well being.

Abubakarr Fofanah, Health Minister

Abubakarr Fofanah, Health Minister

The Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma, in collaboration with the United Nations, established the Ebola Trust Fund on 22 December, 2015. The Sierra Leone Ebola Recovery Fund (SLERF) was set up, with signatories by the then Minister of Finance, Dr. Kelfala Marah and the Acting UN Representative Gabriel Ruga Lema. The prime aim of the fund is to bring back the economy to where it was before Ebola, when Sierra Leone recorded the fastest economic growth rate in the region.

The establishment of SLERF is a follow-up to a successful UN Ebola conference hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in July 2015 in New York, where an estimated $894 million was pledged. Sierra Leone contributed $1 Million as a demonstration of ownership and leadership of the fund.

The Post-Ebola plan of President Koroma is principally hinged on major priority sectors such as Health, Education, and Social Protection, particularly the Survivors, anchored on boosting of the Private Sector, particularly the Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs. The plan is to reposition the country back to its former economic trajectory of 11 percent growth rate recorded in 2013.

The Department for Foreign International Department, DFID, recently gave a 5 million Euro grant, through 4 Non Governmental Organizations, NGOS, for SMEs, mainly petty traders. Each trader, 29,400 in all, will receive Le 200,000 (about $30) at 5 percent interest rate.

In line with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), President Koroma’s government is vigorously embarking on enhanced revenue mobilization and expenditure restraints, due to the present difficult fiscal situation in the country, while safe guarding Social Programs, especially on Post-Ebola recovery.

Momudu Kargbo: Finance Minister, Sierra Leone

Momudu Kargbo: Finance Minister, Sierra Leone

Though there was a short fall due to loss of revenue from the Iron Ore Mining, a drop in world commodity prices and a sharp increase in government spending on Ebola-related matters, which was unbudgeted, resulting in a drop in fiscal balance, the Koroma – led administration recently witnessed an increase in revenues by its National Revenue Authority, the NRA. This is a huge achievement of the government in view of declining commodity prices, particularly Iron Ore and an unbudgeted spending on Ebola related matters.

Access to major health services by Ebola survivors, is , however, a major challenge of the government. Though President Koroma declared free access to health facilities for Ebola survivors a few months ago, survivors still do not have access to health facilities, according to Yusuf Kalla, President of the Sierra Leone Ebola Survivors Association (SESA). With government attention focused on curbing the Ebola saga, there was recently another natural disaster when flooding occurred in the Southern Provinces and in Western capital of Freetown. This major flooding was another disaster of unimaginable proportion.

Thousands were displaced and relocated to the National Stadium and the Brima Attouga Stadium. There was massive support from government, corporate entities and private individuals to the victims.

As the country celebrates its 55th Independence, there are relative achievements despite these natural disasters in the country’s recent past. The road rehabilitation nationwide is commendable. The 36 streets in Freetown that were recently rehabilitated, the Kenema – Pendembu that is almost completed, the Hill Side Bye-Pass Road, on-going, are all vivid development projects of President Koroma.

There was a recent cabinet reshuffle with the appointment of a new Finance Minister, Momodu Kargbo, a financial guru, who was the central bank governor. A new Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joseph Kamara, who was then the country’s anti-graft boss. There was also the appointment of a new Chief Justice, Abdulai Charm, who had been a thorough legal brain and an upright achiever. Alieu Patteh Sowe is now the new minister of trade, with his former position at Fisheries occupied by Madam Liz Mans, the party’s former women leader. Also a new Minister of State for Finance and two new Deputy Ministers for Foreign Affairs were simultaneously appointed.

With barely two years remaining for the next general elections in 2018, there have been clamour, particularly from the ruling party’s youth wing, for President Koroma to continue beyond the remaining two years’ mandate. The President recently put to rest this clamour by revealing that elections will be held as stipulated in National Electoral calendar.

The opposition party, the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) is enmeshed in deep internal party squabbles. There have been series of litigations in the courts. There is also the problem of who will emerge the standard flag bearer of the party in 2018.

The former United Nations Industrial Development (UNIDO) boss, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, is eyeing the party’s flag bearer position, alongside the former flag bearer of the party in 2012 elections, Maada Bio, who was one time the country’s former Military Head of State in the 90s. John Benjamin, former Finance Minister during the government of the late Ahmed Tejan-Kabba has also expressed his intention of leading the SLPP to the polls in 2018.

The elections in 2018 will be very interesting and important in the country’s chequered political history. The ruling All Peoples’ Congress (APC) party and the opposition party (SLPP) are long-time, two- term political rivals. Neither party has ruled beyond a two-term mandate. The APC apostles are aiming at breaking that record. The SLPP, on the other hand, are aiming at a change of guards at State House, come 2018.

How Sierra Leone Laid Foundation for Nigeria’s Intelligentsia

The country’s relationship with Nigeria spans over 200 years and is waxing stronger. Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Gladys Quist-Adebiyi summed it all when she told TheNEWS in Freetown that “Fourah Bay College is the bed-rock of Nigeria’s civil service”.

Old building of Fourah Bay College.

Old building of Fourah Bay College.

New Fourah Bay College

New Fourah Bay College

Founded in 1827 by the Catholic Missionary Society (CMS) the college produced the first crop of Nigerian intellectuals in the civil service and academia. Located in the ancient and sprawling city of Freetown, it has also produced the best brains in Africa and beyond. Prominent Nigerian personalities, such as Dr Christopher Kolade, Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, first Black Anglican Bishop, the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin, first civilian executive governor of Ondo State in Nigeria, former executive governor of Benue state, Dr Aper Aku, former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum Resources, Professor Tam David- West and many others.

Bishop Ajayi Crowther was the grand farther of Herbert Macaulay, a front line Nigerian nationalist, who fought for Nigeria’s independence in 1960. Ajayi Crowther’s daughter, Abigail, was Herbert Macaulay’s mother. Ajayi Crowther was among the first crop of eminent Nigerians educated at Fourah Bay College, which was then affiliated to the prestigious Durham University in the UK. Nigerians who were educated at Fourah Bay College opened up a strong and virile relationship between the two respective countries. This has resulted in similarities in names and cultural attributes between the two countries, a snowball of intermarriages. There are Hausa and Yoruba mosques in Freetown. There is also the Shitta mosque at Martin Street in Lagos Island, named after a wealthy Sierra Leonean, Mohammed Shitta Bay.

Ajayi Crowther

Ajayi Crowther

Saros or Creoles in Nigeria during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century were, according to Wikipedia, freed slaves who migrated to Nigeria in the beginning of the 1830s. They were known locally as Saros or Amaros freed and repatriated slaves from Sierra Leone, Brazil and Cuba. Many of the returnees chose to return to Nigeria for cultural, missionary and economic reasons. Many (if not the greater majority) of them were originally descendants from the Yoruba of western and central Nigeria. Other Nigerian groups forming part of the Sierra Leonean Krio population included Efik, Igbos, Hausa and Nupe.

The returnees mostly resided in the Lagos Colony, with substantial populations in Abeokuta and Ibadan. Some also settled in Calabar, Port Harcourt and other cities in the Niger Delta.
While living in Sierra Leone, many Creole residents became exposed to the Christian faith as a result of the work of British missionaries who established some churches, a few grammar schools and a pioneer Educational institution, the Fourah Bay College. Relatively, the residents of Sierra Leone soon gained a fast start in Western education and were soon well trained and experienced in medicine, law, and the civil service. An expedition on the River Niger by Ajayi Crowther furthered the evangelical interest of many Sierra Leoneans on Nigeria, many of whom had grown to be accessories of the missionaries and their effort.

James Pinson Labulo Davies and Sarah Forbes Bonetta

James Pinson Labulo Davies and Sarah Forbes Bonetta

Damola Awoyokun, in a treatise he did for TheNEWS, told the story of Crowther’s rescue: “Then HMS Myrmidon, captained by Sir Henry Leeke of the Royal Navy’s anti-slavery squadron, engaged the Portuguese slave vessel in a gunfight. Crowther and some other slaves were rescued and taken to the British settlement in Freetown.”

The Church Missionary Society (CMS) managing the settlement, according to Awoyokun, taught him to read and write, enrolled him in Fourah Bay College and sent him to England to study. He spoke Latin, Greek and Hebrew and many West African languages. Being a fascinating personality, highly educated black man, an ex-slave and an inveterate writer, his public lectures all over Britain drew crowds. He later bagged an honorary doctorate degree at Oxford University. In Canterbury Cathedral on 29 June 1864 when Ajayi Crowther became the first black Bishop ordained into the Anglican Church, Sir Henry Leeke, the captain of the ship that rescued him from slavery in 1822, came over to witness the event. Lady Weeks who taught him the ABC alphabets was also there. It was a tearful reunion.”

Awoyokun, narrated also the life of another Saro, Captain Labulo Davies. He wrote: “Davies was born on 14 August, 1828 to former Yoruba slaves whom the British had rescued and resettled in Freetown. His father was from Abeokuta and his mother from Ogbomoso. His parents refused to accept that Africans should be left to their traditions and ways of life after what they had done to them. Their son joined the Royal Navy as a sea cadet in 1849 and later, when he retired began his own shipping line. Being trustworthy, he became a point of contact for many European trading companies in West Africa. He grew rich. If CMS was the first secondary school in Nigeria that produced some of the greatest Nigerian minds of last century, it was because Captain Davies funded this initiative of Thomas Babington Macaulay (Ajayi Crowther’s son-in-law and Herbert Macaulay’s father).” Other prominent Nigerians influenced by Sierra Leone, were:

Henry Rawlingson Carr
Carr was the first student of Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, to obtain an honours degree and the first African resident commissioner of the colony of Lagos. Carr was the son of a Sierra Leonean immigrant of Yoruba extraction. He was born on 15 August, 1863 in Lagos. He attended St. Paul’s School, Breadfruit and Olowogbowo Wesleyan Elementary School in Lagos. He went to Sierra Leone for his secondary education which he received at the newly opened Wesleyan Boys’ High School, Freetown. In 1877, Carr entered Fourah Bay College and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics and Physics in 1882. He left for Britain and enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn, St Mark’s College in Chelsea and the Royal College of Science in South Kensington, London.

After 12 years of academic pursuit abroad, Carr returned to Nigeria in June 1885 and was appointed senior assistant master at the Church Missionary Society, CMS, Grammar School, Lagos. He joined the civil service in 1889 as chief clerk and sub-inspector of schools for Lagos. The following year, he became the assistant colonial secretary for native affairs.

Other graduates of Fourah Bay were: Kenneth Onwuka Dike, the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan; Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s father, Reverend Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, according to, matriculated at Fourah Bay College in 1913 and returned to his country in 1916 with a B.A. degree. He was the founding president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Africa’s largest professional group.

The cordial relationship between the two countries has been mutually beneficial and fruitful. This has resulted in an increased bilateral relationship in various fields of cooperation, such as education, commerce, trade, health, military and the promotion of democracy. “Nigeria sees Sierra Leone as a sister country”, remarked Ambassador Quist-Adebiyi. This sisterly relationship has produced a beneficial relationship particularly in the areas of technical cooperation.

At 55, there is an apparent political and religious tolerance in the country, resulting in inter- religious marriages among Sierra Leoneans. Muslims are married to Christians, with the couples smiling their ways to mosques and churches, almost simultaneously, with no hitches. Wedding bells ring in churches, followed by Muslim version in the mosques. The late Ahmad Tejan Kabbah once remarked that this gesture is a viable exportable commodity to other African countries that witnessed turbulent religious crisis.

At 55, the country is on a determined stride to kick start its economic drive, thereby attracting huge foreign investments into the country. Many core investors have indicated interests in the country’s viable mining, agricultural and telecommunications sectors. Oil prospecting is on-going, with the possibility of a commercial discovery in the near future.

The lasting legacy of President Koroma’s government is the current massive infrastructural development, particularly road rehabilitation across the entire country, irrespective of regional sentiments.

The writer can be reached on: [email protected]

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