Sierra Leone's President Adviser speaks on oil exploration

Sep 22, 2001 02:00 AM

by Sulaiman Momodu

The Senior Adviser to President Kabbah, Dr. Sama Banya is a very familiar name in Sierra Leone politics. A medical doctor by profession, Dr. Banya entered into active politics in 1978 and since then he has held many ministerial positions and acted as Vice President on a number of occasions.
Earlier this year, he was removed from the position of Foreign Affairs Minister much to the relief of his critics who pointed out that Banya's physical ability did not match with the responsibility given to him. Banya who is conspicuous for his grey hair is back in the limelight and commented on a few issues.
In this interview with Sulaiman Momodu, Dr. Banya also known as Puawui (a mende word meaning grey hair) speaks on oil exploration, elections and other issues.

Sulaiman Momodu: Dr. Banya tell us a bit about your position as Senior Adviser to President Kabbah.
Sama Banya: Well, my responsibility primarily has to do with the prospect for having oil in our off shores and theenvironmental aspect of that and also to advise the President on any other matter that might arise.
SM: Initially President Kabbah said there was oil in the country, but in recent times, he is saying again that there is no oil, would you like to comment?
SB: I don't think he said that categorically. He said the prospects for oil are very strong, All the indications are that we have oil, and we do not only have oil, we have it in commercial quantity.
SM: Some people say we have diamonds, we have problems, if we have oil, it is more problems.
SB: Well, I think it all has to do with mismanagement. There is no harm in having oil, there are some countries that envy us for our natural resources. Maybe we all have to admit that in the past, we did not handle them well. It requires careful handling so that it benefits the country. We know of countries that have lots of oil yet they have had problems because of management.
In the hands of President Kabbah and a team that we are putting together, I am certain that we would be able to manage the oil business to the great advantage of this country.

SM: But already there is a lot of hue and cry over this oil issue. There are allegations of President Kabbah giving it to the wrong people.
SB: This is because people in this country have a negative mind all the time. Indeed the man who started it all was our own Ambassador.
SB: A group of people wrote that they had discussed the prospects of coming to seek for oil in our area. And then instead of coming over to negotiate, they wrote an agreement which the Managing Director signed and then sent it to government to sign. So we said this is not proper, either you come to negotiate or you take a team to go and negotiate.
They were not going to do that and Ambassador Leigh was saying that it will cost too much for this people to come to Freetown. He said Freetown was dirty and that if we took people to meet them there (USA), it is tantamount to bribery. You can't eat your cake and have it. These other people were there, they came and nothing has been done behind the scenes, it has all been open.
SM: But it is apparent that John Leigh left this country very angry, have you talked with him?
SB: I have not written to him. The other time he was holding a press conference around Wilberforce street and I was going on my own business and he invited me to go and join him there. I don't normally hiss, but I just hissed and walked out of the place.

SM: So the summary of this is that John Leigh had his own men and government too had its own men and government said no we won't accept your men, is that the point?SB: No, it is not a question of we don't want to accept, it is just that this people did not want to come in. They wanted to dictate. They didn't come, they didn't discuss, they just wrote an agreement and said here, sign this agreement. You know, we have mortgaged our right in the past in that kind of way.
SM: But it seems this oil thing has estranged his relationship with President Kabbah?SB: Well, that is for him and the President to solve. I know he has written a number of letters and blamed a lot of it on the press.
SM: Now apart from oil, do you advice President Kabbah on where to go, when to go and how to go?
SB: President Kabbah would ask me about my opinion on certain things. I will then give him my honest opinion. He does not have to go with my advice. Fortunately, we have not had any area of disagreement.

SM: Some people are saying there should be an interim government. What do you think as Senior Adviser to President Kabbah?
SB: I have said religiously to these people who care to listen that we have no provision for that in the constitution. That is one. It is also a recipe for chaos. The moment you announce that, every little group is going to form their own party and would like to be represented. And when you call up a consultative conference, how are you going to determine who form this interim government? Those who have been shouting the loudest? Or the silent majority who are staying away? The constitution has made provision for this kind of situation. Maybe from this experience after elections, somebody may raise the motion in Parliament to alter the constitution and then make provision for an interim government in future.
But I want to say here and now that if we bring in an interim government, all our donor friends will go away because that government is tantamount to dictatorship as it is responsible to nobody. It means putting aside the constitution. There will be no difference between what Johnny Paul and others did. So why do we want to do that?

SM: Earlier you named some people as troublemakers before we had technical problems with the recording, do you still maintain that position?
SB: Let me be careful here. I read the papers and they say some journalists are under threat and those I named as troublemakers are among them. Let me tell you; in 1986 after the nominations, I said to my opponent "we are going to pulverized you" and we laughed and I went away. At the end of the day, CID invited me to go and make a statement. My opponent had accused me of wanting to murder him.
SM: Let me come in here Doctor. Deep down your heart, do you believe the story 'journalists marked for death' was manufactured?
SB: Sulaiman, I have no doubt in my mind. A lot of people who write for these fellows are ghost people. They don't exist. They just attribute names so it demonstrates variety. This is cheap.
SM: People say you are no more popular in your area Pendembu.
SB: That is their opinion.
SM: If you are not going to contest, what will you be doing?
SB: When I was not in active politics in 1986-1993, I was running my surgery. I was on various school boards. I am working in the conservation society. I worked for the medically handicapped and a lot of those boards. There is a lot that can occupy a busy mind.
SM: Forget about these boards, you are a medical doctor, do you hope to go back to Kenema and run the Banya Hospital, your hospital?
SB: Any time that I have time I will go back to medicine where I began.
SM: If I may ask, where did you get the money to build a hospital in Kenema?
SB: I used my own personal money. I made a lot of money in Kenema in those days.

SM: Some people told me in Kenema that you entered into politics because that is where you get more money.
SB: That again in two words, is arrant nonsense.
SM: What motivated you to enter into politics?
SB: I was always involved in politics. I was a student activist in London. Secretary General of Sierra Leone Student Union in 1959 and have been connected with politics in one way or the other since then. I used to write letters to civil servants, articles in papers not under a pseudo name, under the name Sama Banya. I had not assumed the name Pauwui because I had not then come in contact with Amie Kallon (the praise singer).
SM: When President Kabbah removed you from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, were you bitter with him?
SB: I was not bitter. I didn't have to be bitter.
SM: Your position of Senior Adviser I understand is equivalent to that of a minister?
SB: (laugh) If I tell you maybe people will stop going to me because they think ministers earn so much money you must do all manners of things.

SM: Have you ever advised President Kabbah to smile a little because people say he is always a very serious man?
SB: Different people have different facial expressions.
SM: Why can't you advise him to be smiling especially as elections are approaching and he will be meeting would-be-voters?
SB: You are his friend, why don't you tell him yourself
SM: President Kabbah is not my friend.
SB: Okay, I will tell him you are concerned. I will tell him to smile a little more.
SM: I am not talking about string. I am asking you about when you are going to leave politics?
SB: Whenever I think that my time is up I will go voluntarily. Nobody is going to push me out.
SM: One final question. How would you like the people of Sierra Leone to remember you when you are finally gone?
SB: I like the people of Sierra Leone to look at me honestly, to point out those areas where I have failed but to give me credit where credit is due.
SM: Thank you Dr. Banya.....
SB: Thank you too.

Source: Concord Times
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