Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen. Five years ago, I stood before this august body after I was accorded the honour and privilege of entering a new service for our Great Party; the service of being its Presidential Candidate for the 2012 Presidential Election.
Then it was a new beginning for me. Today, it is an essential continuum. I have again been bestowed with the honour of serving our Party for a second time as its Presidential Candidate for the 2018 Presidential Elections.
In 2012 our Party’s victory was stolen as blatantly as it had been done in 2007. In 2007 the ballot in 477 polling stations was cancelled when there was in fact no law in existence to permit it. In 2012 the Presidential Election results were declared whilst counting and recounting of votes in a number of electoral districts was still in progress.
The SLPP, as a Party that is supremely law-abiding, allowed those rigged results to stand in 2007 and 2012 only because we believe in the maintenance and preservation of peace, stability and security in our nation and we did not want to see our country degenerate into violence and anarchy.
This time around, for the 2018 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council elections, we want it to be clearly understood that NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING, short of free, fair and transparent democratic elections shall be acceptable to the SLPP.
All of us therefore, government and opposition parties alike, bear full responsibility to ensure that credible and democratic elections are held in an atmosphere completely devoid of intimidation, interference and violence.
And the National Electoral Commission (NEC), whose primary legal duty it is to supervise and conduct such credible and democratic elections, bears the greatest responsibility. Accordingly, all political parties, whether in government or in opposition, must know that they have a sacred duty to respect the independence of the NEC.
In recent political narratives a great deal has been said and written about the notion of “Putting the Country First”. I agree wholeheartedly. And as the Presidential Candidate of our Great SLPP Party, I challenge any Presidential Candidate of any other Party to come forward and demonstrate how they have promoted or protected the interests of this country more than I have.
Suffice it here to give just three notable examples where my actions have exemplified my commitment to putting country above self. The first time I demonstrated this was when I willingly submerged my personal ambition in favour of protecting the paramount interest of this country.
No love for country can be greater than subjecting one’s life to the defence of one’s country against external aggression. I believe today I am the only Presidential Candidate for the 2018 Elections with a proud record of military service when I defended this country from armed attack by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, aided and abetted by external forces in 1991.
The second time I sacrificed self for country was when, as the head of a military government in 1996, I voluntarily handed over power to an elected civilian government following the General Elections of that year organised under my watch.
The third time was in 2012 when as the Presidential Candidate of this Party, I agreed not to challenge the rogue presidential elections of that year. How much more can anyone sacrifice his personal ambition for the good of his country?
Delegates, today, our Great Party, the SLPP, stands at the brink. Its democratic credentials have been displayed beyond all doubt by conducting free, fair and democratic internal elections not only to elect a new National Executive to run the affairs of the Party but also for deciding who amongst us should lead it to the 2018 Elections.
Despite the many divergent views amongst the honourable contenders for the Party’s flag, the vast majority of our Party’s membership have again expressed confidence in my leadership to take our Party back to State House on 7th March 2018 and transform this great nation.
Distinguished delegates, for this singular honour you have bestowed upon me I can’t thank you enough. I feel deeply humbled that for the second time you have elected me as the Presidential Candidate of this great and historic Party for the 2018 Presidential and General Elections. I also thank the Almighty God for making this possible.
Today, I call on all of you, whether you voted for me or not, to join me to commit and rededicate ourselves to work even harder for the Total Unity of this Great Party, for through Unity our collective strength will be revitalised and our victory to State House will be assured.
Therefore, allow me to take this opportunity to commend all my former colleagues, flag bearer aspirants, for their generosity, graciousness and the exemplary value they have added to our Party throughout the peaceful and mature flag bearer contest.
Because of you, our internal democracy is stronger; our Party’s Constitution is respected; the Rule of Law is firmer and yes, because of you, we have had a free, fair, transparent and democratic internal election and not a Selection or Coronation. The delegates have spoken loudly, clearly and without equivocation that democracy shall always prevail in our Great Party.
I now wish to appeal to all my former colleague aspirants and to all our supporters to come together in Peace and Unity and be part of the engine of democratic transformation of our country.
Delegates, for the confidence you have reposed in me and for the hopes of millions across this country you have rekindled, I hereby humbly accept your Nomination as the Presidential Candidate of our Great Party for the March 2018 Presidential Elections.
Let there be no mistake about it, the 2018 elections will be different. We shall WIN and WIN decisively. Nothing more nothing less. We shall win both the Elections and the Results. Our elections management and monitoring will be the most robust and our polling agents shall be ever more vigilant.
No one, I mean no one, dare attempt again to rig Elections against the SLPP in 2018. This time around our march to State House is unstoppable.
Conference, the Elections of 2018 shall be the most important in a generation. The stakes have never been higher and the expectations have never been greater. For the sake of the general welfare and wellbeing of ALL the people of this country, whether you are a supporter of the SLPP or not, you have no option but to vote the SLPP into power under my leadership if you want this country to regain its respect and dignity and replace the fake development, which running the country like a business in the last ten years has brought about, with real development under an administration that will operate with speed, efficiency and effectiveness and work in the best interest of ALL Sierra Leoneans and not just for a privileged cronies.
Conference, for any mistakes I might have made in the course of the flag bearer campaign, I want to say from the bottom of my heart and with an abiding sense of humility, I am deeply sorry. Also, I want to say sorry to any aspirant for any position in our Party or any party member who might have suffered any molestation or humiliation from fellow party members for my sake.
As a Party we eschew violence, lawlessness, indiscipline and intimidation as absolutely abhorrent and I want to assure you that under my leadership these shall have no place in our Party.
And to all those who have left us, today I want to plead with you to return to the Party where you truly and really belong. The SLPP is your natural Home and there is no place like Home! So, let us heal the wounds and rekindle a new spirit of Unity that will light the torch to take us to State House.
By the same token, let me take this opportunity to make it abundantly clear that you have elected me to be the Presidential Candidate of this Party and to take this Party to State House in the 2018 Presidential Elections. I shall be a Leader who will fully recognise the worth of everyone and the contribution of everyone.
My leadership shall never be divisive; on the contrary it will be all-inclusive and all embracing. Essentially this means no one is out, everyone is in and no one will be marginalised or ostracised. The campaign roadmap I shall design and run will embrace all these fundamentals and without exception.
In implementing it I shall approach my campaign in a way that will embrace and not divide. I hope everyone will recognise this and find the necessary accommodation to guarantee electoral success. Above all, no private agendas will be allowed.
Delegates, today we are here for something bigger than our individual selves. We cannot allow the next decade to be like the lost decade of APC bad governance and visionless leadership that has reduced our resource-rich country to the very bottom of the international development ladder as the most corrupt, the poorest of the poor and the most miserable.
Examples of such bad governance are palpable everywhere. The many preventable deaths from man-made flooding and mudslides and Ebola; the Hajj scandals; the rampant corruption; the raping of our National Constitution; the high youth unemployment; the supersonic rate of deprivation and hardship suffered by ordinary people who cannot even afford a decent meal for their families; the abuse and misuse of power; the reckless management of our economy; the high inflation; the devalued currency; the exploitation in the mining sector; the bottomless poor standards of education and healthcare systems, are all testimonies of the extraordinary extent to which the APC has failed this country and the people.
So much is this the case that the name APC which in yesteryears meant the All Peoples’ Congress has now acquired a new meaning: ‘Agenda for Poverty and Corruption’! Enough of this bad governance because the People of Sierra Leone deserve better!
In Proverbs, the Scripture says: where there is no vision the people perish. My vision for this country comes from the heart and it is a very simple one: a united, peaceful, progressive, confident, dynamic and happy nation where the people have access to jobs and the basic necessities of life like food, energy, education and health services and good drinking water, and where there is justice and equal opportunity for all.
These are not just words from my lips; as your President they will be the verifiable products of my policies and hard work.
Another mantra currently in vogue is the word “Progressive”. To me, this is not just a mere word; it is an obligation. That obligation is to transform Sierra Leone into a progressive and prosperous country. This objective will be expounded in our Party Manifesto which will give the key to every citizen to open the door to realising their aspirations.
As I have stated I have always put my country first. Now I want to put you, the people, first. As your President, we will build a country where no one is left out and no one is left behind; a country where the world will no longer look at us with pity but treat us with respect and dignity.
Together, we will build a country of compassion, faith, generosity, love, hope, creativity, shared values and limitless possibilities and opportunities for all.
As your President, I will restore trust and credibility in that solemn Social Contract between the people and their Government. And where we offer the ladder of opportunity, we will also demand responsibility. I pledge to you that responsibility will start from the top.
Let me use this opportunity to appeal to all other political parties. Let us use the 2018 elections as an avenue to unite our country and not for division; let us make the elections a contest of ideas, policies and programmes and not for personal attacks; let us use these elections to promote patriotism and not tribalism and regionalism; let us use these elections to reject hatred and bigotry and embrace love and truth and let us use the elections to restore our pride as a nation and not to make our democracy a mockery.
In the last few weeks, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has come under the spotlight. I want to remind the Commission that they have a constitutional mandate to conduct free, fair and credible elections which is a pre-condition for sustained peace and stability. I am aware of the intimidation and threats from both the Executive and the Legislative arms of Government and even the APC Secretariat.
I would like to appeal to the Commissioners and staff of NEC to stay resolute in the discharge of their sacred constitutional duty. Continue to stand up for the truth and do what is right. I and my Party are not asking for any special favours from NEC. All we are asking for is a free, fair, transparent and credible electoral process to strengthen our fledgling democracy.
In the coming weeks, our Party will engage the Electoral Commission on the role of party agents in voter identification on polling day and electoral results management. Also, we request for the participation of Political Parties in drafting rules and regulations that will complement the electoral provisions in the National Constitution and the Public Elections Act 2012.
Additionally, for the 2018 elections, we demand that Political Parties be privy to the distribution of ballot papers to various districts. And we want answers to the following questions:
Who prints our ballot papers?
How many ballot papers are printed?
How many ballot papers are distributed to each district?
How secure or unique are the ballot papers?
To President Ernest Bai Koroma, let me say that like many other Heads of State before you, opinions will be divided about your stewardship of this country. The Late President Kabbah respected the National Constitution and organised a free and fair democratic elections that brought your opposition APC into power, for which he was internationally applauded for his democratic commitment.
Mr. President, you now have a unique opportunity to write your own history. Allow history to remember you not for the few sycophantic voices of “More Time” or “Extension”. Rather you should strive to be remembered as the President who respected the call of his people to abide by the National Constitution; who supported free, fair and credible elections and who ensured a peaceful democratic transfer of political power. That is the most enduring legacy you can leave in the hearts of the people of this country.
To those voters who voted APC the last time, you have another opportunity to make a choice. Unlike the 2007 and 2012 elections, this time around you will have no excuse for making a wrong decision. You have already seen all the bad policies and programmes of the APC government. You certainly don’t need more. And I sincerely hope they are enough to inform your decision.
In the coming weeks, I will inform the nation of my policy agenda for 2018-2023. I promise you that my policies and plans for children, women, youth, persons living with disabilities, parents, teachers, health workers, military and police officers and the working population will represent the needs and aspirations of every citizen. They are not based on text book theories or theories developed by foreign technocrat; rather they will be home-grown and developed out of the prevailing challenges we face as a nation.
Let me also assure you all that my policy agenda for 2018 – 2023 will be guided by five key priorities and these will be:
Increasing revenue mobilisation and improving expenditure management as well as effectively and efficiently managing our natural resources with a view to increasing budgetary resources for financing our development programmes.
Promoting sustained job creating private sector economic growth through diversification of the economy, improving the global competitiveness of Sierra Leone for investment, financing local entrepreneurship and developing the needed infrastructure.
Developing human capital through education and training for our youth, improved health care service delivery and providing for the vulnerable population groups, particularly those living with disabilities by strengthening social protection mechanisms.
Improving state governance, particularly in areas of public administration, security, corruption and accountability mechanisms, justice and rule of law, human rights, access to information and press freedom.
Developing infrastructure in an efficient manner with a focus on projects with highest economic benefits and high potential to attract investment and promote economic growth.
Delegates, as we leave this Conference let us take with us this message that this Presidential election is about the people and the urgent need to transform Sierra Leone. As your Presidential Candidate, the New Direction will put the people first.
Finally, I ask the people of this country to elect me as your next President. I say from my heart I will be on your side; I will work for you; I will fight for you and I will never let you down. Together, let us put our people first.
May God bless you; may God bless our Party and may God bless our beautiful country. Thank you. One Country, One People – One Nation One Destiny. Paopa Salone for Betteh