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A fall from grace; a case of president Capt. Valentine Esegragbo Melvine Stressor

The Perspective, by Edward Bwalya Phiri

The Guinean National Committee and Reconciliation Development [NCRD] chairman and the Military Junta President, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya said that, “It is the duty of soldiers to save the country. We will no longer entrust politics to one man. We will entrust it to the people.”

And British Philosopher and former member of the House of Lords, Jonathan Sacks, opined that, “Freedom is not won by merely overthrowing a tyrannical ruler or an oppressive regime. That is usually only the prelude to a new tyranny, a new oppression.”

On The Perspective today, consideration is on Captain Valentine Esegragbo Melvin Stressor; the young army officer who seized power in a small West African diamond rich country of Sierra Leone, with a population of about four million people at the time. A two-decade long people’s indignation arise from rampant corruption and mismanagement of the resources by President Joseph Saidu Momoh and his regime.

On April 29, a 25-year-old army officer by the name of Valentine Esegragbo Melvin Stressor, led a team of six soldiers in what was dubbed as the ‘Operation Day break’ to the capital Conakry. The intention of this mission was to register their displeasure at the government’s failure in meeting the needs of the army officers, who were forced to wade off the Revolutionary United Front [RUF] mutineers led by Foday Saybana Sankho.

What started as an innocent protest took a sudden twist that resulted into the ousting of the President. Exactly three days after his birthday, Stressor and his friends toppled President Joseph Saidu Momoh, whom they accused of rampant corruption, mismanagement and tribalism, among others. Stressor introduced the junta under the National Provisional Ruling Council [NPRC], of which he was the chairman and President of the country at a tender age.

The people welcomed his takeover and hailed him as the saviour of the nation and he promised massive clean-ups and reforms. He denounced tribalism, nepotism, corruption, and promised a clean-up exercise. The military junta managed to clear piles of garbage in the streets, and introduced reforms through its transition to democracy.

Among the early scores by the junta were; the reduction of the skyrocketing annual inflation from 115 per cent to slightly less than 15 per cent, gas and electricity were once again available, they imported and distributed ambulances that were extinct in the country, and street crime which had been common, was significantly reduced. However, this seemingly utopia only lasted for eight months.

When the ‘our saviour’ frenzy was slowly subsiding, the people began expressing their displeasure at the regime. In December 1992, the Stressor led government foiled a coup attempt. And subsequently led to the execution of 29 civilians, extra-judicially at a beach outside the capital Conakry.

Sooner, Stressor begun promoting his colleagues with higher ranks and they began allotting themselves mansions that they had seized from the former regime and they eventually started living in grandeur; luxuries and lavish lifestyles like the previous regime. They were partying and merry making; favouring and fantasising with light skinned girls.

And in order to sustain the newly assumed grandiose behaviour and lives, they engaged themselves in illegal diamond trade. They smuggled the precious stones to the European diamond capital Antwerp, and used the proceeds to buy guns and sharing the rest of the money.
In October 1993, the New Breed Newspaper led by Julius Spenser ran a story that had initially been published by a Swedish newspaper; revealing how Stressor and his colleagues smuggled diamonds to Europe and benefiting no other than themselves. Spenser was subsequently arrested and imprisoned along with six of his staff.

Stressor also used diamonds and concessions to pay the foreign mercenaries he had hired to help fight the RUF in the Eastern part of the country. The transition that should have taken only two years continued until in the fourth year. When it was time to hold democratic elections in 1996, at the age of 29, he decided to put himself on the ballot, ignoring the Constitution qualification age of 40 years and above.

Unfortunately for him, Mr Stressor was also ousted from power by one of his deputies, Julius Maada Bio, in 1996 and was taken in exile. The objective of the write-up is to draw objective lessons from the mistakes made by the once celebrated people’s messiah. The story offers many lessons that military Junta leaders can learn from, the ultimate lesson off course is that all power is transient and the enjoyment of power is always short-lived.

Further, lesson to take away from the Stressor account is the fact that putsches are not necessarily the answer to the leader crisis faced by our continent. What we need is a good crop of leaders who will put the peoples’ interest and subordinate their desires to the wishes and aspiration of the majority of our people in Africa.

African Revolutionary and former President of Algeria, Ahmed Ben Bella once opined that, at a particular time in the world and, “In two years, there were 22 military coup d’états, especially in Africa and the third world. The coup d’état in Algiers in 1965 is what opened the path.” This shows an incessant urge in people’s hearts to change government, but without prerequisite heart for real service to humanity.

It is a fact that every military take-over of power is premised on the fact that it was necessitated by the need to liberate the people. And to justify this, they adduce reasons such as corruption, mismanagement of resources and abuse of human rights. Shockingly, the same political maladies they promise to solve, eventually become their portion and Stressor’s account is the classic example here.

If military takeovers were the ultimate remedy to the Africa problem, West Africa would have since stopped experiencing change of government through undemocratic means. The region has seen more military takeover of governments than any region in the world. In the last 18 months, there have been four attempts with three [in Mali, Chad and Guinea] being successful and one foiled attempt in Niger.

The call therefore to the military juntas in West Africa is that they put the people’s interests above all the aspirations that they may be harbouring as a junta. History has a way of repeating itself. It is very much possible that the story of Valentine Esegragbo Melvin Stressor could replay itself, in other military junta leaders.

I personally have noted some striking similarities between Captain Valentine Esegragbo Melvin Stressor and some of the current military junta leaders, but that is not to suggest that they will eventually end up like Mr Stressor.

An interesting example is of Colonel Mamady Doumbooya, who like Stressor seems to be an ardent follower of late Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings of Ghana, who himself had seized power in 1979. While Stressor had wanted the international community to consider and accept him just as Rawlings, Doumbouya on the other hand, in his first speech as President of the military junta, passionately quoted the words of Rawlings.

The common grounds are that they both claimed their actions to takeover government were in people’s best interest and they both were celebrated as messiahs. They both claimed that their actions had been necessitated by corruption and mismanagement of resources.

But one striking difference is that Doumbouya promised that none of his team members will take part in the election at the end of 18 months transition period. It our prayer that junta will hold their end of the bargain.

For today I will end here; it’s Au revoir, from EBP.
For comments: elbardogma@yahoo.com

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