The View from 61 Westmoreland Street | Fantasy History 3

In the summer of 2000, Vitabu interviewed Banja Tejan-Sie in London over several weeks. Born on August 7, 1917, Tejan-Sie died August 8, 2000, aged 83. He was the last governor-general of Sierra Leone. Excerpts from the interviews will appear in Fantasy History to enhance the backdrop on political events before and after independence in 1961. 

I returned home after qualifying in November 1951, a few months after being called to the Bar.

Three of my friends, namely, Albert Margai, I.B. Taylor-Kamara and Arthur Massallay, had all qualified before me and already in practice. Albert Margai was the first to return to Sierra Leone having in fact become the first Protectorate native to qualify as a lawyer.


Because of the exceptionally good relationship that existed between us during our student days, it was natural that all four of us were determined to work together not only as professional lawyers, but also in whatever way we could, to help our people in the provinces.

When Margai returned home in 1949, he helped establish a workable chamber for I.B. Taylor-Kamara, who followed him a year later. And when Arthur Massallay returned home in 1950, he was immediately invited by Taylor-Kamara to join him in his chambers at Howe Street, Freetown. When I returned in 1951, the four of us decided I should work with Albert Margai.

At the very beginning, Albert and I decided to work as partners in one law firm, rather than having two chambers in one building. The law firm of Margai and Tejan-Sie was established at 61 Westmoreland Street. Margai was to receive two-thirds while I was to receive one-third of all fees after expenses had been paid. This agreement was to last for at least two years to enable me to establish myself in the profession.

Within two months of my arrival, I met some serious financial difficulties. 

During the last year of my stay in the U.K. my father mortgaged one small property he had at Sib Thorpe Street to a moneylender called H.N. Thompson. Thompson was a limping, vicious moneylender, who had no scruples. 

As soon as he knew I had arrived, he began demanding the immediate payments of his loan; together with interest and threatening to foreclose if his demands were not met. The amount involved was two hundred and four pounds – a lot of money in those days.

As fate would have it, a few weeks after this demand was made we had a fat brief, which gave us the sum of two hundred and fifty-four pounds in fees. I reported my problem to my partner, who was only too happy to forego his own two-thirds of the amount due him and have the whole amount transferred to me so that I was able to pay off Thompson’s debt with a few extra pounds to spare.

Two years later, I had the pleasant or unpleasant duty to issue a writ against Thompson for damages. The result was not a pleasant one. Thompson died in later years a broken man. 

We appeared for many of our clients in sympathetic briefs; in some cases we did not charge high fees while in others, we did the job for nothing at all. Our financial source of income was from the very rich Lebanese traders and from the rich, property-owning classes in Freetown and its environs.

At about this time, politics was in the air and it was inevitable that in our frequent briefings and excursion into the provinces, we could not avoid the amalgam of politics and law.

In quite a number of cases, we had to defend people, who more or less were prosecuted for political or quasi-politcal reasons. This was so because post-war political activities in the Commonwealth had increased a thousand-fold and district commissioners, the political agents of the colonial era, were watching closely the activities of agitators and would-be agitators. Many of the personalities we defended belonged to both categories.

It did not take long on arrival home to become a member of the Sierra Leone People’s Party and an active one for that matter. 

Dr. Milton Margai had been elected chairman of the party when he returned home from the Medical Service. He succeeded Paramount Chief Julius Gulama, who died.

As the party was becoming political, a paramount chief could not hold office in an active political party. He would have to answer embarrassing questions to his local district officer, who was de facto his local political boss.

The Sierra Leone Organization Society had been formed in 1946 by predominance in membership of provincial people, that is nationals born in the then Protectorate of Sierra Leone or their descendants. The Society was actually formed through the influence of Dr. Margai, and Chief Julius Gulama of Moyamba, its most devoted president who unfortunately did not live to see the results of his handiwork. Others who helped set up the Society were Doyle Sumner and Dr. Karefa Smart, Ahmadu Wurie of Bo School fame and A.J. Momoh, the most prominent up-country civil servant. There was F.S. Anthony a graduate from the U.S.A. and Alex Cotay, who edited the Sierra Leone Observer in Bo. He was a very able editor who helped to establish this organization as a potential political force to be reckoned with as eventually events did show.

I arrived back in Sierra Leone when a lot had already been done to sell what had by now been firmly established as the Sierra Leone People Party to the people of Sierra Leone.

A.J. Momoh became vice chairman to Dr. Margai. Within two years of my arrival, however, at a general conference of the party held in Bo, I was unanimously elected vice chairman of the party with the responsibility for overhauling its machinery and creating an effective propaganda machine. I was thirty-six years old. 


The first Executive Council was appointed in 1951. Its African members were assigned to different departments of the government more as overseers in order to familiarize them with the workings of the government machinery, rather than policymakers. They had workers under them – powerful European permanent secretaries, who were really responsible for the day-to-day administration of their departments.

The party’s constitution provided that as vice chairman and head of the party organization outside the Executive Council or government machinery, I should attend all meetings of the ministers, usually held before the Executive Council (Cabinet) fortnightly meetings.



This was a novel procedure. I was in fact co-opted by the party executive to put the party case and ideas to government ministers and this was more effectively done when considering the estimates previous to the budget. I acted as a liaison between the party and the government. An example was my presenting the case for more Africanization of the Civil Service, promoting of Sierra Leone nationals to the directorships of departments. Two of these promotions come to mind – Mr. George Panda as commissioner of labor and Dr. Boardman as director of medical services.

We had no party headquarters so the office of Margai and Tejan-Sie was used as the party office. I divided the entire country into four administrative regions for propaganda purposes. 


H.E.B. John who had been appointed general secretary of the party worked in close collaboration with me. He was an efficient, honest, and loyal person and one whose integrity helped to maintain the high standards of political leadership without which we would hardly have had independence in 1961.  

We needed, in the ensuing years that followed establishment of the Executive Council, to demonstrate to the British a rational political sobriety and competence if Independence was to be achieved within a short period. H.E.B. John's wise counsel and intervention helped considerably to put the party's attitudes and aspirations on even keel.

In spite of the deep suspicions always present between the Creole members of the party's hierarchy and the others who were mainly natives of the Protectorate, John's colorful diplomacy kept relations good between the different factions.

He was absolutely loyal to Dr. Milton Margai. He was hated for this by the anti-Margai faction, a group of young militants, who later came to find out the wisdom of the philosophy of gradualness, because some of those they supported turned out to be wolves in sheep clothing. 


Comments

  1. History at its best. Lango, your stories should be compiled into a book for the sake of posterity. Remember, until lions have their own historians, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunters.

    Bakar Mansaray
    www.mandingoscrolls.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Bakar. Thanks for your comments and hurrahs! Please keep reading. Fantasy History is a book in the making.

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