Sunday, August 19, 2018 4:14 pm
Ambassador Joe Blell became Sierra Leone’s High Commissioner to the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the early 90’s, in a regime where his country’s current President, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio (Rtd) was a senior and strategic member of the then ruling National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) and later became the Head of State. In this capacity as High Commissioner, he was the point man in the deployment of ECOMOG troops to Sierra Leone to end the 11 year-old civil war in the 90’s. When the late Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was restored back to power from exile from neighboring Guinea, he was recalled from Nigeria to be his country’s Minister of Defence. He took a back seat when Ernest Bai Koroma came to power in 2007 till 2018, still maintaining his SLPP membership. Due to his close relationship with the National Grand Coalition (NGC) Presidential Candidate, Dr Yumkella and other members such as the chairman, Dr. Dennis Bright, allegations and speculations were rife that he was an NGC member, which he totally refuted. The relationship with Yumkella was pronounced when he was High Commissioner in Nigeria and Yumkella was UNIDO boss. In this interview with ABUBAKAR HASHIM, Joe Blell who was awarded the Order of the Niger (OON) in 2000 by former President Obasanjo, long after he was awarded Commander of Rokel CRSL by his country’s former President Kabbah, spoke about the current administration of President Bio, who he sees as having similar characteristics like that of President Buhari of Nigeria, how he sees Bio as a person he worked with, his country’s relations with Nigeria and the journey so far
Q: Who is President Julius Madaa Bio, having worked with him before?
This is a man with an unquenchable zest and determination to achieve results. He is a goal getter. He has a military background, similar to that of President Buhari. He was once a Military Head of State like Buhari. He contested severally like Buhari. He proceeded aboard to enhance his academic qualifications and may be enrolling for his doctoral programme at Bradford University in the UK.
With such an unbroken record of determination, he contested again this March to win the Presidency in a style with vigour and determination with the odds against him.
He has started on a right footing with the current appointments. His speech at the opening of parliament is a ground-breaking event. All the issues affecting our country were enunciated and solutions proffered. He is determined to solve our pressing problems as a nation. I want Bio to succeed. I gave him my support during the run-off elections.
If he calls you to serve, will you yield?
I’m ready to work for my country as long as it is in the interest of Sierra Leone. I’ve worked with him when he was a military Head of State in the 90’s. I’m familiar with his style of leadership and his appetite for results. He is a disciplinarian and a role model which the country desperately needs at this moment.
You were once High Commissioner in Nigeria. This puts you in a position to know Nigeria’s relations with your country. How has this relationship been and how will it look like under President Bio?
Nigeria’s relations with Sierra Leone has spanned over two centuries as a result of slave trade and intermarriages.
Officially, however, Nigeria’s relations with Sierra Leone extends into various fields and sectors such as education, health, military, the promotion of democracy, business, trade and investment. I hope subsequent business relationships will be handled properly in view of past business dealings like the controversial Income Electrix and Oranto Oil saga. Sierra Leone’s Medical School was established under the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Similarly, Nigeria, through a technical assistance program with Sierra Leone, established the Mass Communications Department at Fourah Bay College in the 90’s.
Today, the department is offering up to Masters Degree Courses. Fourah Bay College has long produced emmient Nigerians, including State Governors, Ministers and top Civil Servants in Nigeria. The college has been the bed-rock for Nigeria’s intelligentia.
In the military sector, Nigeria has strong relations with Sierra Leone in the training of our army personnel in various military colleges particularly the one at Jaji in Kaduna State, Northern Nigeria.
It was, however, during our 11-year- old civil war that Nigeria demonstrated its unflinching commitment in salvaging our country. Under a Status Of Forces Agreement known as SOFA, assistance was given to Sierra Leone Military Officers to fight alongside Nigerian troops when the war broke out. During this period, apart from neighboring Guinea, Nigeria aided Sierra Leonean troops to contain the rebels before the deployment of ECOMOG.
In 1997, when the war had heightened, through the collaboration of Sierra Leone soldiers and the rebels, who constituted the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) that overthrew the late President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabba, Nigeria, under ECOMOG leadership of late General Victor Malu and commanded by late General Maxwell Khobe, returned Kabba back to power. Similar brotherly assistance exists in the Health and Energy sectors where Nigerian technical assistance is rendered.
In the promotion of democracy, Nigeria, during our recently –held March elections, donated logistical materials like vehicles and Speed Boats to our National Electoral Commission (NEC). It has been very warm and cordial relations that have been mutually beneficial. Now the two current Presidents in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, with similar military backgrounds and disciplined leadership styles, will further strengthen these relations between these two sister countries to higher heights.