Saturday, November 13, 2010

Happy-Sad Independence Day: The Case Of S/Loene’s Femi Coker

        Femi Coker pose for a photo after a training session 
at the Kofi Anan Peace Centre, Accra, Ghana

She got up overfilled with joy, sparklingly dressed and energized for the day’s activities, but these unparalleled “goodies” would not live to see the day’s end.

Her plan for a mouthwatering evening party or mini celebration was a blatant fantasy, and if she knew what ambush fate had ahead of her she would never have had any reason to be cheerful. Her face gleamed with a broad smile, indicating that everything was all right, at least, as she took her breakfast to a nearby table.

After having my breakfast, I moved over to her table to keep some conversation until she finishes for us to get set for class. “You look smart and lively today,” I pointed out. “Yes, today is a big day for me in my country,” Femi Coker replied.

I was lost. We are way in Accra, Ghana, at the HighGate Hotel, having breakfast at about 7:30 am, along with other West African journalists. I could not understand. Therefore, I was lost when Femi said she was the way she was because it was “a big day” in her country.

I wanted the puzzle solved and I inquired what she meant. She replied: “April 27, 2010 is our Independence Day in Sierra Leone,” and that’s why I am happy.” It was then that I understood why The Examiner Newspaper’s reporter was in high spirits – wearing a multiple color nylon-like skirt suit, a slipper to match and a broad smile. Like her, any patriotic citizen, would be happy, showing some sense of nationalism.

I then hinted other journalists in the breakfast hall that Sierra Leone was observing its Independence—49th Independence. We were 14 journalists in total, lodging at the hotel at the expense of INWENT, the German Government’s capacity building arm, providing two-week of intensive training for us on conflict sensitive reporting.

    Femi (centred) by other West African Journalists 
on Excursion to the Cape Coast of Ghana

Among us are four Sierra Leonean Journalists including Femi, Moses Alex Kargbo, Silas Gbandia and Abu Bakarr Kargbo; three Gambians (Amie Sanneh, Mamadu Edrisa Njie and Modou Joof), two Ghanaians
(Stephen Odoi-Larbi and Karamatu Ana), two Nigerians (Nuruddeen Mohammed Abdallah and Celina Awoye), two Liberians (I, D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh and Moses Varfee Kowo) and a Togolese M. Kossi Ayivi.

After breakfast we were all boarded the bus and proceeded to the Ghana International Press Center, our training site, to commence class. On the bus, as usual, we threw jokes and laugh at each others. Before starting class for the day we all stood—some saluting, others hands on breast –as the four Sierra Leonean sang their national anthem.

Coincidentally, Togo, too, celebrates its independence day on April 27. Our Togolese counterpart also sang his country’s national anthem, flowing which the class clapped for them and wish them well. However, and unfortunately, few hours later, while lesson was ongoing, the ever smiling and sparkling Femi receive a call from back home.

She taught it was an Independence Day call, a greeting, a call to wish her long life and prosperity, but it wasn’t. While others were celebrating and merrymaking back home, Femi and her family had lost her
step father and a cousin!

After the call I noticed her being sad, but I did not ask nor did she inform the class, except those sitting by her. I saw her eyes turned, as she struggled to hold back her tears, to be herself, but I could not fathom anything in my mind. She did well with that challenge– I mean to suppress her moaning. Other women would have burst up into serious cry, disturbing the whole class. She didn’t.

When I noticed she was sad and not eating as usual during our lunch period, I then inquired. “She lost her father,” Moses Kargbo told me. Later she was told that her cousin was also gone. I felt for and sympathized with her. Others did likewise, but her day was already spoiled. She never smiled again until we got back to the hotel. Her happy day has become a Sad Independence Day.

A hint On Sierra Leone Independence Day
(Culled from the BBC )

1961: Sierra Leone wins independence
Sierra Leone has become the latest West African state to win independence, after more than 150 years of British colonial rule. The new nation was born at the stroke of midnight, when its green, white and blue flag was unfurled. A huge crowd, gathered at Brookfields Playground in Freetown to watch the historic moment, broke into tumultuous cheering.

Independence Day formally began as the Duke of Kent handed over royal instruments recognising Sierra Leone as an independent nation. Sir Maurice Dorman, Governor since 1956, was then sworn in as Governor-General by Chief Justice Beoku Betts. Messages of welcome to the new government, led by Prime Minister Sir Milton Margai, came from the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, and from the Queen.

Her Majesty is due to visit Sierra Leone during her tour of West Africa later in the year.

State of emergency
Independence festivities have been taking place all week, mainly centred on the harbour area of Freetown. Three days of public holiday have been declared, and the city is in party mood, with streets decorated with bunting and the new national colours everywhere.

But the build-up has been overshadowed by the state of emergency, declared ten days ago following a campaign of sabotage by the opposition All People’s Congress Party (APC). The party has been urging that independence should be postponed until free elections have been held.

The leader of the APC, Siaka Stevens, was arrested just over a week ago, along with his right-hand man, Wallace Johnston, and 16 other party members. They had been planning a general strike to coincide with
the independence celebrations, and it was feared riots would break out if the strike went ahead.

The government in Freetown is insisting that elections will be held next year, as agreed under the terms of independence. Ministers say the arrests were made to protect those visiting the country for the ceremonies, and, they say, there is every intention to release those detained as soon as the ceremonies are over.

By D. Kaihenneh sengbeh - News Editor The Informer, Monrovia April 28, 2010,


  1. this story is touching in honesty. its full of mix feeling. sad in the side of our colleague for the homely tragedy but good in the manner of presentation and facts content. this journalistic thinking is indeed heroic.
    while i send my condolences to the freetonian journalist, i also sends kudos to the publisher of the evening standard.

    Ebrima Bah
    Freelance Journalist


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