My first meeting with Ernest Bai Koroma was in 1981 when I was a student at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Nigeria on a vacation in Freetown. He was then in the National Insurance Company (NIC) at Walpole Street as a manager. He was introduced to me by Ahmed Sankoh, also with the NIC, now with the Reliance Insurance Corporation (RITCORP). The first handshake and wide infectious smiles conveyed warmth and charm. I found him to be a likeable character, his demeanour very electrifying as he spoke eloquently well about the importance of education.
When he became the Managing Director of the Reliance Insurance Corporation (RITCORP), I had already graduated, working with the Daily Times of Nigeria as a features writer. I was again in Freetown on vacation. I paid him a visit at RITCORP then at Siaka Stevens Street. He politely asked me to fetch him some spares for his 7 series ash-grey Volvo (one-in-town) salon car from Lagos, which I did and he promptly paid for them. The spares could not be locally sourced in Freetown. This was my last contract with him in the early 90s, until I heard he had ventured into politics while I was with Concord Group of newspapers in Nigeria. I found Ernest to be very friendly, warm and amiable.
I have never met him since he became president in 2007. I could, however, still see the infectious smiles each time he speaks. He always educes charm and charisma. Possessed of a fine physique and a striking handsomeness, he has developed a brilliant and splendidly- balanced mind. He has a passion for sports, particularly squash, which he plays regularly. I could also see in him the mixer he exhibited to me when I met him in the 80s and 90s.
These qualities, inevitably, have polished his presidential credentials and have earned him tremendous accolades both at home and abroad. He is widely acclaimed to be the marketable tool in the hands of the APC, a party currently beset with lots of internal squabbles and dysfunctionalties. If the party emerges winner of the November polls, it is largely due to the personality profile and vision of President Koroma. He has succeeded in rebranding the dented image of the APC of yester-years into a new APC of today.
Due to the apparent infighting and failure of many parliamentarians in their constituencies, he instituted the electoral college system to sanitize the stench within the party. Indeed, President Koroma needs likeable hands in his team if he is to fully actualize his nationalistic vision for the country.
His 'Agenda for Prosperity', an apotheosis of the 'Agenda for Change', makes sense only if his team shares the same nationalistic zest he possesses. His unquenchable passion for uplighting the infrastructural image is unparallel in the country's history, but much emphasis should be geared to human development and the provision of the enabling environment for private industrial development. I firmly believe that human resource development takes premium over other considerations especially in developing countries. Majority of Sierra Leoneans are chronically poor who reside in the rural areas and engage mainly agriculture. Pro-poor policies, geared toward uplighting the standard of living of the people in a bid to transform their livelihood, through various commercial venture programmes like the current Agricultural Business Programme, is a step in the right direction only if it impacts directly on the people especially in the rural areas. The country can be rich in sub-soil resources but its people are economically weak and vulnerable. Private industrial estates should be promoted to boost industrial production.
Abubakar Hashim is former West African Bureau Chief of the African Concord, now a Media Consultant