SIAKA PROBYN STEVENS (1905-1988) FIRST EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT OF SIERRA LEONE
Siaka Stevens was born on August 24, 1905 at Moyamba in what is now the Southern Province. He was educated at Albert Academy and much later at Ruskin College, Oxford, where he studied Trade Unionism. On leaving school, Stevens jointed the Sierra Leone Police Force and rose to the rank of First Class Sergeant and Musketry Instructor. From 1931 to 1946, he worked on the construction of the Sierra Leone Development Company (DELCO) railway, linking the Port of Pepel with the iron ore mines at Marampa. He later became station master and stenographer at Marampa. A co-founder of the United Mine Workers Union, he was appointed to the Protectorate Assembly in 1946 to represent the interests of workers. Elected to the Legislative Council in 1951 as second protectorate member, he was appointed in 1952 as Sierra Leone’s first Minister of Mines, Lands and Labour. In 1957, he was elected to the House of Representatives as member for Port Loko East Constituency, but lost his seat as a result of an election petition. He later fell out with the leadership of the ruling S.L.P.P. and broke away to help found the People’s National Party, of which he became the first Secretary-General and Deputy Leader.
When the United National Front (U.N.F.) government was formed in 1959, Siaka Stevens was not included in the cabinet since he had earlier lost his seat due to an election petition against him. He did however participate in the Independence Talks in London as the Deputy Leader of the P.N.P., which had then become part of the U.N.F. On the conclusion of the talks, however, Siaka Stevens was the only delegate who refused to sign the Independence Agreement on the grounds that there had been a secret defence pact between Sierra Leone and Britain. The U.N.F. position that there would be no elections before independence may have been the main reason for Siaka’s refusal to sign, since this position would have effectively shut him out of the political process. Siaka was promptly expelled from the party on this return from Britain, but less than a month after his expulsion, he launched his Elections Before Independence Movement (EBIM) which was later to be transformed into the A.P.C.
Siaka Stevens successfully exploited the disenchantment of northern and eastern ethnic groups with the S.L.P.P. to forge the A.P.C. with such northern leaders as S.I. Koroma, C.A. Kamara-Taylor, M.O. Bash-Taqui, S.A.T. Koroma and S.A. Fofana, and to forge an alliance with the prominent Kono political leader, PC T.S. M’briwa, and his Sierra Leone Independence Movement (S.L.I.M.) In the 1962 general elections, Stevens’ A.P.C. became the main opposition party, winning sixteen seats, while Stevens himself was returned to parliament as member for Freetown West II. He served the municipality as mayor in the same year. His party won the 1967 general elections, with Stevens retaining his seat in the Freetown West II constituency. He was appointed Prime Minister, but was detained by the military and denied the Premiership until the overthrow of the military government of the National Reformation Council (N.R.C.) in 1968, when he was reappointed Prime Minister. In April 1971, he introduced a Republican Constitution and became President of the Republic a day after the constitution had been ratified by parliament.
The first general elections under the Republican Constitution were held in 1973, but the elections were marked by so much violence that the opposition S.L.P.P. withdrew. The year 1978 saw the introduction of a one party constitution, and this marked the end of opposition parties in Sierra Leone. Siaka Stevens survived two attempted coups d’etat, and met violence with violence. However, as he succeeded in consolidating power in his hands, violence and political tensions gradually subsided.
Siaka Stevens sought to open the ranks of the party to all sectors of the community and to maintain a rough balance between ethnic groups, academics, clerics, businessmen and traditional rulers. His later years in office saw the gradual moulding of diverse groups into a unified nation, the progressive lessening of cultural and regional tensions, and the creation of a more homogeneous political community. The overall impact of these developments was to provide relative stability and gradual acceptance by all Sierra Leoneans of the authority of the A.P.C. government. It was little wonder therefore that there was no hitch when the time came for Siaka Stevens to pass on the mantle of leadership to a younger man. He will long be remembered for his wise sayings, and it could be said that he heard “Sh Sh…” and, being the wise chicken he always has been, got out of the way before a stone hit him on the head.
Doctor Stevens died on 28th May 1988 in Freetown.