SOS: Valentine Esegragbo Melvine Strasser

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SOS signal is a prosign, its respective letters have no inherent meaning per se

On April 29th 1992 I was 7 years old. Valentine Strasser was 25. The APC of my father and Joseph saidu momoh was at the zenith of its decay and decadence and way month don man dem noh day get pay but this is not a commentary on the politics of then or now. This is about Strasser. Every couple years or so someone takes interest writes an article in the paper and some people feel sad, others laugh, while many make a mockery of his current state rightly drinking his days away at a poyo bar living off his military retirement package. Some pipul dem kin say “if mi na bin Strasser ah noh fo bin end up so”. Ask anyone about Strasser and they have an opinion…”oh he started out well with the right intention but he lost it”, “na da im ooman way im bin day wit na im make im end up so” “na blood day fet am”.

Valentine Strasser is a victim and a perpetrator. A victim of youth, ignorance, arrogance, power, a perpetrator of violence and like most military dictatorships Strasser and his comrades were choked and strangled by excesses, ills, and the corruption of absolute power.

I lived in Sierra Leone for two years of their almost 4 year rule, from age 7-9 and mi na bin pekin but I remember the fear in grown folk’s eyes. The way people hush hushed when they spoke of the killings or jail sentences, early retirement, or who had left the country in exile. Congosa, rumors, and accusations beat the rhythms of the era. I heard Bambay Kamara had an underground safe with big snakes that he worshipped. I heard his house was ransacked. I heard his wife (who was a really good friend of my mom’s) was stripped naked in the street. My heart used to jump every time their convoys sped down the road causing chaos as cars swerved every which way to let them pass.

Those were the days when u could get a beating for getting to work late and grown men in suits would sweat beads as they were made to frog jump in the sun. Those were the days of kabasah lodge skirts and bleached out skins, pato banton’s “go pato”, community empowerment, national cleaning Saturdays, Leone Stars victories, and 50 heroes of Sierra Leone handbook, mural paintings and city wide beautification projects. Those were the days when people were scared into doing the right thing. Those were the days when being young was cool. Those were the days of national pride.

We left Sierra Leone in 1994 for Ethiopia and that concluded our NPRC experience and their regime went south after that. They plunged the coffers of the state and infighting led to a coup d’etat that oust Strasser and brought in another one of his comrades who eventually gave way to the democratically elected government of Tejan Kabbah.

Strasser is now in his early forties withering away and he could quite easily spend the rest of his days playing poyo to poyo. In fact with life expectancy the way it is in Salone he may not even have that long to live…who knows…

What I do know however, is that the constitution of Sierra Leone makes provisions for former heads of state and Strasser is not and has not benefited from it. Whatever your thoughts on Strasser or his regime we must show the man some compassion. It would be telling of us as a people if we let this man’s life close in such a way and do not find avenues to restore his dignity as a man, a citizen, and as a former head of state.

What message does Strasser’s current state send to young people?? If you ever get an opportunity to be in a position of power, steal mercilessly so u don’t end up like Strasser.

(Two of his former military comrades Maada Bio and Karefa Kargbo can both be found rubbing shoulders with Freetown’s elite. I wonder what they did right that Strasser did not)

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  • Aminata