A RESILIENT COUNTRY LIKE NO OTHER

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A RESILIENT COUNTRY LIKE NO OTHER

 

Everyone
passes through Freetown temporarily but never leaves’
This
is what you hear in the broadcast publicity as you board the boats which
transport you to the mainland in Sierra Leone.
Sierra
Leone is the special country in the West African sub – region that is known for
the slaves who were freed in the 18th century. Freetown, the capital
of Sierra Leone was founded for free people who came first from England and
then from North America and the Caribbean. It became very famous for its rich
natural resources especially diamonds. The world knows about the long fought
civil war that ravaged the country in the 90s. Images of amputees and people in
despair flashed across the media all through the decade. It was bloody. But the
resilient Sierra Leoneans pulled through.
The
country began a path of recovery and the world was happy. Truth and
reconciliation commenced and some of the guilty were punished even though this
did not in any way appease the lives lost or soothe the grieving and the
deprived. It didn’t bring back limbs or erase the nightmares of the violated.
But Sierra Leone was going to move on and be healed.
Fast
forward to March 2014 and a mysterious illness begins to ravage Africa. This is
one that nobody seems to comprehend. Scientists are looking for a cure and
there is world – wide panic. . It only took a couple of months for it to spread
to Sierra Leone. The country is at the centre of the Ebola crisis. That this
beautiful country of the free could once again be devastated was scary to the
inhabitants. Scary to the region. And the world was frightened.
Sierra
Leone is a resilient country. The good people were able to curtail the scourge
of Ebola and were back to good health.
This
month, Sierra Leone is once again in the news. This time with mudslides that
resulted from the rains. There are hundreds dead and many more hundreds
missing.
How
many lives can one country have? This is what I am thinking as we spend a most
turbulent 30 minutes on a boat ride going into Freetown after landing in Sierra
Leone. The sea was so rough, it seemed like it was mourning and very angry
about the losses. This month of August is the month with the highest amount of
rainfall in Sierra Leone and the mudslides had come as a result of heavy
rainfall.
The
UBA Group chairman, Tony O. Elumelu had decided he must visit the country after
reading and watching the plight of the Sierra Leoneans. On the way there he
kept saying: ‘How about the women and their children? We must help the people
of Sierra Leone’.
And
help was indeed on the way. It was very reassuring to see the Nigerian troops
on ground as we landed in Freetown. Nigeria is the big brother of Africa,
always ready to offer support wherever it is needed.
We
go straight to the Connaught hospital where victims of the disaster were being
treated.  We met the President of Sierra Leone, H.E Koroma and former
President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo. The reality of the disaster was
shocking. Seeing so many people lying in hospital beds with bandages and drips,
desolate and in despair. It is indescribable. These were the ones who had
survived. Hundreds were still missing and over 600 had been counted dead at
this point. We meet a woman whose two children are amongst the dead. She is
lying very sick in the hospital bed. No home; No family; No hope.
It
is the type of scenario that one often sees in the media but may never actually
witness in one’s lifetime. Sierra Leone is definitely in a crisis situation,
but the people of Sierra Leone are resilient.
President
Koroma invites us back to the State house after the most depressing visit. The
mood altogether was dour. The Group Chairman of UBA didn’t waste any time and
let the President know why we were there: ‘I come on behalf of the board and
management of the United Bank for Africa, UBA Group  and also on behalf of
the Tony Elumelu Foundation. We heard what happened to your country and we
deeply sympathise with your people. This is the third tragedy for Sierra Leone.
The war, the Ebola break out.’
“After
the war what Sierra Leone needed was massive reconstruction and development and
we felt that bringing business to Sierra Leone would help the process of
developing the country. UBA brought this and during the Ebola crises also, both
personally and also on behalf of the management and board of UBA Foundation we
were very moved to support our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone.
This
has touched the deepest part of our heart and writing a letter is not enough to
convey the feelings of our people and hence this trip.’
Elumelu
donated U$D250,000 on behalf of the UBA Group and another U$D250,000also on
behalf of his foundation, the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
“Having
seen the level of devastation and the impact it is having on your people, I
would like on behalf of UBA to support the effort in rehabilitating the men and
women in the affected areas with the sum of $250,000. On behalf of the Tony
Elumelu Foundation, I would also like to donate $250,000.  The $500,000 is
little and symbolic and can only be a bit of help because the victims need much
more than financial support. They need people to rally round them. We pray that
God will bring fortitude to them. That your people are very resilient and you
also provide good leadership. From the deepest part of my heart, we deeply
commiserate with you for what has happened’
President
Koroma seemed moved by this gesture. ‘Let me say that I am very much encouraged
by the letter you earlier sent to us with the sentiments expressed and also
very impressed that it didn’t end there. You continue to be of support to the
people of Sierra Leone. Your institution, UBA came after the war to provide
services required to support our rebuilding effort. During our fight against
Ebola you were here as a bank and also as a foundation to give us great
support. It is such support that enabled us win the fight against Ebola. We
have just concluded the 24 month recovery programme after Ebola when the mud
slide occurred. We are very grateful as a nation and know that in you, we have
a brother and this has been demonstrated over the years’
Koroma
says that the recovery effort for survivors is ongoing and that the government
is providing food shelter for survivors. Providing construction of permanent
settlements where those directly affected by the disaster will be moved as well
as those in disaster prone locations in hilltops and sea fronts. ‘It will be a
big exercise for the government over the next couple of years but something
sustainable has to be put in place. In all of this I must say that people have
been supportive’ he said.
Sierra
Leone has a lot of work to do to recover yet again. But the country has beat
disaster and misfortune before and they will most likely do so again.
Driving
back to the airport I couldn’t help but notice just how beautiful Freetown was.
It is surrounded by the Atlantic ocean. God’s own country nestled in the
warmest part of the continent.
The
people of Sierra Leone will come up again for air after the clouds have blown
over. They will rebuild and recover and they will again be free to live in
peace. How can they not?
For
more information about the disaster and to make donations, contact: The Office
of National Security(ONS), Freetown
Africell:
+232 99 258 926
Airtel
local Emergency Number: 119

 

Sierratel
Emergency Number: 119
 
By Bola Atta

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