FACT CHECK: Did Julius Maada Bio Truly Qualify Sierra Leone For AFCON 1996?
On June 15, 2021, Sierra Leone became the 24th and last team to qualify for the Total Africa Cup of Nations scheduled to hold in Cameroon 2022.
With the qualification, the Leone Stars is returning to the continent’s flagship competition for the first time since their second participation in South Africa in 1996.
Sierra Leone defeated Benin 1-0 on Tuesday evening in a rescheduled game that took place at the General Lassana Conte Stadium in Conakry, Guinea.
President Julius Maada Bio a short video while congratulating the Leone Stars said that He is responsible for Sierra Leone’s National teams qualifying for the African Cup of Nations in 1996 and 2021.
In the video, the president said the team had the potential to qualify but he was the one with the key to unlocked their potential and he has now unlocked their potential as he did over 20 years ago.
The president in his speech said he had promised to take the National Team Leone Star to AFCON and he has delivered.
“When I promise, I deliver. I promised that I will take Leone Stars again to the continental stage. This did not come to me as a surprise at all. I believe the boys and I have inspired them enough in the same way I have always wanted to inspire this nation,” he said.
“We are a football-loving nation, and I am incredibly happy about this. Just as we trust and believe in ourselves, even out of the football field we can also take this nation to the international level,” he said in a short video released after the match.
“Congratulations to Sierra Leone. We are a football-loving nation, and today, our boys have made history. My government is committed to promoting football and other sports disciplines,” president Bio wrote on Twitter.
This statement has, however, been met with mixed reactions from the general public.
After the president’s short video and tweet, many Sierra Leoneans have expressed dissatisfaction with the comments made by the president saying he was not Head of State so he was ineligible to take the credit for the Leone stars victory in 1996.
Many said it was the then Head of State, Capt. Valentine Strasser should have the credit as he was the Head of Government when the country qualified.
Since the conversation has been going back and forth some supporters of the president have asked for pictorial proof of Strasser and the team.
It was this question that has picked the interest of Sylvia Olayinka Blyden a social commentator to write an article for publication in her local Newspaper.
She said in the article that the president was part of the team that destroyed Strasser’s properties and destroyed the evidence.
She also stated that the president does not deserve the self-acclaimed credit as it was through violent acts that he became head of state back then and now wants to take credit for Leone Stars qualification.
“You tried to steal his Credit and we have corrected you.
Now instead of crawling back to your holes, you want us to remind you of how you VANDALISED the man’s residence and destroyed all his photos on 16th January 1996?
Enough now‼️ ENOUGH. Strasser does not deserve this from you.”
In 1992 Sierra Leone had a coup d’état against the government led by a group of young military officers led by 25-year-old Captain Valentine Strasser on 29 April 1992. Strasser took control of the government, deposing President Joseph Saidu Momoh.
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In January 1996, after nearly four years in power, Strasser was ousted in a second military coup, but this time it was his own NPRC soldiers who were not satisfied with his handling of the peace process. The coup was led by his deputy, Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio.
This was due to a dispute within the governing Supreme Council of State (SCS) over whether to seek peace with the RUF before multi-party elections, planned for March 1996, or go ahead with the election notwithstanding the ongoing war in the country, and the conditions for participation (or disqualification) of junta members in the elections.
During the country’s coup, Sierra Leone had glamorous days in Football because in 1993 Winners, Amilcar Cabral Cup in Sierra Leone – 1st time, 1994 Finals, Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia – 1st time, 1995 Winners, Amilcar Cabral Cup in Mauritania – 2nd time, 1996 Finals, Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa – 2nd time.
In terms of other Competitions in 1993 Sierra Leone won the Amilcar Cabral Cup – Sierra Leone, 26/11/1993 Sierra Leone 1 Guinea 1, 30/11/1993 Gambia 1 Sierra Leone 1
Semi-Finals, 03/12/1993 Sierra Leone 2 Mali 0
Finals, 05/12/1993 Sierra Leone 2 Senegal 0
Sierra Leone was in the Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers during the following matches and in the following years
In 19/08/1992 Sierra Leone 1 Algeria 0, 04/10/1992 Guinea Bissau 0 Sierra Leone 3, 08/11/1992 Sierra Leone 2 Senegal 0, 09/04/1993 Algeria 0 Sierra Leone 0, 24/04/1993 Sierra Leone 2 Guinea Bissau 0, 11/07/1993 Senegal 1 Sierra Leone 1, 1995 Amilcar Cabral Cup – Mauretania, 18/11/1995 Sierra Leone 2 Guinea 0, 20/11/1995 Sierra Leone 2 Guinea Bissau 0, 22/11/1995 Senegal 1 Sierra Leone 1
Semi-Finals, Sierra Leone 2 Cape Verde 0
Final, Sierra Leone 0 Mauretania 0
Penalties Sierra Leone 4 Mauretania 3
Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers
04/09/1994 Ghana 4 Sierra Leone 1
16/10/1994 Sierra Leone 3 Congo 2, 08/04/1995 Sierra Leone 1 Ghana 0, 22/04/1995 Congo 0 Sierra Leone 2
Sierra Leone qualified for their 2nd ever Afcon finals in 1995
Finals Group Stages
15/01/1996 Sierra Leone 2 Burkina Faso 1, 18/01/1996 Algeria 2 Sierra Leone 0, 24/01/1996 Zambia 4 Sierra Leone 0, 1995/1996 Statistics for the 2 competitions show:
Played 9 Won 5 Drew 1 Lost 3 Goals For 20 Goals Against 17 Goal Diff +3
1993 to 1996 Statistics show;
Played 21 Won 11 Draws 6 Lost 4 Goals For 35 Goals Against 24 Goal Diff +11
In April 2018 the president made a manifesto commitment to restore sanity in Sierra Leone football and to make the nation qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in order to regain the lost glory and admiration it’s known for in the world of football.
The president inspired the team’s squad in that era to win the Amilcar Cabral trophy twice and to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations twice.
And this was achieved during the NPRC regime and with the help of two foreign coaches, Armenian coach Raymond Zarpanelian and young Swedish coach Roger Palmgren.
Although President Julius Maada Bio was not the Head of State when Leone Stars won the match that qualified it for AFCON 1996, the President was part of the government as the Deputy Head of State. Based on this premise, He can make the justified claim that he was part of the government that qualified Sierra Leone for AFCON 1996.