And so my first encounter with the man Peter Bonu Johnson, was through the enchanting commentaries of Radio Gambia legends like Bora Mbodge and Malick Jones. On those intense match days, the voices of the commentators would boom over the airwaves on medium wave (MW): “meanwhile Bonu Johnson; takes possession of the ball and clears it away. But blocked to touch; and ball since taken, the Gambians…”
I was to meet Bonu in person when I was hired as youth assistant at the Department of Youth and Sports headquartered at the independence stadium. Bonu was to be one of my supervisors there alongside other cool kotos like Pa Suwareh Faye, Abdoulie Kah, Mr. Demba and others.
Bonu always stood out for his businesslike attitude, devotion to duty and the occasional telling of the hard, unpleasant truth that can make others uncomfortable; but those of us who knew him well enough knew he always meant well.
His exploits in national service are quite legendary – from national team player to national team coach, Bonu has truly served his nation with distinction.
Has the nation rewarded him in turn? That is the question worth answering; not just for his sake but in the long term interesting of the nation. Or, Alas, are we going to continue to plead guilty to the timeless charge preferred against us by the Kora maestro Jaliba Kuyateh who sang in Mandinka “fatafing laa jamani bay kang; moe nyimmaa e mang wo keh feng ti. Naa faa ta, e kaa yeh tooraa yeh e laa!” (In Africa we don’t honour our great people but once they are dead we all proclaim : Indeed a great hero has passed away!”
I was to have further contacts with Bonu many years after I left the Department of Youth and Sports in my neighborhood at Kerr Sering and Sanchaba. That was when I found out the other side of Bonu, as a cultural connoisseur and a man devoted to religious service and communal activities.
He came to my mother-in-law’s house on festive occasions of the Christian tradition singing Christmas carols with children and youths. Those occasions just heightened my admiration and respect for Bonu. Here I saw a man who had “been there, done it,“ but remained well-grounded and in tune with his higher self.
I am no Saul Njie or Bora Mboge; neither am I Malick Jones. But I have breathed a bit of their legendary commentary spirits . And so I dare draw inspiration from them to bid the legend, Peter Bonu Johnson, Farewell:
Meanwhile, in the greater game of life, our man, the legendary Peter Bonu Johnson, did collect the pass, skillfully disciplined the ball on the ground; laid his own pass to the next generation, and bowed out gracefully.
Farewell Bonu, servant of the people
Never condoned hate or evil
On the pitch you proved your mettle
On the bench you raised the mantle
Thrust the nation to global level
Served Gambia without forgetting Jehova
To country and church you gave your all
Rest well commander of the ball
We shall remember your service to all.
RIP, Coach. Till we meet again.
Former Secretary General and Minister of Presidential Affairs, Economist, Author, and International Speaker.