PREPARING FOR CIVILIAN MURDERS - HOW MABAYLLA WAS TARGETED
Wednesday September 3, 1997: On this day, the ruling junta, the AFRC/RUF coalition of evil otherwise known as the beasts met at State House in the very heart of the capital Freetown. As usual, since they occupied that building, roads around were closed to motorised and human traffic with both sectors forced to use Fort Street and other diversions to get to their destinations.
It was an unusually long meeting as residents affected will later tell, but whatever was on the agenda was not made public and could have had those in the know sworn to secrecy and on the pain of death should they leak details of the meeting.
It was in the early hours of the next day, Thursday September 4, 1997 that Freetown residents were shown yet once again what the junta was capable of doing in carrying out any plan which they felt would enhance their desperation to hang on to power - no matter the number of lives lost as was again witnessed in that January 6 1999 mass murder of civilians.
For during the night of Wednesday 3rd and the early hours of Thursday 4th September 1997, the people of Mabaylla were subjected to a frightening and deadly barrage of fire and explosions from mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and withering fire from automatic rifles.
Frightened residents who managed to escape the initial volleys and expressed surprise at seeing armed men in military fatigues and civilian attire were ruthlessly mowed down. When the carnage ended, the junta was on the national radio, the SLBS to tell residents that during the night, Nigerian ECOMOG troops based across the estuary at Lungi had bombarded and that "our people have been deliberately murdered by Nigeria troops".
Junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma fired off a letter to the ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone in which he wrote
Even before junta spokesman Allieu Kamara went on state radio to announce that fifty civilians had been killed with scores wounded, doubts were already doing the rounds about the junta version of events. These doubts were increased when TV pictures showing in gory details the corpses and the dying as well as the gravely wounded did not appear to be from shells hurled from Lungi, but wounds consistent with those inflicted by machine gun fire, mortars and bombs from RPG's.
Even before the "official" statement was made one of the AFRC planners was at the SLBS at about 7am to tell the nation that Nigerian forces "had again killed our women and children in cold blood" and his presence at so early in the morning raised fears among those broadcast journalists around that something terrible had been done.
Indeed a medical doctor who was shown on TV, explaining the nature of the wounds said they "were consistent with injuries inflicted by bullets and other explosives".
With the junta now exposed, the showing of the pictures was halted and when next shown, the doctor's opinions had been duly removed!!!
Truth and Reconciliation Chairman and spiritual Head of the United Methodist Church (UMC) in Sierra Leone Bishop Joseph Christian Humper has now confirmed what no one at the time could say publicly for fear of being summarily executed.
That the junta carried out the Mabaylla murders with the sole purpose of having the international community put pressure on Nigeria to remove its troops from the country.
For many who grew up or were associated with that part of the city, that area though described as slum provided the elements that made them appreciate what life was all about - that while some breakfast tables boasted of "bacon en ham", there were other tables, sometimes none at all, though not boasting of the same fare yet produced great men and women who were later to contribute in whatever way to the positive development of the community in which they found themselves.
Life for the people of Mabaylla has always been a hard grind from day to day with inhabitants managing to survive it all despite the neglect of past administrations and indeed a visit to that part of Freetown will paint a graphic picture of the complete lack of state of social and health care in a capital that even in the twenty first century cannot boast of a sewerage system.
The Dove Cot Market area and other outlying "trading" centres provided the means of livelihood with many having to use their wits to stay free while fending for the needs of ever-hungry stomachs. Ask those in "high rise" quarters, living above the sea level that is Mabaylla and you are bound to get various pictures of the varying shades of characters that are rumoured to live along the shores that define Mabaylla.
Some would talk about a "haven of rogues and thieves", others would be more sympathetic and would say some of the inhabitants are masters in the art of "throwing the dice" while others would tell you from the corner of their mouths how it was along the shores of Mabaylla, with the golden sun setting below the horizon, that they first had their real encounter with.....while having their first pull on.......
Others would tell you that it was from these shores that stretched from Kanikay, through "Mowharf" ending up at the great Kroo Bay area that they were taught the practicalities of life which invariably included being taught how to "tie watta" that would eventually lead to "changy" and other activities.
Indeed if you were to take a walk around the Mabaylla area, you would notice traces of a once-vibrant trading post and port area with rail ruts still visible recalling the days of great commerce as goods were offloaded ships for the stores in Sierra Leone while produce from the country was loaded on board.
It was this same Mabaylla, after many years that witnessed the end of such activities whose inhabitants only came in useful to politicians when it was election time that witnessed a horror of horrors on the night of Wednesday September 3 and the early hours of Thursday September 4, 1997.
No need to paint the grisly scene, no need to paint the circumstances surrounding the suffering of those who survived, no need to paint a graphic account of what happened to those who emerging from their rooms and expressing surprise at certain uniformed people were gunned down in cold blood.
We present below our diary of events as things unfolded on the ground and witnessed by those who were not in the pay of the junta and were present in Freetown when the atrocities were committed against innocent and defenceless civilians by a regime claiming to be a government in power.
Diary of Events:
Wednesday September 3, 1997. Extraordinarily long meeting of the AFRC/RUF coalition of evil held at State House in central Freetown.
Thursday September 4, 1997. Tragedy unfolds. Scores are reported killed by bombs/missiles. Junta claims massacre carried out by ECOMOG forces based across the estuary in Lungi. Anti-Nigerian/ECOMOG/pro-democrat hysteria and hate whipped up on junta-controlled radio and television. One medical staff interviewed by junta-controlled TV publicly discloses that some of the victims bore wounds consistent with those inflicted by bullets.
Friday September 5, 1997. Funeral ceremonies for the dead held at the National Stadium. One Major Johnny Paul Koroma appeals to the international community for the removal of Nigerian/ECOMOG troops from Sierra Leone.
Saturday September 6, 1997. Meeting called by junta at City Hall to decide on what must be done to the ECOMOG troops based at Jui, some thirteen miles from centre of Freetown. Persecution/murder of Nigerians and pro-democrats continue. Sackville Street becomes a death zone for all Nigerians. Meeting decides on march on ECOMOG base at Jui. Anti-ECOMOG/Nigerian hate broadcasts continue
Sunday September 7, 1997. Early communion church goers turned back from church entrances. Urged to join march on ECOMOG positions at Jui. Hate broadcasts continue. "Cool heads" close to junta advise against preventing people from attending Sunday services. ECOMOG warns against proposed march using international media outlets as well as the 98.1 FM radio. March begins with some junta supporters forcing civilians at gun point to join the march. Warnings by ECOMOG still continue clearly defining the restricted zone that must not be crossed - a certain bridge on the road to Jui. March organisers get the message, falter and stop far short of Jui - at the Foamex factory just outside the city gates.