Monday May 25, 2015
- Dare we forget? They wish. No way. For it was on this day 18
years ago in 1997 that the beasts were let loose upon an
unsuspecting nation that was testing out new democratic
principles even as the RUF did its best to gain power by
whatever means - murder, abduction, rape, arson and looting.
No one at that time will ever
forget that Saturday night as it turned into a Sunday morning.
The sounds of heavy firing could not be dismissed as another
prank by unruly security forces testing their firearms. The
intensity and sounds including loud explosions suggested that
this was more than met the ear. Bewildered and frightened
residents of the capital had no inkling of what was in store -
that this was the beginning of a phase in the history of the
capital and indeed the country as a whole that was the most
bloody and cruel. This was the birth of a monster named the
Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, the AFRC.
What made many suspect that
things were amiss was the constant play and replay of Christian
religious tunes by an announcer on duty on the national radio
station, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, the SLBS, who
from his voice, was not so sure of what was going on, nor what
to tell listeners. Things became clearer amid the continuing
sounds of firing when a voice, sounding pretty incoherent and
downright drunk announced in a language that was neither the
lingua france krio nor the Queen's language - that the barely
year-old democratically elected government of President Ahmad
Tejan Kabbah had been overthrown.
It sounded quite unbelievable
to the ears of many in the capital and throughout the country
who had hoped that the 1996 General Elections would at last see
the true end of four years of military rule of the National
Provisional Ruling Council, the NPRC headed at first by one
Captain Valentine Strasser and then after a late palace coup by
his former deputy one Julius Maada Bio.
Older residents of the capital
have heard the sounds of gunfire before - from the 1967/68
debacle through the various alleged coups announced by the
Stevens and Momoh regimes to the Strasser takeover on April 29,
1992 - but this Sunday morning firing was by far the most
intense with small arms fire and the sounds of explosions
combining to create fear and uncertainty.
This uncertainty was further
increased with the announcement by the coup leaders that the
main prison, Pademba Road Prison, had been blown open and all
the inmates freed. What made it even frightening was that hard
core criminals including soldiers on various armed robbery,
murder and other serious charges were re-armed and let loose
upon the population. The massive looting that accompanied this
was unprecedented. Shops were blown open, residents forced at
gunpoint to part with valuables including vehicles. To refuse or
argue meant instant death. Not even the diplomatic community was
spared as UN and other agencies found their offices ransacked.
Again we would like to
reiterate that the coup announced by one Staff Sergeant Gborie
and whose unrecognised "government" became known as the AFRC
headed by one Major Johnny Paul Koroma, who was on trial for an
alleged coup attempt against the Kabbah government, was not a
popular one. Many professional soldiers refused to be a part of
the murderous and plundering mass of undisciplined mob that was
a hallmark of the new men and women in power. And to swell their
ranks and to make Sierra Leone ungovernable, this mob invited
the murderous and human rights-abusing RUF, the Revolutionary
United Front of Foday Sankoh to join them.
an account of the
May 25, 1997 coup from the pages of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission (TRC) of Sierra Leone.
in the day there was a phone call from London to Major Johnny
Paul Koroma by Omrie Goley the external spokesperson of the RUF, who said
he had heard the radio broadcast calling on Sankoh to join the new government.
He said that in the interest of peace he was going to make Sankoh’s phone number
in Nigeria available to the coup plotters.
Major Johnny Paul Koroma then called
Sankoh in the presence of some of the coup leaders such as “Zagallo” and Tamba
Gborie. Major Koroma told Foday Sankoh that the war was over and invited Sankoh
to take over the leadership of the new government. Sankoh replied that this was
impossible since he was detained in Nigeria.
He commended the plotters for their
nationalistic action in inviting the RUF to join the new government and
requested that he wanted to relay a message to his fighters which he wanted
recorded immediately. He gave his blessing to the new regime and called on all
his fighters to come out of the bush and join the new government.
directed to henceforth take all orders from Johnny Paul Koroma. This statement
was subsequently rebroadcast repeatedly on the state run radio station. The
invitation to the RUF was justified as necessary to end the war."
the beginning of a complete
breakdown of law and order
that was unprecedented in the history of Sierra Leone.
freedom was curtailed and all journalists perceived as anti-AFRC/RUF
were subjected to massive repression with arbitrary arrests and
the good books of the rights-abusing regime were pampered with
stolen cash, valuables, looted vehicles as well as fuel from
military-controlled fuel outlets. It is interesting to note that
the same cadre of AFRC/RUF-supporting "journalists" during those
trying times are the same, with a new additions who are singing
to high heavens the undemocratic moves by the rat at State House
who we suspect, must have been a supporter of the beasts.
part of a
report on what was in for journalists -
"As with other critics
of the military coup and the AFRC, journalists soon became the targets for
threats, ill-treatment, arrest and detention. On 3 July 1997 the Sierra Leone
Association of Journalists (SLAJ) issued a statement saying that it was
committed to the restoration of democratic and constitutional rule and the
speedy restoration of the elected government of Sierra Leone.
The same month SLAJ
condemned the AFRC for its unprecedented harassment and intimidation of
During the week of 9
June 1997, some two weeks after the military coup, Ojukutu Macaulay, editor of
The Quill newspaper and also the host of a live radio broadcast, "Good morning,
Freetown", was reported to have gone into hiding after being confronted by a
group of soldiers. Also in early June
1997 journalists working for For di People newspaper were threatened following
articles critical of the AFRC.
A correspondent for the British Broadcasting
Corporation (BBC), Sylvester Rogers , based in Makeni, Northern Province, was
also reported to have gone into hiding in June 1997 after soldiers sought to
locate him after he filed reports critical of the AFRC. Several months later, in
early October 1997, he was reported to have been arrested and severely beaten
and his passport seized.
In the weeks which
followed, an increasing number of journalists were arrested and detained,
apparently only because of undertaking their professional activities and
legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression. Four newspapers
critical of the AFRC closed down after receiving threats."
Journalists deemed to be critical of the regime were reported on
by colleagues who were now aligned with the junta and used their
connections with the rapists and murderers to have perceived
anti junta journalists arrested, harassed and humiliated.
us remind you of an attack on a colleague who was perceived as a
pro democrat and anti-junta. This is a part of
Umaru Fofanah's account.
young and curious stringer for the BBC, I decided to visit the
burnt-out house to file an eyewitness account of the damage. At
the house, which was close to the Juba military barracks, I was
accosted by irate soldiers. I was arrested and accused of being
a reporter for the clandestine 98.1 FM pro-democracy radio. They
started slapping and hitting me in the head with rifle butts and
helmets. One of them restrained the others from continuing the
asked me in Krio, the local parlance, whether I had filmed the
burned out house. I protested to no avail. At this point they
demanded to know my name. I hesitated before telling them. They
seized my file from me to cross-check. As I was being dragged to
their nearby check-point, one of them said in Krio: "Aha! He is
that BBC reporter who says all bad things about us."
Unfortunately, my file contained a copy of my newspaper, Vision,
in which I had written an article titled "AFRC's Political
Masturbation", with my by-line.
Seconds later I heard two gunshots. It took a while before I
realised that I had been shot in my right leg -- the tibia bone
was fractured. I couldn't walk any longer and so decided to hop
on my left leg. They started hitting me again with their rifle
butts and helmets. I fell several times, but was forced to get
up as they kicked me with their boots.
managed to hop until we reached their check-point. The others
that were manning the post joined in the beating. I can vividly
remember one of them attempting to pull his trigger on me when a
sergeant stopped him, saying: "Don't kill him yet. He has some
vital information to pass on to us."
is the same evil outfit that committed grave human rights abuses
against the civilian population from the time they illegally
seized power, through when they were kicked out in February 1998
and their attempt to seize power using each and every brutal
tactics including the infamous January 6, 1999 mass slaughter of
some five thousand civilians.
indiscriminate and deliberate shelling of civilian resident of
Mabaylla in the east of the capital on the night of September3/4
1997 is well recorded.
One of the beasts in his
testimony at the trial of Charles Taylor, their Liberian
overlord is quoted as stating -
witness testified that when he was in Masiaka on the retreat
from Freetown in February 1998, he and various commanders heard
Johnny Paul Koroma on BBC radio announcing “Operation Pay
Yourself”. Sesay said Koroma explained that since being ousted
from Freetown by ECOMOG forces he could no longer pay his
soldiers, so he was ordering them to loot whatever they wanted
from civilians. Sesay said that after that announcement there
had been a “continuous looting spree”.
admitted, “Between my God and myself, I participated in the
looting”. He said that where he was, civilians were captured and
forced to carry loads of looted goods to the town of Makeni. He
also witnessed looting in Lunsar, and saw civilians being forced
to carry loads for RUF and AFRC commanders from Lunsar to Makeni.
In Makeni itself, the witness said that he went with his boss,
Hassan Papa Bangura, and Ibrahim “Bazzy” Kamara to break into a
bank and steal money from a safe. He described rampant looting
from shops and civilians in the town.
Sesay described a meeting of AFRC/RUF commanders convened by
Johnny Paul Koroma in Koidu Town, Kono district shortly after
AFRC/RUF forces captured it in March 1998. At the meeting, which
the witness said he attended, Koroma explained that the
civilians of Kono were against them. He said the area should be
made a no-go zone for civilians: their houses should be burned,
the able-bodied should be put to work, and all other civilians
should be executed...
witness said that after this meeting, he went with Hassan Papa
Bangura, other AFRC members, and RUF members to Yardo Road in
Koidu, where they encountered a group of civilians and shot them
all dead. Sesay said he could not remember how many people they
had killed. They then displayed the corpses at road junctions
because the chairman (Koroma) had said they should create fear
so that other civilians wouldn’t come to Koidu.
Despite all what had happened, with the disruption of democratic
governance from May 25, 1997 to time they were ousted after nine
months of brutal dictatorship, elements of junta supporters
would still want their readers to believe that the ousted SLPP
government ruled for 11 uninterrupted years from 1996 to 2007
deliberately and conveniently forgetting the dastardly military
interregnum of the beasts.