Early Tensions between NPFL and RUF commandos
239. Tensions between the RUF vanguards and the Liberian-led NPFL faction started to arise at a very early stage of the conflict. Indeed, rather than being drawn out along strictly factional lines, instances of in-fighting were reported to have taken place even between members of the same groups. For example, a series of incidents in Bunumbu Town in Kailahun District demonstrated the types of bloody spats that broke out among NPFL fighters. A Gambian commando, apparently also Libyan-trained, known to his compatriots only by the name of Abraham, had carried out a summary execution of one of his Liberian colleagues who was alleged to have committed various atrocities against civilians.92
240. In retaliation for this act, Abraham was set upon by the leader of the Liberian group, Colonel Samuel Tuah, shot in each of his legs and left to bleed slowly to death. Some of the Sierra Leonean vanguards who had originally supported Abraham’s effort to quell such atrocities against civilians were understandably silenced by Tuah’s response. By demonstrating such a callous disregard for human life and by slaughtering those – even from among their own – who stood in their way, the Liberians succeeded in orchestrating a reign of terror over the territories they entered.
241. Sankoh was unable to control the Liberians. Had it been simply a question of financial or logistical support, perhaps Sankoh could still have retained the prerogative to direct operations on the ground, commanded the unbending loyalty of his troops and taken firm leadership decisions to guide his ‘revolution’ in the direction he alone saw fit. However, such a level of autonomy would prove impossible to achieve whilst up to 2,000 armed NPFL commandos were present on the territory of Sierra Leone. These fighters were detrimental to Sankoh’s leadership in two key ways. The most obvious is that collectively they had little respect for Sankoh once they crossed the border and therefore acted with malice and violence exactly as they wished, which was often against Sankoh’s will.
242. The second factor is perhaps not immediately perceptible, but would result in irreparable damage to Sankoh’s agenda. Having brought them here under the auspices of the RUF, he had to accept that in the eyes of the population these people were the RUF. Accordingly, whether Sankoh liked it or not, the acts and atrocities carried out by the NPFL fighters would be his ultimate responsibility.
THE MILITARY AND POLITICAL DYNAMICS OF THE RESPONSE TO THE ARMED INCURSION
The APC Legacy of Deficiencies in the Sierra Leone Army (SLA)
243. The Commission heard numerous testimonies regarding deficiencies in the conventional state security apparatus at the outbreak of the war. In their totality, these accounts paint a picture of grave abandonment of the basic needs of the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) under the APC, to the extent that the country was devoid of an operational Army when it needed one most in 1991.
244. Some witnesses have indicated a belief that the impoverishment of the military was merely symptomatic of the universally tight constraints on Government spending that blighted the APC regime, both prior to and after the start of the conflict.93 Others have speculated that the APC had purposely suppressed the development of the state military forces through a combination of misplaced priorities and ‘intense political interference’; according to a lucid and authoritative submission from Brigadier (Retired) Kellie H. Conteh, “it seemed a deliberate strategy to make the Army a non-effective fighting force.”94
245. In the light of the Commission’s findings on the system-wide bad governance of the APC, there is little need to reiterate here the extent to which the military was marginalised throughout the 1970s and 1980s. By the commencement of the conflict, the army didn’t have moveable vehicles, communication facilities were non existent, and most of the soldiers were not combat ready. They had not attended refresher courses or gone to the practice range for years. The senior officers had indulged in the good life and were therefore unwilling to go to the warfront. The army was simply in a mess.95 It is worthwhile to point out certain specific effects of that period of systematic institutional destruction insofar as they were relevant to the dynamics of the military’s involvement in the conflict.
246. The Commission heard scathing assessments from several long-serving officers. Colonel K. E. S. Boyah drew attention to the staleness as well as the small size of the force:
“Before the war, we just had this single full battalion; just First Battalion. It consisted of a little below 1,000 extremely old soldiers, who have been here before, during the advent of the post-colonial days. So they were permanently here and they were in their [relatively] large numbers. Then we had the Second Battalion of about 500 to 600 personnel; then the training units in Daru and Benguema. So it was not that much. I am not sure we were up to about 3,000; the infantry elements.”96
247. Colonel Bashiru Conteh delivered a similarly bleak verdict in his testimony:
“In my opinion because our Army was very small at the time, it was more or less a ceremonial army not really fit for combat… the few officers who were there were not competent officers.
[We] are talking about the entire Army including fewer than four thousand soldiers. In fact it was not even up to four thousand; it was just three thousand plus.”97
248. In spite of its withering numbers and apparently for the sake of keeping up international appearances, the APC Government had posted 377 soldiers – more than one tenth of its total troops – to Liberia in late 1990 to participate in ECOMOG operations there. Asked if this LEOBATT ‘Special Battalion’ comprised the ‘cream of the crop’, Colonel Bashiru Conteh, Adjutant to the deployment, responded as follows:
“I want to believe so because we were taken from different units and there were a lot of debates on the nomination of officers, the nomination of the NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) and even the nominations of the men. They were very selective.
That was the first International Mission after the Congo crisis in 1961. So the commander by then had hand-picked officers who could represent the country outside properly.”98
249. By the time a second LEOBATT contingent left for Liberia on 3 March 1991, it could be said that more than half of the SLA’s ‘competent officers’ were in fact stationed outside the country.
250. SLA troops had been rendered not only collectively dysfunctional, but also individually disaffected. From the testimonies of soldiers who filled both the senior and junior ranks at the outbreak of the conflict, it is clear to the Commission that personal, familial and tribal disharmonies had eaten away at the sense of common purpose that is supposed to be the very essence of a national army. At every level, right to the core of the institution, morale was pathetic.
251. In place of pride and professionalism, the soldiers – particularly senior officers – had indulged in vices such as embezzlement of public funds and favouritism along nepotistic or tribal lines. These were abuses of power that had been learnt and were copied from counterparts among the political elite. Their practice in the military meant that most of the officer class was corrupt while junior ranks harboured unhealthy levels of resentment towards their seniors.
252. The Army was also increasingly plagued by what were described to the Commission as ‘generation gaps’: fundamental disparities in the self-perceptions of different ‘generations’ of recruits, grouped by their year or ‘era’ of recruitment. Where a particular set of soldiers identified itself according to an exclusive ‘group mentality’, this would give rise to tensions and prejudices from and towards others.
253. One striking reference to this trend came in the testimony of Julius Maada Bio, a Lieutenant at the beginning of the war who would later become Head of State by virtue of his seizure of the Chairmanship of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). Bio identified a host of more stringent standards of attainment in the processes used to recruit or promote soldiers in the late 1980s and claimed that they had helped to develop “a totally different breed of officers”. According to Bio’s testimony, the officers who had benefited from the reforms of the 1980s were convinced of their superior pedigree:
“The bulk of the military by 1990 was just ceremonial… most of the old officers were there because of tribal affiliations and did not merit their positions. But if you compared our batch to previous batches, you would have realised a significant improvement… for example in the general level of education.”99
254. Bio’s statement appears to carry a lot of credence in fact. At least a degree of positive evolution seems to be attributable to the introduction of the Progressive Qualification Scheme, Levels One and Two (PQS 1 & 2), which was an initiative of the Operations Department to ensure that Army ranks were connected to merit. However, it should be reiterated that new developmental initiatives were terribly narrow in their scope; for example, only two sets of PQS 1 & 2 officers had graduated before 1991 and any further training programmes envisaged were nipped in the bud when war broke out. Thus, it would have been premature to think that the Army was somehow turning the corner towards higher standards.
255. The Commission has instead come to realise that even the modest incremental advances made in these areas were being interpreted by trainees and non-trainees alike as grounds on which to differentiate themselves from their colleagues and to assert their own superiority, regardless of rank. Loyalty, respect and obedience did not obtain along the lines of conventional command structure; they depended much more on arbitrary considerations such as where you were from, which ethnic group you belonged to and whether you might be amenable to engaging in or turning a blind eye to someone else’s malpractice. Quite apart from feeling that the politicisation and stigma attached to their collective identity was unjustified, many soldiers confessed to disillusionment with the ways in which personnel were treated within the military hierarchy.
256. It would be an understatement to say that the Army was not unified. There were innumerable cleavages in competence and perceived competence that served to divide and alienate at every level: they caused disagreements between members of the officer corps on key directional issues; they precipitated widespread mutual suspicion in the rank and file; and they distanced the former cadre from the latter.
257. In addition to the manpower weaknesses there were also operational deficiencies:
“The problem was that the whole thing was new to us. We were not prepared for it, in terms of training, in terms of arms and ammunition, in terms of getting the right structure to support a war machinery; and a lot of other things were against us in the system. Quite apart from the fact that the manpower itself was not there. The operations too were very new to us, because the conventional nature that is taught within the system was not what was applied by the rebels then. So it takes you sometime before people rethink to respond to the type of warfare that was introduced into the country.”100
258. Most of the units deployed along the first line of defence in 1991 were without any form of modern communications equipment. Although they were scattered across considerable distances and unforgiving terrain, they mostly depended on human messengers to transmit situation reports or pleas for assistance to neighbouring deployments.
259. The length of time entailed in delivering a message was almost always prohibitive of any robust preventive measures being taken by the recipient. Where fear or folly caused soldiers to act upon messages of this nature, they were actually more likely to put their own lives in jeopardy than to counter the reported threat:
“By the time a message was delivered at point B the situation would have been so different that any plan based on the message would prove to be useless and in most cases suicidal.”101
The Legacy of Political Preference for Paramilitary Forces
260. It is worth pointing out that the Special Security Division (SSD), effectively the paramilitary wing of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) force, had prospered in almost inverse proportion to the conventional military. The preference given to the SSD, formerly the Internal Security Unit or ISU, was attributable to the personal insecurities of Siaka Stevens, as the Commission heard from the incumbent Inspector-General of the Sierra Leone Police, Brima Acha Kamara:
“Once Siaka Stevens became Prime Minister in 1967 and the plans to unseat him failed, he began to rely more on the police than the military to protect him in undertaking his functions. A paramilitary wing was formed inside the police and gradually it became an instrument of tyranny and suppression. This was the start of the drift from [the police’s] traditional peace-keeping constitutional role to that of a fighting force and its subsequent failure to protect the people…”102
261. Many of the SSD’s functionaries had undergone advanced training abroad, notably in Guinea and in Cuba on state-sponsored programmes in the 1970s.103 SSD officers were the enforcers of the will of the Government and were always on hand to perform specialist security tasks as a complement, or a substitute, to the RSLMF, as the Army was then known. Notably the SSD had made a decisive contribution to the quelling of the Ndorgboryosoi rebellion in the Pujehun District in 1982. The participation of the SSD in such operations invariably made the military acutely aware of its own inadequacies, but the poorly-funded and institutionally backward RSLMF could not aspire to even rudimentary improvements, far less parity in combat capacity with the SSD.
262. The Commission has interpreted the predominance of the SSD over the military as a sign that the APC state had concentrated its resources on equipping itself to put down dissent and potential uprising domestically, including that which emanated from inside the Army. This preoccupation with internal security had a naturally debilitating effect on the RSLMF and in particular its readiness for an attack from outside the country.
Incapacity at the Point of the Attack on Bomaru and the Incursion into Sierra Leone
263. Neither the government in Freetown nor the army appeared to have taken the first armed incursion of 23 March very seriously. The military’s response to the events of 23rd March was very slow due to logistical and other problems
264. Although the strength of the Army deployment was bolstered from a platoon to a company, this increase in troop size happened only in Bomaru. Other areas of military deployments were still undermanned (with platoon size deployments) for a border that is about one hundred and fifty miles in length: any further attacks could not be easily defended. Under protected, the entire border region was left open to the attacks that followed the initial attack on Bomaru.
265. The army at that time was unused to any kind of warfare and so lacked the skills to counter the attacks that that followed 23rd March. It was purely a ceremonial army and was ill prepared for a war of this nature.104 It lacked logistics, and personnel. Intense political interference suppressed most training initiatives and the military had less training in field exercise since 1980.
266. For almost ten years, troops did not have the privilege of practicing their skills at the range for long periods even with their personal rifles. In 1989, the army had less than three infantry battalions (about 1,500 men) many of whom needed training; less than 30% of its transportation needs, less than 20% of support weapons and many more essential equipment in drastically short supply or non-existent.105 By 1991, the total strength of the military in Sierra Leone was less than four thousand, with the ‘cream of the crop’ deployed in Liberia as part of the LEOBATT contingent of ECOMOG.106
267. As early as 6th and 16th April 1991 officers of the Special Security Division SSD, Liberian United Defence Forces (LUDF) and Guinean troops were reported fighting alongside Government troops in Potoru, Mobai and Daru and parts of Kenema distirct. ‘Self defense committees were set up in the affected districts’: civilians used arms such as machetes, shot guns and sticks in support of the armed forces.107 Civil defense units were formed in many towns with volunteers receiving tactical training to combat possible rebel attacks on their towns and villages.108
268. Two months following the initial incursion, five senior officers Col. Lansana Turay, Major John Demby, Major Samuel Wellington, Capt. Theophilus Tengbeh and Capt. Maurice Banya were dismissed from the military. (These officers were in charge of most of the areas that fell to the rebels in the early days of the war.) The decision was a lighter penalty to court martial and had to do with the performance of these officers in their respective roles on the front lines in the eastern and southern provinces: they lost the confidence of the combat forces under their command.109
269. By June it was reported that government troops had virtually halted the progress of rebel forces in their clinical operation and were mopping up areas previously occupied by the rebels.
270. From the foregoing it is patently clear that the Sierra Leone Army embarked upon the eleven-year conflict from the brink of oblivion. The military was in a state of utter disrepair when the conflict broke out, hampered by ravaging deficiencies in its management, alarming inadequacies and glaring rifts in its human resources and a further catalogue of shortcomings across the full spectrum of its operational capabilities. In the views of some of those in the ranks, the range of problems afflicting the Army was so grave as to perhaps be insurmountable by whatever remedial efforts might be mustered in the decade that lay ahead:
“The Army was not worthy of being called a military force when the war broke out and it was never going to be possible to make it worthy of that name during the war.” 110
271. In a series of speeches designed to encourage solidarity among the local population and the various expatriate communities based in Sierra Leone, President Momoh was eager to portray the efforts to defend Sierra Leone against the threat of the insurgents as an issue whose successful resolution was in the interests of all the countries of the sub-region. Within two weeks of the outbreak of hostilities, Momoh announced that both Nigeria and Guinea had “responded positively to our requests [for assistance] by sending military hardware and soldiers,” 111 although the sizes and mandates of the respective deployments from these states remained a topic of some confusion and consequent debate. The Nigerians, for example, were moved to correct rumours in their local press that as many as three Battalions had been deployed in Sierra Leone soon after the start of the conflict, announcing that in fact their contribution numbered only 800 soldiers and that its role was restricted to guarding “airports and other key installations to ensure their protection from the threat of war.”112 In effect it appears that Nigeria had simply bolstered the defence of Lungi Airport, whose strategic importance was as much derived from its use as a take-off and landing point for ECOMOG flights over Liberia as from its status as Sierra Leone’s only international airfield. Indeed, the Commission did not receive any reports of the participation of Nigerian soldiers in warfront activities in Sierra Leone until later in the conflict.
272. The impact of the use of Guinean troops was much more immediately felt, although like that of the Nigerians, their positioning was representative of a broader sub-regional dimension to the conflict.
273. The original testimonies proffered to the Commission indicate that the events of Wednesday 29 April 1992 have been widely misinterpreted and misunderstood in the broader history of Sierra Leone’s conflict. The crucial feature of this landmark date is that notions of power and control in the military and political spheres converged significantly for the first time since the launch of the full-scale incursion just over a year earlier.
274. To the considerable and undoubted surprise of the wider population, the dynamics of the warfront were brought to the theatre of Freetown not by the insurgent forces but by elements of the national Army. Thus the fifteen years of one-party rule by the All People’s Congress (APC) were brought to an end in the space of a single day by a cunning and decisive coup plot conceived, organised and executed by a contingent of SLA junior officers. It culminated in the establishment of a military administration led by Captain Valentine E. M. Strasser under the nomenclature of the National Provisional Ruling Council, (NPRC).
275. The inference that the coup was connected to the insurgency is not entirely misplaced, for each of the men at the heart of its conception had been engaged in head-to-head combat with RUF forces for the several months immediately prior to April 1992, often being asked to overcome massive logistical constraints as well as incontestably fierce adversaries. However it is entirely mistaken to extrapolate further that the action was the handiwork of the insurgents, or even that they must have had a hand in it.
276. The NPRC coup plotters acted as an independent group with an autonomous agenda. They did not overthrow the Government in order to secure victory for the RUF or to validate the insurgents’ objectives in waging war on the state. Nor did they intend for a moment to unify ranks with the militiamen they had been fighting against and call a halt to the hostilities that were ravaging the country.
277. Such direct connivance would have been welcomed by the RUF – or, more accurately, at least by the RUF’s Sierra Leonean fighters – and to a great extent its troops were disappointed when no such offer to form an ‘Army of national unity’ was forthcoming from the junta leaders. Yet to suggest that the non-invitation to the RUF after 29 April 1992 was tantamount to a broken promise is to miss the point about this coup and to imagine too far into the potential conspiracy theories of this conflict.
278. The coup-plotters’ motives for seizing the power of Government had everything to do with their collective sentiment that their predecessors had abused power to the detriment of the people of Sierra Leone. In the first instance, as Strasser himself testified to the Commission, the move for a coup was driven by the fact that the APC’s mismanagement of the war effort had left a lot to be desired:
“Fundamentally why the Army, in my view, took a decision to go for a regime change was because troops in the front had not the support that they needed to fight the war. Rations were not available; re-enforcements were not available; re-supplies were not available. Officers and men were losing their lives… So it became evident that the Government was negligent in the handling of the war.”113
279. At the same time, though, the Commission recognises that it was a desire for a lot more than simply control of the military that brought Strasser and his colleagues to Freetown.
Motivation and Planning for the Coup
280. The Commission heard that planning for a coup in late April 1992 had begun approximately one month in advance of the date chosen to execute it. A core group of officers, among whom were Valentine Strasser, Solomon A. J. Musa (commonly called SAJ Musa) and Julius Maada Bio were the lynchpins, had begun to strategise for the overthrow, from their respective postings in the Provinces.
281. Strasser at the time was convalescing at Tekoh Barracks, Makeni, having sustained an injury during fighting in the East of the country. He nevertheless travelled frequently back eastwards for a number of co-ordination meetings with Maada Bio in Segbwema, Kailahun District. Asked as to the exact nature of his role in organising the coup, Maada Bio testified to the Commission that:
“I was one of the actual planners because I was in the centre of our operational area… I wouldn’t say I conceived the plan… but there was a commonality of purpose at the time.”114
282. Among the others who contributed to the planning were Tom Nyuma, Komba Mondeh, Charlie Mbayo, Komba Kambo and even Johnny Paul Koroma, who attained subsequent infamy mainly for his part in another coup.115 All the men involved in the NPRC plot had been members of the same warfront operations in which Strasser had been a commander in the East; under the APC’s renaming and re-aligning of the troops as described above, most of these men were in the ‘Tiger Battalion’, with Musa and Nyuma the notable exceptions in the ‘Cobra Battalion’.
283. The coup-making group comprised largely Lieutenants and Second Lieutenants in rank, with Strasser, as the sole temporal Captain, a moderate notch above the rest. The death in action of one of their like-minded comrades, Lieutenant Prince Ben Hirsch, in the February before the coup, had proven to be a decisive source of resolve and single-mindedness on the part of the plotters.
284. In particular, the widespread suggestion of Government complicity in Hirsch’s death gave rise to a shared sentiment among these young, committed officers that they could not afford to leave their lives in the hands of a notoriously slippery and unfaithful political elite:
“We felt that we were being used as pawns; we felt neglected. We decided that it was better to come and fight in town than to die out there.”116
285. Hirsch’s death had apparently also brought about the ‘moral support’ of John Benjamin, the deceased’s elder brother, who was naturally suspicious of the APC elite and convinced that a coup by the soldiers could serve his own purposes. Benjamin was thus one of the few civilians to be informed of the coup plot in advance, and would become a crucial ally to the new administration due to his familiarity with the political terrain and his contacts in business.
286. The main motive of the coup as it was described to the Commission by Julius Maada Bio was to try to instil a more vivid connection between the state and its citizens. Maada Bio cited inadequacies in the delivery of services such as healthcare, squandering of the state’s natural resources and the continued unresponsiveness of the Government over exigencies such as record unemployment and continual shortages of fuel and electricity. These amounted, in Maada Bio’s analysis, to an awfully indignifying existence for the average Sierra Leonean, quite apart from the fact that the war was visiting especially acute suffering on large sections of the population in the East and the South:
“We knew that the social conditions were ripe for a change. There was no rice; people would quite literally kill for two or three gallons of petrol; and they used to call Freetown the ‘darkest city in the world’. Nothing seemed right and all that people really wanted was for someone to do things right.”117
287. In Maada Bio’s further evidence to the Commission he went on to philosophise about his perception of ‘a coup’:
“A coup is not just about taking ground; it is a mental battle. You are working together with people and you have to know that they are ready for it. If they are not ready for it, don’t try because you are going to lose.”118
288. It is apposite to place Maada Bio’s comments into their correct context and deduce that he was in fact reflecting on the potential hazards that his own coup faced and only narrowly overcame. For all that the coup-plotters thought they knew each other well enough to trust in one another’s readiness and adherence to the script, their individual characters would only show themselves fully at the moment of truth.
289. It is here that the imponderables of the ‘mental battle’ to which Maada Bio refers come to the fore. The NPRC coup was not to be thwarted altogether by such imponderables, but would come into being in a subtly different manner that has until now widely influenced the way it is seen in the eyes of Sierra Leoneans and the world.
The Execution of the Coup
290. Partly due to the aforementioned element of surprise that caught much of the nation off guard, it has become common for people to think of the action of 29 April 1992 as something that started out as a spur-of-the-moment mutiny against the unbearable conditions of service at the front.
291. This version of events points to a build-up of unpaid salaries and undelivered consignments of medical supplies as the root of the problem; it maintains that the soldiers despatched their delegates to Freetown to register their discontent with the High Command and had nothing more grandiose in mind than that. Public and personal euphoria, it is said, was what drove the young officers to rush to State House, after which they suddenly found themselves in power.
292. This version of events does not reflect what really happened. The reasons for the myth are understandable, on the one hand, because the plan that was in place was not precisely adhered to in the event. The NPRC coup was a pre-conceived overthrow of the Government, in which the modalities were planned but the implementation was improvised.
293. To convey clearly these separate ‘layers’ of the coup, it is necessary also to present something of the background to its three main orchestrators and their roles. First, Valentine Strasser was final choice (after the coup makers had considered and discarded Jusu-Sheriff) to lead whatever administration would stand to be constituted in the wake of a successful operation. He had been injured at the warfront and was stationed at Tekoh Barracks, Makeni, by the time of the proposed action. He would ultimately engineer a way of being in Freetown at the right time through somewhat convoluted means, as the Commission heard from Colonel K. E. S. Mboyah, Strasser’s erstwhile Battalion Commander:
“Strasser then was my Impress, my Paymaster you know… He asked for permission to come to Freetown, to do one or two transactions for the Battalion; so he left. We stayed for a couple of days without hearing from him. So I had to send to town to find out what the whole situation was about. He called to tell me that definitely he has some problems with the guys at Headquarters.
[…] But the whole problem was that, whilst he was leaving [his residence in] Allen Town to come to Headquarters on foot, I think because of the rainy season he had some kind of cold and he was being treated… that was why he didn’t get on to me, but promised that in the next two days he will be back with me in Makeni. Only to find out later, two days later, [one of my men] said he heard somebody’s voice on the radio [declaring] that a coup had taken place and that the person talking was Strasser.”119
294. Strasser’s movements were crafty and evasive of official monitoring. First by taking the leave of his commander to go to the city to pick up salaries for the month, he planted a different premise in the minds of his superiors. Then by reporting himself sick and extending time at his residence he kept clear of suspicion as the coup approached. Finally by relaying a fabricated story to his commander at base that there were delays with the salaries, which would necessitate his prolonged stay in Freetown to ‘sort out the problem’, he fuelled an erroneous retrospective assumption about why the coup had taken place. Upon hearing Strasser’s voice on the radio on 29 April 1992, Mboyah and others assumed that it was a case of protest about their salaries that had got out of hand.
295. The impression that the coup was an impromptu action by disgruntled soldiers from the front was lent credence by the actions of SAJ Musa and Tom Nyuma. SAJ Musa, the second key player in the NPRC administration was to become ever more conspicuously troublesome from this point onwards. Brash and tactless in the extreme, Musa had set out for Freetown in the company of Tom Nyuma, two days in advance of the agreed upon date. The duo had, in their apparent gusto, commandeered a number of trucks filled with their men and ‘bulldozed’ an unspecified number of checkpoints on their route into the city, alerting the Army High Command to the imminence of a possible coup plot in the offing. It was this blunder, precipitated by Musa’s gung-ho style, which gave credence to the assertion that the NPRC administration had been born out of bravado and exuberance, devoid of careful contingency planning.
296. While there is no doubt that Musa and Nyuma were quite unrestrained in their individual and dual approach to the whole notion of taking power, testimony before the Commission enables it to conclude that the operation was lent sufficient forethought to be described as a deliberate and pre-conceived attempt to unseat the incumbent President.
297. The coup was originally scheduled to take place on 30 April 1992, one day later than it actually transpired. Maada Bio reflected somewhat scornfully on the advance of Musa and Nyuma on 28 April 1992 in his testimony to the Commission, surmising that their action had left him “stranded at Daru.”120
298. There are lessons about both the strengths of the coup-plotters’ planning and the weaknesses of the state’s defence mechanisms to be drawn from the relative ease with which the long-standing Government was overthrown. In the case of the former, the Commission heard evidence from Maada Bio that the last-minute hastening of the coup agenda did not adversely affect its outcome because all the logistical supplies were already in place; for example, the requisite firepower had been smuggled into Freetown in a concerted and methodical fashion in the weeks preceding the coup:
“We actually smuggled a lot of ammunition into different points in Freetown – not any serious arms, just small arms… Nobody in town was involved; we were all members of that same Battalion… Komba Kambo was responsible for most of the actual transporting.”121
299. As for the weakness of the defensive effort, the coup became the final legacy of the many deficiencies in the APC’s management of the state security apparatus, as described above. In this case, the crucial factor appears to have been short-sighted political favour-mongering, whereby the political elite had afforded ‘comfortable’ positions in the city to those officers with nepotistic, tribal or other connections in order not to expose them to the dangers of the warfront.
300. These functionaries were of course lacking in battle-hardness, while all the best fighters from other Battalions were posted to their respective fronts in the war against the NPFL and RUF. Thus the defence of the Presidency was left in the hands of willing auxiliary staff who were never likely to be a match for the assembled coup-makers, as was pointed out to the Commission by Kellie Conteh:
“The NRPC coup could not possibly have been resisted by the hotchpotch of cooks, drivers, tailors and carpenters hurriedly put together as a resisting force to stop it. Internal indecisiveness among the APC party strongmen completed the comedy of errors because even the SSD, which had been developed for that purpose at the cost of the development of the Army, could not be given clear orders.”122
301. The battle for State House that ensued, beginning at around 8.00 a.m. on 29 April 1992, was reported in the international media to have pitted as many as sixty SLA soldiers against the ramshackle Presidential security squad, during which the soldiers were only able to take over the premises “after blasting two huge holes in the side of the building with a mortar.” 123 The situation in the immediate vicinity of State House had apparently calmed down by the mid-afternoon, after which other parts of the city were said to have experienced “sporadic shooting,” 124 before the whole affair settled out into a “relatively quiet night.” 125 The Commission was unable to ascertain, on the evidence available to it, whether anyone was in fact killed or seriously injured in the course of these skirmishes.
302. The NPRC came to power through a relatively bloodless coup. It is also apparent that the ranks of those in favour of the coup in fact swelled considerably as awareness of the action spread. Not only police and military officers, but also members of the Freetown public actively encouraged the overthrow to succeed.
303. One element of unresolved ambiguity was the role on that day of Lieutenant Colonel James Yayah Kanu, the erstwhile Commander of the Eastern-based ‘Cobra Battalion’ from which some of those involved in the coup had travelled to Freetown. Kanu was definitely not among the contingent who planned and executed the coup, nor did he jump on the bandwagon as it rumbled into power.
304. On the contrary, Kanu was thrown amidst the chaos of 29 April 1992 on behalf of the Government to act as a kind of pacifier to the coup-makers, or a mediator between them and the troops who remained loyal to President Momoh. In spite or perhaps because of the fact that he initially brought a degree of persuasion to bear on some of the junior officers, particularly on Tom Nyuma whom he had formerly commanded, Kanu’s intervention was held in contempt by the coup’s ringleaders.
305. Kanu thought the men’s actions would discredit the military and he appears to have said as much in his efforts to appease; instead the approach served to inflame their disgust.126 Thus Kanu was instantly, arbitrarily detained at Freetown Central Prison on 29 April 1992, from whence, due to circumstances described below, he would not emerge alive.
306. Testimony available to the Commission indicated that the Government was actually aware that a coup was in the offing. Intelligence information received on 10th December 1991 was that two coups were being planned by majors and captains respectively, with details about the planners. However a senior official of the government doubted that the information was passed on to the President, Joseph Momoh. In his view, a number of important officials of the APC regime wanted regime change for their own personal agenda. Many of them including the then Force Commander Major General Tarawalie and other senior military officers were aware of the coup and did not lift a finger to stop it. When he finally confronted the President with the information, he saw total resignation and an unwillingness to confront the challenge by the President.127