Serious political crisis brewing in Sierra Leone

The political fallout between Sierra Leone’s ruling SLPP and the main opposition APC over the killing of eleven prisoners, with dozens more injured, has begun.

It started yesterday when the chairlady of the ruling SLPP Women’s Wing – Fatmata Sawaneh , spoke in an audio recording, explaining and defending the role played by the SLPP party in Tuesday’s rioting at the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown.

Her audio recording is revealing, and itself calls for serious investigation.

The rioting according to reports, started at about 9am. Fatmata Sawaneh said that she arrived at the prison at 3am, and that the Chief of Defence Staff arrived there at around 4am, followed by the deputy minister of internal affairs – Lahai Lawrence Leema at about 6am – along with a number of armed presidential guards.

The questions many in Sierra Leone are asking, are:

What were they doing at the prison for up to six hours, prior to the start of the rioting?

Why is the government conflating governance and policing matters with party political affairs?

Since when did SLPP as a party political institution become an arm of government – which is comprised of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary?

Are SLPP operatives now a part of state security apparatus?

Why is president Bio allowing party political interference in policing and state security?

Is this the good governance that he promised, which he said will be a break from the past?

Shortly after the release of that audio, the Secretary General of the opposition APC – Dr. Osman Yansaneh issued the following statement on behalf of the APC party, warning the international community that his party may no longer feel obliged to restrain its members from seeking justice against state persecution and violence. This is what he said:

“The All People’s Congress notes with grave concern developments that took place yesterday at the Pademba Road Maximum Security Male Correctional Centre that led to the burning of government properties and loss of valuable human lives.

Our understanding is that there was a riot at the Centre and the security forces, including the heavily armed Presidential Guard and other security personnel rained live bullets on the prisoners and Prison Officers that the public thought were in one of the safest places to be in Sierra Leone. .

Without prejudice to any of the conflicting reports so far received from Government and media outlets, the APC notes with grave concern that some of the initial video footages that have made there way into the public domain show videos of known SLPP thugs like Tanibola that our sources tell us was never an inmate in that Correctional Centre.

That he now found himself inside the Correctional Centre can only lend credence to the aspersions making the rounds on social and other media that this alleged prison riot was another dastardly ploy by the SLPP and its operatives to kill innocent civilians and inmates including senior members of our Party including Major Retired Palo CONTEH, Herbert George Williams, ABU Bakar DARAMY and AMADU Koita who at the time of the incident where in the custody of the security forces.

The APC is further appalled by the fact that armed security forces raided the home of Palo CONTEH, harrassed the occupants of the house and took into custody the innocent wife of our dear Comrade Palo CONTEH. The whereabouts of our Comrades have since remained unknown and all attempts by the leadership of our Party and the legal team to reach them have proved futile.

Reports making the rounds indicate that our comrades are currently being held under very inhumane conditions and the health conditions of some of them have deteriorated significantly.

The leadership of the APC wishes to make it known to President Julius Maada Bio and the SLPP Government that the APC will hold them singularly and collectively responsible if anything is amiss to our Comrades and of course for the innocent lives that were lost during the skirmishes. The APC therefore demands immediate information on the whereabouts of our comrades, and access to them by our lawyers and leaders of our Party.

The APC leadership wishes to inform our development partners and the international community that the harassment and intimidation of the APC and its members has now reached a level that is unbearable. The leadership of the APC can no longer guarantee our partners that we can restrain our members that are seeking for justice and the protection of their fundamental human and basic rights.

We shall continue to consult with our members around the country and in the diaspora on this and related incidents that clearly threaten to undermine the peace and security of our beloved country that we have all fought so hard to uphold and protect over the years. Long Live Sierra Leone. Long Live the indomitable APC Party. Aluta Continua.” (END).

This statement by the APC was immediately met with a response from the ruling SLPP, issued by its National Secretary General – Umaru Napoleon Koroma, blaming the opposition APC for the rioting at the Pademba Road Prison on Tuesday. He said:

“The public will recall that on Wednesday April 29, panic gripped the entire country, after a group of prisoners rioted at the Pademba Road Correctional Center and set buildings in the center ablaze. Preliminary findings indicate a well orchestrated prison break with the intent to free detained persons standing trial for serious offenses ranging from treason to murder.

As a ruling party, we feel obliged to launch our own investigations into the ugly incident which almost brought the entire Freetown to a standstill on that day and led to an unwarranted loss of lives and destruction of government property. We will liaise with the security forces and will inform our membership of the outcome of our investigations.

However as a preliminary statement, the SLPP condemns the attempted prison break and futile efforts to free some high profile prisoners. It was a well calculated ploy to disrupt the peace and serenity of the country.

At a time when government is focused on fighting the global Covid-19 pandemic, it will be most unpatriotic of anybody to distract it or scuttle the fight. We sympathise with the families of those who lost their lives in that unfortunate incident. The party will make every effort to visit their homes and extend our sympathies to their family members.

It is obvious from the puerile press statement of the main opposition All Peoples Congress (APC), that their leadership was either part of the plot or accomplices to yesterday’s act. In their press statement, the APC Secretary General in full knowledge of the grave offences some of their members have been charged with and for which they are waiting trial before our courts, has ignored the seriousness of the issue yesterday and as usual chosen to turn the situation into a political one.

The government of Sierra Leone has the sacred duty to provide security for every Sierra Leonean and at the same time prosecute anyone who commits an offence against the people and state of Sierra Leone, devoid of political, tribal or regional attachments.

Whilst we do not wish to dignify their baseless claims of SLPP members masquerading as security officials and entering Pademba Road Correctional center, we wish to draw the attention of the public to threats made on social media by one of their mouth pieces carrying the nickname Adebayor exactly ten days to yesterday’s incident. In that social media stunt Adebayor informed his followers that the Pademba Road Correctional Center would be burnt if Alfred Palo Conteh is not released.

He even threatened to ‘deal’ with our Leader the President Julius Maada Bio if he failed to do that. And true to his words and by extension the APC’s plot, on Wednesday April 29, the Pademba Road Correctional center was set ablaze. This certainly could not have been a coincidence, but a designed plot with the full complicity and blessing of the APC leadership.

Our party has bent backwards over to accommodate the excesses of the main opposition APC all in the interest of maintaining the peace which we fought to restore in 2002 after 11 years of a bloody insurrection. As a ruling party we cannot afford to mortgage the peace of citizens for the selfish interests of a few misguided people. We commend the swift response of the security forces in quelling the situation and restoring normalcy to the city and the country at large.

Our Leader His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio is unfazed by the dastardly plans of saboteurs and is determined to end Covid-19 and bring much needed development to the country. We will continue to monitor the situation and give updates to our members. Meanwhile, we implore all persons to be law abiding and continue the fight against the Corona scourge. The security of the country is assured and intact.” (END).

Yesterday, the vice president – Juldeh Jalloh and a group of senior officials visited the prison, after the government had announced that an investigation has started into the causes of the rioting at the prison which led presidential guard soldiers and police to shoot live bullets at prisoners, leaving eleven dead and dozens seriously injured.

Charles Curtis-Thomas

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