By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Born on the 9th of May 1960, Johnny Paul Koroma (also known as the Angel, and shortly as JPK) rose to become a leading figure in the Sierra Leone Army.
He was among the best cadet officers to graduate from the Sandhurst Military Academy in England. (Other graduates from this Academy included the late King Hussein of Jordan, the late Sani Abachi of Nigeria, half the former Nigerian and Gambian cabinet, and the late Idi Amin of “what is good for the goose is good for the people of Uganda” fame).
JPK’s contemporaries at the military academy’s New College- where foreign students were trained- included Princess Basma of Jordan, Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia and Khadi Ahmed al-Thani, a former minister in the Qatari government. (Rumour has it that all foreign students trained at Sandhurst were used to further British influence abroad).
JPK was among the first batch of officers to defend Sierra Leone against the maiden edition of the RUF rebellion in Bomaru on 23rd March in 1991. In 1995 they ward-off a RUF attempted advance toward Freetown as the rebels occupied the outskirts of Newton, Lumpa and Waterloo.
In 1996, while he fought to save Sierra Rutile from falling into the hands of the rebels, JPK was arrested by the government on alleged charges of treason and was locked up at Pademba Road Prisons, awaiting a trial that would never hold. While in Prison JPK had a vision (or was it a dream?). An angel of the Lord (was it Angel Gabriel? Who cares anyway?) appeared to him and said: “Johnny Johnny, Johnny! The Lord has chosen you to lead his people….” And JPK knelt in his dark, stinking cell and worshipped the Lord.
On Sunday, the 25th of May 1997, on the eve JPK was to be hanged, junior officers of the Sierra Leone Army stormed the city and overthrew the legitimate government of His Excellency the President Dr. Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The soldier’s first port of call was the Pademba Road Prison yard. They released Johnny Paul Koroma (together with all other inmates) and made him their leader.
The unassuming JPK preferred the title Foot of State to Head of State. “A leader (or was it a soldier?),” he said “has to be on his feet, not on his head.”
And within 72 hours as Foot of State, JPK invited the RUF to come out from the jungle and settle for peace by joining his government called the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. The RUF responded in the affirmative.
However, majority of the people of Sierra Leone and the international community condemned the coup and the AFRC/RUF government. The people resorted to civil disobedience and there was growing international outcry for a military intervention to reinstate the legitimate government of President Kabbah, the company of whom had flee to neighbouring Guinea.
For nine months JPK’s AFRC and the RUF, together called the People’s Army, ruled with fear, chaos and terror.
On February 1998 an ECOMOG intervention force led by Nigerian soldiers captured the city of Freetown, after a deadly battle, and JPK and his band of warriors withdrew into the Peninsular jungle and traversed the mountains on to the provinces. In the process, the marriage with the RUF went sour and JPK was held captive by the RUF whilst most of his boys (the junior soldiers who staged the coup) settled at Okra Hill along the Freetown highway.
The RUF took JPK with them to Kailahun and he was subjected to severe torture. It was reported that the rebels raped his wife right in front of him.
How JPK escaped to Liberia I don’t know, but it was while he was in Liberia that his boys at Okra Hill who now called themselves the West Side Boys- started making headlines. They attacked the highway from time to time, looting food and property from plying vehicles.
They demanded that their unit should be represented at the peace talks in Lome and that JPK should represent them.
It did not matter however, because the Lome Peace Accord gave blanket amnesty to all the warring factions and President Kabbah stretched out his wide, olive hands to all faction leaders in the name of peace and national unity.
As a result JPK returned from Liberia and was made Chairman of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP) while rebel leader Foday Saybanah Sankoh was put in charge of the country’s strategic mineral resources- a position he was assured/convinced was equivalent to the vice presidency.
As CCP Chairman, JPK publicly resigned from the national Army (at the rank of Major) and his symbolic disarmament at Wilberforce, which was supervised by UNAMSIL, encouraged soldiers holding out in the jungle to come out too and join the peace process.
On May 8, 2000, chaos ensued as angry demonstrators marched directly to the residence/office of rebel leader Sankoh at Spur Road demanding the unconditional release of more than 400 UN peacekeepers earlier held hostage by his rebel outfit in the provinces. The situation was already escalating into something akin to a coup by the rebel leader when JPK intervened (once a soldier, always a soldier). He called on the public, through the radio, to shout the holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ (in the case of Muslims, Annabi Issah) up to 10 times, for deliverance from the dreaded rebel warlord.
And, like a magic spell, everybody- son, daughter, mother, and father- shouted the name of Jesus above their voices.
Sankoh and his men fled but they were later captured.
Then the General Elections- presidential and parliamentary. To the surprise of many people, JPK opted for the presidential race! He resigned from the CCP and formed his own political party called the People’s Liberation Party (PLP).
However, when the results were announced, JPK lost the bid for the presidential seat but his party secured two seats in the House of Parliament- the nation’s law making body, where he could now contribute to the decision making process. But it was later discovered that majority of JPK’s votes came from the national army. He got the highest, beating even the incumbent government, and this was very alarming…
Later, in Parliament as honourable member, JPK uttered: “There are still cracks in the Army…”
But those who have committed heinous crimes against their fellow humans must not go free. They must be held accountable. Suddenly there was the Special Court, to try all those who bear the “greatest responsibility” for crimes committed against unarmed civilians during the country’s long rebel war. And Johnny Paul Koroma was amongst the names that constantly featured in the opinion of public commentators.
One night, a group of men, 18 of them, attacked the ammunition depot at Wellington. Most of them were captured and identified as soldiers loyal to JPK. When a convoy of police officers and CID personnel arrived at JPK’s residence at Juba Hill for ‘interrogation’ he was gone. And he’s since been on the run.