Sierra Leone Telegraph: 03 January 2024:
Sierra Leone’s former President Ernest Bai Koroma, whose APC party ruled the country from 2007 to 2018, has been charged with four counts of treason, including aiding and abetting, following what the government says was an attempted coup on the 26th of November 2023.
The former President, who is under house arrest, was first invited by police for questioning in November after an attack by gunmen at the country’s military ammunition stores in Freetown, as well as a break-in at the main prison at Pademba Road where over one thousand prisoners, including former soldiers and police officers were released.
This afternoon’s surprised appearance at the Magistrate Court in Freetown by the former president (Photo above) to hear the charges being read by state prosecutors, came after a letter was sent by ECOWAS on behalf of Nigerian President Tinubu to the Sierra Leone President, calling on President Julius Maada Bio to allow former president Koroma to leave Sierra Leone for Abuja, where he will remain until further notice.
The ECOWAS letter which was dated 2nd January 2024 (see below), also demands that all legal and other investigations into the former president’s suspected involvement in alleged wrongdoing must be dropped, and his properties safeguarded by the state while he is out of the country.
The ECOWAS demands, also call for the government of Sierra Leone to continue to pay all ongoing financial benefits and entitlements to the former president.
According to the letter, these demands by ECOWAS were agreed last month when a high level ECOWAS delegation led by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo- Addo and Senegalese President Macky Sall, held talks in Freetown with both President Bio (Photo above) and former President Koroma respectively.
Former President Koroma who is believed to be in poor health, has maintained his denial of involvement in the alleged coup in which at least 17 soldiers were killed.
Speaking after the court appearance – counsel for the former President, Joseph F. Kamara told reporters that a dark cloud has today descended upon Sierra Leone and that a dangerous precedent has been set, involving trumped-up charges against a former president of Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone no longer has the death penalty on its statute books for treason. However, there are rumours President Bio has asked the Attorney General and the Chief Justice, to examine whether the death penalty can be reinstated.
Sierra Leone’s ten-year long rebel war was caused by bad governance, abuse of state power, rampant corruption, and state retributive justice which many say have once again returned to Sierra Leone.
Yesterday, twelve people were charged to court for treason, many of whom have had some connection with the former president as security and support staff. But lawyers say it is wrong to hold the former president guilty by association.
After his brief appearance at the magistrate court today by former President Koroma, the hearing was adjourned till 17th January 2024.
The ECOWAS letter believed to have been sent yesterday to President Bio, calling for the release of former President Koroma reads:
His Excellency Julius Maada Bio
President of State of the Republic of Sierra Leone
Freetown, Sierra Leone
2 January 2024
Temporary Relocation of Former President to Abuja
I refer to the mission to Freetown on 23 December of the high-level ECOWAS delegation led by His Excellency President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana, and His Excellency Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal.
I am pleased to inform Your Excellency that as part of the agreement reached during the mission, the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has offered to host His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, Former President of Sierra Leone, in Abuja on a temporary basis. The former President has accepted the offer to be hosted in Nigeria.
Subject to your approval, arrangements will be made to fly Former President Koroma out of Freetown on Thursday 4 January 2024. He will be accompanied by his office manager and personal assistant.
In addition to seeking Your Excellency’s approval for the departure from Sierra Leone of the Former President on or around the date indicated above, I would like to seek your confirmation that once President Koroma leaves Sierra Leone, the following arrangements (as agreed during the mission) will be put in place:
1. Government of Sierra Leone will discontinue all legal and administrative procedures against him;
2. The Government of Sierra Leone will also continue to disburse to him his benefits as former President;
3. The Government of Sierra Leone will secure his residences in the various locations in Sierra Leone;
4. The Government of Sierra Leone will consider refunding medical and travel expenses he has incurred.
While looking forward to Your Excellency’s favourable response, I take this opportunity to renew to Your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.
Signed: Omar Alieu Touray, Ph.D.
President of the Commission
CC: H.E. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chairman of the Authority
H.E. President Nana Akufo-Ado
H.E. President Macky Sall