Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 January 2024:
Former President of Sierra Leone Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, yesterday afternoon arrived in Abuja, Nigeria on board a plane belonging to the Nigerian president Bola Tinubu, after a month’s standoff between the government of Sierra Leone and ECOWAS, who had demanded the relocation of the former president to Nigeria.
Koroma has been charged with treason, mis-treason, and harbouring the enemy, allegations his supporters and lawyers say smack of political vendetta and witch-hunt, following gun attacks in Freetown on Sunday, 26th of November 2023 by a group of people the government describes as coupists wanting to topple President Bio from power.
Since the attack which many believe to have been stage-managed by President Julius Maada Bio as a ploy to go after the country’s main opposition APC party leaders, over 80 alleged suspects have been detained, with many now facing treason trial, including former president Koroma (Photo) who, prior to yesterday’s departure for Abuja, had spent over two months in house arrest.
Just weeks before Christmas 2023, a high-powered ECOWAS delegation led by Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo and President of Senegal – Macky Sall, held peace talks in Freetown with President Bio and former President Koroma, to explore ways to end the political tension in the country and create a conducive space and atmosphere for continuation of the national peace dialogue between the government and the opposition APC.
At the conclusion of those talks, an agreement was reached to allow the former president to relocate to Nigeria as host of President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria.
Soon after the former president’s flight left Sierra Leone’s Lungi International Airport yesterday afternoon, Principal Assistant to the former President Koroma – Sheriff Mahmud Ismail, sent this message to the Sierra Leone Telegraph:
“At 15:24hrs Sierra Leone time, with a -57°C cabin temperature and flying at an altitude of 41,000 feet, we had covered 1224km at ground speed of 586mph or 935/km/h.
“This means that we had just 261 miles left to arrive at our destination. As is characteristic of his humility, the VIP moved out of the Aft (VIP Cabin) to interact with us in the cabin mid-section. He joked with the young Ibrahim, the office assistant who was flying for the first time, about how ‘great’ he was for the fact that the first he ever boarded a plane it was a presidential jet from Africa’s largest economy – Nigeria. We then talked and laughed about several things.
“As we approached our destination, the pilot started lowering the bird to its descent. At just 13,332 feet above sea level, we were only 0:12 minutes away from touching down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.
“Already, I could see glimpses of a sketchy image of patches of villages strewn on our path. But most the spectacle was the barrenness – swathes of rocky land lying bare of any trees or vegetation. Footpaths and dusty roads crisscross the topography.
“At 1600hrs, the pilot lazily swung to his right, and then to his left, like a playful sparrow would do in summer. Then, we burst onto a silhouette of modern roads, rail networks, and specs of impressive housing infrastructure, betrayed by a long litany of low-cost housing not too far away.
“We touched down at exactly 16:08hrs, which is 17:08hrs Abuja time. As we taxied on the tarmac, the captain bellowed his announcement of our arrival, thanked ‘His Excellency for flying with us,’ and assured him of a warm welcome in Abuja.
“He was right, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr Alieu Omar Touray and a host of the high-ups were waiting at the presidential lounge to receive the widely respected former President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma.
“Dr Touray had cause to visit Sierra Leone three times in the course of the last three months. It follows the events of Sunday, November 26th, which the state called a failed coup attempt. In a dramatic and shocking turn of events, former president Koroma was accused of involvement in the coup plot.
“To the bemusement and bewilderment of many, the man who led his country for two consecutive terms, and gracefully handed over power, was charged with treason and three other grave offences.
“The Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS), had to intervene. negotiated the departure of one of their illustrious statesmen, to leave what has become a densely toxic environment in Sierra Leone.
“Among the dignitaries at the airport in Abuja was the former Vice President of the ECOWAS Commission, Madam Finda Koroma, who is the younger sister of the wife of the former President.
“Charismatic as always, and with his trademark infectious broad smile, former President Koroma shook hands, affectionately hugged his in-law, and with dignitaries who came to receive him, he strode on to the presidential lounge in very high spirits.”
The former President was accompanied to the Lungi International Airport by his chief legal Counsel – Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, and a high-powered delegation of senior Sierra Leone government officials, including the country’s minister of foreign affairs – Timothy Kabba, the military’s Chief of Defence Staff – Lieutenant General Peter Lavahun, Inspector General of Police – William Fayia Sellu, whose job was to ensure the former president left the shores of Sierra Leone safely, without any hindrance for Abuja, Nigeria, where he is now likely to spend many years of his life.
A statement believed to have been published today by the ECOWAS Secretariat following former President Koroma’s safe arrival in Abuja, reads: