Sierra Leone Telegraph: 03 January 2021:
President Julius Maada Bio last Friday ordered the release of hundreds of prisoners across the country who are serving sentence for various crimes, including the country’s former minister of defence – retired Major Palo Conteh.
Palo Conteh was serving a two-year jail-term, after he was arrested for entering State House with a firearm, and accused by state prosecutors of ‘intending to kill the president and overthrow the Bio-led government’, an act described by prosecutors as a treasonable offence.
Conteh was then charged and found guilty of only two out of fifteen counts offence, ranging from treason to ownership of firearms without valid licence.
After a marathon High Court trial, Conteh was acquitted of treason but sentenced to two years imprisonment for possession of firearms.
Two days ago, Palo Conteh received presidential pardon from President Bio after spending seven months at the Pademba Road prisons in Freetown.
But since his release which was celebrated by Palo himself along with his family, friends, and scores of opposition APC party supporters at his home in Wilberforce, a hot debate has emerged about the constitutionality, legality and morality of president Bio’s decision to pardon Palo Conteh, whose appeal hearing is still at the Courts.
What is not in doubt however, is president Bio’s authority to grant pardon to a convict. According to Section 63.1 of the country’s 1991 Constitution: “The President may, acting in accordance with the advice of a Committee appointed by the Cabinet over which the Vice-President shall preside — a. grant any person convicted of any offence against the laws of Sierra Leone a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions; b. grant to any person a respite, either indefinite or for a specified period, of the execution of any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence; c. substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed on any person for such an offence; d. remit the whole or any part of any punishment imposed upon any person for such an offence or any penalty or forfeiture otherwise due to the Government on account of such an offence.”
But what is in contention across the political divide and on social media, is the timing of the president’s decision to free Palo as well as the president’s failure to make public the terms of his pardon. This is now seriously fuelling what could become a constitutional and legal crisis in the country.
According to one commentator: “The Judiciary was bound to give its verdict on January 19 , 2021 as it was the scheduled date for the judgement. What the President has done was a deliberate effort to undermine the already poorly managed judiciary. Pardon is not given to a case on trial of this nature. If Bio had wanted to make a good name for himself this was not how to go about it. He is only trying to screw up Palo’s political career for it’ll go down that he’s a convict and was only pardoned.
“As a convict, Palo cannot hold public office, he cannot even contest elections! This is how bad the Presidential pardon is to Palo. They’ve (government and the judiciary) have been delaying this verdict because they knew that Palo had big chances to win his appeal. We should insist that even with this Presidential Pardon, Palo’s judgement should be made because we want him free of the said conviction that hangs over his head.
“Bio should stop thinking that people are not smart. Sierra Leoneans are seeing through you, Bio! We want justice for Palo, we want Palo’s freedom without conviction. Let this freedom be considered just for his health purposes but we want Palo clear of any conviction.”
So, the constitutional question now is whether Palo Conteh is still a Convicted Criminal who cannot hold public office.
Some commentators believe that: “A pardon means the conviction no longer exists in Law and the pardoned person has the full capacity to automatically go back to the status quo of enjoying all his rights, including the right to even contest as Head of State. Furthermore, a pardon can be given at any step of a judicial appeal process. Having a pending Appeal is NOT a bar to being pardoned. It is usually legally tidier if the convicted person first withdraws his/her Appeal before the pardon, but it is not an absolute requirement.”
But cynics and critics of the government say that the president’s decision to pardon Conteh is a political ploy meant to scupper the opposition APC’s chances of winning the 2023 elections.
“Someone had hinted Bio that on the 19th of January, Palo may have walked free when the Court decides on his appeal. It would have been another big blow for Bio if Polo’s bogus conviction is overturned just as the treason trial case. So, to save himself and his failing government further embarrassment, he pardoned Palo Conteh less than three weeks to the final verdict.”
So, the question is whether Palo Conteh himself will quash his own appeal – now that he has been pardoned by the president. But any such decision by Palo Conteh may be described as a minefield fraught with potential explosives to his detriment.
What if he continues with his appeal and loses? What if he decides to end his appeal now and then later found out that the president has only granted him a qualified pardon, which meant he cannot hold public office or contest public elections?
Many supporters of Palo Conteh are angry at what they described as the “shabby” manner with which president Bio made his decision to pardon Conteh.
“We are grateful for ending the torture of Palo Conteh but even the shabby way the Pardon was executed, speaks volumes of the hapless way the Bio government operates. I cannot believe Bio has completely manhandled what would have been an otherwise laudable gesture. Could you believe neither Palo nor his lawyers have seen the Warrant of the Pardon; and nobody was even formally informed prior to the release. They just opened his cell and told him, “Call your wife, you are going home today. Bye Bye!” Then opened the prison and let him out,” one supporter said.
This is what another opposition commentator said: “Rtd. Major Alfred Paolo Conteh returned from hell as he finally got released from incarceration with a pardon from the government. Are we supposed to be honestly dancing? Is it because of the universal cry for his release? Or was he released because of trying to satisfy the selfish ends of the Bio-led government?
“How could one under detention and with an outstanding appeal court case, without a conclusion be pardoned? Paolo – with a bailable offense was vehemently denied bail on several attempts. The opposition party nearly gave up on fighting for his release. We simply left everything to the Almighty God to guide, save and comfort him till next March when he will be released. In two months’ time.
“Why was he not included in the long list of pardoned inmates in the past months after the prison massacre? If the judiciary was rational enough, they should have asked him to pay the fine of five million Leones to end the case.”
Today, Palo Conteh attended church service in Freetown, and no one yet knows where this saga is going to end. While he is physically free, many are questioning whether he is mentally free or held captive mentally by president Bio.
Will Conteh reject his presidential pardon and go back to prison while his appeal hearing is ongoing?
Will he simply accept the president’s pardon for what its worth and move on with his life?
Will the government publish the terms of Palo Conteh’s pardon, so as to end public speculation and uncertainty, that are now engulfing his decision to grant pardon to a former government defence minister who many in the opposition APC party describe as a political prisoner?
This is Palo in church today:
There are a lot of talks and comments. Folks if Mr. Paolo Conteh was succeeded with whatever was in his mind on that day, whether to take the President’s life, trust me we could have been living in another situation that no one could expected. Let us assume that Paolo Conteh was North Korean citizen – that will be another story. Some folks are saying “he should have not accepted the presidential pardon” OMG, you do not have any idea about being locked up. Seizing your freedom my friend, is one of the hardest thing you can imagine brother. Some of us saying “he needs to file an appeal”. What if he loses and goes back to jail? I hope you don’t stand facing Paolo advising him like this or else, he might pack you some hot soup.
Even his defense attorney Dr. A.O.Conteh would not advise him as such. Paolo has been around the former President and knows all corners in the state house. Thanks to God he is now a free man period. Do you think that Paolo is foolish? No, he is a gentleman. Bio is nice and sympathetic. If this was another leader, he would be dead by now. I am happy for him and I am advising him not to be used by any person. Nothing can stop him running for office it is up to him. If Victor Foh can be appointed Sierra Leonean Ambassador to China, party secretary general and vice president, who else can’t?. Mr. Conteh, listen to nobody. Focus on your family.
“O lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness,” Those are the words of the Great William Shakespeare. Indeed the humble attitude of frequently giving thanks is a priceless gift and blessing from the hands of our Omnipotent creator. Now its time to give credit where it is due; I am aware that Paolo Conteh, Mr Williams and others have already gone to their various Churches to give thanks to Almighty God for showing them mercy and sparing their lives, and for helping them return to their loving, peaceful homes healthy safe and sound – no doubt that is an admirable thing to do – acknowledging and celebrating with diligence and reverence, the presence of divine intervention in our lives.
But it shouldn’t end there folks, Almighty God did not come down from the Eternal heavens and wrench these shackled men free from the hands of the Criminal SLPP Cabal, he inspired his willing servants and instruments here on earth to make such a thing reality like the Hon. Abdul Rashid Thomas, Wilfred Kabs Kanu and many other progressive minded, patriotic journalists, Ngos and citizens. Paolo Conteh, Mr Williams and all those accused of corruption and wrongdoing owe the Sierra Leone Telegraph a big thank you because all this couldn’t have been possible without their impartial, judicious, tenacious style of reporting the news.
Give thanks to Allah, but appreciate the work of his servants also, because when Allah desires to accomplish something good here on earth, He has no other choice but to use human beings to do it for Him. Now let me reiterate – the truth of the matter is this – Allah has no other hands to use but our own hands to accomplish great things he desires to bring to fruition in our lives – a million thanks to the Sierra Leone Telegraph for an outstanding job done over the years Gentlemen – A Stargazer wishes you all a Happy and prosperous 2021.
Once bitten twice shy – It simply means one should practice extreme caution after undergoing an unpleasant or horrifying experience. I would advise Paolo Conteh to embrace those insightful words as his daily mantra. Gentlemen – not so long ago on this glorious forum i advised members of the Legendary APC to be on their guard against treachery coming from the malevolent hands of the Criminal SLPP Cabal but those warnings fell on deaf ears and Paolo Conteh was set up and he got arrested for Treason. Now Paolo is a free man and I have heard him saying, if called to serve Sierra Leone under this regime he will gladly respond once again.
In a perfect world such a statement would be regarded as patriotic but this is Sierra Leone, a nation under the firm grips of men that can easily transform themselves into werewolves – Comrade Paolo Conteh wake up and smell the coffee, quit being as naïve as a stubborn little child. Simplicity is brilliance, so let me try and make things easier for you to understand. There was once a swift-footed young stallion that was approached by a hungry pack of wolves with a strange urgent request: “We need your help to catch a creature that is as quick as lightning. It emerges early out of the shadows at dawn, then traverses the meadows and disappears quickly as smoke in the wind across those boroughs hidden far behind the woods, “they begged in earnest.
And the young racing horse with a cheerful heart felt compelled to help, so he agreed; and the next day at dawn they hid themselves quietly out of sight waiting for the strange creature to emerge but nothing happened and then a large pack of wolves ever recorded in history books consisting of over 40 ferocious wolves appeared out of the distant shadows and surrounded the young stallion, subdued him and carried him away. It was a all cunning trap. “Have you forgotten so quickly thou swift-footed stallion,” they asked; “how you destroyed our livelihoods by outrunning and leaving us in the dust and then alerting the vulnerable prey that there was impending danger on its way, and they all fled for their lives leaving us stranded, exhausted and hungry? – Aha! now the tables have turned, now there will be hell to pay” and they whisked him away. “Only Almighty God can save you now,” they growled…Words to the wise.
As the author rightly posited the president has the right to pardon convicted criminals serving their sentences. Palo Conteh was convicted at trial and sentence to two years. The president pardoned him and others as part of the authority bestowed on him as Fountain of Honour. Whether or not Palo Conteh was going to win his appeal is not relevant when it comes to the president exercising the responsibility bestowed upon him. And from the look of things Palo Conteh is happy to be out of prison. So any spin about the motive or not of the president is just the imagination of the author.
Palo Conteh being a qualified lawyer means that he knew all the legal ramifications of the presidential pardon. Palo also knew that he had a constitutional right to reject the president’s pardon. That he accepted it and walked out of Pademba Road a free man only to have his friends and associates complain later does not make any sense. President Bio was magnanimous. He deserves to be praised.
Once again Bio has demonstrated that he is distrustful, abrasive and dismissive of Sierra Leoneons opinions. He lacks the intellectual connectivity, that you cannot manufacture such a lie and expect the case to go your way. Every right thinking Sierra Leonean, that cares about upholding the rule of law and most importantly the right to a fair and open trial, knew from the outset that this case brought against Rt. Major Paolo Conteh, was heading nowhere. Whichever way one looks at it, it just did not stack up. There were so many holes in the case, and by the time he went on trial, the balloon of lies was completely deflated. The prosecution’s team was left grasping for straws. Anyone with a degree of professional integrity would have offered their resignation.
The way it was handled in the first place, makes you wonder who was advising MR President? Even a layman will tell you from the outset, if the case was contested in a fair and open trial, will not carry the day for Bio and the state prosecution team. Even a Nollywood script writer will find it hard to come up with such a fictional story line. This is where Bio’s world of political vendettas, came to collide with what it meant by upholding the rule of law, and the right to fair trial came to play. The difference between how Bio sees the law applied in this case, and the presumption under the law that a man is innocent until proven guilty, as written in our constitution and this fundamental right are indeed in our constitution and for a reason, and that is to uphold the right of both the accused and the accuser for an impartial judge to hear the case and this is paramount in the way justice is dispensed in Sierra leone.
Rt. Major Paolo Conteh did not invite himself to state house, he was invited to state house by Bio. It was heartening to hear him say he holds no grudge against his jailers. That you can’t say about Bio. We need more Paolo Conteh’s in Sierra leone that think like that “THE MANDELA MENTALITY ” Bottom line is, one individual cannot overthrow a government. It has never happened in the history of coups in Africa. Bio wanted to discredit the two people that were going to be his likely contenders for the 2023 presidential elections. Rt. Major Paolo Conteh and Dr Bylden. On that note he has failed. May God bless Sierra Leone.