As a Sierra Leonean and the current Chairman of the A.P.C. North America branch, I want to once again share with you all some security issues regarding our beloved country Sierra Leone.
Since my teenage days to present, I have seen the same security lapses, previous Presidents/heads of state have had in their administrations. Therefore it is my desire to share these security issues as a result of the trend I have seen and witnessed over the years.
I have seen in the past, our leaders, civilian as well as military take security matters for granted; starting from their personal protection going to that of general populace and the country as a whole. The late President Siaka Probyn Stevens had a grip on security matters of the nation at that time. Was it because he served in the Police force at the time prior to his ascendancy to the Presidency? I cannot conclusively say but we can draw inferences from that claim so, you be the judge.
The APC of late President Joseph Saidu Momoh
When the late Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh came to power, despite his military background, he took security matters for granted. I still have fresh memories of military personnel/officers who departed Daru Barracks through Kenema headed for the capital of Freetown and overthrew the then APC government of late President J.S Momoh. I was serving in the Sierra Leone force as an intelligence officer then, attached to the Kenema police station in 1992. I knew then that urgent intelligence reports/communications were sent as to what the real mission of those military officers was. The reports were never acted upon. Those intelligence reports were totally ignored and I wish we had computer systems then so that those reports could have been traced today. When those officers entered the city of Freetown, they started firing sporadic shots in the air, as alleged, in demand for food and logistics. The Special Security Division (SSD) personnel took a move to counter and repel the disgruntled officers but again, then Inspector General of Police the late Hon. James Banbay Kamara (May his soul rest in peace) ordered the SSD boss to calm his men down and further stated in Krio as follows: (Una Lef them, Na ration den Cam for) meaning the officers/mutineers were acting-up for their rations. He then climbed the stairs and headed for his office at the Police Headquarters.
Few hours later, what seemed like a mutiny or request for food/ration was transformed into a coup d’état and subsequently led to the overthrow of the APC government in April 1992. The point I am trying to make here is if the authorities then had listened and acted upon the intelligence reports by taking counter measures, the situation could have been totally different. I also remembered when the late Lieutenant Colonel James Yaya Kanu came to the C.I.D. office in Kenema, and requested his departure be booked in the Station Diary as he left Kenema headed for Freetown to stop or calm down his men from outrageously acting out. That was a brave and courageous soldier who never had the opportunity to return to his post as a commander of the most hailed Cobra Battalion in Kenema.
Captain Valentine Strasser and the NPRC Regime:
Now I would like to shift a little bit on to the former National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) Chairman former Captain Valentine Essegrabo Melvin Straser. Despite his military training and length of service in war zones i.e. Liberia (ECOMOG) and Sierra Leone, he was callously thrown out of office by then Captain Julius Maada Bio and others in a palace musical-chair coup. Let me give you a background information on this sensitive revelation: Sometime in January 1995, during a graduation (Passing-Out) ceremony of newly trained cadet officers at the Benguma Military Barracks, Cpt. Straser was provided intelligence reports about a planned palace coup d’état.
As an intelligence officer then charged with the responsibilities of checking hotels, electricity and petty traders’ affairs in Kenema, there was no doubt in my mind that another coup plot was in progress and would not take long before it happened. During one of my routine hotel check exercises at the Ribbi Motel in Kenema, I discovered a strange name in the hotel (Ledger) book. I then decided to conduct a face to name verification and requested to see the guest in person. I saw a strange, fair in complexion, tall, handsome man whom I identified to be a Malian. I requested to see his passport but the man vehemently refused to give it to me, claiming that he was a guest of the #2 man in the country who was no less a person than then Vice Chairman of the NPRC Cpt. Julius Maada Bio.
I insisted to get his passport and then, the man hastily called military personnel from the 4th Battalion to come to the Motel. Upon their arrival, I was asked by then (Adjutant) Lieutenant Alieu Kunateh, to treat the matter easy. I guess, no Sierra Leonean would doubt when someone in authority asks a subordinate to treat something easy, you all know what it means in our country. Upon my return to the office, I submitted a report on the incident and provided a clear picture of my observations and how the entire saga ended. Two weeks later, Cpt. V.E.M. Straser was manhandled and overthrown by then Cpt. Julius Maada Bio and others we know in our midst. Again I want you to remember that Cpt. V.E.M. Straser, was informed about the planned coup before his departure to the graduation ceremony; he was further intimated at the parade ground that the firing pin to the Anti-Aircraft (AA) machine gun had been removed. Cpt. Strasser was further strongly advised not to go back to Cockeril military Headquarters after the ceremony. However he ignored those security warnings and went with the coup plotters, thereby resulting to his overthrow. The rest of the story is known and therefore I need not dwell on it much.
Former President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
The former President was in denial then that his Presidential Guards deserved a security allowance of Le 30,000 a month. I served former President Tejan Kabbah as a (Body Guard) Presidential guard during his first term in office. I have personal love and tremendous respect for the former president; he is a man of moral character, religious and has a good heart.
Nevertheless the former President had tremendous security challenges then, but I think he did not make use of the opportunities he had to equip the Sierra Leone Army. I was stunned when the SLPP led government of former President Kabbah announced the disbandment of our national Army for an ill-trained local militia. I wondered then why a President of a nation would disband his national Army when in fact his country was in the middle of a civil/rebel war. It is my opinion that during former President Kabbah’s tenure of office, the Sierra Leone Armed forces had an opportunity to be equipped militarily. Especially when we consider the former president’s influence and the opportunity to host one of the largest United Nations and ECOMOG Peace keeping forces ever in an African conflict zone then.
Another security issue was that the former President used to go out at night without security escort believing that he was democratically elected by the people of Sierra Leone and as such no one would ever think of harming him. But that belief was made false on May 25th 1997 when he was chased out of office by junior military officers of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC - Other Ranks) for being less proactive on security matters.
Now to President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma:
Therefore, it is my open advice that the President, despite his popularity, should not overlook his security consciousness. I just want to paraphrase this well known expression: Even if you rub a lipstick on a pig, it always remains to be a Pig. Therefore, I respectfully suggest that the president learn from past security mistakes by his predecessors. I am appealing to the President to continue to recognize the fact that there would be no stability without adequate security measures and there would be no effective security without logistics. We may believe that the people of Sierra Leone love you so much, but that does not mean you are all safe to be somewhere in town/streets without security escort. From a security point of view, it is my opinion that such a move is not in your best interest especially as we are moving toward the November 2012 elections....TO BE CONTINUED
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.