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AGONY OF A COLLABORATION - Part 21
The determination of Solomon Ekuma Berewa to avenge the deaths of Minah, Kaikai and others was unwavering. I thought quietly to myself that Berewa had set up the charade of judicial processes to mock the targeted labelled collaborators. It was in September that I finally asked God to afflict Berewa; for whosoever must kill in order to live will have death as sentinel at the door of his own life.
The SLPP was now firmly back in control, particularly in Freetown, the capital. The country’s resources were now the preserve of president Kabbah and his inner clique.
Within the first three months of his reinstatement, Kabbah’s buddies squandered over eight hundred million leones. Given the SLPP noises that the AFRC military regime had emptied the vaults of the National Bank and cleared the Foreign reserve, the irony of Kabbah’s leniency with state criminals was not lost on me. The president was compensating his ardent supporters and turning a blind eye to their malfeasance was legit in the eyes of the SLPP Kingpin.
What kept most of us alive in the God forsaken prison was an unprecedented faith in the Almighty. The prison authorities ensured that all places of worship were locked and every collaborator barred entry. We spent most of our afternoons lounging around beside the laundry-converted bathroom- a place infested with diseases of all sorts. Very few jailed collaborators survived the menace of ‘KARANGBAS’ and skin blemishes, not to talk of the brigades of mosquitoes and wasps that became a perpetual nuisance to us.
As the treason verdicts drew closer, we began to re-evaluate the drama that had unfolded and our chances of survival, as president Kabbah was and still is, unpredictable.
A particularly gruesome feature of president Kabbah’s willingness to wage war without scruple was his unhesitating use of mercenaries to rout the AFRC in 1998.
The invasion sealed a decline from which the country has never fully recovered, for this poverty stricken nation faced devastating onslaught from an unholy alliance of Nigerians and kamajors, put together by Hinga Norman, the SLPP Deputy Defence Minister and first coupist of Sierra Leone. Hinga Norman was cut from the same cloth as Sani Abacha, the late monster of Nigeria.
Since the formation of the civil defence units to complement regular army operations in prosecuting the war, Norman had worked tirelessly to build a loyal and ruthless private army. The kamajors were his preference for an ideal militia apparatus.
The SLPP was obsessed with power. It was president Kabbah that reneged on the two peace accords. First in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, after signing the agreement in 1996, president Kabbah incited Philip Palmer and Fayiah Musa to create confusion within the RUF and encouraged them to announce that Foday Sankoh had been toppled. Kabbah believed that dispatching his opponents would make him invincible, his primacy as absolute leader secured.
He had now become the giver of life and death. This made us fearful. Kabbah’s acts were inspiringly aweful, and in a few, the appearance of mercy even evoked gratitude.
The truth was that Northerners have been the special object of the SLPP’s repression.
In the days following the verdicts, the civil war intensified. The ‘ragtag’ mix of AFRC/RUF coalition had suddenly turned the tables around. The SLPP was losing territory and morale was at its lowest amongst the Nigerian troops, for the good reason that they were suffering very high casuaties.
President Kabbah then realised that the kamajors had become too strong and he slowly began to curb their authority. Yet by doing so, he compromised his only institutional base, as he possessed no other structure that could effectively mobilise his popularity among the South-Eastern masses.
In prison, labelled collaborators fervently prayed for the success of the AFRC/RUF campaign. Each time the BBC relayed news of AFRC/RUF ‘VICTORY’ against some Nigerian battalion, our spirits would be uplighted and a suppressed exhilaration sensed amongst us. The activities of the renegade SLA and the fact that they were inflicting major reverses on the Nigerian-dominated ECOMOG war machinery, was welcomed news and a source of renewed hope for liberation. We were now very confident that our existence was assured. It was just a matter of time.
The SLPP though would not be distracted from carrying out their plan to obliterate all prominent Northern opposition leaders by the ‘insignificant’ successes of the ‘ragtag’ AFRC/RUF rebels. After all, the war was largely confined in the North, a region president Kabbah had blamed for starting the rebellion. In fact Tejan Kabbah had gone further to demand an apology from Northerners for “the suffering they brought on other Sierra Leoneans”. That unfortuante statement was made in Makeni, the headquarter town of the Northern province, in 1996. So, when the AFRC/RUF coalition mounted a formidable opposition against the SLPP in late 1998, certain elements were quick to dismiss this as the result of Northern treachery and collusion with the rebels.
Some SLPP loyalists openly accused the entire north of complicity and collaboration with the rebel forces. Even in prison, some SLPP spies made similar utterances. Conrad Roy, the veteran journalist who was imprisoned for doing nothing other than being a member of EXPO TIMES newspaper, quarreled with Sawaneh, the notorious spy, for making what in Conrad’s estimation, was an irresponsible statement. Conrad Roy was never released from prison. Even when it became evident that he was dying of tuberculosis, the SLPP prison doctor denied him medical assistance. The poor fellow died.
Analysts and journalists deliberately refused to mention the causative factors of the crisis and the undeniable fact that the RUF is constituted of ninety percent non-northerns. This was the biased and unsubstantiated allegation levied against the northerners immediately after the SLPP fraudulently ‘won’ the elections of 1996, through the criminal connivance of Dr. James Omotayoh Jonah..
That over eighty percent of the soldiers executed on Monday 19th October 1998 were northerners was a testament to the fact that the SLPP merely used the AFRC coup as an excuse to deal with their long standing rivals and political opponents.
Indeed the socio-political landscape was turbulent in early 1997 and the press had a field day. The press indirectly caused the overthrow of the SLPP in May 1997 and yet these were the same journalists that were calling for ‘Tough Measures’ against their colleagues.
That the army had taken power in a military coup was simply one more testament to the SLPP’s lack of support in the country as a whole, particularly the military.
The new found pro- democrats criticised the coup because, according to them, it was untimely. In actual fact, these so called democrats would only herald a coup that is advantageous to the SLPP. I will tell you why:
In 1967, Samuel Hinga Norman rudely disrupted the then Govnernor-General from handing power to the APC which had thrashed the SLPP in a free and fair election. The same Norman is presently the SLPP Deputy Defence Minister, Regent chief of Telu Bongor and Kamajor co-ordinator.
On October 12, 1998 the court-marshall verdicts were read out, sentencing to death thirty four military officers. The cries were prolonged and hysterical.
As I listened to my radio, tears streamed down my face.
TO BE CONTINUED.
The Pool Newspaper
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