• January 8, 2024

The treason trial of ex-President Koroma: Another precedent set in West Africa

The treason trial of ex-President Koroma: Another precedent set in West Africa
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By Alhaji MB Jalloh

Erstwhile President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, who ruled Sierra Leone from September 2007 to April 2018, was formally charged with Treason, Misprision of Treason and two counts of Harbouring on Wednesday 3rd January, 2024.

The four count charges were slammed on the former president at a Freetown Magistrate Court presided by Magistrate Santigie Kamara. And all the charges hinge on his alleged involvement to overthrow the Government of Sierra Leone on 26th November, 2023.

The matter was however adjourned for the next hearing to 17th January and Koroma was granted bail under very strict conditions.

The battery of legal luminaries representing the former president has reacted strongly to the grave allegations levelled against their client. In his emotional response to the charges of treason, one of the former president’s lawyers, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara Esq., expressed shock and disbelief, saying “a dangerous precedent has been set.”In an interview with the BBC’s Umaru Fofana, JFK as he is fondly called, in no uncertain terms, condemned the charges. He believes the allegations against his client were part of a political vendetta.

JFK, a former Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the former Koroma Administration asserted that dragging a democratically elected former Head of State on such trumped – up charges sets a dangerous precedent.

His client has denied any involvement in the foiled coup attempt that resulted in the deaths of twenty (20) people.

Prior to the former Head of State being charged to court on Wednesday 3rd January, Leaders of the West African Regional Bloc – ECOWAS – had tried to broker a deal for the erstwhile Sierra Leone Leader to go into exile in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but only if the charges were dropped.

However, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Timothy Musa Kabba, told the BBC that the Government of Sierra Leone did not support this particular proposal.

Some concerned citizens see this latest development unfolding as a very crucial and critical moment in Sierra Leone’s political landscape, highlighting the gravity of charges against the former president and the potential implications for the nation.

But as the legal process unfolds, citizens both at home and abroad and the international community are closely observing and monitoring the events and their impact on Sierra Leone’s political stability.

While critics of the move by government to charge the former president with treason and other offenses believe the country is setting a dangerous precedent by allowing the trial to go on despite ECOWAS intervention, the Sierra Leone Minister of Information and Civic Education, Chernoh Bah, begs to defer.

Bah has retorted that the most dangerous precedent would be that Sierra Leone has a set of laws that do not apply to people because of their positions.  He emphasized in a BBC interview that no one is above the law in Sierra Leone, citing countries around the world that have actually gone ahead and prosecuted their former Heads of State when they have had reasons to do so.

The Information Minister who also doubles as the Government Spokesman further asserts that the trial of the ex – President is not a witch-hunt; instead, the government has followed the laws, conducted its investigations which were sent to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) that determined that the State has enough evidence to bring charges against the former President and other accused persons allegedly involved in the foiled coup attempt.“So, we have followed the step that is why we have now brought the charges. And if you are asking about evidence, we have a threshold. What is happening now is preliminary investigations. They are in front of the court, the former president and others will have the chance to defend themselves and then the court will decide. The evidence will be presented in court,” the Information Minister said in the BBC Focus on Africa interview.

This is the first time in history a democratically elected former Head of State is standing treason trial in the sub-region. In Sierra Leone, the highest political personality to have been charged with treason during the one-party state in 1986 was First Vice President Francis Mesheck Minah, who was found guilty of treason and was sentenced to death by the gallows. Death sentence existed at that time, not now when treasonable act is punishable by life sentence.

What has happened in Sierra Leone could serve as a very big lesson to other former Heads of State in the sub-region.

Though Ernest Bai Koroma has denied any involvement in the November 26 failed coup attempt, the fact remains that he is the first democratically elected Sierra Leonean Head of State to be charged with treason and other offenses since independence. If convicted, it has the propensity to dent his character as a renowned personality in and outside Sierra Leone.

While ex-President Koroma’s family, supporters and sympathizers will be praying fervently for him to walk out as a free man in the treason trial and redeem his image, his political opponents will be rejoicing over the humiliation and degradation he is going through right now.

Some had earlier called for his arrest and detention during previous protests in the opposition strongholds in the Northern Regions and the Western Area of Sierra Leone.

They had even accused President Julius Maada Bio of cowardice for being jittery to order his arrest and detention for offenses committed during those protests.

For those in support of the former president, it is hoped that he would get the chance to defend himself and prove his innocence so that his political enemies could bow their heads in shame.

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