HomePoliticsSierra Leone’s Ex-Leader Flies to Nigeria Amid Treason Trial

Sierra Leone’s Ex-Leader Flies to Nigeria Amid Treason Trial

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Former president Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone has left his country for Nigeria, where he will receive medical treatment, despite facing charges of treason over his alleged role in a coup attempt last year.

Koroma, who ruled the West African nation for 11 years until 2018, was granted permission by a High Court in Freetown on Wednesday to travel abroad for a maximum of three months on health grounds.

His departure came amid speculation that a deal had been brokered by the regional bloc ECOWAS to allow him to go into exile in exchange for dropping the charges against him and easing political tensions in Sierra Leone.

Koroma and several members of his All People’s Congress (APC) party, including his daughter, have been accused of plotting to overthrow the government of President Julius Maada Bio in November 2023, when armed assailants attacked a military barracks and a prison, freeing about 2,000 inmates.

The government said 21 people were killed in the violence, which it described as an attempted coup. The defendants have denied any involvement and denounced the charges as politically motivated.

Koroma’s supporters have staged several protests in recent months, demanding his release from house arrest and denouncing what they see as a witch-hunt by the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).

The SLPP and the APC have been locked in a bitter rivalry since the country’s independence from Britain in 1961, and have alternated in power through a series of coups, civil wars and elections.

The latest unrest has raised concerns about the stability of the mineral-rich country, which is still recovering from a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002 and killed an estimated 50,000 people.

The UN, the African Union, and ECOWAS have urged both parties to respect the rule of law and resolve their differences through dialogue and peaceful means.

A Nigerian presidential jet carrying Koroma was seen leaving Freetown International Airport on Friday afternoon, according to Reuters news agency.

Nigeria has a history of hosting former African leaders who have faced political or legal troubles at home, such as Liberia’s Charles Taylor, Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

Koroma’s lawyer, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, told AFP news agency that his client had not fled the country and would return to face trial.

“He has not run away from justice. He remains committed to the judicial process and he will come back,” Kamara said.

Koroma, 70, is widely credited for overseeing Sierra Leone’s recovery from the civil war and boosting its economic growth. However, he also faced criticism for alleged corruption, human rights violations, and mismanagement of the Ebola outbreak that killed nearly 4,000 people in the country between 2014 and 2016.

President Bio, who defeated Koroma’s chosen successor in a run-off election in 2018, has vowed to fight graft and recover millions of dollars allegedly stolen by the previous administration.

He has also launched a national dialogue process to foster reconciliation and social cohesion among Sierra Leoneans.

Source: Business Day

 

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