It has been a very long nine months since that dramatic day on 13 July 2008 that perfectly fits a Hollywood movie script with a light Cessna aircraft daringly landing at out airport at Lungi with 703 kilograms of cocaine onboard. To all intents and purposes, it was not the first time that cocaine had landed or passed through our airport. The precision with which the pilot landed with the light aircraft’s light off and the airport being in pitch darkness means one does not have to be a rocket scientist to know that it was a syndicate.
Despite having come under strong suspicion from members of the public, and rightly so as it would seem, that some of its personnel were involved in the drug business, the Sierra Leone Police have absolutely measured up even if with the support of Britain and the United States. And these countries have every reason in the world to support us and to continue to do so. These illegal drugs are mostly aimed at Western markets. Markets that comprise mainly young people who are the future of those countries.
But back to the way we have as a country dealt with this cocaine case. It is no secret that some governments in the sub region could not, or may be would not have dealt with it the way we have. The judiciary, especially Justice Nicolas Brown-Marke exhibited extreme professionalism and independent-mindedness. A man with a proven record of principle and “no-nonsenseness”, it came as no surprise that he meted out justice with justice.
President Ernest Bai Koroma’s response to the whole cocaine episode showed commitment at the highest level. His action to suspend and later sack his transport and aviation minister on allegations may be speculation that his hand was on the tiller, was a perfect example. However, the fact the police and the courts could not bring any evidence linking Kemoh Sesay to the criminals, other than his brother being one of them, means the presidential action against him should be reconsidered; not least because the investigations are over and the trial ended and no evidence brought forward against him.
The police, much as confidence in them was low at the time, have shown commitment considering the great length they went to during investigations. By frequenting the courts and openly associating themselves with the prosecution in full view of relatives, friends and possibly partners of the now-convicts, they exposed themselves to no small danger. All that for a pay that is not worth trekking for, let alone risking one’s life for. I think the police officers, especially the junior-ranking one involved with investigating and prosecuting the cocaine case should be promoted. But I also think that some disciplinary action should be taken against some top officials at such institutions like the aviation department and the airport authority. The landing of the Cessna aircraft was a slap in the faces of those in charge at these institutions.
The journalists, who not many people would recognise easily, have been spectacular in their reportage, going to and from the courtroom even if they were sometimes scorned even by some court officials, deserve a big respect. Hardly did they sell out or allow their individuality to becloud their professionalism. The public was kept informed every step of the way, especially by CTN radio and Radio Democracy and Standard Times newspaper.
Made in South America, destined for Europe and North America through West Africa, the drug was burned in one of the poorest countries in the world Sierra Leone where many would have thought collaboration would be easy to get on the case even at the highest level. They have been proved wrong. And we have stood firm as a nation. The criminals have been tried, convicted and sentenced. Two days following the sentencing, the substance was burned yesterday in full view of the public. Despite that or may be because of it, there are those who still doubt whether what was incinerated was indeed cocaine. Others would have preferred that it had been sold and the money used to build some of the country’s infrastructure. What backward thinking! What unpatriotic thinking! What retrograde!
I was at the International Military Advisory Training Team yesterday. Six police officers were screened and dressed in protective clothes before parading and marching into an armoury. Inside that sealed area were two sealed boxes in which the drug had been kept since July last year. The keys to the room and boxes, we were told, had always been held by one man from Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency.
The parcels of cocaine were then brought out, tested and weighed by officials of the Pharmacy Board led by their registrar, Wiltshire Johnson. The substance was verified as cocaine with the weight consistent with what had been kept in custody. The 601 parcels were loaded on the police truck and locked in the presence of vice president Samuel Sam Sumana and a few other dignitaries. I was on the car immediately before the truck until we got to the burning site at the Kingtom dumping site. So what was burned was indeed the cocaine that was seized on 13 July 2008. This is absolute transparency!
As for those who think the cocaine should have been sold and hospitals and roads built with its street value of US$ 200 million, the question is, who would have sold it and to whom? No sane person sells their parents to raise money to heal their sick child or vice versa. The high level of international respect we have earned ourselves cannot be equated to even billions of drug dollars. Let that money go to where it rightly belongs: the Bomeh dumping site and the consumption of the substance by fire.
Convicted of involvement in all this cocaine saga are seven Sierra Leoneans and eight foreigners mostly from South America. Three of those non-citizens have been expelled and taken to the United States where they are wanted for drugs offences. While the legal implications and judicial precedence of that action are being studied by lawyers, the question that remains on my mind is what happens to the other five foreigners? Will their continued being at the maximum security prison mean the continued closure of Pademba Road from vehicular and human traffic? What if these foreigners cannot pay their heavy fines while our government does not have access to their assets back in their countries? Whatever the answers to these questions, we should be proud as a people at the outcome of this cocaine case which initially looked like a maze we could never come out of.
By Umaru Fofana