I am seriously concerned about the cocaine suspects held at the maximum Pademba Road Prisons and how their presence is creating discomfort for people in the City Freetown.
The issues here are two fold, first is the discomfort caused whenever they are brought to court and second the actual pursuance of the matter.
It was on July 13 when a Cessna plane landed at our International Airport containing cocaine valued at approximately $200M. Several persons were arrested in relation to that including some foreign nationals as well. The government cry then was to ensure that these suspects were charged and tried appropriately – not under any pharmacy laws which some say are very weak and lenient but stronger laws that would serve the purpose of justice and deter others who might wish to try the same act.
That being said, the government drafted a National drug law which was taken to parliament but before that the suspects had almost taken more than the required period in custody before they were charged for illegal landing, malicious damage and other related offences.
The charges levied on them were not for cocaine and were definitely not capital punishment for our laws. Whilst preliminary hearings were ongoing as I will call it, Parliament was busy enacting the drug law and when they finally did, it placed a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for not only cocaine traffickers but those growing and conspiring and most importantly it made the bill retro-active. I personally thought the state was using the other charges on them not to have violated their fundamental principles whilst they find a way of charging them for the cocaine effectively.
All of the above notwithstanding, from the very day these suspects were remanded at Pademba Road prisons we have been faced with both human and vehicular disruptions not experienced even in the hey days of ECOMOG when the treason trials and Foday Sankoh trials were going on.
Apart from the diversions which are sometimes most unreasonable the somewhat unwarranted tension created by the security personnel threatening innocent and harmless civilians with fully loaded guns pointing it at them and conducting civilians in a less than civil manner is really and truly disheartening.
The most unbelievable decision is when these suspects are taken to court. For most people that day in central Freetown is broken or spoilt. From Post office on to Pultney street is blocked causing businesses around that area to run at a loss. The NP fuel station cannot sell, people cannot go to the NASSIT building for their Social Security business and other litigants are even restrained from entering the court to witness their own hearings. As a result every other business at the law courts must stop because the cocaine suspects are in court.
The traffic caused on those days is unbearable on both sides – from Kissy to the Westend. Indeed the craft transport operators see the opportunity and use it well. Drivers will cunningly give the excuse for stopping at Saint John that is if you are coming from the West shouting that ‘cocaine suspects are brought to court today’. Those from Kissy hardly cross PZ they too give the excuse of cocaine suspects in court.
Indeed the bottom line is that along with the traffic congestion the unquantifiable economic loss that day is another aspect of the discomfort caused by these cocaine suspects.
This has not been lost on the parliamentarians though as similar sentiments have been raised by some of them that the discomfort caused by the cocaine suspects is unbearable. Both Hon Frank Kposowa and Paramount Chief Bai Kurr Kanagbaro suggested to government that the foreign nationals held as suspects be extradited to their respective countries. Another suggestion they made was that the suspects should be transferred to the Special Court for protective custody.
The two MPs arguably made some serious suggestions when you consider both the discomfort and the security implications it has for holding foreign suspects in your prisons which lacks both human resource and up to date facilities to secure them. When examined against the backdrop of what drug barons are known to do to set free their colleagues from police custody then one would say their suggestions are in place.
But there is this conflicting question of whether we have any bi-lateral treaty or agreement with any of these countries in relation to extradition and whether the special court will be ready to accept holding the cocaine suspects for protective custody.
We have had high profile cases before, the treason trial that of Foday Sankoh, and several others and as said earlier we never got such discomfort as people are now getting from suspects charged for illegal landing and malicious damage. The most confusing thing also is that these people have still not been charged for the actual reasons for which they were held and that is cocaine.
The pressure all should be placing is on the Attorney Generals’ office to try and charge the suspects for what they are held for and stop creating unnecessary tension around the case. And again, why should the security not only secure the law court building and specifically the courtroom in which the suspects are tried and allow people to go about their business undisturbed?
How long will this continue by blocking Pademba road and discomforting people when the cocaine suspects are brought to court and when will they finally be charged for cocaine since Parliament has made the drug law retro-active? What is the law officers Department waiting if there is no evidence to substantially try them on the new law why not try them on the pharmacy laws?
In the end what crime have the ordinary Sierra Leoneans committed such they should be treated in this way? Are we now the cocaine suspects to be treated in this way by the security officials? Even the cocaine suspects are treated better than us in the streets now by police – why should we be subjected to such humiliation and fear/
By Ishmael Bayoh