Salone News

The NPRC Coup: Lt.Colonel SIM Turay’s View

2 July 2010 at 23:29 | 3463 views

Editor’s Note: This article is a response to an article by Dr. Sama Banya published in Freetown’s New Vision newspaper.

Opinion

By Lieutenant-Colonel (Rtd.) SIM Turay, Freetown.

I write in response to your article captioned “The Obduracy of the APC”, which was published in the New Vision Newspaper of Thursday 17 June 2010. In particular, my focus is on your comment concerning the alleged shooting in cold blood of Lieutenant Sandi by me on the day of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) military coup. In addressing your comment my efforts will only be concentrated on the coup plot headed by Lieutenant Sandi, which was one of three separate NPRC coup plots, information of which first surfaced in early 1990, some two years before the NPRC coup was actually executed.

No doubt Dr. Banya, we all have a right to express our personal views, which is a fundamental human right that is guaranteed by the constitution of this country. But frankly, for you to allegedly attribute Lieutenant Sandi’s death to me sadly demonstrates the extent to which you have allowed your ethnocentric and contemptuous outbursts to blight your sense of judgment. Besides, you should take cognizance of the fact that there is no place for a military coup in Sierra Leone’s 1991 Constitution and the laws of this country. In other words, Sierra Leone has a Written Constitution and is not governed under jungle law. It is this written constitution cornerstone of our democracy, and the rule of law.

Considering my position as Head of Sierra Leone’s Military Intelligence for several years before the NPRC military coup, including the first twelve months of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) tribal rebel war, I was privy to reliable and credible intelligence reports relating to the coup plot. However, in order to fully understand the Sandi coup plot and the underlying developments which prompted this particular group of plotter to plan the nationwide slaughter of northerners and Creoles, it is essential to give a brief commentary on the NPRC military coup plot, which was part of the overall RUF tribal rebel war plan.

On the material day, that is, 29 April 1992, Lieutenant Sandi was the leader of the NPRC coup plot which ultimately gained ascendancy over the other two coup plots in illegally overthrowing the previous All Peoples Congress (APC) government. While actively engaged in the execution of the coup plot, Lieutenant Sandi died in a fierce gun battle in the capital, Freetown involving over thirty soldiers, including rebels of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), who had been recruited by the NPRC for the purpose of violently overthrowing the previous APC government.

On that same day, I was in command of the Sierra Leone army by virtue of my being the most senior loyal officer who had made himself available to put down the coup. I was therefore involved in the fighting. It is an incontestable fact that I was rightly and lawfully carrying out my duty as an officer and had the full legal authority of the legitimate government of Sierra Leone under the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces Act 1961 as amended, and the 1991 National Constitution and the laws of the land. Sadly, one of the soldiers under my command, who was involved in putting down the coup also died in the fire fight inches away from me when he was hit by a hail of bullets coming from the direction of the coup plotters. He was my Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) man, one of the unsung heroes of our young nation.

It is an undeniable fact that Lieutenant Sandi met his death while he was engaged in the illegal and unconstitutional overthrow of the previous democratically elected APC government, an act of treason which carries the maximum penalty of death.

Therefore, considering that Lieutenant Sandi met his death while committing an act of treason, your outrageous and senseless comment about me is simply contemptuous, irresponsible and legally baseless. In fact, Lieutenant Sandi’s death was a blessing in disguise for this country.

As the NPRC coup plot is complex and a long story, I shall only deal with the Sandi coup plot, as he is the centre of this article, together with you his great admirer. I intend to posit several articles on the NPRC coup plot in due course.

In any event, as earlier explained, there were three separate coup plots although the public were only aware of just one NPRC coup plot. The key military architects of these coup plots were six senior (Major and above) army officers, one of whom wanted to be President himself; the other wanted to install the SLPP in power; while the third wanted to install the RUF in power. There was therefore a conflict of interest among the six senior military officers even though they were operating as a closely-knit unit. This conflict of interest was tribally based and motivated but it was kept in the dark.

Incredibly, unknown to some of the senior officers in the group, at least three, or the two who were present in Sierra Leone during the coup were going to be summarily executed within hours of the success of the success of the coup, depending on which tribal faction had the upper hand. The plot was bloody and heinous, and was going to involve the general nationwide slaughter of people from northern ethnic groups, particularly Limbas and Temnes, the two major ethnic groups that form the backbone of the APC. Yalunkas, Korankos and prominent Creoles in the Western Area were also to be slain. This was where Lieutenant Sandi came into the picture. He was the leader of the three ethnic factions combined that were going to carry out the tribal massacre. It would have resulted in Africa’s bloodiest tribal slaughter. But then as God would have it, he died even before the coup succeeded.

The Sandi coup plot took two years to plan and entailed foreign involvement. However, I shall skip the foreign element in this article. The coup plot was part of the overall RUF tribal rebel war plan and predominantly comprised three ethnic groups, namely, the Mendes and Kissis who were in the majority; and the Konos. There were a handful of other tribes but it was the Mendes and Kissis who had the sway. Together with Lieutenant Sandi, the other key military officers in the plot were mostly junior officers (Lieutenants) of eastern and southern origin, who later emerged to form the NPRC hierarchy.

The key civilian figures in the plot who were very active were Mr. John Benjamin and Dr John Karimu, both of whom are Mende and Kissi, respectively from the eastern region. Of course, there were several other civilians involved, some of whom were living in Sierra Leone. The others were permanently or temporarily resident in Ghana, the Gambia, Liberia, the Ivory Coast, the UK and the USA. The majority of these civilians who were in the main of eastern and southern origin were SLPP supporters and sympathetic to the NPRC.

John Benjamin even later publicly declared he was one of those who plotted the overthrow of the previous APC government, a declaration which is of course treasonable. Such was his total disregard for the laws of this country. And this is the same man today, who deluded by his arrogant pomposity believes he can foster constitutional democracy and the rule of law under the banner of the SLPP.

The group’s senior military adviser was Brigadier (Rtd) MS Lymon, a Mende from Pujehun, whose younger brother was an RUF rebel commander. Major General (Rtd) JS Gottor, a Mende from Kenema was also an active member of the group. The plot was therefore surreptitiously tribally motivated. However, Brigadier (Rtd) Kelly Conteh, a Koranko was also actively involved with the group. As a matter of fact, he was the overall NPRC coup plot coordinator and officer responsible for the recruitment of potential coup officers and men. For the purpose of this article, the Sandi group is the same as the eastern and southern faction of junior military officers.

The eastern and southern faction formed the core of the RUF, together with Charles Taylor’s NPFL rebels, and an unspecified number of Burkinabi regular soldiers. However, the implementation of a second option within the military saw the emergence of the group of junior military officers. In order to facilitate this option, it became necessary to infiltrate the army once the tribal rebel war had begun, necessitating the recruitment of more junior infantry officers. Dr. AK Turay willingly obliged the SLPP when Momoh selected him to put together a team of lecturers from Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone to set and mark the examination papers for the recruitment of Officer Cadets into the army. But Momoh was unknowingly playing into the hands of Dr Turay who was covertly SLPP.

With regard to the NPRC, this was the time it became apparent that the RUF war was going to be a long and bitter struggle, which meant the army was under considerable pressure to recruit more junior officers and men. This was during the second-half of 1991. So the second option, that is, the military coup plot took priority over the RUF war effort. For this purpose, ethnic Mendes and Kissis, together with ethnic Konos were encouraged to join the army as Officer Cadets. In order to facilitate their success in the Cadet exams, Dr AK Turay cleverly recruited Mende lecturers sympathetic to the SLPP.

This was how many ethnic Mende, Kissi and Kono officers of low intellect were able to successfully join the army. The then Army Commander, Major General Tarawalli fully supported the scheme and turned down intelligence reports that Dr. Turay was covertly facilitating a coup plot. Once recruited, the Officer Cadets were hurriedly trained over a period of three months, instead of the usual period of fifteen to twenty one months.

One very disturbing feature was the appointment of Brigadier (Rtd) Kelly Conteh by the Army Commander, Major General Tarawalli as the officer in charge of the recruitment of both Officer Cadets and other Ranks. Experienced senior military offices were left dumbfounded over the appointment of Kelly Conteh as he was a relatively junior officer in terms of seniority. I was one of those senior officers who expressed concern over his appointment. Kelly Conteh had little or no field experience and had not even been an infantry training officer or a staff officer. He therefore did not have the experience or the eye for a potential good officer or soldier. But Kelly Conteh’s appointment was deliberate. It was all part of an elaborate scheme to overthrow the previous APC government.

As there was reliable and credible intelligence establishing a nexus existed between the Sandi Military coup plot and the two other NPRC coup plots, I suggested three options to Momoh in order to stem the coup. By then, the NPRC plot had become an open secret and I was under considerable pressure from loyal officers and men to carry out the arrests of the officers involved. Option one was to arrest all the officers involved in the coup plots, including the Army Commander Major General Tarawalli. Option two was to set up a crack force of around 250 officers and men to crush the coup anytime the plotters decided to strike. In this regard, I volunteered to command such a crack force. Option three was to compulsorily retire all the officers involved in the coup plots.

As it turned out, Momoh never had the stomach for any of the options. This meant that as Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, he had been found grievously wanting at the time it mattered most. He was simply too weak and to some extent politically naïve to do anything about the NPRC coup plots. In the end, it became a question of déjà vu.

A few weeks before the coup, Kelly Conteh attempted to placate me in order to win my patronage. He explained we should ask Momoh to step down, failing which we were to arrest him.

Frankly, I was not shocked by what he said because I had been expecting some kind of last ditch rapprochement from the coup plotters. Rightly, they realized I had considerable support in the army and were terrified I would oppose the coup, and that there would be bloody fighting. I remember Jusu Gottor once told me at the height of the NPRC coup plot that whenever we bumped into each other, I made him uncomfortable.

Anyway, I explained my conference with Kelly Conteh to Momoh, suggesting Kelly Conteh should be arrested immediately. I pointed out he was the weakest link and that there was every possibility we could squeeze the entire NPRC coup plot out of him. But Momoh had become a strange man to deal with since the coup plot drew closer and closer. In fact, at some point in time he became so terrified he wanted to flee the country.

However, shortly before the NPRC coup, I submitted an intelligence report captioned “Military Coup Imminent”. I explained the coup plotters would be coming from upcountry. Among other things, I made it clear this was the real thing so action ought to be taken to stop the coup without any further delay. Sadly, Momoh did nothing.

The original leader of the eastern and southern faction of junior military officers was Lieutenant Ben Hirsch, the younger brother of John Benjamin. However, Ben Hirsch did not live to see the NPRC coup as he was unexpectedly killed in an ambush organized by ULIMO fighters when they realized he was RUF and a traitor. Like Ben Hirsch, the other junior and senior military officers in the group were all traitors responsible for the majority of our officers and soldiers killed in action, some of whom were even shot in the back. It was as a result of the sudden death of Lieutenant Ben Hirsch that Lieutenant Sandi became the new leader of the eastern and southern faction of junior military officers. The plot therefore progressed smoothly.

The senior officers involved in the NPRC coup plot were strategically placed so as to execute the coup. Major General (Rtd) JS Gottor was War Front Commander. He was a Mende of eastern origin and was the officer behind the SLPP cause. Gottor was sympathetic to the RUF and was sabotaging the rebel war effort to the extent that the Guineans fighting alongside our troops requested for his replacement. But this never happened, the army commander saw to that. Gottor was his key player. On the day of the coup, Gottor had already arrived in Freetown and was waiting for things to happen.

Brigadier (Rtd) Kelly Conteh was Gottor’s second-in-command. Once again, considering there were several senior and experienced officers around, his appointment as No. 2 to Jusu Gottor baffled many senior officers. But Kelly Conteh was part of the jigsaw piece to overthrow the previous APC government. A Koranko of northern origin, he was a die-hard SLPP. Kelly Conteh was also Major General Tarawalli’s blue-eyed boy and the coup’s coordinator and recruiting officer.

Brigadier (Rtd) JOY Turay was Commander Eastern Front. A Temne of northern origin, he was simply a traitor and an opportunist. Lieutenant Colonel Yayah Kanu was Commander Southern Front. A Temne of northern origin, he was the bravest of all the officers involved in the NPRC coup plot. Yayah Kanu was a fine officer and a personal friend. He looked up to me as his role model in the army since the days when he was a young recruit and I was his platoon commander at Daru. However, he was a late entrant to the coup plot and had no idea of its tribal dimension. He was one of those destined to be summarily executed by the Sandi coup plotters.

Yayah was tasked to attack the official residence of Momoh. But he hesitated at the very last minute when he realized belatedly that the coup had a tribal dimension. Yayah felt desperately isolated and needed a senior officer of northern origin to turn the coup around. But he had made a fatal mistake, and the coup plotters were not going to take any chances. Besides, unknown to Yayah, the junior officers under his command who were of eastern and southern origin, and whom he had brought down to Freetown to execute the coup badly wanted his life.

Yayah could have been a war hero as the media portrayed him to be, but some of his war tactics were deeply flawed. Troops under his command mounted sweeping drives on several small towns and villages killing innocent and helpless civilians who had just survived rebel attacks. These were the very people Yayah had a duty to protect. His actions never went unnoticed by the junior eastern and southern officers under his command. So when the time came, his killers had a reason for his blood. Poor chap, he was reportedly burnt alive.

Brigadier (Rtd) MK Lymon was Director of Personnel. A die-hard Mende tribalist of southern origin whose younger brother was an RUF. Although permanently stationed in Freetown, he knew every stage of the coup’s progress. In fact, his prompt action at Wilberforce barracks on the afternoon of the NPRC coup was to prove crucial to the coup’s success.

The Sandi plot to slaughter northerners and Creoles was to have been conducted in two phases but for his unexpected death. Phase one would have entailed the deliberate and targeted summary executions within twenty four hours of the success of the coup of all military officers and senior non-commissioned officers of northern origin in the Sierra Leone army and the Sierra Leone navy. This would have comprised, in particular, Limbas and Temnes, the two major ethnic groups that form the backbone of the APC, and Yalunkas and Korankos. The summary executions would have also included prominent Creoles in the Western Area; prominent northern politicians and professionals; and prominent businessmen and businesswomen of northern origin.

The execution of phase two would have seen the indiscriminate slaughter of northerners nationwide, with the prime targets being Limbas and Temnes. Had Lieutenant Sandi survived the coup, the world would have witnessed a tribal atrocity unprecedented in modern times. SAJ Musa’s summary executions of predominantly northerners were a mere tip of the iceberg.

On the morning of the NPRC coup, I had cause to go to Army Headquarters, Cockerill during the initial stages of my bid to crush the coup. Brigadier (Rtd) JOY Turay was already there with his contingent of men from the eastern from. Brigadier (Rtd) Kelly Conteh was also there with his own contingent of men from the southern front. They were all fully armed. Before I left, one soldier armed with a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) from JOY Turay’s contingent did join my group. With the benefit of hindsight, if only I had arrested these two officers that morning, perhaps history would have taken a different turn.

Sadly, the RPG soldier was killed by Sandi and his group of coup plotters latter that day. He was hit by a hail of bullets and died instantly only inches away from me. This brave soldier lost his life in the performance of his duty and in defence of democracy and the constitution of this country. His family should be proud of him. All decent Sierra Leoneans should be proud of him too. He was a loyal soldier whose life was brutally cut short by ruthless coup plotters. No doubt, every effort should be made to identify him so that he could be honoured and his family compensated. He also deserves a proper funeral with full military honours.

During the same morning of the coup, I assembled a large number of loyal troops at both Wilberforce and Murray town barracks. I gave clear cut orders to them that an illegal military coup was unfolding and that it was our duty to crush it. I explained to them that the main contingent of coup plotters had occupied State House, so our task was to attack State House, flush out the plotters and crush the coup. The response from the troops was total.

Anyhow, it turned out Momoh had a very different idea. He rejected my decision to attack State House with the rather incredible excuse that the attack would destroy State House. He was instead going to negotiate with the coup plotters. Shockingly, two of the senior architects of the NPRC coup plot, Brigadier (Rtd) JOY Turay and Lieutenant Colonel Yayah Kanu, who were already in Freetown and engaged in executing the coup, were going to do the negotiations. To cut a long story short, this was how the initiative to crush the coup was lost.

Later that afternoon, the coup plotters managed to make their way to Wilberforce barracks. One their arrival, loyal soldiers decided to arrest the entire contingent. It was at this juncture that Brigadier (Rtd) Lymon broke his cover. He strongly advocated that the men were only protesting over the shortage of rations and non-payment of salaries at the war front. His calculated pretext was so cleverly put across that he succeeded in preventing the arrest of the plotters, thereby encouraging other innocent soldiers to join in. Once the coup had subsequently taken a firm foothold, Lymon, together with Kelly Conteh became the key military organizers for the NPRC.

So with regard to my official role as Head of Military Intelligence in exposing the NPRC coup plot and actually physically opposing the coup itself, my integrity and reputable image had to be completely destroyed by the perpetrators of the coup. This approach received the full backing of the SLPP which unashamedly turned on its propaganda machine to overdrive in order to tarnish my reputation and public persona. I am sure they also wanted to settle scores, or had an axe to grind as I had masterminded and personally led the Waterloo Street attack in Freetown by loyal soldiers and SSD personnel, which crushed the Kaikai coup some years back. The abortive coup subsequently led to the Minah’s treason trial.

These unscrupulous people then declared me “a fugitive and wanted man” and placed a price on my head. As if that was not enough, they deceitful and deliberately manufactured diabolical fabrications of Lieutenant Sandy being my son, and of his mother being my girlfriend. I had never known these creatures from Adam. I had no connections with them whatsoever. They also connected me with Foday the “Government Wharf boatman”, and a Freetown Susu chief. I had never met these people in my life. What a pity the NPRC gave Foday the beating of his life.

Not surprisingly, the disingenuous and contemptuous comments in the same article are consistent with your idiosyncratic trademark. And frankly most of these comments do not accord with the clear and unambiguous provisions of the 1991 Constitution and the laws of Sierra Leone. For a man of your political stature and social standing to have made such an outrageous and legally baseless comment regarding my conduct, you do need to be educated on the relevant provisions of the 1991 Constitution and the laws of the land.

I shall therefore endeavour to highlight the point of the law regarding the events surrounding your unsavoury allegation. Although my explanation may be purely academic in so far as Lieutenant Sandi is concerned because he can no longer face the law, it is nonetheless essential to educate you and others like you on the point of the law.

It would be recalled that on 29 April 1992, the National Provisional Ruling Council illegally and unconstitutionally overthrew the legitimate civilian All Peoples Congress government and usurped the reigns of power by installing itself as the government of Sierra Leone. What remains a legally incontestable fact is that in the cold light of day, the NPRC military coup flagrantly and brazenly abrogated the 1991 Constitution and the laws of this country with impunity.

The 1991 Constitution expressly states in section 108 subsection (8) that: “Any suspension, alteration, or repeal of (the) Constitution other than on the authority of Parliament shall be deemed to be an act of Treason”. The NPRC regime was therefore ipso facto plainly unconstitutional and illegal and its act clearly treasonable. The military coup also flies in the face of the Treason and State Offences Act 1963, (Act No. 10 of 1963), which clearly makes it a treasonable offence to overthrow or change the government of this country by the use force. In addition, the various acts or omissions committed by the NPRC military officers in relation to the coup plot and the coup itself were also in clear breach of several provisions of the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) Act of 1961 as amended.

Before the coup and right up to the time of his death, Lieutenant Sandi actively took part in the NPRC coup plot and in the execution of the coup plot itself on 29 April 1992. As leader of the coup, Lieutenant Sandi had de jure and de factor command and control over the activities and operations of the NPRC, and as such bore full responsibility for all the acts or omissions committed by the NPRC right up to the time of his death.

In addition, or alternatively, while holding the position of the most superior authority or responsibility and exercising command and control over his subordinates, Lieutenant Sandi was criminally responsible for all the crimes committed by the NPRC right up to the time of his death. Sandi was also responsible for the criminal acts of his subordinates in that he knew or had reason to know that the subordinates were about to commit such acts or had done so and he failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereof while he was still alive.

Lieutenant Sandi therefore clearly and plainly committed an act of treason and the offence of murder under the 1991 Constitution and the common law of Sierra Leone. Under the Treason and State Offences Act, 1963 (Act No. 10 of 1963), Lieutenant Sandi likewise committed an act of treason. I should point out that both offences of treason and murder carry a maximum penalty of death. In addition, the various acts or omissions committed by Lieutenant Sandi in relation to the coup plot and the coup itself were also in clear breach of several provisions of the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) Act of 1961 as amended.

My candid extrapolation Dr Banya is that even though you are now retired, it is misguided politicians like you who more often than not find themselves in the highest echelons of political power, and who have a tendency to believe that their approach to life has to do with political brinkmanship. But for once sit down and reflect on your achievements and shortcomings in life. Perhaps, you would come to realize there is a dark side in you, which ruthlessly preys on the minds of the gullible and the ignorant.

What is, of course dangerous, is that the extremity of your views have the consciously desired effect of manipulating otherwise decent and law abiding citizens and other ethnocentric individuals like yourself, and encouraging them to become a law unto themselves. You should be reminded that such a development invites nothing but anarchy. Therefore, what I want to point out to you is that your egocentric beliefs and self-parochial words of wisdom call them whatever you like, are not sacrosanct.

Having said this, I implore you to answer these questions with sincerity. The very Sandi whom you alleged I shot in cold blood, does not he belong to your Mende ethnic group? By plotting and physically executing an illegal military coup, did he not abrogate the 1991 Constitution? Was such an abrogation not done with impunity? Did he not also commit an act of treason under the Treason and State Offences Act 1963?

By physically taking part in the coup and actually leading it, was he not intent on executing the nationwide slaughter of Limbas, Temnes, Creoles and people of other northern ethnic groups? Could he not be one of those who was invariably convinced and encouraged by your ruthless manipulations to become a law unto himself? Had he survived the coup, would he not have managed and carried out a heinous nationwide tribal slaughter of northerners and Creoles, which would have plunged this country into a bloodbath and total anarchy?

These are serious questions and all peace loving Sierra Leoneans deserve truthful answers from you. You may wish to know, for instance, that it is tribalists with your make-up and Sandi’s make-up who plunged Rwanda into the terrible tribal genocide that took the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Rwandans in 1994.

I challenge you, or any SLPP member, or anybody else for that matter who feels strongly about this matter to cause the case to face due process. Then, and only then, would we know who deserves glory and who is or was the devil. For my part, I am looking forward to my day in court. This is why I continue to advocate that the entire NPRC saga should face due process.

Having an Inquest should therefore be seen as the beginning of a legal process which should be taken to its ultimate conclusion because Sierra Leone is not governed under jungle law, although people like you sadly believe it is. There is no doubt that we are a civilized state governed under Constitutional Law, and the constitution and the laws of this country were plainly and clearly abrogated by Lieutenant Sandi and his collaborators with impunity.

This is why people like us placed our necks on the line to ensure we benefit from the trappings of a civilized society that is based on democratic ideals and the rule of law. The 1991 Constitution and the laws of this country are there to be judiciously practiced and respected. They are, without any doubt, the instruments that guarantee democratic constitutional governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law. So please Dr Banya, Sierra Leone does not want, or need jungle law. We are a decent and civilized people. We have always been until people like you spoilt it all. This is why some of us are finding it so difficult to come to terms with a society that has changed beyond recognition.

I remember when I was a little boy growing up in Freetown, it was so wonderful and I loved it all. But people like you have changed all of that. Honestly your experience in life is hardly a paradigm for any sincere or peace loving Sierra Leonean. You should be ashamed of yourself.

We must never lose sight of the fact that had Lieutenant Sandy not died in pursuit of his heinous endeavour, he would have directed the mass slaughter of people of northern origin, particularly Limbas, Temnes, Yalunkas and Korankos; and prominent Creoles in the Western Area.

Photo: Captain(Rtd) Valentine Strasser, then leader of the NPRC before he was toppled and replaced by Brigadier-General (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio.

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