The last few weeks have left a lot of Sierra Leoneans on edge, with reports of arrests and talks about a foiled coup d’etat by some military and police personnel in Sierra Leone.
All these come against a spate of military coups in the West African region. Niger is the latest case in which Sierra Leone, through ECOWAS, has condemned the move.
In Sierra Leone, this situation has also been heightened by the standoff between the government and the opposition, following a seriously contested outcome of the June 2023 general elections.
What started as a rumour has become a state investigation, with several military, police, and civilians arrested as part of the alleged plot to overthrow the government.
In the last few weeks, while state officials have released information about the arrests and the plots in drips, false information has also thrived, with some creating alternative narratives to describe the situation.
Throughout this investigation, the police and government officials have refused to call it a “Coup” but a “Subversion.”
Here are some claims and what DUBAWA knows so far from official sources:
DUBAWA tracked one of the earliest claims surfaced on WhatsApp in a public group, where Colonel Musa Bangura was accused. The message also carried threats against his safety.
It is difficult to ascertain where the message originated from and on what date.
Another claim circulated simultaneously was made on July 29 by a Facebook user named Abraham Larkoh.
It took two days for authorities to respond to these allegations.
The first response came from the Sierra Leone Police on the 31st of July, who confirmed that some military officers and police have been arrested.
In a carefully worded press statement, read by the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Brima Jah, the force stated that the officers were arrested because: “they were working to undermine the peace and tranquillity of the state and unleash violence on the peaceful citizens of Sierra Leone.”
A day after, BBC picked up the story on its website on the 1st of August. Up to then, the only two things that had been confirmed were;
Firstly, military and police officers were arrested.
Secondly, it is not connected to their tribe or region, as Larkoh claimed in his post.
What was still missing was how many people were arrested and what their names were, and these prompted more questions.
Popular influencer Vickie Remoe echoed those concerns in her post just a day after.
A TikTok user known as Mike Bayoh went as far as blaming the opposition in a post and rained a lot of invective on their political leaders. In a post full of derogatory statements and invectives, his post has since garnered over 11,000 views.
Six days after the police statement, journalist Thomas Dixon broke the news on Twitter that Liberian media have reported the arrests of a former police superintendent, Mohamed Turay, commonly known as “Yeatay-Yeatay” in Liberia.
Yeatay Yeatay was discharged from the force three years ago.
Dixon was referencing the Front Page Africa story that was published on that very day, detailing Turay’s arrest and his extradition process.
On August 8, a week after the press statement was read, in a weekly press briefing organised by the Ministry of Information and Civic Education, the military and police chief gave out more details on the arrests.
The Inspector General of Police, William Fayia Sellu, said (watch between 30:00 to 33:00 mins) they have arrested eight middle-level officers, six non-commissioned officers, two police officers and one retired police superintendent and two civilians.
Names were not given, and no specific ranks of those arrested were stated or service numbers mentioned, leaving the public to speculate further.
However, because of the arrest of Police Superintendent Turay in Liberia the previous day, a question about his extradition was raised, and the IG Sellu’s response on the issue was that:
“On the issue of extradition, no matter where you are, as long as that country is part of Interpol, we will get you. All we need to do is to send the case history, then assess it, and they issue a Red Alert for you, and you will be arrested,”
August 15: names and faces are announced
In a significant development, on Tuesday, August 15, police released the names and faces of those on the run. While 14 are in custody, nine others are on the run; these include military, police and civilians.
Wanted Notice, posted on the Police Media WhatsApp group
Police have announced a Le10,000 (approx. $500) reward for those who may have information on any of the men on the run.
Police are yet to release the names of those arrested, leaving room for wild speculations and hate speech, like what Organiser.net published last week claiming that those arrested are mostly from the North of the country. They have already been killed, fanning already existing tribal and regional tensions in the country.
Organiser.net story, littered with invectives and insightful language, claimed that Col. Musa Bangura is missing after being declared wanted by the government. However, DUBAWA found out that Col. Bangura is not on the wanted list, and the Police have not confirmed or denied whether they have him in custody.
Repeated questions to the Police about those arrested have been rebuffed, citing the investigation’s sensitivity.
All nine whose pictures and ranks have been published face the charge of “Conspiracy to Commit Felony to wit, Subversion” As investigations continue, the logical step will be for the Police to release more information on those in custody. But while the wait continues, there is no telling how many more theories could be created.