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ECOWAS solidarity mission in Sierra Leone as 3 member states form new alliance

By Paul Ejime

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An ECOWAS solidarity and fact-finding Mission has met in Freetown with President Julius Maada Bio over the apparent attempted military coup in Sierra Leone on Sunday while three of the four suspended member-States under military rule Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have announced the formation of a separate organisation.

The team comprising the ECOWAS Commission’s President Omar Alieu Toure, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Christopher Musa and the Chief of Defence Intelligence, Gen. Emmanuel Udiandeye, had discussions at the State House on Monday with President Bio, accompanied by some officials of his government.

Diplomatic sources said the delegation delivered a goodwill message from the Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority and Nigerian President Bola Tinubu to President Bio and the government and people of Sierra Leone, over the attack by assailants on the Wilberforce Barracks near the Presidential Lodge.

President Bio and Sierra Leone’s Information and Civic Education Minister Hernor Bah said some the attackers had been arrested, while joint security forces were after the escapees.

No official casualty figures were given, but independent sources said there were “several deaths” from the exchange of gun fires, which lasted for several hours, while some prisoners were released from the country’s Central Pademba Prison in the state capital Freetown.

Sierra Leone’s immediate past President Ernest Bai Koroma also said in a statement that one of his official security guards was shot and killed, and another abducted by unknown gunmen.

The Bio government has now lifted the nationwide curfew imposed following the shootout, the second in the country within three months following the June controversial presidential elections.

In its initial statement on Sunday, ECOWAS had expressed deep concern and condemned the latest armed attacks.

President Bio was said to have expressed appreciation to ECOWAS and Nigeria for the solidarity visit, reiterating his commitment to democracy in Sierra Leone, which is still recovering from a devastating 11-year civil war that ended in 2002.

The Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) declared President Bio of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) re-elected with 56.17% vote in the June polls.

But the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC), whose candidate Samura Kamara was declared runner-up, rejected the ECSL results claiming that the vote was marred by irregularities.

Some civil society organisations as well as local and international election observation Missions also said the electoral process, especially the result management, lacked transparency.

The post-election disaffection has combined with socio-economic hardship to raise political tensions amid fears that Sierra Leone could relapse into conflict unless urgent remedial steps were taken.

Meanwhile, three suspended ECOWAS member States, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, have announced the formation of a mutual defence pact against “possible threats of armed rebellion or external aggression.”

The military rulers of the three countries initialled the accord for the Alliance of Sahel States, which binds the signatories to assist one another in the event of an attack on any one of them.

The troika in the joint statement fell short of announcing their dissociation from ECOWAS, which has imposed biting sanctions on them.

The regional economic bloc is struggling to restore constitutional order in the three countries and Guinea, where the military have seized power.

The ECOWAS Parliament has called for the sanctions on Niger to be lifted because of their severe impact on the country, especially the cut of electricity supply by Nigeria.

The Niger junta has meanwhile, announced the termination of a cooperation agreement between Niamey and the European Union aimed at curbing illegal migration from the country to Europe.

Analysts say these developments must be troubling to ECOWAS, which has so far, failed to carry through its threat of military intervention to restore constitutional order in Niger following the 26 July army coup in that country.

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