Government staff working at Sierra Leone’s Lungi international airport in Freetown, today brought shame on the country’s democracy, when they subjected former president Koroma to unprecedented molestation and humiliation.
It all started after a private jet carrying the former president, landed at the airport this afternoon, after visiting a few African Heads of State last week as part of what his advisers say is his ongoing post-presidential work.
It is understood that on some of these visits, Heads of State would send private plane to pick up the former president to take him on his African travels.
And as protocol around the World would demand, the former president is accorded presidential treatment at all airports he landed. But only it seems on his home soil, where he is treated differently – appallingly, if truth is to be told.
Former president Koroma arrived on a private plane that was assigned to him by one of the West African presidents, who had also obtained landing rights and permits from the authorities at Lungi Airport.
As expected, Lungi air traffic control staff directed the pilot of the plane to land in front of the presidential lounge at the Airport, which he did.
After the plane came to a halt, the ADC of the former president – Assistant Superintendent Ibrahim Sesay, who had flown out with the former president, advised the former president to remain seated whilst he disembarked to go and arrange for the VIP protocol vehicle to collect the former president from the plane.
But what then followed is nothing short of gratuitous abuse of power, designed to humiliate and deny the former president of his dignity and respect.
The airport authorities told the president’s ADC that they have received instructions ‘from above’ to move the plane away from the direction of the presidential lounge – contrary to the previous instructions, to the dismay of the foreign pilot.
The pilot then got off the plane to inform the airport authorities that he had received permission from control tower to land in the direction of the presidential lounge.
But the authorities were adamant. “Yes, you have to move this plane off from this area immediately,” they told the pilot.
The flabbergasted pilot went back to the plane to receive new instructions from control tower as to where to re-park the plane with the former president still on board.
To the shock and horror of both pilot and the former president, the unthinkable happened – the plane was re-routed to the cargo area of the airport.
In the meantime, the former president’s ADC was waiting for the protocol vehicle to arrive to collect the former president from the plane. But the vehicle never arrived. There had been another shocking ‘order from above’.
The Lungi airport authorities told the former president’s ADC that they have received further instructions ‘from above’ – not to allow the VIP vehicle to pick up the former president from the plane, which by then was waiting at the cargo loading area of the airport.
It seemed then that to add insult to injury, the former president was expected to then walk from the cargo loading area, which in any case is never used by ordinary passengers let alone a former head of state.
But as fate would have it, the firm operating the cargo area were kind enough to allow the former president to use one of their vehicles, which then took former president Koroma to the VIP Lounge – not the presidential lounge which has now become out of bounds for former president Koroma.
On arrival at the VIP lounge, former president Koroma was subjected to even further humiliation.
He was then told by the airport authorities that he cannot enter the VIP lounge either, and must go stand where ordinary passengers queued up in front of the immigration desks, for his passport to be stamped.
At this point, the former president reportedly calmly handed his passport over to his ADC and then walked outside of the airport to where his private jeep was parked, where he waited patiently for his passport to be stamped.
Then after a few more disgraceful shenanigans, the former president was finally driven away from the airport in his private car, and arrived safely at his residence in Makeni a few hours later.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph understands that the presidential plane that took the former president to Lungi airport had since returned to its country of origin.
This is an appalling episode for the former president that should never have been allowed to happen. There is no place in Sierra Leone’s politics for retribution or naked display of abuse of power, whether it’s from ‘powers from above’ or anywhere else for that matter.
Former president Koroma deserves to be treated with respect, as one day, president Julius Maada Bio upon leaving office would also expect to be treated by his successor.
Today’s vindictive humiliation of the former president is not only a stain on Sierra Leone’s democracy, but will make national cohesion and reconciliation a lot more harder to achieve, anytime soon.
Those responsible for this bad behaviour must be held to account, and clear instructions be issued to all airport staff to ensure that the former president is accorded his full rights, befitting a former Head of State, whenever he uses the airport.