The location of Pademba Road Prison puts citizen’s lives at risk

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By Alhaji MB Jalloh

Residents of Freetown, especially in the west and central parts of the capital city woke up to the sounds of guns and bombs in the early hours of Sunday 26th November, 2023.

The battle on the streets between the state security forces and the invading assailants kept most civilians indoors and there was no vehicular traffic in the entire Freetown save for the warring factions – not even the Church goers would dare attend the morning service on that fateful day, much to the annoyance of some church leaders, who could have scooped mouthwatering collections from their shepherd (laugh).

While some say the November 26 attack of the First Battalion at Wilberforce Military Barracks Armoury was a breach of security, others described it as an attempted coup. Whatever you call it, my take and concern on this unfortunate incident in our country is the notorious jail break whenever lawless belligerents attack the State.

Over the years, it has become a vogue for assailants or renegade soldiers to always break into the Pademba Road Maximum Prison (now Correctional Centre) located in central Freetown and free deadly inmates who had committed felonious crimes of great magnitude.

For example, in the early hours of Sunday morning 25th May, 1997, some military elements clad in ceremonial uniforms overthrew the then newly democratically elected President of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone, the late Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (of blessed memory).

They broke into the Pademba Road Maximum Prison and freed all the inmates, including the incarcerated Major Johnny Paul Koroma, who later headed the AFRC/RUF junta until February 1998, when they were driven out of Freetown through a military intervention by the regional force – ECOMOG.

One of the aftermaths of the May 1997 jail break was the fleeing of dangerous criminals like the notorious killer, Highway, as he was commonly called. The late criminal was notorious for all the wrong reasons especially his community, Kissy, where he was feared like the angel of death. He was alleged to have taken part in the killing of Sam Bangura, the former Bank Governor. He made the lives of Kissy people miserable that many had to escape from that community for their safety.

Also, many of the escaped inmates joined ranks with the AFRC/RUF junta and caused many heinous crimes against defenseless civilians including police men, magistrates and judges who had either arrested, prosecuted or sentenced them.

Also, the April 29, 2022 jail break is one Sierra Leoneans will not forget in haste. That jail break, which I believe was of very serious magnitude, destroyed the lives of many inmates and the figure of deaths in that incident still remains doubtful, to say the least. Whether it was a jail break or prisoners riot, is still opaque.

Many of the corpses had to rot at the Connaught Teaching Hospital Mortuary before mass burial at Bolima in Waterloo, where Ebola and Corona victims were also buried. The government had claimed that the jail break was an attempted coup and a committee was set up to investigate the cause (s) of the jail break, but the findings and recommendations of that committee are yet to be made public, despite many facilities at the correctional center were gutted by fire and dozens of lives lost to brute force. Civil society’s call for the report to be made public fell on deaf ears.

But this recent jail break has baffled every well-meaning Sierra Leonean. Over 1000 inmates were reportedly released by the assailants. While a handful has been rearrested in Freetown and other parts of the country, most of the released inmates are still on the loose and only Allah knows whether most of them will be rearrested.

Few like popular musician, LAJ handed over himself through his lawyer Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai who presented him to the prison authorities. LAJ’s action earned him admiration. There is now fear that the wandering inmates are a serious security threat to the State because they will have the temerity to join the assailants/fugitives for reinforcement in order to continue enjoying freedom in the jungle. Some may fall back to their previous criminal activities to eke out their living at the detriment of unsuspecting people.

By and large, many believe that all the jail breaks are happening because successive governments do not seem serious about relocating the Pademba Road Correctional Centre despite a place had been identified along the Songo axis for the relocation of the country’s maximum prison.

From my investigations, since the relocation of the Pademba Road Correctional Centre was approved over two decades ago, only now some serious action is being taken to effect the building of a new correctional center. But whether the budget allocated for the construction was disbursed or not, is another different kettle of fish.

For President Julius Maada Bio or any future leader to maintain peace and stability in the country, there is urgent need to prioritize the relocation of the Pademba Road Correctional Centre, since it has become a pattern for assailants or renegade soldiers to always make the facility their paramount target during crisis.

And unsuspecting civilians had been victims of attacks on the prison premises, including the November 26 reported coup attempt, when an exuberant female supporter of the ruling SLPP was reportedly shot dead at her residence on Pademba Road for videoing the scene of the incident with her android phone.

Others may argue that the poor woman would not have been killed, if that colonial prison had been relocated elsewhere. The government needs to review its 2024 budget for the allocation of funds towards the construction project for the relocation of Pademba Road Correctional Centre. I believe this can happen, if the political will is there and that is what the public is expecting at a time when the President is preaching about peace, stability and cohesion among all Sierra Leoneans. This nightmare of jail break that is almost synonymous with coups must come to an end because Sierra Leoneans are cheesed off this threat. If the relocation materializes, that space can be used for the construction of mall or the biggest market to host our traders.

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