First published on July 30, 2001 – Sierra Leone Live
By John L. Musa (RIP)
In this four-part article, John L. Musa shows whether or not Francis M. Minah was guilty of treason for the May 23, 1989 coup.
Part 1- Prelude To Treason Trial
CONTEH VERSUS MINAH – THE POWER STRUGGLE?
THE MOMOH-MINAH OR CONTEH-MINAH STRUGGLE FOR POWER?
Various questions have been hitherto raised regarding Dr. Abdulai Osman Conteh’s motive in assuming the role of the Prosecutor in the Treason Trial of Minah and others. Let me join in the supposition that one may draw an inference from the totality of circumstances to say that the arrest, trial and execution of Francis Mischeck Minah was groundless. Great light may be thrown on the argument under review by first adducing the respective backgrounds of the actors. It is now legend that Minah and Conteh were among the pre-eminent courtiers in Stevens’ hegemony. What is uncertain is whether or not their competing interests turned into a querulous rivalry in the Momoh administration where Minah held two plum portfolios and Conteh had none. At trial, rumor was rife in Freetown that Minah, who supported the infringement of the line of succession in the Constitution, to deny S.I. Koroma the Presidency in favor of Momoh, was no longer in the good graces of President Momoh. Nay, there is no credible evidence to support this speculation. More than this, had Minah been at odds with President Momoh, the President could easily have dismissed him. The conjecture of a Minah-Conteh turf fight for the soul of the APC, is a more cogent speculation than a Momoh-Minah quarrel. And if one trusts the Minah-Conteh argument, it would seem likely that the ascendancy of Minah in the Momoh administration. The seeming contest for power blew into a flame, the dying embers of a growing animosity in the Momoh administration between the pair of courtiers.
Let us further nurture the speculation of the Minah-Conteh struggle for power which I trust has formed the basis of the allegation in many minds. There is good cause to settle on this speculation that Conteh who was once touted as a top contender among Stevens’ presumed heirs, found himself on the fringes of power at the close of Stevens’ reign. It would seem plausible that Conteh dreamed of his hand on the tiller in the ship of State especially when the notion of S.I. Koroma’s poor health fanned the rumor that Stevens would prefer someone else. Master of power politics and connoisseur of Machiavellian measures, Stevens resolved the power struggle among his competing acolytes for his legacy, by nominating then Force Commander Brigadier General Joseph Saidu Momoh to succeed him. When the roll was called in Parliament to amend the 1978 one-party Constitution to virtually prevent S. I. Koroma from succeeding Stevens, Dr. Conteh voted against the Bill.
THE CONTEH APOSTASY
How did Conteh become a perfidious politician and a Small-boy in the patronage of Stevens, apart from his student years when he spoke truth to men of power politics? Dr. Conteh, heretofore a Legal Practician and University Lecturer was not quite known beyond the frontiers of the groves of academe, until Stevens orchestrated an “unopposed” candidacy for him in Kambia District. During his student years at Cambridge, he was an outspoken critic of Stevens’ axiomatic misrule in Sierra Leone. In taming the out-spoken educated class against his administration, Stevens used the carrot and stick stratagem. To ensnare Conteh, Stevens dangled the carrot before him, and Conteh threw caution to the winds and climbed aboard the supreme berth of the APC. Following his APC style â€˜success’ at the polls, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and began his meteoric rise in the APC firmament. He became its North Star and eclipsed other competing rising stars, but Mr. Minah held his own in various cabinet portfolios. Becoming an apostate like Minah, Stevens’ court employed two men of equal political taste for clientelism where they were buffeted with senior cabinet positions.
THE MAN CALLED FRANCIS MISCHECK MINAH
Before delving into the role of the Attorney General in the Minah treason trial, first a word about Minah the politician. We can scarcely know a man such as Minah who unites much villainy with the appearance of the innocence of a serious crime of treason. Francis Minah, the pliant minion of Siaka Stevens was a man difficult to defend out of the realm of the rule of law, as some of the ablest of Sierra Leonean lawyers including the Berthen Macauleys, Charles Margai, Solomon Berewa have done, but lost his neck to the hangman in the small hours of October 7, 1989. Throughout his unhallowed political history, he was in public contempt in the nation and especially in his home district of Pujehun. The role of these lawyers must have been divided by mortal antipathies for Minah the prisoner and Minah the sepulchral politician. His reputation acquired the stamp of obloquy as he became more of the likeness of the Prince of Darkness under Siaka Stevens. Separately and together, they injured the human spirit of Sierra Leoneans. In Pujehun, Minah used his political power with iron pertinacity with the APC warrant, to purge political opposition. He indulged in an atrocious freak of abuse of power and authority, whenever the whim possessed him because the APC rifles seconded him. There is ample evidence that Minah was responsible for the death of a Pujehun teacher Kemokai among his other detractors in the District. Minah’s memory still wears infamy from the banks of the Waanje River and beyond. Accordingly, on his political balance sheet, Francis Minah the politician, was a tyrant and a vile wretch, bound in the fetters of the curse of the law and the just odium of his nemesis of Pujehun. On the other hand, he stood accused of a crime he appeared to be innocent of. During his trial Minah was a sad spectacle to see boarding the Black Maria to his temporary lodging at Pa Demba Road Prison amidst hisses. The weekly West Africa reported that when Minah was lodged at the execrable Prison, his victims from Pujehun engaged in howls of rage and ventured in retribution. In short, Minah gave universal offense to his constituents and his rivals in the APC. But on to Francis Minah in the Dock and Conteh as his prosecutor.
THE APC BIGBOY-SMALLBOY CLIENT PATRONAGE
But what fueled the presumed feud between Minah and Conteh? In the aftermath of Conteh’s negative vote in the amendment of the Constitutional grant of succession, we may harbor the notion that Conteh knew he might not become a minister in the Momoh government for his temerity and political heresy. Conteh and Minah had profited immensely from the good graces of Stevens during his Big man-Small boy (brand of clientelism) years at State House. Stevens led a client-patron administration and “small boys” of Conteh and Minah’s ilk prospered in such a milieu. Mr. Minah an SLPP turncoat from Pujehun District, was the apple of Siaka Stevens’ eye when he left the SLPP and was rewarded with various cabinet portfolios for his apostasy. In the post-Stevens era, Minah prospered more than his competitors. On his political journey, begun in Stevens’ auspices, Minah reached the summit of his ambition when President Momoh appointed him to occupy the First Vice Presidency and the office of Attorney General & Minister of Justice concurrently. Accordingly, Conteh’s vote to amend the Constitution despoiled him of a Big-man who would clothe him with the indicia of power such as Stevens did for him.
THE CLASH OF THE SMALL BOYS
It was then quite settled that the emergence of the Momoh regime was a more
generous milieu for Mr. Minah. It was also the herald for Dr. Conteh to become a mere goose egg in the APC. The political legacy of Stevens, starting to unfurl in Momoh’s New Order administration, Conteh must have felt a twinge of nerves when he was not picked for Momoh’s cabinet. Thus, when Minah was ensconced in the Momoh government as the First Vice President, Attorney General & Minister of Justice, Conteh was edged into perdition. With such an auspicious background, let us anticipate the contention that the spectacle of Conteh as prosecutor with Minah in the Dock was a watershed for rivalry turned into driving an opponent away from the political scene. Whether or not Dr. Conteh harbored a motive to stop Mr. Minah’s stellar rise in the Momoh regime is conjecture we cannot verily prove. But let us examine its well-springs.
Now, the kernel of the speculation that when Dr. Conteh donned the robe of the Prosecutor, he was poised to drive his political rival from the APC. The argument is tenuous, but so was the evidence against Minah for treason. Section 64 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone grants that, “All offences prosecuted in the name of the Republic of Sierra Leone shall be at the suit of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice or some other person authorised by him in accordance with any law governing the same,” and “The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice shall have audience in all Courts in Sierra Leone except local courts.” Thus Dr. Conteh’s warrant to prosecute Minah is clear from the Constitution. While the notion of Prosecutor Conteh is conceded, the political role of Dr. Conteh bearing the impress of the APC as Prosecutor caused an alarm in public discussions in Freetown. In the argument below I would join in the general alarm that Attorney General Conteh overreached when he donned the hat of public prosecutor to prefer charges against Mr. Minah, when A. K. A. Barber and other members of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time could have done the job without the appearance of political bias.