THE JUNTA TROJAN HORSE OF JUNE 2, 1997
Junta-controlled state broadcasting, the SLBS attributed the death of scores of civilians to the "Nigerian naval bombardment" as heavily-armed junta operatives rode at speed in commandeered vehicles to the Mammy Yoko Hotel "to teach these Nigerians a lesson". AFRC statements repeatedly broadcast claimed civilians were killed and wounded when "shells aimed at military bases in Freetown fell on residential areas".
Junta "officers claimed that the "Nigerian prisoners" would be held in areas "likely to be the target of any further military intervention by the Nigerians".
The "Nigerian ECOMOG naval bombardment" of Freetown was seized upon by many who heard reports from international agencies quoting junta sources. Academics were later to write volumes based on what they believed had been "the excesses of Nigerian-led ECOMOG troops" and questioned the legality of such military action.
Here are 2 examples gleaned from the internet -
Nigerian ECOWAS Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG)-forces, who operated as a peace keeping force in neighboring Liberia, bombarded Freetown in an attempt to reverse the coup d’etat claiming 500-1,000 civilian lives (ODI, 1997) LINK
(from June): Victims of shelling by Nigerian warships. Nigerian troops opposed the coup and used force to try to return President Kabbah to power. In June Nigerian warships and jets shelled parts of Freetown in order to defeat the AFRC. They killed civilians and destroyed houses as a result (Zack-Williams, 1999: 158; Amnesty International, 1997c: 4), but there is no consensus on a given number of deaths. Amnesty International refers to “at least 100 people” and mentions that “many others” may have been injured (Amnesty International, 1997c: 4), while Gberie mentions “over sixty civilians” killed and notes that “some say 300.” (Gberie, 2005: 112) LINK
One son of the soil, one-time ECOWAS Secretary-General, Dr Abass Bundu circulated a June 4 article in which he prevailed on the international community to rein-in the Nigerian troops and prevent them from carrying out the much-talked-about military intervention to remove the junta from power. Referring to the June 2 incident, Dr Abass Bundu wrote
It was only some 48 hours later that word started trickling around, whispered without earshot of junta supporters that the picture painted was far from the truth - that the junta had used a Trojan Horse to put pressure on ECOWAS to lean on Nigeria and have serving troops of ECOMOG removed from Sierra Leone.
Residents of the Wilkinson Road area recall missiles being fired from hillside positions around the area with the junta helicopter gunship thrown in for good measure to ensure the success of the operation. They recall that heavily armed soldiers, many without military fatigues mingled with "junta-supporting" civilians who had been forced by the junta to sing the junta anthem "We want peace".
Some in the crowds were so convinced that Nigerian troops planned a military intervention that they hastily put together a masquerading dancer made up of branches from trees. They were a part of the largely civilian movement towards the site of the Mammy Hotel battle between the junta and the Nigerian ECOMOG forces based there.
None of the civilians knew that they had become a part of the junta machination, that they were being used as human shields should the Nigerians decide to deploy more troops and heavier equipment.
One resident showed at least 2 reporters who were out on that June 2 day around the Wilkinson Road area part of a damaged white gate where a junta mortar bomb fired from the hillsides overlooking Wilkinson Road had landed.
The residents confirmed that even the "masked devil" dancing in support of the junta was not spared as one of the missiles fired by junta forces cut him down and a number of those who were with him.
One junta military spokesman (still serving in the army) took reporters to the Juba Barracks area to show where "Nigerian shells" had landed. All the buildings were intact as he pointed to a couple of shallow pock marks on the ground. "This is where some of the shells landed", he added.
The Sierra Herald can authoritatively state that no Nigerian ECOMOG jet flew over Freetown on June 2, 1997, nor was there any bombing raid by the Nigerian Air Force as claimed by some sources. Nor was any building bombed by Nigerian planes.
It took courage and indeed moral fortitude for anyone to say things to the contrary and one politician, a one-time Foreign Minister Desmond Luke was among the first to publicly voice concern over the junta's reporting of the events of June 2. He said he had not seen any such thing by Nigerian planes or ships as was being bandied about and told the BBC it was all a smoke screen.
Be that as it may, the damage had already been done and the junta carried the day with the real story of June 2 kept under wraps as the junta version made the waves.