Essay: Let Me Reminisce for the Sake of My Friends and Colleagues
By Andrew Benson Greene Jr., Freetown, Sierra Leone
Maybe, it was ominous on that may 24th Saturday night about 8 hours before the coup detat, when I leafed through the pages of a certain journal and paused to glance at a photo which was much like the silhouette faces of refugees.
My curiosity nudged me further when I read the article that backed up the gloomy photo. The article expressed the predicaments faced by refugees in an alien soil. For my part, seeking refuge in another man's land was like being startled from ones slumber by a heinous dream and heaving a sigh of relief that one's dream was merely a dream.
My concern that night was not really for that article about refugees but for quite a different article that can broach on the subject of gender politics. As a matter of fact, I needed to proceed with my half-finished dissertation. But I stuck to that article about refugees as if was spellbound to that page and I could not even leaf on until I have read the article through and through. Satisfied, I close the journal, close my eyes and fell asleep.
Rackets of gunshots awoke my colleagues and I on that May 25th god-Sunday morning. We felt hideous that I was destined to go through another sad chapter. Till now, nothing could allay my fears. Perched upon the railings of our nice hostels, my colleagues and I wondered over the way in which the numbness and stillness of our once lively and agile city (Freetown), has really come about all of a sudden. We listened attentively to the shivering voice of a certain corporal, strenuously making the first broadcast on the state radio that a coup has been successful, albeit in faulty English.
From 'mount aureol', all I could make out are armed men roving in battered vehicles. They dotted the length and breath of kissy road; roving and rotating their A.K.'s like modern video cameras.
From my college campus, I noticed that the heads of students were drooped over the railings of our hostels, as if pondering over what lay ahead of them and the most times unkempt nature of military rule. Unkempt maybe a euphemism for these juntas.
Later that day, the first fever of ungainly sights plagued us. A ragged-tagged dingy gang of ruffian rebels with their military allies mounted 'mount aureol', and gave us an unwelcome but anticipated visit.
We were extremely shocked to realize the sudden marriage between these once polar enemies, and suspicions loomed at such sudden sell-out by the military to the rebels. For indeed, the military took an oath to protect the country from these belligerent, marauding rebels. The rebels and their military allies rudely descended from open vans, commandeered vehicles, laden with filth and dust, graffiti with blood-like colours.
I reckon that they must have had an inkling about student pressure groups and they were just there to frighten them into supporting their so-called revolution or to the very best keep us mute, never to be critical about them. It is often said that 'silence means consent', but this time, our taciturnity showed defiance and we were forced to remain stoical in the midst of their guns. These junta and rebel stooges got no response from the student circle and so dashed away cursing.
They left in their wake, a visible smoke of fear. The students reconverge in the midst of this fear, and as usual tried to analyze the reasons for the rebel-junta's visit. We listened attentively to the student union president address the student body, this time, not on student welfare matters, but on the state and affairs of our ailing country. The pith of his speech we can guess correctly at already- 'no compromise'! and we vowed to remain forever defiant against such an imposed regime. As the assistant secretary general of the fourah bay college student union government, it was incumbent upon me to scribble details upon my note pad. I felt that could be the last scribbling I shall ever do in my college, if the junta remains glued to power.
Monday came, and the gloom ensued, low voices, cut low, very low by gun shots- no lectures! The gray smoke that permeated the portion of the sky over the heart of the city, elicited the truth about an incendiary act. There lay treasury, (once venerable), in greyish brown coffin, burnt completely by the unruly rebel-junta factions. Her parts dismembered, her architectural beauty raped by the flames, lost in the smoke. But what's more, the junta had no respect for the safeguard of precious documents and preferred to see everything ash-grey. As I walked with stiffened steps pass the treasury building, eying it askance, I noticed an aging woman who actually mourned the rubble. Her eyes were showing disbelief at the arsoner's handiwork. 'She must be a pensioner', I whispered silently to myself. By her screwed face, she seemed to contemplate the grave loss of her pensions, when treasury where they collect their pension rations, is no more. Later, we realized that the central bank, treasury's neighbor, has suffered a similar fate. The condemnation for the gross violation of human rights and killing was widespread. The dreadful events piled swiftly. Less than a week later, the U.S. marine docked our harbor at Aberdeen and evaluated their foreign nationals. They paid no heed to the petty threats made in a state broadcast by the 'junta boys', and their rebel allies to 'prohibit the use of land air and sea', by all except themselves. The threats may have sounded like mere braggadocios in the face of the U.S. marine's arrival.
Life too was in danger. As a student activist, critical of the military and rebel invasion and their ruthless reign, and openly supportive of the democratically elected government at the time, I fled to neighbouring Guinea. There I sought refuge for almost a year with other students. Our student wing relentlessly campaigned for the restoration of democracy. In 1998, democracy was restored and we returned to Sierra Leone to proffer the aims of students and tackled our exams in the aura of trauma and devastation.