Sierra Leone’s former president is in Nigeria for medical treatment despite being due to stand trial for his alleged role in a coup attempt last year.
Upon his arrival, Ernest Bai Koroma was met by Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, the President of the ECOWAS Commission. Koroma was given permission to leave by the High Court on Wednesday for a maximum three months.
Sierra Leone’s current president has called this a “humanitarian gesture”. But it is widely believed that a deal has been reached allowing Mr Bai Koroma to go into exile.
His treason trial is due to start in March.
Mr Bai Koroma led Sierra Leone for 11 years until 2018, when current President Julius Maada Bio was elected.
A Nigerian presidential jet carrying the former president was seen leaving Freetown International Airport on Friday afternoon.
The United Nations and Economic Community of West African States( ECOWAS) had brokered a deal which sources said would allow Mr Koroma to go into exile in Nigeria if the charges were dropped to ease tension following the November unrest with Ernest Bai Koroma agreeing to the deal, which would see him continue to enjoy the perks of a former president even while in Nigeria.
In a nationwide address on Thursday night, President Julius Maada Bio said the issue of his predecessor was entirely in the hands of the judiciary.”The courts have, therefore, granted the application for the former President to depart from the country purely for specialised medical reasons, and his trial will be suspended for the duration of his absence,” he said.
President Bio said it did not in any way detract from the seriousness of the ongoing trials, and that it was further proof that “the trial is not a political witch-hunt but one aimed at unravelling the truth behind the events of 26 November”.
That attack saw armed assailants storm a military barracks and prisons, freeing around 2,000 inmates, the authorities said. At least 21 people were killed in the violence.
The government said this amounted to an attempt to overthrow it, and in subsequent weeks more than 80 people were arrested as suspects – many of them belonging to Sierra Leone’s military.
The attempted coup came five months after a disputed election which saw President Bio narrowly re-elected for a second term.
The results were rejected by Mr Koroma’s All People’s Congress.
Former President Ernest Bai Koroma’s journey has taken him from uncertainty to perhaps a new beginning in Abuja, Nigeria.
Additional Reports from BBC and Tombo Media