Residents of the capital city of Sierra Leone and many parts of the Provinces have been shocked in recent times to see their combat-clad civilian Minister of Defence, retired Major Paolo Conteh storm their neighbourhood.
"Has a military coup d’etat taken place?", "Has Sierra Leone reverted to a war situation?" were some of the questions being asked by members of the shocked public who beheld the sight.
Reports from various regions of the country state that the retired army major has been in the habit of donning on a military uniform whether on official or unofficial rounds. Kono District is a case in point while other districts too have complained.
Combat-Clad Palor Conteh: described as a fake soja (soldier)
Palor Conteh served the Sierra Leone Army during which time he married the niece of the then President, Dr. Joseph Momoh and enjoyed closeness to the Momoh family to the extent he spent a lot of time at their house along Spur Road. He was to later be cashiered from the military during which period he developed himself and successfully went on to study Law in the United Kingdom.
"He is not a soldier. Wearing military fatigues makes him a fake soja! As a qualified lawyer one would expect him to be familiar with the law and not to engage in any activity that is seen to be in contravention of the very law and order the government he represents is on oath to uphold, maintain and guarantee," a retired civil servant who was enjoying an evening siesta at the Millenta Bar and Entertainment centre in central Freetown opined when Palor Conteh recently stopped by the bar in full military fatigues. The said retired civil servant who also spoke to Awareness Times, prefers anonymity.
The Defence Minister is reported to have paid a visit at the said bar to entertain himself, which in itself was within his legal rights. However, the fact that he was in military combat did not go down well with members of the public still struggling to extricate themselves from the trauma of a horrendous ten-year war.
Also, during his recent assignment to Kono following the deaths of the two young men at the hands of gun totting armed officers, our Special Correspondent and ace journalist, Theophilus Sahr Gbenda was fortuned to catch a photograph of a fully clad combat-mode civilian Defence Minister.
This coloured photograph by Gbenda, showing Palor Conteh as a "fake soja", complete with red beret and jet black Jerry Rawlings and Valentine Strasser type sunglasses over his eyes, speaks for itself on our front pages today.