How he saved my life

By Ishmael Bayoh

Tom Nyuma

His name during the war period still resonates in the ears of many that he helped liberate from the hands of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. He has been described as a war hero, somebody that signed to give his yesterday for our today. He did not save my life during the war period as you would have expected. It was 8 years after the war was officially declared over that (Rtd) Lt. Col Tom Nyuma rescued me from mob justice; which could have led to my death.

He had returned home, coincidently in 2007 and it was on an election year. I spotted him in a Land Cruiser jeep during one of the presidential campaign rallies of former Vice President Solomon Ekuma Berewa. The driver had stopped at the intersection of Wilberforce Street and Siaka Stevens Street and Tom, seated at the back, gesticulated at the driver to move on. Several days later, it became widely known that he was in town and with John Benjamin.

When it became apparent that he was going to contest the 2008 Local Council election under the SLPP for the Chairmanship of the Kailahun District Council, I bumped into him during one of the SLPP press conferences at their headquarters. He spoke a lot on his military life transforming to multi-party structures. I established contact with him which I later utilized to cross-check stories with him and conduct further interviews. But Tom was very difficult to pin down for interviews and you will not always get the best motion picture of him. When you are interviewing him, his head is always down and moving from one direction to another speaking so fast.

The late Tom Nyuma’s name made headlines once again with news of an alleged assassination attempt on the life of the main opposition candidate Ernest Koroma, now President, at the Countryside Guest House in Bo. According to report, Ernest Koroma reportedly told the UNIOSIL Human Rights officers in Bo that, “At around 4:00am that morning he heard a scuffle at his door but was afraid to come out as it seemed unsafe. After which, he then called the Inspector-General of Police who called the LUC in Bo. He reported that some 10 minutes later, his bodyguard informed him that it was safe to come out and that was when he saw Tom Nyuma and Phillip Jimmy tied up. The report further alleged that Mr. Koroma informed the officers that the Police found 50 rounds of ammunition for a nine millimeter firearm in Tom Nyuma’s vehicle.”

The APC entourage claimed they had no idea that Tom Nyuma and others were staying in the room opposite to their leader, while Leather Boot told the team that he heard a noise and when he went to check on Mr. Koroma, he met Tom Nyuma at his door attempting to enter his room.
On the other hand, Tom Nyuma’s group claimed that they had lodged at the guest house and woken up early at about 4:00am to wait for John Benjamin who was at the time the SLPP Minister of Finance who was supposed to pick them up to proceed to Freetown. They further claimed that they were packed ready to take-off when former RUF members Idrissa Kamara aka ‘Leather Boot’, Sorie Bah Mansaray, Idrissa Sesay and Attouga attacked, beat and tied them up.

With the contact I had earlier established with Tom, when such story broke out that day, I tried together with my Managing Editor for the newspaper I was working for (Awoko) to get his own side of the story. After trying on several occasions, we finally got him.

Questioned about the allegations that he was found at the door of the APC leader, he said: “It is all lies”, adding: “They even said I had a gun; if I had a gun would I allow a man to beat me up like that? That is not possible. I think their real intention was to loot, but I thank God I came out with my life and I thank Doc (Yilla) because I was unconscious and he did a lot for me … As I said I thank God I came out with my life; that is what is important.”

Tom Nyuma explained that he was coming from Koindu and was tired but the proprietor of the hotel was his relative and he had called earlier for reservation. When he came, he was very tired so he went straight to his room unaware of any other person in the hotel. “I was sleeping and usually I lock my door. One of my boys woke me up and told me that the hotel is full of APC people. So my intention was to open up the door and talk to them because we can have different political beliefs but we are all the same people,” he told Awoko in that interview.
“As soon as I opened the door they rushed into the room and started beating me up.”

But how did he save my life when it was not a war period. It was on the night of Saturday 27th February, 2010, at around 9:00pm when 10 journalists were assaulted, some beaten whilst others were molested in the hall of the Bo City Council by SLPP supporters. We were invited by the SLPP to cover their National Conference for two days in Bo when we faced such attacks from some of their overzealous supporters.

The incident was that, Jacob Jusu Saffa, the SLPP Secretary General then, had moved a motion that serving executive members of the party should be given the right to contest for Presidential or running-mate should they resign their posts six months to election. That was the scene that I was about to capture when members were at each others’ throat with some leaving the hall.

I was spotted by some members who rushed at me and asked that I surrender my camera. My back-pad was forcefully taken from me. Further advances on me attracted the attention of the late Tom Nyuma, who intervened to protect me. He exhibited some of his ‘ranger’ tactics to push back my attackers.

That is Tom Nyuma, always there to save lives. After he had taken me to a corner, he policed me for awhile and ensured I was safe to carry on with my work. While he was escorting me out of the scene, I engaged him on why the rancor among the SLPP executives. The fast-speaking former military strongman simply said to me: “greed, greed is what is creeping into the party”.

He was an industrious son of the soil. Rest well big brother Tom!