The President’s Welcome Pardon of Ugandan Convict

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Among the 50 prison inmates pardoned this Christmas by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the most touching and most welcome was the Ugandan young woman who had been convicted two years ago of drug trafficking.

When Shira Nalwadda arrived here in November 2013, she was arrested at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) after security officers found a consignment of narcotics in her luggage. She was later taken to Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia, where in April the following year she was convicted of trafficking 1.2kg of cocaine valued at US$30,000 and remanded back to prison. She has been there for over two years until she was pardoned by the President last week, along with 49 other convicts.

Her lawyers tried to get her released and deported to Uganda, but they claimed that the government said it had no money for her transportation back home. The lawyers were especially concerned that Shira had a serious diet problem—she is not used to eating rice, rather matoky (pronounced ma-to-kay), a special variety of bananas which is the staple food of the Baganda, Uganda’s largest ethnic group. Afraid that the young women might starve to death, the lawyers tried in vain to get the government to send her back home.

That is when the Daily Observer got involved and on several occasions editorially appealed to GOL to find the money and send Shira home. Such action was in the domain of the Executive Branch of government, notably the Ministry of Justice, but we could get no one even to comment on the matter. Shira was transferred to a prison in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, where she remained until her pardon last week.

Upon her release, she tearfully told reporters that her experience in jail was “total hell.” She further divulged that she had been “set up” by someone who had asked her to bring the bag containing the cocaine to Liberia.

“I will never trust anyone again,” Shira told reporters.

The question is how was it possible for her to receive a piece of luggage from another person to bring along with her on the plane all the way from Uganda? In all airports around the world there are effective announcements loudly broadcast on the public address system, in every part of the airport, warning passengers NOT to accept anything from anyone to carry on the plane. Airport personnel, especially security personnel, are also trained and ordered to ask each passenger SPECIFICALLY, “Did you pack your bags yourself?” Also, “Have your bags been in your possession at all times during your travel?”

There is also another critically important announcement: “Please keep your carry-on luggage with you at all times. Any luggage found lying around in the absence of the owner will be damaged or destroyed.”

Surely this 26 year-old woman was old enough to hear, heed and obey all such announcements. So did she willingly disobey them? Why?

The final question, an answer to which seemed never forthcoming from her testimony was: What was the purpose of her trip to Liberia? On what mission had she come and who was her host in Liberia; or who was the person that invited her here? The absence of an answer to this particular question left her totally vulnerable, dangerously exposed and criminally liable.

We are taking pains to undertake this analysis not simply to revisit, in a sinister (spine-chilling, evil) manner, a crime that has already been pardoned by the Liberian Chief Executive.

Our aim here is to serve a rational, emphatic public warning to all travelers, especially our own Liberian people, to beware, whenever they travel, by air, land or sea, of the evil machinations of people who would choose to take chances by using you as though in the interest of doing them a normal favor.

Do everything possible, including following ALL the rules and the warnings, in order to be on the right side of the law—why? To keep out of trouble and to enjoy and take the fullest advantage of the opportunity to travel.

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