In the aftermath of the November 26, 2023 attempted coup in Sierra Leone, a growing number of citizens are raising concerns about the authenticity of a surveillance image released by the government.

Several individuals have accused the government of manipulating photographs of suspects linked to the coup, further deepening skepticism surrounding the ongoing investigation.

This controversy comes after the Ministry of Information and Civic Education, on Wednesday, released a surveillance image dated November 26, 2023, capturing Amadu Koita, a former security aide to Former President Ernest Bai Koroma alongside a dismissed Superintendent Kabba Dumbuya during the November 26 attack on Pademba Road Prison. The image, bearing a timestamp of 08:29:07, aimed to identify and apprehend the suspects involved.

Amadu Koita was arrested on Tuesday in connection to the attempted coup while Kabba Dumbuya is reported to be on the run. “Help the Police capture Dumbuya & any of the other fugitives on 119/900.”, the Ministry of Education wrote urging citizens to promptly report any leads or information regarding the whereabouts of the suspects.

However, doubts have been cast on the credibility of the surveillance photo following revelations by the Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), Lieutenant General Peter K Lavahun. During a public statement, Lavahun acknowledged the absence of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) surveillance at the military ammunition stores in Freetown, adding to the skepticism among Sierra Leoneans.

In addition, some Sierra Leoneans have pointed out visible inconsistencies, such as variations in Amadu Koita’s haircut between the arrest photo and the surveillance image. Some have questioned the validity of the government’s claim, given the absence of CCTV cameras in critical locations and the unique qualities of the image provided.

In response to the growing skepticism, some citizens are demanding transparency from the government. They are calling for the release of raw video footage from the scene to authenticate the alleged involvement of the suspects in the attempted coup and prison breaks.

“Thanks for the pic👍 but please whona produce the CCTV video footage, we know say CCTV na video e dae produce but why na Screenshot photo we see.” Victor Abou Koroma wrote on Facebook.

“There are no CCTV cameras in the armory or the jail facility, according to the army chief PK Lavahun clearly stated that during a widely observed news conference. And CCTVS does not produce brightly colored pictures like that, and what angle in pademba Road was that taken?”, another Sierra Leonean, Alimamy Issa asked on Twitter (X).

“But his haircut (of Koita) in this pic seems different from the one where he was at the police station And who are those OSD officers we never seen any evidence of OSD officers during the incident”, Alie Islam wrote.

In response to the ongoing controversy, Michael Berewa, the State House Director of Communications, offered his perspective on the matter. Despite acknowledging his lack of expertise in imaging forensics, Berewa pointed to specific details in the CCTV footage. He emphasized, “I don’t have a background in imaging forensics, but the CCTV FOOTAGE on the right clearly shows he is wearing a black do-rag on his head…(zoom in and see).”

Berewa strongly criticized the allegations of photoshopping, characterizing them as a “total disregard and disrespect to the families of those 17 fallen soldiers.” He urged for a fair examination of the evidence, emphasizing the importance of allowing the available information to guide the ongoing investigation.

As the controversy deepens, Sierra Leoneans are eager for clarity and transparency in the investigation, urging the government to address the concerns raised by the public regarding the presented surveillance image.