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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Alieu Momarr Njie, Chairman, Independent Electoral Commission

By Omar Wally

Alieu Momarr Njie is the son of Momarr Njie and hails from Serekunda’s famous Lion House. He was the first person from Serekunda to be sent to Banjul for schooling at a time when there was no school in Serekunda. After completion of school in 1953, he joined his father who was a groundnut trader. Two years later, he left and joined Gambia Minerals Limited as lab technician. Young Alieu started Novotel Kombo Beach Hotel as a shareholder and founder. During the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 he reportedly held the Union Jack for three hours.

When the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, visited The Gambia in 1957, Alieu was delegated the responsibility of escorting him. In 1961, when Queen Elizabeth visited the country, as a councillor of Kombo Urban District Council, Alieu was chosen to receive The Queen. In 1996, he was appointed Chief Scout Commissioner and during his tenure he organised the first and only Scout Jamboree for West Africa in The Gambia. He served as mayor of Kanifing municipality from July to October 2007 and in 2016 was appointed chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, IEC. For today’s edition of Bantaba, anchor Omar Wally talked to him about the high-octane days following the 1 December presidential election and other matters.


Omar Wally: The Gambia Scout Association used to be an admirable organisation but under your stewardship, its fortunes deteriorated significantly. Is that not indicative that you are not a good manager?
Nobody can say that. I travelled at my own expense; I paid the drivers and serviced vehicles and ran the office. We didn’t have a penny from the government, Geneva or Nairobi. Those who plotted to remove me with the support of Yahya Jammeh, all four of them ran away, because they were into getting money.


When they were making the slot, I paid my fare to Mauritius and they were to choose six countries to give assistance. Because of my stance, The Gambia was among those six countries and The Gambia was given D3 million and the boys misused that. In 2014, while I was attending a scout conference in Mauritius, there were rebellious scout leaders who tried to take over from me. They communicated to the former president and he wrote to me dismissing me as chief scout commissioner.


I replied that he [Jammeh] had no power or authority to terminate my appointment as chief scout commissioner. It was done by the All Scout Movement in Geneva and with the concurrence of the National Scout Council in The Gambia. Jammeh wrote back and said he understood and I continued. In 2007, while serving as mayor, they made allegation against me of misappropriating about four million dalasis from the scout movement. I was arrested, detained and tried in my own municipality.


Their first witness said he knew nothing about the case and Augustus Prom, who was doing pro bono service for the movement told the court one could not take what never existed. When I took over the scout movement from late OA Jallow, he gave me handing over notes, with no pen, paper or pencil and only D4,000 in the bank. By the time I was fired, there was D600,000 in the two bank accounts and D400,000 worth of badges which I handed over.


So there was no mismanagement or stealing of scout funds under your leadership?
No. I took over with D4,000 and left there D1,000,000.


Now, many Gambians would want to know who you voted for in the 1 December presidential election?
We are not supposed to say that to anybody.


When he lost, Jammeh labelled your commission as “not God-fearing”, is Alieu Momarr Njie God-fearing?
Yes I’m God-fearing. Anybody who knows me knows my participation in religious affairs. I thank God, that although I am over 80 years old, I am very strong. Even if Jammeh were to give me a billion dollars, I would not eat what I was not eating. No matter how much money I have, my belief in God remains constant.


Many people regard you as a national hero but the insider information I got was that it was in fact some of your commission members like Malleh Sallah who impressed upon you not to change figures in favour of Jammeh?

I think they got it wrong. I will never do anything like that; I must express the will of the people. What happened that night was we were receiving results as they were coming. And we were asked to suspend [the announcement of the results] on the orders of the president, through GRTS. I know my life was at risk. That was why whenever they asked me to do something I would go downstairs where everybody was present and say this is what I am being asked to do loudly. Because whatever I was doing, it was monitored, so that they would know that I am passing over their message. The risks! I could have been injected to have a heart attack. But how can I change the result?


On election night between 4am to 8am, you stopped announcing the results. What exactly led to that? Who called and said you should stop announcing results?
Jammeh, through Lamin Manga and Malik Jones. But what they were saying was the president will concede defeat. That was what they were saying, passing the information through Lamin Manga to me.


Don’t you think you should have gone ahead with announcing the results given that millions of Gambians and others were anxiously counting on information you were relaying?
But he [Jammeh] said he wanted to come live on television and concede defeat.


Everybody knew that you were an APRC supporter but your firm stance effectively removed Jammeh from power. How do you square that circle?
Who said that I’m APRC supporter? Have I ever been an APRC supporter or been connected to APRC?


In a recent interview with Al Jazeera television, you said Jammeh and his men tried to make you change the results. Can you tell us specifically how they tried to do that?
It got to a point I [literally] feared for my life. My son, Omar has a black Audi. I was able to use another phone to call him to park the car near IEC, so that when it comes to the point, I could disappear. Whoever is saying A, B and C is rubbish. I was the one who was targeted and suffered, not them.


Chairman, you did not answer my question. What specifically did they try to do?
Just to change results by increasing the votes. Because no matter what is tabulated there, I could have announced my own results. And what they will then do is, it will take them a day or two to come with all the results in possession of party agents. They will then be collated and it will be discovered that it’s Jammeh who won not the Coalition. But what I am saying is: the only one that can change my own decision is the Supreme Court. As you know, for twenty months at that time, there was no Supreme Court. And even if they were to constitute a quorum to have a Supreme Court by appointing other judges, they would abide by what he [Jammeh] wants them to say. But I stood my ground and when you are old, what else [to fear]?


Did they try to bribe you or coerce you?
They tried to coerce me.

On election night, according to my source, former minister Bala Garba Jahumpa and former NIA boss Yankuba Badjie, were in touch with you. What did they want?
I’m not saying A, B or C was in touch with me. Period!


But they called you and discussed something?
I don’t know. But certainly not Bala Garba Jahumpa. For him I can clear.


So you definitely were talking to Yankuba Badjie that night then. What was his message?
Look, [just to demonstrate how precarious things were] six months after the election, my personal orderly who I inherited from the former chairman, ran away. Yes! He ran away because when they were investigating what was happening at Kanilai, he was found to be one of the leaders of the ‘Junglers’. And I knew he was one of them.


The Senegalese ambassador in The Gambia, Saliou Ndiaye helped you to leave the country. How did you escape? Which route did you take to Senegal?
Here, I must give thanks to the foreign embassies that are here. Each of them was willing to shelter me. The election happened on December 1st and ended on 2nd but I was here [in the country] till 31st January. But come 31st January, when I got the information that they were going to kill me… or yeah, he was going to kill me. I phoned Ambassador Ndiaye and told him that they were coming for me and I didn’t want to go to any foreign embassy, I wanted to go to Senegal. He drove to my house, picked me up and he was in the same car with me, foot-to-foot all the way to Karang [at the border].


Was this on the orders of President Macky Sall.?
Chairman Njai broke down, crying.

(After a while…) Mr Chairman, why are you crying?
At that spot, President Sall sent a car.


Sent a car to do what?
He sent a car to escort me to Senegal. He did that. When I went, I informed them that my sister was in The Gambia and I would like to speak to her. And while in Senegal they gave me a general by the name Niang. General Niang provided for me round-the-clock escort and security. I also knew President Barrow, when he went to Mali and later travelled to Senegal, if he had landed in The Gambia, no matter how many people were going to be around him, he was going to be killed. They would have exterminated him. That was why he was moved to Senegal. So I stayed [in Senegal] until Yahya Jammeh was out of The Gambia and eventually came home.


Before we go further, at the mention of President Sall’s name, you wept and began sobbing. What caused a display of such raw emotion?
Because he did too well for The Gambia and it is something I will ever be grateful for. He was truly the saviour of the country and of myself. I cannot pay him enough, never! Where I was living in Senegal, there was a mosque nearby, and whenever they pray, they always prayed for The Gambia. You see, whoever said otherwise, they were not on the spot; it was not their life that was at risk. It was my neck on the block. I will never ever do what is wrong, knowing that it is wrong, in my life, no! Can you imagine if I had changed the results, look at the commission of inquiry? Somebody could have used an unregistered sim card and leaked the information to the outside world. Do you think I will live another five years? Do you think I will live that? No, no!


Mr, Chairman you are a noble man, may you live long. But what was your personal relationship with President Jammeh prior to 1 December 2016?
Well the first time I met him, he was the chief scout. The second time I met him was when I was being sworn in as IEC commission member. The third time was when the GNPC was being inaugurated. But… you think somebody as a mayor, they come and arrest me and lock me up. We had those terrible and horrible security men. When I was being escorted to the police station as a mayor, one of the four men who came to arrest me, specifically said my own orderly should not sit in front of the car. When I went to the police and wanted to get hold of the deputy inspector general of police, they told me he travelled. When they finally reached the IGP after three hours and told him they wanted to bail me, he said no.


Did you, even remotely, ever hold the belief that Jammeh could be removed from power through the ballot?
Well, by the way things were going, it was not likely. But you see, the Coalition – this is my own perspective – did very well. When the Coalition came for nomination, Adama Barrow said he knew me very well, and that I am honest, sincere and respectful. It was the same thing that Mamma Kandeh said. But when it was Yahya Jammeh’s turn, he came and took over the chairmanship of gathering. He called for prayers. And when I brought up the issue of non-Gambians participating in our election, he exploded. It was his wife who was calming him down. He said, ‘don’t mind those people saying rubbish’!


Were previous elections in The Gambia rigged?
I don’t think they were rigged. I don’t think they were rigged at all.

This will be your last term to serve as chairman of IEC. What legacy do you think you will leave behind?
Well I stood my ground despite the fact that my life was on the line. I could have lost my life that day. Wherever I go and whoever sees me, they always thank me even to the extent that when I want to buy something, people will say don’t pay. They felt that I did very well. It is not my making; I am given the credit but everybody was involved.


If you are to recommend the next IEC chairman, what type of qualities should the person have?
He must be experienced, knowledgeable and straightforward. For me, whatever I’m doing, I know I have to account for all my actions. The person has to be somebody of high standing, honest and God fearing [disposition].

Mr Chairman Thank you.
You must welcome.

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