From the days of Sir Dawda Jawara’s PPP up till now, the name Aja Binta Sabally is no stranger in Gambian politics. Born in the 60s in Banjul, Aja Binta Sabally ‘Batabally’ started politics at an early age. She supported the PPP, the APRC and now a staunch NPP grassroot mobiliser and West Coast Region second chairwoman. She is the sister of Momodou Sabally, former Secretary General. When anchor Alagie Manneh met her this week, he began by asking her about the pseudonym ‘Batabally’.
Binta Sabally: It was Alagie Bubu Drammeh of Basse, and others, who saw my days of PPP, to my UDP, APRC, and eventually NPP. They said oh this lady is relentless, and so they called me ‘Batabally’. It was Alagie Bubu Drammeh, the chairman in URR who gave me the name.
Your mother, Aja Kaddy Jammeh, was married to a stauch NCP supporter Alagie Sambujang Marong who evicted her and your siblings out of his Lamin compound after your mother openly supported the APRC government following the coup. How do you remember those days?
Alagie Sambujang Marong and my biological father shared the same mother. He was the one who raised us. When he left the NCP, he became a UDP supporter. The reason my mother supported the APRC was because my mother was a daughter of a leader. Leadership does not hurt the child of a leader. We hailed from [chief] Mama Tamba Jammeh, that is why my mother always supported any leader that comes. My mother was never NCP; she was a PPP supporter. When the PPP government was removed, she supported the APRC. That is how things are.
The eviction of your family reportedly angered former President Jammeh who ordered for another compound to be given to your family in Lamin. That must have been a much-needed gesture, wasn’t it?
You are a journalist. You should know better. It didn’t anger Yahya Jammeh; it made him compassionate. It saddens him. A mother and her children. People speculate a lot on the issue, but we must be honest. We must say exactly what had happened. That is why Jammeh helped my mother Aja Kaddy Jammeh and gave her a compound. That was what happened.
You were in the APRC when your blood brother, former SG and now UDP commando Momodou Sabbally was dismissed, arrested, and jailed by the Jammeh government. How did that make you feel, and why did you stay on despite everything?
You are asking questions. And surely, I have a response that is befitting, and clear. Mandinkas say that a person’s thoughts can only be best spoken out by themselves. Yahya Jammeh arrested my little brother, and he jailed him. I got involved in the fight between him and Jammeh, and followed it to the letter. Today, I am my sibling’s mother. I’m their eldest sister, and Momodou Sabally suckled my breasts. But I have fought his arrest and sentencing. But the truth is, at the time of the coming of the APRC, I was UDP. Ousainu Darboe can attest to that. But when I was leaving, I told them the clear truth that I am leaving. It was my mother who was always following me, telling me that she doesn’t like the UDP; a leader’s daughter follows a leader. It was my mother who took me to the APRC.
Why didn’t you quit the APRC following the fate of your Momodou Sabally?
That was when my resolve to remain in there became even stronger. I became even more involved. If I hold, I never let go. That’s me. Because our family always follow leaders. So, I remain there until after Jammeh left. Later, I supported the APRC. I know that no leadership lasts forever. That is why I decided to join the 2016 Coalition. Later, the Barrow Youth for National Development came, and they adopted me as their mother, and people started saying oh she is now with Barrow, she wants to betray the UDP. I didn’t betray the UDP, I was following a leader there. I always follow leaders.
So why then did you initially try to join the UDP when Jammeh left?
I never wanted to join them. It was a Coalition and that’s why I went there. Whether the coalition disintegrates or not, I saw Barrow standing alone, and I followed Barrow.
The political life of your family is quite interesting. Your sister, Ramou Sabally, also left the NPP and cross-carpeted to the UDP weeks before the December presidential election. Did her decision surprise you?
If you want to know about Ramou and her decisions, you have to ask Ramou. Ask me about me, and I will tell you. Ramou is a grown independent lady. She knows what she wants, and she knows what she doesn’t want. If you ask Ramou, I am sure she will tell you. Ask me about myself, I will tell you.
Some observers said that the political loyalties of yourself, and that of your siblings have caused a rift in the Sabally Family. Is that true?
Between me and my siblings, there is nothing but peace. We share the same mother and father. Our parents may be no more, but we have taken refuge in Allah. When Jammeh was leaving The Gambia, he left Momodou Sabally in a prison. You don’t agree? He left him at that terrible place. He left him locked. It was the Coalition that released Momodou Sabally from jail. And during these times, I didn’t see a ballot box on which the picture of lawyer Darboe was plastered. I didn’t see that. Among the boxes, I saw the picture of Adama Barrow. So, I know that it was down to his presidency, through Allah, that my brother got pardoned.
Why did you prevail on Momodou Sabally to leave the UDP saying that he is not wanted there, and come join the NPP? Why would you say that?
I never asked for Momodou to quit the UDP for NPP. What I called him towards was his own peace. He is my brother. He is educated. He has knowledge. Let him come and join us for the development of the country. Of course, today, if I have my way, Momodou Sabally will come to the NPP. He is a son of a leader, and leadership doesn’t hurt a leader’s child. If I have my way, right here, right now, he will come to the NPP. In fact, he started at the NPP, before UDP. What a leader cannot give you, there is no way some opposition party can give you that. Let’s join and develop the country, and accept that what Allah ordains, no one can prevent that. Let’s accept that it is Barrow for the next five years.
As a respected position holder in the NPP, does your brother’s regular, yet blunt assessment of the Barrow administration make you want to bury your head in your hands?
For me, gratitude and praise, that is what should be between him and the government. But Momodou Sabally is Momodou Sabally. He is who he is. He knows what his own intentions are. He knows what he wants, and he is doing what he wants. I am doing what I want, so, questions about Momodou Sabally and the NPP, I don’t read too much into those. Only Momodou Sabally knows what it is that he sees in the UDP.
You were a respected and recognised APRC supporter. Did the TRRC revelations against the APRC and its leader surprise you?
I wasn’t called to testify there, and I wasn’t a civil servant, either. I was just a supporter. If you want me to continue having a conversation with you, ask me questions about the NPP. The past belonged to the past. In life, people see and say all sorts.
What I am asking is that if the revelations didn’t surprise you, why didn’t you leave the APRC?
If I had known what was happening, [yes]. Because remember, they said that those were the things happening – they said. It is an allegation. But what you are not aware of, you are not aware of. For Jammeh, I always gratify, and pray and wish him well. That is between me and him. Even now, I do this for him. What happened, belong in the past. What Jammeh allegedly did, is between him and the people. Between him and me, there is gratitude and respect.
There is a plethora of issues affecting The Gambia. What would you want to advise President Barrow to focus on?
I want to tell him to continue being patient, and forgiving. You people know that what is happening today was not happening under Yahya Jammeh. Today, people hurl insults at me. People praise Momodou Sabally and end up insulting me. Should that be allowed? Those who insult me should think because I am only just following a leader. But I want to tell Adama Barrow to be patient, and to be forgiving. Mandinkas say that the burning of the bed does not happen in the absence of the bed bug. Let us be forgiving, Gambia. Let us be respectful.