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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Breaking the omertà: The Story of Moja-G

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By Jainaba Bah

“The police had to see everything, know, understand and have power over everything. The strength and perfection of their machinery appears all the more terrible because of the unsuspected resources they dragged up from the depth of the human soul.
And the provocateurs?
At first sight, they can cause the revolutionary movement terrible losses. But is this really so?
Due to their help, the police can, of course, multiply their arrests and the “liquidation” of groups. In given circumstances, they can counter the most carefully-laid political plans.

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They can do away with valiant militants. Provocateurs have often been the direct suppliers of the hangman. This is of course all terrible. But it is also the case that provocation can only wipe out individuals or groups and that it is almost impotent against the revolutionary movement as a whole.” Victor Serge (What Everyone Should Know About Repression)
My father never wanted me to attend formal school. He truly and sincerely
believed I would grow up a better daughter and a good Muslim if my brain cells were nurtured with writings from the Holy Qur’an and hadith.

He wanted me to read and understand the Divine Scriptures, to strive to excel in the straight and narrow direction of Siratul Mustaqim.
Attending school he thought would corrupt that dream and transform me to all that is diametrically opposite the compass facing the qibla.
My father hails from Guinea (Conakry), a place called Timbi Madina. A direct descendant of Almamy Timbo (The Imam of Timbo).

I started reading the Holy Qur’an before I enrolled in school. Learning the holy verses continued until in September of the year I finished high school (1983).
My father was a businessman. He traded in cattle – lots of cattle, herds of cattle. His business took him from Kombo Darsilami to Ziguinchor in the Casamance. Twice he resolved to get me married to one of his younger business partners, but appeals from my mother, family and friends rendered the threats futile. Yet my father loved me dearly. He called me Neneh-galleh and everybody followed suit. Reason: I was named after my maternal grandma. In Fula tradition you cannot call your in-laws by their name. Neneh-galleh means “Mother of the compound” – a sign of respect.

It was a lot of pressure not to let down my parents. Every progress report in school, every achievement was cause for my father to call to question how long was I going with “ngol jangu gol?” meaning “this education thing?” The more my efforts were questioned by him, the higher I raised the bar in moral discipline and peak performance in school. He was respectfully referred to as Modi Sulaymana Bah (Mr Sulayman Bah)
I took my teaching job at Muslim High School very seriously and put my soul in to deliver the best I could to all my students. Even though I was just a few years older than most of them, they showed much respect and were attentive and eager to learn. .

I was teaching three form three classes. I remember one of the late Sheriff Mustapha Dibba’s sons was a student in form three at the time as well as Matty Saine, a very sweet and hardworking student and sister to Minister Omar Jallow (OJ)’s wife. Matty was staying with her sister and OJ in Serekunda. She once invited me to their home to braid my hair. She not only did a great job with my hair but when I was leaving OJ pulled out newly printed D30 notes and handed them to me. That was a lot of money then. It was not a bribe but a symbol of appreciation for teaching Matty. OJ has always been a generous man, one of the secrets behind his success as a politician.

Teaching is a challenging career, yet a much fulfilling and very respectable job. You have to be on top of your game all the time. You cannot deliver half-baked theories or answers and be taken seriously. For me, it meant becoming a student one more time. Doing more research and making sure I had the correct and most logical conclusion to questions. Sometimes you have the Teacher’s Aid to furnish you with the answers at other times you have to work out solutions on your own. I wanted to avoid embarrassing myself in front of my students and surprised myself that I enjoyed every second of my stay at Muslim High. Mr Pi was responsible for stationery and Mr Njie was the vice principal. As I noted earlier, this was the era with chronic rice shortages, but as a teacher at the school I was lucky to have a bag of rice on credit. That brought much joy to my grandma.

As my time at Muslim High drew to an end, Mr Njie wanted me to extend my contract and continue teaching but I had already written an application letter to The Gambia National Insurance Corporation (GNIC) briefly explaining that I was on temporary employment as a teacher and expressed with sincerity how much I wanted to work for the company. I pledged that I would do my best if accepted. The application turned successful. This was a job that I got by my own initiative. I was so happy with their reply that I could not write back to the GNIC to retrieve my application letter and accept Mr Njie’s generous offer. So, as soon as my term ended at Muslim, I visited my parents over a weekend in Farafenni to inform them of changing jobs and on a Monday morning I reported at work and clocked in. They had just introduced the system. GNIC was situated on Wellington Street, next to Gambia Airways head office. These two were handsome buildings.

 

 

It was with a certain air of status working at GNIC. The guys wore finely ironed shirts and long trousers, neat ties to match well polished shoes and the ladies with beautiful dresses and conventional Jheri curl or relaxed hairdos. I had just finished reading Soledad Brother – The Prison Letters of George Jackson and glancing through works of Frantz Fanon, his The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks. The theme of my days and fashion was Black Consciousness. No make-up, no lipstick, no nail polish. I report to work in high couture “Afro”, à la Angela Davies. My friend, Lauretta Sowe was not impressed. She was like: “Grow up! We have graduated from high school. You are now working as a professional. For Christ’s sake, get a grip on yourself and behave normal!” She was worried about the ridicule my dress code was creating among the company staff. Then one day Nana Grey Johnson (one of Gambia’s finest intellectuals) called me to his office. He was next to the managing director, Mr Dibba if I assume right. He too was not happy. Nana told me I had to change my wardrobe, especially my shoes. His exact words were: “Jainaba, you cannot report to work wearing beach slippers. Look at the company you are working for, look at everybody, look at the ladies around here!”

I told him: “I wear what I can afford” and promised to improve. Little of that happened.
I was assigned to the Marine Department. A guy by the name Kawsu was the head. His assistant, Mr Mballow was the easygoing type. Kawsu, I can recall was very competent and very hardworking. He was also very sociable. Never played boss and treated everyone under him as an equal. I was the only female and three of us worked at the Marine Department. We connected like family. Here I learnt about premiums, bills of laden, Lloyds, Hull, Tonners and Chinamen, legal definitions of wreckage, FOB, (Free on Board) , CIF, (Cost, Insurance and Freight), Barratry, Affreightment, Cesse , Protection and Indemnity Insurance, Warehouse to Warehouse and a lot more on marine insurance.

A month later, the GNIC decided they were to introduce Life Insurance into the company. A man from Ghana (Mr Ofori) was given the job. Ghana was already light years ahead in the insurance business. I was to be among the first employees to learn Life Insurance at the GNIC.
On a fateful Tuesday morning, I was attending classes at the deserted Gambia Commercial Bank buildings when three men knocked at the classroom door. Our Ghanaian instructor was in the middle of explaining the meaning behind taking a life insurance. Mr Ofori answered their knock. He came back and told me that the gentlemen were looking for me. I went out and closed the door behind me. I had never before seen these men and I was wondering why they would be asking for me, all three of them. The men turned out to be Daba Marena, Abou Njie and Secka Bai of the then most notorious Special Branch (SB) of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

Before I could say hi, their spokesman, Daba Marena told me I was under arrest and that I should follow them to the police station. I asked what for and he replied I’ll get the details at the police station. I asked if they could show me their IDs and an arrest warrant/order. That did not please Daba Marena. Putting on a stern face he told me I would be able to see those at the police station. When I asked if I could go in and get my bag, books and files he refused at first but immediately changed his mind, ordering me to do that quick. I was standing with my back to the door of the classroom facing them. I turned around, got hold of the door knob and walked straight to my place, packed all my stuff, excused myself and walked back through the door closing it behind me. Daba Marena was in front followed by Abou Njie. I walked after the latter and Secka Bai came after me. We walked in single file. They had a Land Rover packed just at the entrance. Inside sat the driver Sowe whom I later learnt was living at Busumbala. He too was a stranger to me at the time. When we reached the car Daba Marena sat in front with the driver.

I was made to sit in the middle flanked by Abou Njie on my left and Secka Bai on my right. We left the Commercial Bank’s grounds on Leman Street opposite Deloitte & Touche Accountants office and headed towards Cameroon Street. We turned right and branched off on Hagan. I was thinking, isn’t the police station at Buckle Street and we should be turning left? But I was quiet. We drove through Independence Drive, passed Gambia High School and the car took off speed. We sped through Saaro, Denton Bridge, the two Jeshwangs, Churchill’s Town, Latrikunda Saabiji, Tabokoto and I thought they were taking me to the Yundum Police Station. We passed St Peter’s High School and I saw no slowing down of the vehicle, instead it raced full speed past the Yundum police barracks without the usual stop. Daba Marena just waved at the officer on duty. No one had uttered a single word since we left my class. Then I thought ok, they are taking me to the Brikama Police Station. At Nyambai Forest, Abu Njie broke the silence.

 

He said in Mandinka: “Jainaba, nlafitalé yeng samba aliyaa” – “Jainaba, we want you to take us to your home”. I was quiet. Then when we arrived at the Gambia College he said “Can you instruct him (pointing to Sowe) as to how to get to your compound”. I asked Sowe if he was familiar with Brikama. He said he is. So I told him to drive towards the salandingno-to (the little bridge). He did. The thought of what I have done that warrants four police officers to come pick me up needed less math. But how did they know I was working at the GNIC, how did they know I was attending classes, how did they know I lived in Brikama??? Later I understood it was their duty to know; that too by any means necessary. The questions were many rushing through my head. It was like I slipped through their hands at Dumo’s house, now is my time to face the music for whatever I was involved in. The day of reckoning is here!
To be continued………

 

© Balang Baa Publications 2013
“I AM A HO$TAGE OF MY CON$CIENCE!
THERE I$ NO RAN$OM THAT
CAN EVER $ET ME FREE !”
(Jainaba Bah)
Madam Jainaba Bah is Gambia’s ambassador to Russia. She is married to former ambasaador M Sarjo Jallow.

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