With Omar Wally
After graduating from St Peter’s High School, Momodou Alieu Bah started as a math teacher at St Edward’s Junior Technical School in Bwiam. He quit to join the now defunct Continent Bank as a clerk and in 1996, he took another leap of fame by leaving banking to take up soldiering. While a cadet officer, he continued his quest for the golden fleece and studied accounting at International Business College, garnering an online Masters of Arts degree from York’s St John’s University. He did an Officer’s Basic Course and Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security in Turkey; a Diploma in National Defence and Security in Taiwan and In 1998, he was commissioned.
MA Bah held different positions, such as, Platoon Commander and Company Commander at Fajara Barracks between 2002 and 2003; Chief Instructor to the 1st batch of Tourism Security Unit (TSU); Gambia Armed Forces Information Technology officer; focal person for HIV & Aids at the Gambia Armed Forces and Paymaster for The Gambia Armed Forces.
In 2006, he was arrested for taking part in an alleged coup attempt against President Yahya Jammeh and sentenced to 25 years. In 2009, after serving three years, eight months, in Jammeh’s “five-star hotel”, Bah was pardoned after testifying in the trial of former Chief of Defence Staff, Lt Gen Lang Tombong Tamba.
He was reinstated into Gambia Armed Forces, becoming Director of Finance. In September 2016, Bah replaced long serving Ousman Sonko as Minister of the Interior but resigned in January 2017, when Jammeh’s term, as president drew to a close. On 27 January, Bah was reappointed as Director of Finance, but exactly a month to the day, on on 27 February 2017, he was removed from the Armed Forces.
In the army, you made a name for being stubborn. How come?
It was not about stubbornness; it was about knowing and believing in what you are doing, that is all. I had confidence in whatever I do. One thing I know is that, I’m not a coward.
Speaking to people about you as I research questions for this interview, you were singled out for praise as a VIP military escort during the CILSS summit held in The Gambia. Exactly what did you do?
It was Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria. He told President Jammeh that I wouldn’t allow his own ministers to meet him. The ministers would want to meet Oabsanjo in the evening without informing me earlier, so I would turn them away. It was so tough and it happened twice and Obasanjo had to intervene. He told me they are his ministers and I should allow them to meet him.
Coming to the 2006 coup, were you involved?
No, I was not involved. Who informed you about the coup? You see, these are matters of security and I don’t want to talk about them now. Those were days that I don’t even want to remember or talk about.
If you were not involved as you claim, why were you arrested?
Arrests can happen. It was alleged that a coup [was in the offing] and anybody could have been arrested if you were suspected, but that does not make you part of it.
A military source said told me you knew about the coup earlier and you tried to inform Yahya Jammeh but he told you to go through the chain of command to reach him but that you didn’t do that until the plot was discovered and you were arrested. Is that true?
No, that is not true.
After 44 months in prison, you were you pardoned. How did it happen?
It was God’s time for me to come out of jail. It was Allah’s will that I have to come out of jail.
It may be Allah’s will but you were used to testify against Lang Tombong Tamba and Sarjo Fofana. Why did you do that?
I told you that I don’t want to talk about those issues now.
When you were made Interior Minister shortly before the election, there was a push and pull as to who should replace you as Director of Finance at the army headquarters. My sources told me your preferred Lieutenant Musa Jammeh your deputy to replace you. Why? Was it because you connived with him to embezzle funds?
I never recommended anybody for that position. Never! How can I recommend somebody for that position? I can’t. I was asked to hand over to Musa, which I did. Embezzlement (laughs)! No, there was nothing like that, I will never do that.
Now during the impasse in December and January, who was really in charge of the military?
That was Chief of Defence Staff, Lt Gen Ousman Bargie.
After Jammeh’s defeat on December 2nd, although you were a civilian, a cabinet minister, you took off your clothes and put on military combat gear. You also reportedly told Jammeh to reject the election results and that you and security were ready to back him.
That is not true.
Is that all you have to say? Okay, let us get this clear, did you go to State House in full military uniform?
Yes, I was a solider still, until February when I was retired from Armed Forces.
But in your capacity at the time should you have done that?
Yes, because I was Interior Minister and didn’t resign from the military.
Was that in line with the military’s code of conduct?
Yes, sure it is in line with ethics.
I was informed that since Jammeh was not keen on rejecting the results, you broached the idea of a ‘palace coup’?
Omar Wally, you are very interesting. Those were mere allegations, they were never true. I also heard about a palace coup on the social media that I wanted to overthrow Jammeh. That never happened; it never came to my mind.
But my sources are very credible.
That is not true; Jammeh knew that he lost the election. What happened was the Coalition government was responsible for the whole impasse. They should blame themselves. not Jammeh and I blamed them for the whole trouble we went through.
Why would you blame the Coalition for the impasse?
Knowing the type of person Jammeh was, Adama Barrow was president-elect until 19th of January 2017, he was not the president. Immediately the results were declared, so many threats were issued against Jammeh by some of the Coalition members, that he would be arrested and taken to The Hague. Omar what do you expect from Jammeh?
You know him better, you tell me.
Okay, if it was you what will you do?
If I was the president and lost an election and the winner or his people threatened me with arrest and prosecution, why should I be worried knowing that my hands are clean?
Those threats, the bringing down of Jammeh’s portraits, flags and tearing of his pictures, made him scared and he became defensive.
When Jammeh annulled the results, what did you as the Interior Minister tell him?
You see, when Jammeh said he was annulling the results, he convened a cabinet, we were all there and he gave us reasons. It was not for me to advise him. The Cabinet looked at the issue and said if the IEC could come up with two different figures, Jammeh had the right to contest it in the court of law.
But shouldn’t Jammeh have stepped down, allowed Barrow to be sworn in and challenge the result in court like UDP’s Ousainou Darboe did the last time?
That is a legal issues, I’m not sure of that.
As Interior Minister didn’t you advise him about the consequences of what was going to happen if he, as my boss and your colleague cabinet minister Sheriff Bojang described it, tried to ‘subvert the will of the Gambian electorate’?
Jammeh knew that his time was up. He was willing to step down on 19th January 2017. I don’t think he meant what he said.
You were so loyal to Jammeh through thick and thin, why such unalloyed loyalty to the man who sent you to prison for three-and-a-half years?
I was not loyal to Jammeh, I was loyal to my state. I maintained the peace in my country and not even a hen died in The Gambia [during the cisis]. I made sure. I saw it through until 19th January.
If you were loyal to The Gambia and not Jammeh as you claimed, why were you discharged from the army when the new government took over?
That was political. They have their reasons and I have accepted it.
Could it not have been because of the way and manner you were behaving during the impasse?
I don’t know what actually motivated them to take such actions, but I believe it is political.
If you are recalled to the army, will you accept it?
Will you be loyal and behave yourself?
You said former CDS Lt Gen Ousman Bargie was in charge of the army but many believed he had lost it. How could someone suspected of not being in full control of all his faculties be in charge of a national army?
This was an interesting Chief of Defence Staff. But I have to commend him for maintaining the army in those difficult moments. Bargie dedicated all his time during that period talking to soldiers to maintain peace.
So you do not believe he was crazy?
If you said crazy, well I don’t think so.
He said he was offered millions of dollars and Euros by foreign powers to topple Jammeh during the impasse.
Do you believe him?
I’m not aware of that and that was news to me.
How did you feel when Jammeh left The Gambia?
I felt bad. Gambians should learn from other countries. Former US and French presidents George W Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy and former British prime minister Tony Blair did worse things than Jammeh, but they are enjoying their retirement in their countries after invading foreign countries and killing thousands unjustly. Gambians should reconcile and get out of the habit of exiling our former heads of state. Jammeh came and exiled Jawara; now Barrow came and exiled Jammeh! It doesn’t tell well about our democracy. I believe former heads of state should be given immunity.
You sound like someone who wants Jammeh to come back?
Yes! Of course he is a Gambian. And to me Jammeh is not a threat, he is not. The biggest threat to The Gambia is tribalism. What can Jammeh alone do?
But Jammeh still have some loyalists in the army?
It all depends on how you look at it and the approach. The Gambia Armed Forces will be loyal to the head of state of the day. They did not sign to be loyal to a particular person or government. Heads of state will come and go but The Gambia Armed Forces is here to stay.
Were you aware of the evil activities that took place in the army, notably the ones perpetrated by the Junglers?
I was not in the operational side of the army. I was Director of Finance, so what happened at the other side, I did not know.
Among all the people why did Jammeh choose MA Bah, at that crucial period, to become Interior Minister. There must have been a special reason?
Well I don’t know. I was in my house and I received a call that I should go to State House. I went and I was handed a letter. I don’t know how it came about.
What message do you have for the Coalition government with regard to Jammeh?
Worse things have happened in other countries compared to our own issue here, which is a small thing. Fine, Jammeh may have hurt some people, nobody is perfect. Despite all the talks against him, he did something good for The Gambia. So we have to balance the two. I will advise the political leaders to look at their decisions and allow Jammeh to come back. He is not a threat.
So he does not have the capacity to destabilise the country?
He cannot, he can’t. What can he do? Hey! All those telling Barrow that the army is not loyal to him, it is a lie! Barrow is the commander-in–chief; let him take control of his armed forces. He can take some advices from some people but let him take control of the army. Today it’s his armed forces, nothing stops Barrow from going to the military barracks and have ambiance with them.
What next for General Bah, since you were discharged from the army, you have been sitting at home?
I’m enjoying myself and relaxing. I never had such time with my family.
Are you in contact with Jammeh?
Why did you abandon a man who appointed you Interior minister?
I did not abandon him. He is gone and I’m in The Gambia.
But there are people who are in contact with him, did you make any effort?
No, I didn’t.
Any final words?
Gambians are one family, we need to forgive and be one family and forget about what had happened.
Thank you for your time.