By Samsudeen Sarr
I was too busy last week trying to retool my workshop with a better vehicle-air-conditioning-repair section, given that the summer is fast approaching and many car owners will soon need better ventilation when driving in the heat. I therefore never wanted to write anything this week.
However, I decided to do so after briefly watching the QTV replay of GNA officer Lt. Col. Baboucarr Sanyang’s testimony at the TRRC. The officer by every measure never wanted to admit it directly and was not as habitual, obsessively led by the counsel or further asked by the commissioners to say that the November 11, 1994 incident was a counter coup of which he was not a part of, but his message of the event being another mutiny was clearly illustrated.
Twenty-five years ago, when it happened, Lt. Colonel Sanyang as an RSM at Yundum Barracks couldn’t support or understand it and is still disgusted by the memory of it when lance corporals the most junior ranks in the NCO hierarchy ordered him at gunpoint as an RSM to obey commands that he felt were absolutely illegal and wrong.
Coups and countercoups are as simple as that. They are part of military operations that are not taught or even discussed in any military academy but are only whispered around as mutinies. And mutinies in effect are treasonable offenses punishable by life imprisonment or firing squad, period. In Nigeria and Ghana where there had been more coups and countercoups during the “era of the coups” than in any Anglophone nation in the West African subregion, suspected coup plotters were usually rounded up, charged and hastily tried in court martial and executed within the shortest possible time. And with no right to appeal whatsoever. Coups, as I always say, are about life and death struggle for political power which are fluid when initiated and could go nasty in either way-in its success or failure. The November 11, and July 22, 1994 ones were not exceptions.
We were all horrified by the deaths of the officers and soldiers brutally executed in the November 11, 1994 countercoup; but most of those GNA officers who perished in the carnage were in the forefront on July 22, 1994, armed to the teeth to effect regime change of the PPP government knowing full well what the consequence of failure could mean to their lives.
In a similar kind of mutiny that occurred in Nigeria on April 22 1990, Major Gideon Orkar a relatively junior officer almost toppled the government of General Ibrahim Babangida the then head of state of Nigeria. It was at the Dodan Barracks at the military headquarters where the presidential residence was located.
Genera Dada, who at the time was commanding an armored division led the counter attack resulting in the capture of Major Orkar together with 41of his coconspirators.
On July 27, 1990, all 42 men were executed by firing squad after a speedy court martial that to the world was not fairly conducted.
General Dada came to the Gambia with some of his most trusted aids in that operation including the officer who commanded the firing squad that executed the 42 rebels.
For Gen. Dada to be handpicked by Ibrahim Babangida to come to the help of President Jawara in 1992 and taking charge of the the GNA after two failed mutinies in 1990 and 1991 underscored a serious agreement of what to expect if the GNA soldiers should ever try toppling the PPP government. Ironically, Gen. Dada on July 22 1994 was no longer in the position to fulfill his primary mission of rescuing the PPP government when the GNA soldiers mutineered that day.
But let’s be honest and ask who in the Gambia would have accepted or understood any Nigerian in 1994 to round up Lt. Basiru Barrow (the first to plan coup), Lt. Yahya Jammeh, 2Lt. Sana Sabally, 2Lt. Edward Singhatey and the entire core of suspected officers, NCOs and soldiers and have them put to a hasty court martial and executed to save the PPP government? Most Gambians would have been appalled by such an extreme measure; notwithstanding, it is fair to say that it was the only way the Nigerians knew of how to deter coups or countercoups.
Most likely the Gambians in general would have recommended charging the suspects and taking them to court to determine their guilt or innocence instead of summarily killing them just like that.
That was exactly what the Ghana government of General Fred Akuffo did in the first coup attempt by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings with six military officers in 1979. Upon arresting and charging them with treason, their court martial trial was made public with the journalists invited to cover the proceedings. Rawlings openly took full responsibility of the coup plot and demanded the release of his fellow six officers in a tough statement that instantly turned him into a national hero.
On June 4, 1979, the army toppled the government and selected Rawlings as chairman of their revolutionary council. Soon after consolidating his leadership position, he rounded up three former heads of state and several senior officers in the government and had them summarily executed without trial.
That is another example of why arrested coup plotters are given little or no chance of dragging their court cases to determine their guilt or innocence but executed and arrested at the soonest possible time.
The Gambia TRRC as far as I am concerned have no knowledge of the intricacies or complexities of the military world but are without caution taking advantage of an inexperienced young army with relatively inexperienced officers and parading them before the public to literarily castigate the only institution they ever know or worked for.
It has come to the point where many civilians are now demanding for the disbanding of the Gambia Armed Forces and replacing it with a sizable police force responsible for internal security only. For those who don’t know the history, the Gambia had an army from 1901 to 1958 which the British disbanded out of financial constraint to create the Field Force which by the time of our independence in 1965 operated as part of the training and armed wing of the Gambia Police Force (GPF).
That was however the same Field Force involved in the 1981 abortive coup led by the late Kukoi Samba Sanyang, eventually compelling the PPP government to create the GNA. Senegalese military forces rescued the PPP government in 1981 and in the operation destroyed the Field Force.
To disband the GNA therefore Gambians must accept that by maintaining only a police force we will continue to depend on ECOMIG or the Senegalese forces in the country until we know how to take care of our own security. That is indeed as bad as permanently depending on foreign troops for our security needs.
Hence, I therefore do not only fear that the TRRC will end up diving the Gambians politically by helping to paint the legacy of the APRC government as evil but in doing so, they might also inadvertently undermine the values and credibility of the GNA.
By my personal assessment, maintaining foreign troops in the Gambia as peacekeepers where there was no war with a price tag of over 700 million dalasis per annum is a misguided concept to perpetuate an unnecessary modus vivendi. With only 200 million dalasis or less per annum, the Gambia could get a formidable force, well trained, well motivated to keep us protected from internal and external threat without the uncertainty of the potential ramifications of an unceremonious withdrawal of the foreign troops. I don’t believe the Gambia needs foreign troops or TRRC to forge ahead after the change of government through the ballot box in 2016.
If the TRRC motto is “Never again”, what then is stopping them from inviting the former ministers, diplomats, permanent secretaries, directors, top security personnel and advisers to explain why they had to support the twenty-two-year-old “evil APRC government” and to hear what they would do differently if another undesirable government reemerged in the country?.
Political critics are already accusing President Adama Barrow’s government of taking dressing from the APRC government especially against the backdrop of its recent break up with the dominant UDP leadership. How does that translate in the TRRC’s crystal ball of redeeming the Gambia from an obnoxious political patrimony? What unfolds next could be anyone’s guess but the future doesn’t appear as scintillating as the TRRC is trying to make me believe. Sermonizing over the possibility of purifying the political system of the nation to the satisfaction of all citizens is as unrealistic as changing the mindset of politicians to discard their chronic beliefs in permanent interest over permanent friends.
How evil was the APRC government if three ministers who loyally served in its government are now fully employed in President Barrow’s government?
I was not going to discuss this matter, but I thought I should briefly. I received few messages from mainly civilian friends asking whether I saw the letter of dismissal of Baboucarr Jeng from the GNA that I signed “for” the GNA commander in early 1996? He had published it on his Facebook page as evidence of the letter supporting his claim that I actually dismissed him from the GNA as a captain. What I told them was simple. That the man doesn’t understand the simple difference between the prepositions “for” and “by” when it comes to English comprehension. He must likely think that my signature “for” the commander means “by” the commander.
By interpreting such commander’s homogenous correspondence usually xeroxed from his main files and signed by staff officers on his behalf to mean that the person who signed it for the commander is the initiator and author further confirmed my contention that the slob lacks the basic intellect to understand standard military procedures or official-English correspondence. The TRRC will never admit such an exhibit as an “illegal” letter from Captain Samsudeen Sarr dismissing RSM Jeng from the GNA? I even gave the special examples of how Lt. Sheriff Gomez as adjutant at the 1st Infantry Battalion at Yundum Barracks in 1994 signed documents for Colonel Audi, the commanding officer.
Funnily, I also learnt that Jeng solicited and got the support of similar-slow-minded cheerleaders like him to lend credence to the story on his page as if by merely producing the letter my argument of denying its existence was all that mattered to prove me wrong.
To cut to the chase, the self-explanatory letter is simply from the commander which he still cannot get into his thickhead. I was not the commander in 1996 or 1997, Colonel Baboucarr Jatta was; by rank I was a captain but acted in the capacity of Colonel AQ, a position I inherited from Captain Dennis Coker.
Permanent secretaries or their deputies sign for their ministers or superiors every time. Signing for them doesn’t mean they are responsible for the content or message of the document. The ministers always are.
Trust me folks, once a jackass always a jackass.