By Ousainu Darboe
Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim, Inna Lillahi Wa Inaa Illaihi Rajioune. Today we gather to bid final farewell to Ebrima Solo Sandeng, a good Muslim , father to Malick, Aminata, Fatoumatta , Muhammed, Jainaba, Ousainou ( alias Lawyer Darboe) Eliman (alias Unda Nyang) Sheikna, Fatima Nyaling husband to Nyima Sonko and a consummate patriot who loved his country The Gambia and was fervently dedicated to making her free, democratic and prosperous.
Six years after his martyrdom, a grateful nation joins his family today not only to mourn his tragic loss and pray for his soul to rest in eternal peace and Allah grant him Jannatul Firdaus but also to celebrate his well lived life. To those of us who knew and worked with Solo in the long drawn out battle to defeat the brutal regime of Yahya Jammeh, his memory is etched into our hearts for the rest of our lives.
Solo was an ordinary citizen who achieved an extraordinary outcome for our nation through selfless devotion to the principles he believed in. Those principles were anchored in his strong believe that democracy was the best form of self government for all who valued freedom. He also believed in the assertions of an American statesman that it takes the eternal vigilance of citizens to sustain a democracy. He also believed in a similar refrain that democracy and the freedoms it guarantees are not free and that only those who are willing to fight to create and retain their democracy would be entitled to keep it.
His battle from 1996 to the day he drew his last breath in the torture chambers of the NIA were all centered around the principles that he and the nation he loved needed to be free from authoritarianism and be democratic. In the pursuit of his believes Solo was determined, humble, disciplined and focused. He was courageous and resourceful. He believed in his cause so much so that he tried to convert NIA officers to his persuasion whilst in a previous detention at their office in Banjul.
He was a self taught man who despite having never sat in any conventional classroom in a school setting, was able to speak and write perfect English. He had a combined wisdom, curiosity and a keen intellectual approach to everything he did. In the leadership position he was given as a long serving member of the UDP executive, Solo always brought energy, excellent organisational skills and laser focus on achieving results.
Solo believed the journey to freedom entailed necessary sacrifice and he was always at the forefront of whatever was required whether it was time, resources, personal comfort or even exposing himself to risks. If he believed something needed to be done, he would first try to do it before asking anyone else.
Nothing stands out more in the life of Solo than the immense courage that laid beneath his humble disposition. He, like most Gambians who lived under the tyranny of Yahya Jammeh, was very conscious and aware of the death, torture and disappearances that were the hallmark of that awful regime. He had personal experience as well as intimate knowledge of the regime’s cruelty but was never one to be cowered. He believed that the price of freedom required sacrifice and he possessed the courage to face the dangers that stood between what obtained and what he aspired for our dear nation.
Solo believed as long as there exists a Gambia, there must be Gambians ready and willing to fight for its freedom. That was what drove him from 1996 to the day he was martyred in the hands of killers who believed by killing this good son of the land, they were killing the principles he believed in. The brutality of their conduct deprived his nuclear family as well as his larger Gambian family of his company.
In killing Solo for exercising his constitutional rights, our nation regained the democracy that was interrupted for 22 years. His ultimate sacrifice of losing his life is what gave us deliverance from the Jammeh regime.
It is important to note that the democracy that exists today is not a gift wrapped token bestowed on us the citizens. Neither is it a miracle that materialised out of thin air. It is the product of 22 years of struggle paid for by the blood, tears, sweat and sacrifice of countless regular citizens of all persuasions who believed in and acted on the proposition that tyranny needed to be confronted and democracy was worth fighting for. These are the people who defeated tyranny and reconstituted the New Gambia with a promise to uphold democratic values, promote and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms gifted to us by God. That is why when freedoms are seized in whatever guise, those who value it become duty bound to reclaim it whatever price that may entail. Solo was the catalyst and one of the principal architects of the reconstituted New Gambia.
It is an undeniable fact that Ebrima Solo Sandeng died in the battle for freedom and democracy. It is our duty to uphold his legacy and that of all those who fell in the battle for a better Gambia. The best way to honor the sacrifices of the fallen is to live up to the principles of freedom and democracy for which they paid the ultimate price.
Naming monuments after them and giving national funeral to Solo have symbolic value but legislating good electoral laws and more importantly by demonstrable conduct manifesting the core principles of freedom and democracy he advocated and truly believed in would be the more befitting tribute. Free people living in a democracy must live like free people in a democracy.
Solo died for principles whose validation must go beyond verbal affirmation. No Gambian should ever again be a victim of their own government. We must all abhor every indication of rights violations and insist on scrupulous adherence to the rule of law. Both the citizens and the government have a duty to safeguard the freedom and democracy that Solo died for.
To the family of Solo Sandeng, you have the heartfelt condolences of a grateful nation as we return the mortal remains of your loved one to the Almighty Allah who presides over all matters. Your father, husband, uncle, my friend, my younger brother and my trusted comrade and ally will stand tall in the annals of Gambian history for his selflessness, courage and dedication. We pray for Allah to grant him Jannah and bless this nation that he loved with all his heart.