With David Kujabi
I completed University in July 2009 with a degree in English Language as a major and Sociology as a minor. Looking back on my life as a student of University of The Gambia (UTG), I must confess that it went quite smooth despite several odds. I was a teacher on study leave with a qualified teacher’s salary, a half scholarship from Nova-Scotia Gambia Association (NSGA) and another half from my Senior Secondary School English Language teacher and mentor the late Mr. Diarmete Roache, may his gentle and kind soul rest in perfect peace. The odds of being a student of UTG was that it lacked a campus and classes were held in different places, from MDI, to Faculty building at the end of MDI road, YMCA, Alliance Franco-Gambienne and Banjul making us what my best friend Andrew Jassey aptly put as, “nomadic” students.
In September of 2009, I was appointed Vice –Principal II of St. Therese’s Upper Basic School under the Catholic Education Secretariat. The appointment was overwhelming considering my young age and relatively little experience as a teacher prior to going to university but a challenge I embraced. I worked under the dynamic leadership of Mrs. Zono Jammeh and the Late Francis Balucan who died of a sudden illness in 2010.
As Vice Principal, I was responsible for internal administration and general discipline of the students.
I was doing well and skeptics who thought I’ll fail were proven wrong, the testimonies of my students and colleague teachers were proof of this. The salary was good but I was unhappy, I was tired of the school environment. I was born a teacher, grew up within school compounds and was still teaching. The adventurous nature in me wanted to explore something different and one day while reading a newspaper, I saw an advert calling for application for vacancies for university and college graduates as Cadet Police Officers. Never in my wildest imagination had I ever contemplated being a police officer but the thought of a new job was too appealing to ignore. Without giving it much thought I applied for the job.
A few weeks later, I received a call from the police headquarters inviting me for a job interview. I developed cold feet and contemplated withdrawing but my total lack of knowledge about policing coupled with my uninformed fear of police made me afraid to decline the invitation. I worried I would be tracked down and punished for wasting their time. So I mustered up the courage to go and attend the interview which was scheduled on a Saturday.
I traveled to Banjul that morning and sought directions to the police headquarters. I arrived at the imposing building where to my surprise I met three colleagues from the university, Lazar Kujabi, Abdou Bojang, Lamin Jaiteh, Omar D. Bah and a few others I recognised from UTG and others I’d never met before. Their presence helped mildly dissipate my trepidation and wariness. After waiting a while, we were told that the interviews could not hold because of emergencies the IGP had to attend to and that we should go home and return the following day.
The following day, we again reported but I observed that Lazar Kujabi was absent and I wondered if he chickened out. We were made to sit at a corridor on the last floor while we waited for members of the interview panel to arrive. We chatted to pass time but more importantly ease the tension around us. After a long wait, officious looking people came up the stairs led by a petite looking middle-aged man who I later learned was the Inspector General of Police Yankuba JN Sonko. I also recognised Mr. Abdoulie Sanyang who was my Grade 7 class teacher in Fatima Junior Secondary school in 1998, he was on teaching practice from The Gambia College and he taught Social and Environmental Studies. They greeted us with warm but serious looking faces and walked into the conference hall where the interview was going to be held. Then they called us in one after the other.
Then it came to my turn; I walked into the interview room where an all-men panel sat on end of a table. An empty chair was placed in front of them. I greeted and waited to be invited to sit before I sat down. Though I am able to fully recall all the questions I was asked, I still remember being asked what my motivation to join the police was. This question took me off guard as I had no real motivation, as a matter of fact I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there at that moment and I had to tell them the truth. “I have no real motivation per se, saw the job advert and I thought I could apply and try something new,” I responded. Several other questions were asked and I did my best to give a fitting response to them all. Then I was told I could leave and they would get back to me.
About a week later, I was called by someone from the police headquarters and was told to go pick my appointment letter as a Cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP). I loved the ring of the long name even though I had no idea what it meant. I had to resign from my position as vice principal and that was a decision that was frowned upon by many including my father. They thought I was crazy to have left such a prestigious position to become a police officer. I must confess that I was not absolutely certain about my decision, but I knew I wanted to do something different and policing was what I had on my plate.
A few days before we officially reported to the Police Training School for basic recruitment training, the Inspector General of Police Mr. Yankuba JN Sonko invited us to the police headquarters where he spent a considerable amount of time preparing us mentally for the task ahead. He shared with us his experience as a cadet officer both in Gambia and in Nigeria. He told us of how as graduates we would be harassed and singled out for undeserved punishment and deliberate humiliation by our instructors. He advised us to remain steadfast and strong for all that was part of the training process that would instill in us a service (policing/military) spirit. I was from that moment fascinated by IGP Sonko, his reassurance did not only make me see in him a good leader, but also a father-like figure.
He was simple, humble and down to earth and I could recognise in him a man who had a great vision for the Gambia Police Force. My respect for that gentleman has since then never waned; he is simply one of the greatest leaders I have ever worked under.
On the 1st of June 2010, ten of us were put in a bus and driven to the Police Training School in Yundum. Seven of us were Cadet ASPs and three were Cadet Inspectors. We arrived at lunch hour and the reception was as cold as we were warned. There were a large number of recruits who had already been on training for almost two months. We were allowed a moment to pack our bags and then given food to eat. After that we were made to shave our hair to sport bald heads. Just when we finished a whistle was blown and we heard “Fall in …!” being shouted. All the recruits left everything they were doing and ran to assemble in an orderly manner at an open ground in the campus.
We sat where we were, uncertain of what to do but a thunderous voice shook us out of our confusion, “Cadets! Fall in!” We got up and rushed to the ground unsure of what to do but some of the instructors showed us where to stand. Marching to the Centre of the ground, a tall, slim and smartly dressed police officer halted and in a loud voice shouted out what sounded like “Pred, pred shun!” All the recruits did some movement and stood at attention while we stood at a loss. “Cadets as you were!” the officer barked at us. Then we all came to attention in a most disorderly fashion.
“I am RSM Jobe and this is my “holy ground”, when you are on it you do as I command!” the officer shouted again. “Sir Yes Sir” the recruits shouted in reply” while we looked on more confused. “Oh so you Cadet Officers think you are too big to respond to me eh …….. just wait until I am done baptising you” he said looking menacingly in our way. He then asked the recruits to go fetch water for our baptism. We were made to lay down flat on the ground and buckets of water were poured on us while were asked to roll over on the grounds.
We did this amidst, chanting and laughter from the other recruits while they continued to pour water on us. Then we were asked to get up and I was beginning to feel relieved when RSM Jobe pointed to two trees at opposite ends of the ground and asked us to run to and from each of them several times. We ran to and fro and often bumped into each other but didn’t dare stop. Noticing that we were tired and some almost about to pass out, RSM Jobe stopped us, divided us into two groups and made us to stand at opposite and instructed one group to shout “Sir Yes Sir” while the other group responded same. This went on for almost ten minutes, I was tired and out of breath and I noticed worse on some of my colleagues and thought, “What the hell did we get ourselves into?”
To Be Continued