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Sunday, June 16, 2024

I feel for the Doc

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By David Kujabi

The 31st of January 2018 started as usual; there was not much going on, and I did not have much to do in the office. I was the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of The Gambia Police Force, and this was my second stint, albeit under different regimes. I served as PRO for the police from 2012 to 2015 under President Jammeh’s regime when I went on peacekeeping in Darfur. I returned in October 2017 and was redeployed as PRO under the Coalition regime, when Gambia was fondly referred to as New Gambia.

Sometime in the afternoon of this fateful day, I was climbing down the stairs from the third floor to my office when I met Dr Ismaila Ceesay climbing up the stairs. We greeted, and I asked him what business he had there. He replied, “Your people invited me to come over.” I asked if all was well, and he said he didn’t know. I urged him to go on, and I would check on him later.

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I didn’t know Dr Ceesay very well back then, but he was a growing household name for leading the fight against Jammeh from the academic arena at the UTG. I’d also sat with him alongside Momodou Sabally on a GISS GISS show, where they grilled me over the police’s lack of following through on cases where investigation panels were constituted. Cases in point were the attack on APRC supporters in Busumbala and the latest, the Faraba Banta incident.

They told me the truth, but I couldn’t admit it because of my responsibility as PRO. I struggled to defend the police, and God knows I struggled. In fact, I sweated profusely while they bombarded me with cases where police had failed to act. At some point, when the camera shifted away from me, Sabally chided me, “PRO, today you’re the one on the hot seat”. Even though I was on a different side of the table with these two. I was an admirer of their intellect and their bravery in speaking truth to power.

So, on this fateful day, I was in my office until it was close to closing at 4 pm when I recalled about Dr Ceesay and went to check on him. I found him in one of the crime offices, surprised that he was still there. I called aside one of the officers he was with and asked why they had him there. He showed me a Voice Newspaper in which he Dr, in an interview, said that Barrow needs to win the trust of the Gambia Army and further warned that Ecomig’s continued presence posed a security threat. I told the officer that all I saw was a genuine warning, and there was nothing wrong with that. He agreed with me but said they acted on “instructions from above”. I returned to the doctor and told him I’d see what I could do about his case. It would be worth noting that his comment followed an earlier one he made in which he described Barrow as lacking direction.

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Immediately I left him, I went to the Commissioner of Crime and told him that the Dr needed to be released before we received bad press. He agreed with me but was tied and needed instructions from above. I called a more senior Commissioner and gave him my thoughts, but he couldn’t make the call to release him. By this time, close associates of the doctor had started arriving. I remember Abdoulie Kurang and Sait Matty Jaw being in my office, and I assured them he would be released.

However, work had closed, and he was still not released. Realising that there was little else I could do at that juncture, I packed and went home, hoping that he’d be released sooner. I was very upset about the whole incident and felt really bad and somewhat guilty for being part of a system that continued to make arbitrary arrests. As a way to console myself, I wrote a poem I’ve never published titled Draped in Hypocrisy. I will share it below. Later that night, my superior called me and told me the doctor had been released without charges.

The following morning, while driving to work, I was called on the Good Morning Gambia show on Radio Gambia to talk about the doctor’s arrest. I argued that the police had every right to arrest anyone suspected of breaching the law, and Dr Ceesay was no exception. I was also delighted to report on the radio that he was released based on the information I received from my superior.

However, when I got to the office, I was shocked to learn that Dr Ceesay had not left. The police headquarters compound was filled with students and well-wishers demanding the doctor’s immediate release. I quickly went to where he was, and I saw him in a different light. He seemed to be basking in the attention and said that he wouldn’t leave until the police apologised for his arrest. I shook my head in awe of his temerity and went out. He later relented on the counsel of his lawyer, and I was requested, alongside his lawyer, to meet the students outside and tell them the news.

Again, I reiterated that the police did not err in arresting him and, after investigations, decided to release him without charge. I was booed and heckled while I made my statement, and you can imagine how humiliating that was. That morning, while I held my head low in shame, Dr Ceesay walked out, hands held high amidst cheers from the students.

My interactions with the doctor did not end there, but that’s not for now. In his role as Information Minister, I feel for him. I understand his desire to do his job the best way he can. I can imagine how conflicted he may be about what he says and what he truly believes. If he’s like me, I know he would be torn on the inside from working to stay ethical and professional and holding on to his beliefs.

I empathise with him in his role as information minister. I understand the conflict between performing one’s duties and staying true to one’s personal beliefs. If he’s anything like me, he must be struggling to balance ethics and professionalism against personal convictions. Bro, when on the outside, it is easy to fault, blame and criticise, but it is a tall order to accept the same. I pray that you have the strength resistance and tolerance to accept the criticisms that will come your way.

The takeaway is clear: if you don’t believe in a cause, agree with an ideology, or support a system, don’t deceive yourself into thinking you can make a difference from within. Politics can lead you to never-anticipated changes, often testing your integrity and beliefs.

There’s much more to say, but this piece is lengthy, and Facebook posts don’t pay the bills.

By the way, watch for my books, “The Chain and The Amulet” and “After The Badge,” arriving in The Gambia in three weeks. Be ready to grab your copies. You can also order them from Amazon.

Here is the poem I wrote on the night of February 1, 2018, dedicated to Dr Ceesay:

Draped in hypocrisy

Hah! You think you knew them enough …

They once chanted with you

A song of revolution

A call for emancipation

A plea for human dignity

You stood on the same platform

Shared the same passion

Walked the walk

And sure talked the talk

In their eyes, you saw concern

Genuine you thought they were

You shook hands, gritted teeth and bit your lips

And vowed to win or together suffer the consequence

Shoulders you robbed in the struggle

Gambia and Gambians you saw in the muddle

And injustice you together sought to bundle

But once enthroned

You today get bitten

By the mouth, you so much fought to feed ….

Valiant warrior of truth

Victim of hypocrisy of rare brute

You inspire me like never before

Shackled and helpless you may seem to be today

But as a hero, you’ll be celebrated each day

Hang in there, comrade

For this, blight will fade

And the truth will forever permeate

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