By Samsudeen Sarr
It is well overdue to continue from where I stopped in my series of running my own TRRC. You probably by now figured out why I cannot wait for my turn as some of my critics suggest I should. No doubt that I am a high-profile target of certain witnesses the security forces who by personal reasons or enhanced coaching are not only slandering me but also any person they find suitable for their silly hysteria at the TRRC.
The comical reaction of the masses especially those Gambians old enough to have witnessed the 1994 coup, as if most of what is being revealed today is new to them goes to show how hypocritical Gambians could be.
Coup de tat like war is all about politics in violent medium; their only difference is that coups are considered illegal while wars are not, but their intent remain indistinguishable, i.e., for people to seize political power by force or kill and destroy anybody or thing antagonistic to their ambition. The 1994 coup de tat, a military operation that could have taken the trackway of a typical coup, marred by its symbolic violence, deaths an destruction miraculously succeeded as if it was a predestined phenomenon to happen that day. The democratically-elected-three-decade-old-PPP government was overthrown and the citizenry in general instead of condemning it or even coming out in the streets to say no to the illegal situation came out massively to celebrate it. Then four months later, November 10, 1994, a group of disgruntled officers and soldiers who indeed helped in the planning and execution of the first successful mutiny in July, thought they could do it all over again and replace their chosen leaders.
Understanding the treachery in coups and counter coups I can say that if the November counter coup had succeeded without any hitch, the temptation will soon reemerge again for another group of officers and soldiers to make another attempt for a third-time regime change.
For still lacking the experience of how coups unfold and without the Nigerians around this time whom the PPP government had depended on for their security but failed them when they were most needed, the warriors of the November plotters came head on against the July conquerers, turning the arena into a ground for the survival of the fittest. Yes it was bloody and very nasty but it stopped the vicious circle of what could have been endless coups and counter coups that could have destroyed the Gambia as a civilize nation. Guinea Bissau is a classic example of a state virtually under siege by coup and counter coup mongers.
In fact nothing at the time indicated that the Gambian people were worried about the situation; the AFPRC as a military junta was encouraged into becoming the APRC political party that stayed in power with popular support for two decades.
Now with the TRRC, we want to look for blamable people suspected of taking part in the bad deeds of the past in a manner designed to disregard anything good from the people or their living conditions that had happened then and still expect us as a nation to reconcile our differences for the better.
In my opinion, listening to the witnesses at the TRRC so far, I see a disturbing development where the facts can be deliberately twisted with little or no means to correct them for the public to understand what is right or wrong and what is relevant or irreverent.
For instance, I think the TRRC investigating team could have discouraged certain concocted stories by witnesses before publicly allowing them to appear and mislead or misinform their listeners. It is my understanding that they are required to submit written statements well before their appearances. So starting with the case of Private Abdoulie Darbo who accused me of every kind of nonsense, I think a little bit of investigation conducted at the GNA Headquarters by the TRRC investigating team where all our records are kept could have stopped such a pathological liar from saying what he said against me. Unfortunately a lot of people believed in his story. All his theatrical encounter with me as “Army Commander” that he said happened soon after he was released from jail in March 1996 were untrue. Records at the army HQ will show that in March 1996 the time he was released and up to 1997 Colonel Baboucarr Jatta was the GNA army commander. I was appointed army commander in 1998. His discharge certificate read by the counsel at the end of his testimony, was though effective in 1996, but was indeed signed by his Commanding Officer(CO) in April 2000 and not the Army Commander.
Documents, letters, certificates or vouchers of privates at his rank are treated by their COs and not by the Army Commanders.
I was certainly retired from the army in June 1999 and left the country in July 1999 on self exile to the USA. My retirement letter specifically ordered me to hand over my responsibilities to Lt. Colonel Lawrence Jarra and not to Captain Ndure Cham as insinuated by Abdoulie Darbo. Captain Peter Singhateh was the commandant of the training school in 1996 and not RSM Gomez as he had suggested. In short, these are facts the TRRC could have verified before allowing such an unconscionable fellow to come and lie to the whole world under oath. The naive Gambians who may never hear my version will live to think that Abdoulie Darbo was telling the truth. And unless the TRRC finds a way of rectifying these errors preferably on the spot, I will continue to see their work as being suspiciously bias. Or I will be at liberty to construe their activities as unmitigated incompetence. What was wrong with putting it to Abdoulie Darbo that General Lang Tombong Tamba had never served as national security adviser to President Adama Barrow when he accused the government of hiring him as one? But the TRRC all appeared as if challenging the fool’s statement and exposing his lies in the eyes of the public was a prohibition.
It is also about time to tell those witnesses still accusing Colonel Momodou Badgie, national security adviser of being at Yundum Barracks or at the killing field in November 11 when the mutineers were executed that those allegations are false and are no longer acceptable from anybody.
Another case was that of Alagie Kanyi’s. Commissioner Imam Jallow asked him the most important question about how he was among all his colleagues in the army singly chosen to carry out all those atrocities he had described to have committed. His answer of merely following orders from his superior officers was as misleading as his lies about Yankuba Touray and Colonel Baboucarr Jatta physically taking part in the execution of the counter coup plotters. Yankuba Touray was not even at the Barracks or killing field that day.
Colonel Baboucarr Jatta was at home when Captain Marong the CO at Yundum Barracks, out of concern about the sudden appearance of Sabally, Singhateh and Hydara with their guards at Yundum Barracks called him to come and help in establishing their motif of being there. Capt. Marong had felt that they were up to no good.
While on exile, I was the first GNA officer to draw the attention of the world on the then Gambia-L social media forum about the events of November 11, 1994. And I could vividly remember the late Daida Hydara (RIP) editor of the Point Newspaper discussing the subject in his paper and asking the government to respond to my anecdotes. Other than the Point editor, no Gambians, politicians, intellectuals, lawyers, name it, in the country ever showed any interest in the matter. Since then, my story never changed regardless of the same incessant campaign then by those who didn’t like it to make my believers treat it as coming from a recovering madman. Just like those who cannot understand my choice of later reconciling with President Jammeh not caring about the facts behind my decision but only bent on discrediting me with all sorts of false allegations including of course my madness.
In my career, if those who really knew who I was and how caring I was and would be prepared in the name of God to tell the truth about me, my story will be one full of saving officers and soldiers from trouble than putting them in any kind.
However, Kanji who was very close to Lt. Basiru Barrow was generally believed to have been part of the counter coup plot but changed into a survival tactic to exonerate himself after the death of their leader. He therefore had to take the first and leading role with Edward Singhateh in the killing of Sergeant Basiru Camara and Sergeant Fafa Nyang bringing up the number of the first executed suspects to four.
When Baboucarr Jatta arrived in the camp he was in mufti and from what I had gathered, he seriously pleaded with the three Council Members not to carry out any more executions which he soon learnt to be their intention with the remaining suspects.
Thus before running away with Kanyi’s story as the gospel truth, I believe the TRRC should try to invite Capt. Marong who I believe is still living in America to get his version of the incident as the then CO quoted by Kanyi several times without ill feelings.
Col. Jatta had told me over two decades ago that Sabally the vice chairman had almost agreed to his recommendation to Court Martial the remaining officers. But Kanyi who had boarded the vehicle carrying the men to the killing field had on Singhateh’s orders stabbed most of them with a bayonet before their arrival at the range. Hence, by the time they arrived, some of them including Gibril Saye were so injured that even without shooting them they wouldn’t have survived in the next hour or two.
It was a brutal event perpetrated by brutal maniacs like Sana Sabally, Edward Singhateh, Sadibou Hydara and their guards that nobody could stop, even Colonel Baboucarr Jatta who was also trying to survive the “Danse Macabre.”
Kanyi again told the harrowing story of how the late Ousman Koro Ceesay (RIP) was murdered at Yankuba Touray’s residence, another incident that is not new to many Gambians. There again, we all know that it was Captain Ebou Jallow, former Council member of the AFPRC who after falling apart with the junta over two decades ago first drew the attention of the world to what happened to the ex-finance minister. Instead of appreciating his gesture of sharing the truth the majority of the Gambians continued to regard Singhateh as a saint while others tried everything possibly imaginable to discredit his story. I quoted him in my book in the same manner he had narrated the story then in which he had explained how Yankuba Touray was totally taken by surprise when Mr. Koro Ceesay was assaulted in his house by the Singhateh brothers and their guards including Kanji, the killing machine. In fact Captain Jallow had clarified it verbatim from how Edward Singhateh narrated the whole incident to him. Yankuba was given the impression that they were just coming to hold a special council meeting at his house to discuss certain pertinent matters. That when the attack on the minister started, Yankuba was so shocked that he bolted out into the yard and had to be tackled to the ground by Edward Sighateh. I believe in Captain Jallow far more than I do in Sergeant Kanyi.
Kanyi like Baboucarr Jeng was coached to smear the character of Yankuba Touray.
On a flashback, despite being a victim then, I will continue reiterating the fact that on September 6, 1994, with all the council members present except Chairman Jammeh at Mile Two, it was Edward Singhateh alone assisted by his guards who meted out all the brutality on the three severely tortured detainees. I didn’t see Sana Sabally, Sadibou Hydara who arrested me or Peter Singhateh or Yankuba Touray taking part in any of the beatings. Yankuba had teased me jovially by calling me amphibious but that was it, which I said helped to put my mind at ease.
To conclude, I find it necessary to discuss the importance of giving and obeying orders in the military. We are taught about lawful and unlawful orders. Whereas all lawful orders from one’s superiors are bound to be obeyed, unlawful orders are not to be obeyed under any circumstances.
As a result, Kanyi saying that the illegal killings he had carried out were in obedience of orders from his superiors makes him equally culpable to the crime as the person who gave him the orders. A soldier without the knowledge of differentiating lawful orders from unlawful ones is not fit to be one and must leave the army or be dismissed before he or she turns into a monster like Alagie Kanyi.
I think we could after all admit that it was a coup de tat, completely unlawful with everybody having to share a part of the guilt in the crime for not fighting it hard enough like the soldiers and civilians who died doing so. When we were languishing in jail in the early days, dragged there by Sana Sabally and Sadibou Hydara, the Gambians were in a state of euphoria with no regard to our fate and may have felt nothing necessarily wrong about it if we were all executed.
If we are to separate those Gambians who over the years never benefitted from the system or endorsed it at one time or the other from those who did, be rest assured that fewer, if any, than any will be scantily identified as exceptions for not endorsing or benefitting from the AFPRC/APRC government. Politics could be as untidy as coup de tat and war, so we must be careful in being compelled to be judgmental too soon.
I heard Mr. Demba Njie in his testimony surprisingly questioning the justification of his fellow officers in the TSG for not putting up a resistance against the army on July 22, 1994 which he said could have foiled the coup with the help of the Americans. Mr. Njie like, Momodou Lamin Gassama is not aware of the US policy on fighting wars no matter how trivial they may be. The Americans were not ready for a battle but for an exercise and could not have intervened in any fight in the Gambia without approval from Washington backed by the adequate force to win it in an estimated period. I therefore think we should commend the TSG officers who after assessing the situation on the ground did exactly what they found most sensible to do and not rely on probabilities that could have resulted into a mayhem. Mr. Njie was very sick in bed that day and would have had serious problems with getting his medications if the nation had exploded into an unplanned and unpredictable war for even a month or less. I can assure him that the Americans would have left us fighting and if they had to do anything at all, it would been to help evacuate their citizens from the country to a safe place or back to the USA.
I also heard Mr. Demba Njie explaining how he was there at the State House with Chairman Jammeh on November 11, 1994 when he was in a telephone call giving the “illegal” orders to go ahead and execute all the ringleaders involved in the counter coup. Why he mentioned that without saying what he did to stop or discourage Jammeh from giving such as order means two possibilities. He either didn’t know at the time that Jammeh’s orders were illegal which is hard to understand from an officer who had claimed to have attained the best of the best training among his peers-he was even better trained than Jammeh and “older and wiser”. Or he indeed knew, as I will expect from a man of his vast knowledge and experience, but was okay with it anyway. Otherwise, I will be inclined to believe that he had also like many others withdrawn into his survival shell by recognizing the unpredictable consequence of trying to caution his boss. Anyway by not doing or saying anything about it then, I would have expected him not to say anything about it now considering how scholars will interpret it other than perhaps his expectation of being seen as a great witness reporting a man he was once totally loyal to.
With everything that Mr. Njie had said about Jammeh’s undesirable attitude as an officer who was highly indisciplined, who respected no authority, who was involved in night attacks and brutalities at Gambian police stations for no known reason and whom he would have preferred to see dismissed from the security forces, coupled with being a witness in illegally ordering the killing of suspected mutineers, yet still came out with the initiative to introduce his best friend Mr. Ousman Koro Ceesay to Jammeh to hire him as finance minister. And Jammeh did.
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If he had said all that to accuse Jammeh of killing his best friend and knowing what he said he had known about the negative attributes of his boss but still endangered the man’s life by bringing him in, does he seriously think of himself as free from the crime at all? What else did Mr. Njie do immediately after his best friend was killed? I am interested. I may be wrong, but I think he kept on serving Jammeh with absolute loyalty.
We can’t as officers continue to behave this way at the TRRC if we don’t want the civilians to treat us like fools to toy around with.
Trying to throw each other under the bus as senior officers to make one’s self look better than the others contributed a lot in what caused the coup in 1994.
We were all into it and should as much as possible limit our statements to revealing the facts.
I think that is why the TRRC is not too concerned with verifying the facts and letting the public see for themselves how naive and divided we were and still are as the people behind the previous government.
We should have been talking and working together in helping the country build a reliable and self-dependent security force and not left in the hands of ECOMIG or Senegal as where we are today.
The European Union is sending us signals of getting fatigue with sustaining ECOMIG indefinitely in the Gambia that is costing them over 700 million Dalasis per annum. Their representative has recently stated the possibility of not funding the renewal of their mandate in August when it is expected to expire. If they stopped the funding without the required security reform in the country, only God knows what will happen next. Senegal alone will not be able to take care of us for free of charge. And we may not agree to their conditions of providing us the security we need.
So let us be serious!