By Paul T Mendy
Please allow me space to respond to statements made by Seedou Barrow, that was published on your widely read Newspaper, The Standard.
I must say that I read with dismay, the baseless assertions made by Seedou Barrow in his interview in the June 12th 2018 Edition of the Standard Newspaper.
Seedou claims to buy the land from the Jabang family in 2003 when it was nothing but thick bush. I beg to differ with this statement because I personally attended several burials in the same place in the 1980s and 1990s well before the Coup d’état of July 22nd 1994. Why didn’t they stop the people of Taneneh from using the piece of land for burial at that time? The so-called land owners must have consented for the land to be used as a graveyard then. So why should that piece of land be sold to someone else? Whoever bought that land, must have bought a graveyard. Pure and simple. Above all, the people of Taneneh confronted Seedou and made him know that the place he bought is a graveyard. But was defiant and went on working on the land. Seedou deliberately ignored all warnings and bought a cemetery in 2003 for gardening. Why is the Government then turning a blind eye to the truth is the question that must be answered.
Seedou also claim that he developed and turned the land into a farm for fruit trees and vegetables. This is another unfounded and misleading information given to the public by him. Where are the crops and the development said to be carried out in this cemetery? When we visited the garden with the journalists, all that was seen were fallen young palm trees, heaped on desecrated tombs. Worst of all, vegetables are grown on desecrated tombs for public consumption.
Interestingly enough, Seedou claim that his family has good relations with the people of Taneneh; that the first burial at the cemetery was a girl whose father came to plead for a spot on this land to bury the girl, from his father.
This is ludicrous, outrageous and insulting to the intelligence of his readers and the people of Taneneh, because no one in his right sense of mind, will believe such an explanation. Seedou was exposing his wickedness, inhumanity, greed and total disrespect to his neighbors, during their sad and distressful moment and should know that in times of sorrow and grief, neighbors and friends should restrain themselves from slander, mockery and insult. Seedou like any other good neighbor, should learn to exercise tolerance and compassion for the bereaved family. This is what the Gambia is known for.
In his attempt to hide his guilt and evil character, Seedou tried to frame some elites of another tribe in the civil service during the former regime, of using their powers and influence to aid the people of Taneneh, in their quest to regain their graveyard. This is completely false, slanderous and misleading A former Chief of Kombo South, was one of those people who harassed his people for no just cause. They connived with others to sell farmlands, gardens, orchards, virgin forests and reserved lands that belong to the people of the district. Now they have nothing to sell and turn to lands owned by the minority ethnic groups. They manipulate, forge and backdate documents to secure lands in the most illicit of manners. This is why many people are perplexed about how Government officials can lease a graveyard to an individual. I have never seen or heard of such, anywhere in the world. All this can only be done only through forgery and if investigations are conducted in the best of ways, the truth will prevail. Independent forensic investigation will surely tell when those dead bodies were buried in that cemetery. We all come from Kombo South and know the level of corruption and injustice that goes on, when it comes to land deals.
It is rubbish to frame innocent civil servants for aiding people in their dirty deals and I wants to make it clear that my tribe members in the civil service from these villages, are contented with their jobs and what they earn from their farms. We have no reason for meddling with other peoples’ businesses. We step in, when our rights to land ownership is infringed and people should stop fabricating stories to suit their evil intentions and interests.
People in Kombo still think of some minority tribes like mine as strangers in the country. To them certain groups of people in Kombo in particular, are foreigners, forgetting the history of the migration of people, to this country, and I am disappointed that young people of my age still harbors such negative ethnocentric egos and discriminate against those they do not share the same ethnic group with, as strangers in this country. I appreciate the media and patriotic citizens who are concerned with the wellbeing of people in this country, by bringing the Taneneh issue in the public domain.
Whilst the people of Taneneh and the Christian Community in the Gambia appreciated the Government’s involvement to resolve the problem, the solution is inadequate and unsatisfactory. The best solution would have been to reallocate Seedou another land of equal size somewhere, and leave the graveyard for the people of Taneneh intact. The argument that Seedou Barrow owns the land because he has documents does not hold ant water. It is not also true that a committee set by the Vice President visited Taneneh village and had a discussion with the people. This never happened to my knowledge. The people of Taneneh never set their eyes on such a committee and had never reached any agreement with the said committee. They have never appealed to Seedou. The whole truth is that the decision was imposed on the representatives of the village by the Vice President’s Committee, at a meeting held at the conference room of the Ministry of Regional Government and Lands in Banjul on Friday June 8th 2018. At the meeting the representatives of the village were told that Seedou owns the land in question because he produced lease documents of the land whilst the people of Taneneh, had nothing to prove their ownership of the land and the only option they have is to beg for a portion of the land for a graveyard from the owner. Interestingly enough it was the Ministers of Lands, Interior and the representative of the Supreme Islamic Council, who actually begged Seedou and to convince him to accept their plea of giving up a portion of his garden as graveyard for the villagers. Taneneh representatives were unhappy about the decision but could not do anything about it at that moment.
In other words they were conditioned to accept a very bad deal against their will. The conditions of agreement was that:
1. Seedou Barrow will use his own discretion to decide the size of the land to give as the new cemetery;
2. A physical planning officer will come and do the demarcation;
3. People of Taneneh must agree to exhume all the dead bodies buried within the garden and rebury those remains in the new cemetery apportioned by Mr. Barrow;
4. That Government compensate Seedou for the portion lost in his garden;
5. That Government allocate new land as cemetery for the community of Taneneh.
What an arrangement!! There is nothing wrong with relocating Seedou to another new place and if need be, compensate him for any losses he may have incurred as a result of the movement and money spent on fencing and the borehole. After all, Seedou knew right from the beginning that he did was wrong. Investing on land that he knew was a cemetery.
In fact the matter generated heated quarrels which nearly turned into a fight when the representatives reported the outcome of the meeting to the people of Taneneh. This is because the community felt insulted by being offered 20 by 30 metres of land as cemetery and conditioned to exhume of the remains of their love ones buried outside the allocated portion. This is a cultural taboo in the minority tribe I belong and has severe consequences for the village or any person involved in removing those remains from where they are buried. The people feel offended for the simple reason that they have warned Seedou right from the beginning and had repeatedly reported the matter on several occasions to the Alkalo of Gunjur, District Chiefs before and now, and sitting Governors of West Coast Region at the time, but nothing was done. The recalcitrant Seedou used his relationship with the then Chief of Kombo South and other local government officials and was able to maneuver his way to get papers for the land.
My response to Seedou Barrow’s interview on Standard Newspaper
Cemeteries are public places like markets, Schools, Churches and Mosques. Should we have to demolish such structures for the sake of an individual who knew at the onset, that the place is a cemetery? When we talk about papers, how many cemeteries in Kombo South have lease papers? This is a bad policy and should not be encouraged by any Government.