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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Not you too Ambassador Bun Jack Part 1

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By Samsudeen Sarr

When I heard that Ambassador Sulayman Alieu Jack commonly known as Bun Jack was testifying at the TRRC on March 25, 2019, I expected hearing a sobering testimony from one of the most powerful technocrats of the PPP government who would finally shed light on Gambia’s defense matters that were purely secretive to the few but most powerful technocrats in the country then.

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Mr. Jack was the permanent secretary at the Office of Gambia’s Vice President and Minister of Defense from 1992 to 1994 the period I served there as the GNA liaison or staff officer. Although there were no definitive guidelines on the responsibilities of the military liaison officer, the job I did generally entailed the handling of unclassified procedural materials such as attending to correspondences channeled through the ministry for action from or to the GNA headquarters. In the absence of specific guidelines however, I had on few occasions ventured into stepping beyond my limits by recommending critical defense ideas to my superiors including Mr. Jack but was more often than not rebuked or warned for crossing a redline.

From that vantage point very close to the national power hub, it was clear to me who the key technocrats directly responsible for the Gambia’s national security were.
Mr. Sarra Janha, Secretary General office of the President and Head of the Civil Service occupied the pinnacle of the technocratic pyramid supported by Mr. Ahmed Bensouda Permanent Secretary Office of the President, Mr. Sulayman Alieu Jack Permanent Secretary office of the Vice President and Ministry of Defense and the late Mr. Kebba Ceesay (RIP), Director General of the National Security Service (NSS). There was also one Mr. Solomon a reticent Nigerian nestled in a corner office behind Mr. Bensouda’s office. He was the Gambia’s national security adviser. I can’t tell whether Mr. Solomon was appointed within the same period when the Nigerian Army Training and Assistance Group (NATAG) assumed command and control of the army in 1992, but when I arrived at the ministry of defense that same year, I found him in active business with the government. When it came to defense policies, decisions and contracts, these men were the principal skilled elite doing it for the PPP government.

I was therefore very disappointed with Mr. Jack at the TRRC for acting as if their undertakings were subordinated to a higher echelon of custodians blamable for the security shortcomings of the nation.
In defense of one of their implausible decision questioned by Counsel Essa Faal over the rationale behind an exhibited letter from the Gambia Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated February 25 1992, urgently requesting the Nigerian government to send 41 Nigerian military officers to come and take over the command of the GNA when only one commander was signed for in the MOU, Mr. Jack quickly attributed the flawed judgment to officers at the GNA Headquarters. Not you too Ambassador Bun Jack!
The GNA never had any headquarters as such before the arrival of those 41 Nigerian officers and their commander, requested in that letter in question.

By then, we only had a three-room-office building at the the Yundum Barracks for the then acting commander Major Maba Jobe, his adjutant Captain Pa Modou Ann and the British Army Training Team (BATT) commander Colonel Jim Shaw.
Remember that Major Maba Jobe was appointed acting commander after the first demonstration of the soldiers from Liberia in 1990 following the removal of Colonel Ndow Njie in the wake of that crisis.

If that was the army headquarters in his reference, the officers in charge-Major Maba Jobe and Col. Jim Shaw- could not have in any stretch of an imagination requested for 41 Nigerian military officers and a commander to come and take over the command and control from them.
These commanders’ opposition of the Nigerians’ presence in the Gambia was an opened secret to every serving GNA officer and other rank.
Mr. Jack further echoing his preference of the BATT over the NATAG totally caught me by surprise.

The deficiency and inefficiency attributed to the failure of the GNA command to prevent the soldiers from demonstrating in 1990 precipitating the removal of Col. Ndow Njie and also cast the first major doubt over the competence of the BATT and particularly its commander at the time Col. Jim Shaw. Col.Jim Shaw started the shooting at Yundum Barracks that caused the riotous reaction of the soldiers who were merely seeking audience with Col. Ndow Njie, commander of the GNA to find out why their overdue allowances were not paid.
That said, following the signature of the MOU by the two governments to appoint a Nigerian commander to takeover from Major Maba Jobe, succeeding arrangements to urgently bring Commander Dada over, slowed down in the months ahead. Acting commander Major Maba Jobe with the full support of Colonel Jim Shaw and his most trusted Adjutant, Captain Pa Modou Ann, started showing promising signs of effectively mitigating the volatile situation in the barracks. But in late 1991 or early 1992 with confidence in the command to hold the ground almost restored the second batch of the Liberian contingent rioted again scaring the whole country once again.

The PPP government or the gang of technocrats listed above speedily contacted Nigeria in that urgent letter dated February 27, 1994 asking for the immediate posting of the 41 Nigerian military officers to come and “tame” the GNA, ASAP. The government had had enough with failed GNA commanders and didn’t care about how BATT felt on whoever was coming to do a better job for the country. After seven years of a job well done, it was obvious that the BATT had outlived their effectiveness in taking the GNA to the next level or for disciplining the troops safe enough.
Mr. Jack couldn’t have forgotten that to now question why the government got the Nigerians when BATT was doing very well.

By the way, I have a point of rectification in Abdoulie Bah’s testimony at the TRRC. I was not at the ministry of defense in 1991 when the soldiers rioted the second time. Captain Momodou Bojang was the the staff officer then who went to the Denton Bridge and convinced the mutineers to return to Yundum Barracks. Few family members glad to hear something positively said about me at the commission called to express their solidarity but felt disappointed for hearing the truth.
Certainly, the previous BATT commanders and their assistants did a formidable job in establishing the GNA in 1984 and building it to its battalion straight; but in the tenure of Colonel Jim Shaw, some of us noticed a commander displaying clinical symptoms of a wacko from what I eventually understood to have possibly been caused by Post-Traumatic-Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) after years of fighting as a mercenary in the Rhodesian Liberation war against the independence-freedom fighters of Zimbabwe. Did the government know that about him or even cared about the profile or mental state of foreign military experts contracted and entrusted with the security lifelines of our nation? I doubt it! No one was responsible for that including our mighty technocrats.

Under normal circumstances, a competent government would meticulously investigate the rationality behind Gen. Abacha’s unilateral decision of replacing General Dada a celebrated coup buster in the Nigerian Army with Colonel Gwadebeh an infamous coup plotter and maker.
Accordingly, June 3, 1994 was the employment date of Colonel Gwadebeh as GNA commander by the Gambia government, illustrated in his appointment letter; but that was two or three months after a Nigerian local newspaper published the colonel’s appointment by Gen. Abacha to the position in the Gambia.

I was at the ministry in April 1994 when General Dada walked in angrily huffing and puffing over the Gambia Point Newspaper’s publication of the story of his replacement that he said was false news. He demanded that the authorities took necessary legal actions against the Point’s editor. In the end, however, they cajoled him out of the drastic measure, assuring him that the Gambia government was not aware of the appointment and was not necessarily going to approve it. The Point merely republished the story lifted from a local Nigerian paper in the city of Lagos.

Then in May 1994, Colonel Gwadebe showed up with his appointment letter from Nigeria, ready to take over from Gen. Dada who wouldn’t as required hand over the command to his successor without a stiff resistance. That started the main crisis leading to the July 1994 takeover. The appointment letter by the Gambia government to Col. Gwadebe, written on June 3, 1994 was simply an effort to let Gen. Dada know that it was official for him to go and let his successor take the command over.
I was dumbfounded to hear

tributed the flawed judgment to officers at the GNA Headquarters. Not you too Ambassador Bun Jack!
The GNA never had any headquarters as such before the arrival of those 41 Nigerian officers and their commander, requested in that letter in question.
By then, we only had a three-room-office building at the the Yundum Barracks for the then acting commander Major Maba Jobe, his adjutant Captain Pa Modou Ann and the British Army Training Team (BATT) commander Colonel Jim Shaw.
Remember that Major Maba Jobe was appointed acting commander after the first demonstration of the soldiers from Liberia in 1990 after the removal of Colonel Ndow Njie in the wake of that crisis.

If that was the army headquarters in his reference, the officers in charge-Major Maba Jobe and Col. Jim Shaw- could not have in any stretch of an imagination requested for 41 Nigerian military officers and a commander to come and take over the command and control from them. These commander’s opposition of the Nigerians’ presence in the Gambia was an opened secret to every serving GNA officer and other rank.
Mr. Jack further echoing his preference of the BATT over the NATAG also caught me by surprise.

The deficiency and inefficiency attributed to the failure of the GNA command to prevent the soldiers from demonstrating in 1990 precipitating the removal of Col. Ndow Njie and also cast the first major doubt over the competence of the BATT and particularly its commander at the time Col. Jim Shaw. Col.Jim Shaw started the shooting at Yundum Barracks that caused the riotous reaction of the soldiers who were merely seeking audience with Col. Ndow Njie, commander of the GNA to find out why their overdue allowances were not paid.
That said, following the signature of the MOU by the two governments to appoint a Nigerian commander to takeover from Major Maba Jobe, succeeding arrangements to urgently bring Commander Dada over, slowed down in the months ahead. Acting commander Major Maba Jobe with the full support of Colonel Jim Shaw and his most trusted Adjutant, Captain Pa Modou Ann, started showing promising signs of effectively mitigating the volatile situation in the barracks. Then in late 1991 or early 1992 with confidence in the command to hold ground almost restored the second batch of the Liberian contingent rioted again scaring the whole country again.

The PPP government or the gang of technocrats listed above speedily contacted Nigeria in that urgent letter dated February 27, 1994 asking for the immediate posting of the 41 Nigerian military officers to come and “tame” the GNA, ASAP. The government had had enough with failed GNA commanders and didn’t care about how BATT felt whoever was coming to do a better job for them. After seven years of a job well done, it was obvious that the BATT had outlived their effectiveness in taking the GNA to the next level or for disciplining the troops enough.
Mr. Jack couldn’t have forgotten that to now question why the government got the Nigerians when BATT was doing very well.

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