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Ousman Sonko’s case: The lessons we haven’t learned

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By Alagie Saidy-Barrow

At the height of his powers, there were very few people in The Gambia with more influence and power than Ousman Sonko. Ousman Sonko and his interior ministry, along with the NIA now called SIS, were at the forefront of the APRC government’s abuse of Gambians. They killed and raped Gambians, and no one ever held them to account.

Ousman Sonko, like many with residual power from Jammeh, was untouchable. He was Yahya Jammeh’s eyes and ears. Ousman could do whatever he wanted in The Gambia and didn’t have to worry about anyone coming after him. Ousman would even go after the family members of his victims and in one particular case, he stands accused of repeatedly raping the wife of a man he despised. Ousman Sonko never learned that power is transient. That power belongs to man but only temporarily. And many other Gambians, like Ousman Sonko, are yet to learn this bitter lesson. Once in power or close to those in power, we easily forget the transience of power. That’s why you still hear worrisome phrases like “it is orders from the top.” That is why Gambians still carry out orders from those in power no matter how wrong these orders are.

Ousman Sonko, like everyone who has ever been close to Yahya Jammeh, including Jammeh’s comrades in the AFPRC whom he seized power with, to Saul Badgie and Tombong Jatta, would eventually fall out with Yahya Jammeh. Like so many Gambians, blinded by greed, an addiction to government positions, and reliant on marabouts, they all deceived themselves into thinking that they will forever remain in the good books of Jammeh. All who were close to Yahya Jammeh thought they would be an exception to his betrayal. Everyone single one of them was wrong. Some of those who were once the darlings of Jammeh paid with their lives, we saw others spend time in Mile Two, while others such as Ousman Sonko, escaped into exile. Many Gambians are yet to learn that what matters most to African leaders is power over the people and not the people themselves! The ones close to Jammeh never learned that they only matter insofar as they were useful to Jammeh’s stay in power. There never was any loyalty and Gambians are yet to learn that those in power are not loyal to anyone around them!

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When Ousman ran away to Europe, he never learned that globalisation makes the world smaller. Like Ousman, many have their visas ready so they too can run away when the power they rely upon today can no longer guarantee their security tomorrow. Like other Gambians hiding in Europe, Ousman thought he could hide behind time. Many of us are yet to learn the bitter lesson that time is no one’s friend and no one can hide behind time forever. That globalization makes the world smaller and that you can run away but you cannot hide forever.

Ousman Sonko’s case should be a lesson for all of us, but more so for those in power today. I’m referring to those with power to decide the fate of ordinary Gambians. Be you a minister of interior or a security official of any sort. Indeed, I’m referring to anyone with power over the people. To them, I say, always remember that the power you have today does not belong to you. One fine day, that power will be taken from you. And if you have used that power to abuse people or to steal from the people, your day of reckoning will come someday. To those in power, I say, Yahya Jammeh’s suffering and misery in Equatorial Guinea should be a lesson for you. Just as Yahya never foresaw his downfall and living all alone in a faraway foreign country, you too may accumulate a lot but when your day of reckoning comes, like Yahya, none of the wealth you stole will be able to save you.

If you are a minister with power and you use that power to abuse people, Ousman Sonko’s predicament should be a lesson for you. If you are a frontline security officer and you allow some senior officer or politician to use you to violate and abuse the people, one fine day, you will be left to face the music and whoever gave you the orders to abuse will not be standing there to defend you.

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To the security personnel, you are under no obligation to obey orders from anyone to abuse citizens. Those with power will protect you from accountability today but once they are no longer in power, you will face consequences of your actions. Where is Yahya Jammeh to protect Ousman Sonko today? Where is he to protect Yankuba Badgie? Where is he to protect his Junglers? Where is he to protect his NIA/SIS agents like Alagie Morr hiding in Europe? To the security officers, I say, be smart enough to know that not every directive must be obeyed and not every order must be obeyed. The lessons are here for us all to see.

I am not an advocate of Westerners holding Africans accountable for anything. I don’t support Western countries trying any African for any action that took place on African soil. But if African leaders refuse to hold perpetrators accountable because it is not politically advantageous to them, I guess it makes it easier for me to swallow Western countries holding the Ousman Sonkos accountable. Do you think Ousman Sonko would have been held accountable if he was living in The Gambia? He probably would have been made minister or nominated to parliament like some of his APRC colleagues! Lessons galore but no students to learn them.

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