By Samsudeen Sarr
“The commission calls witnesses it considers useful to its investigations, and not necessarily witnesses who want to testify. If we feel the persons you mentioned [Samsudeen Sarr and Captain Ebou Jallow] will be useful witnesses, they will be called. Otherwise they will not be called. We are not obliged to call any witness unless we are convinced they add value to our investigation”. Really, Dr Baba Galleh Jallow?
I was forwarded the above epistle, a response by Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow of the Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation & Reparations Commission (TRRC) from a question asked by a Standard journalist on why Samsudeen Sarr (my humble self and a witness to the 1994 military takeover) and Captain Ebou Jallow (former AFPRC spokesman) were never invited to testify.
I am yet to confirm the veracity and origin of the script; but I can still definitively say that when the TRRC just started with a premeditated choreograph of delineating my image as a recovering lunatic, thanks to psychoanalyst “Doctor” Essa Faal, a close friend of mine in the corridors of power informed me about how Dr Baba Galleh Jallow reacted similarly after he had suggested to him the need to invite me to testify or defend myself. I was at the time in the country minding my own business but of course shocked by the rubbish disseminated against me during the TRRC’s opening sessions. According to my friend, Dr Jallow had trivialised my importance to their investigation of the truth aimed at reconciling the Gambian community while they encouraged and tolerated a host of witnesses to spew derogatory statements about my character. The least they could have done was to invite me to explain my side of that prison event.
For that reason, I couldn’t but still regard everything as a conspiracy to assassinate my character by portraying me as someone deranged from a bad experience at Mile 2 Central Prison, exacerbated by their intransigence to ever allow me on their perverted platform to invalidate the fallacy. Allowing me that opportunity would have certainly proven my faculties more stable than Essa Faal had enthusiastically depicted before my traumatised family members and the whole world for that matter.
On the same tenor, if I had remained mute as they probably had expected, I am sure Dr Baba Galleh Jallow would have gleefully told The Standard journalist that Samsudeen Sarr cannot be invited because of his poor mental health.
That was their game plan which I punctiliously negated in series of publications online and on Gambian local newspapers, notably The Standard. What I did at Mile 2 Central Prison after the terrifying night of 6 September, 1994 was a very funny but necessary joke I performed and throughout laughed over the drama that indeed saved our lives. Captain Alagie Kanteh, former spokesman of the AFPRC military junta upon his arrest and detention in August 1994 had hinted us about the persistent demand for approval by then defence minister Edward Singhatey to have all “security detainees” executed by firing squad. Singhatey had gotten the villainous idea from the then head of state of Sierra Leone, Captain Valentine Strasser who happened to be his idol and whom he had officially visited soon after the takeover.
That was before anyone was killed in the 1994 takeover. The November 11 counter coup, the death of Sadibou Haidara and the killing of Ousman Koro Ceesay had not happened yet. But when Edward appeared that night extremely intoxicated and acting recklessly with a fully loaded AK-47 rifle, the warning by Mr Kanteh became ever more real to me and I concluded that something radical must be done to avoid its repetition. None of the AFPRC members – Sana Sabally, Sadibou Haidara and Yankuba Touray – other than Singhatey that night exhibited any notable grudge or deadly instinct.
In fact according to Spokesman Kanteh, Chairman Jammeh had to threaten Singhatey with arrest and detention to finally stop him from pursuing the Strasser-recommended mass execution. Thank you Mr President for saving our lives. Notwithstanding, I still believe that Edward came that night of September 6, to fulfill his fiendish objective by playing with his loaded weapon to cause an “accident” that would have justified the need to shoot all of us.
On hindsight, I could imagine all of us being slaughtered that night and 22 years later, lead counsel Essa Faal meets Edward in Nigeria where he practices law, assures him to just appear at the TRRC but to avoid acting like Yankuba Touray, coaches him on how to deny every allegation against him, then after a well rehearsed argument, the commission apologises for being unnecessarily difficult on the former defence minister and finally allows him to go home scot free. Then the whole crime of killing the security detainees and Ousman Koro Ceesay rests squarely on the shoulders of poor Yankuba Touray, prolonging his incarceration and dragging his trial indefinitely. I doubt whether Captain Kanteh would have been allowed to testify had he candidly included such narrative in his story. Every officer detained at Mile 2 Central Prison was aware of that friction between Singhatey and Jammeh, innumerably recounted by Kanteh over the defence minister’s adamance to have us all executed, a subject totally ignored at the TRRC.
In the case of Captain Ebou Jallow, it is apparent that Dr Baba Galleh was not at all honest to the fact-finding journalist; otherwise he would have explained why Captain Ebou Jallow was never invited. The captain was indeed asked to submit his preliminary statement in order to be scheduled on a date and time for his testimony which he did in October 2019. Yet they failed to invite him until he ran out of patience and published the entire statement online in April 2020.
They wouldn’t invite him because as a primary witness he candidly disclosed how former finance minister and his best friend the late Ceesay was cold-bloodedly murdered by Edward Singhatey, his brother Peter and Alagie Kanyi to the consternation of Yankuba Touray rather than his active participation in the plan or execution. The statement was an unwelcome story that failed the benchmark of the TRRC “definition of the truth” which according to Dr Baba Galleh Jallow, couldn’t add any value to their investigation.
Just like Captain Jallow’s, I believe my preliminary write-up would have disqualified me. For I would not only have unbiasedly explained every incident according to my experience but would have denounced them for conspiring with some unconscionable officers to castigate my personality. They could have at least consulted the then army medical doctor Malick Njie incarcerated along with us for a more academic evidence. I am sure he would have truthfully told them that “Samsudeen Sarr just pulled off a successful joke on everybody and later on explained to most of us how and why he did it”. It was amazing not to hear any of my colleagues familiar with the incident conscientiously debunking everything during or after the ugly depositions.
However, I want Dr Baba Galleh Jallow to understand this: that nearly 99.9% of Gambians including former Sir Dawda Jawara’s staunchest supporters that I later questioned about the government of former President Yahya Jammeh confessed their initial unadulterated endorsement of the military takeover and the AFPRC/APRC regime. More often than not, the reasons for their change of heart had everything to do with their misfit in the system, betrayal of their selfish aspiration, that of their family members or associates while the vast majority had to join the bandwagon of antagonists after the APRC government was about to fall in 2016. This last group in particular was more visible among Jammeh’s ambassadors, ministers, military officers and top civil servants.
We were in fact warned as security detainees in 1994 that Essa Faal, a young and very vibrant lawyer at the justice ministry, committed to the aspirations of the junta was assigned to prosecute us for treason. Yes he was indeed fraternising with the system and was also reported to have been very active in the Alghali Commission before being appointed in 2002 or around that time by President Jammeh as a Gambian diplomat at the UN in New York City.
In defence of the AFPRC government in August 1994 against the PDOIS rejection of ministerial positions offered to their leadership, pious Dr Baba Galleh Jallow had nothing to say but to condemn the “socialist party” for even defiantly publishing their Foroyaa newspaper against the declaration of Decree 4 forbidding all national newspaper reporting, calling their action “too provocative in a country crying out for sanity”. In that same article, while our lives as security detainees were hanging on a frail thread at death row, he added these eerie remarks: “…those held in custody must at all times consider the survival of our innocent population above their own survival. This may sound harsh considering the pain and anger of being detained, but if we are to ensure the survival of our nation, we must be prepared to endure frustrations. If keeping the peace means modifying our ideals and convictions we must do it. We must always remember that reconstructing a broken state is almost as difficult as reconstructing a broken egg.”
What in God’s name was this guy smoking? No wonder Singhatey was convinced at the time that there were corrupt lawyers willing to defend such state atrocity and also nefarious journalists insulated to justify it.
There were thousands of such intellectual whores who were there for only their personal gains until some of them realised that their sycophancy was not paying off and they turned rebellious or counter-revolutionary.
Two decades ago is like yesterday and the evidence is still abundantly available in digital and analogous records. We could trace the activities of every player pretending to be holier than thou today.
But come to think about, where is the moral principle in somebody who vehemently expressed his opposition to coup d’etats, deeming it illegal but still wholeheartedly supported and worked for a government established by that very “outlawed” action? Where would one classify the character of the 99.9% Gambians in that demographic chart after their endorsement of the “illegal” power seizure?
It more or less translates to for lack of better analogy, a self-proclaimed saint being supportive to a “crime” until the “criminal” targets his ungodliness domain and he starts crying foul and demanding necessary policing. That in my book is a devilish mindset.
I could already hear the novel misfits and losers laying plans to persecute and prosecute the NPP leaders after 2021 through a “Janneh Commission” that would quiz President Barrow’s ministers and senior public officials to account for their dubiously acquired wealth especially on where they had the funds to construct mansions in Dakar, Senegal within three years. Another Ugandan constitution for plagiarism by a new Constitutional Review Commission is in the waiting and definitely an Essa Faal will be bracing up to grill Adama Barrow over why Senegalese forces illegally occupied The Gambia and ruthlessly butchered an unarmed father called Harona Jatta in Kanilai, why his police forces murdered peaceful demonstrators at Faraba Banta and why they arrested, tortured and illegally detained the 3 Years Jotna activists exercising their political rights.
How our doctors, lawyers and the rest of the herd will fit in the next episode would depend on the efficacy of chameleon DNAs.
Samsudeen Sarr is a former Commander of the Gambia National Army and diplomat. He is the author of several books.