Adored by APRC vanguards and hated with passion by all other Gambians who oppose former president Jammeh’s stranglehold onto power, Seedy Njie, is today the spokesperson and press secretary of the now opposition APRC party.
Born in Central River Region, he made an early foray into politics with the Jammeh inspired National Patriotic Students Association (Napsa) before being nominated National Assembly where he served for almost two terms. He became Jammeh’s Minister of Information for nine days after the holder of that position Sheriff Bojang resigned. He went into exile with President Jammeh but returned shortly afterwards, contested the National Assembly election and lost. Seedy Njie, who married for a second time towards the end of last year, has a daughter. In this interview, The Standard’s Alagie Manneh began by asking him:
Could you take us back to election night on December 1, when your party was losing power, what did you do?
Well this is… I am not going to talk about the elections. I thought this Bantaba [interview] is about personal life not about… I don’t talk about elections. That is behind me since my return from Equatorial Guinea.
Most people accuse you in particular and other members of the APRC of prevailing on President Jammeh to reject the election results after his initial acceptance?
The election to be honest with you is behind me. Since Jammeh accepted… after mediation efforts by diplomats, I don’t talk about elections. I granted Daily Observer an interview where I talked about these things. I no longer want to discuss those issues.
What do you say to those critics now calling for the APRC to be banned?
People are entitled to their opinion. It’s their opinion. They believe APRC should not operate. I am not sure what they really want. Maybe they want a one-party state. I don’t know. But I also reserve the right and the opinion to disagree with them. The APRC is a legally registered political party operating in The Gambia. So I wonder what kind of people they are. So delusional, but for me, I think it’s their right and opinion to say those things. But the APRC is a legally registered party and it is the biggest party in this country. They know that.
You make yourself notorious and a hated figure in the country during the political impasse. Why were you so blindly supporting Jammeh when the reality was stacked against his staying in power?
I am not adverse to criticism. I have a thick skin for criticism and I know I have the right to belong to any political party of my choice. I have the right to support anybody I want. I have the right to believe in anything. I have the right to believe in any religion and I have the right not to believe in any religion. And I have the right so long as those rights did not infringe on other’s rights or are in conflict with the law.
I have the right to support any political party. Probably those saying that are supporting other political parties different from the APRC and that is their right, and I respect that. And I hope one day they will come and join the political party that I support. But what I respect inasmuch I support APRC and inasmuch I want others to come to the APRC for me [sic] I respect them and I honour them for that and I wouldn’t do anything offensive to them because they are exercising their right to belong to any political party of their choice. They are right to criticise me, but you [Alagie Manneh] were in Kanilai [during the NA victory celebration], and inasmuch as others hated me for supporting the party, there are thousands of Gambians in and outside of The Gambia who love me for supporting the APRC.
You see I am not boasting of anything. I just believe that I was a member of the APRC when everybody was dancing, whining and dining with the APRC and when Allah’s destiny befalls us the party lost and then therefore I should be a sycophant to run away from that party to another party? No I am not that person. If the road is rough along the way, that shouldn’t be a reason, or excuse for me to jump the ship. I don’t believe in that. I am a man of principles. I believe in what I believe. But there are thousands of people also who are commending me on a daily basis for being with the APRC.
They sit there and said I am blindly following the party that I belong to for over two decades. So they are following their party, they want me to leave my party and come support theirs. It’s their right to call on me to join their party and it is my right also to call on them to join my party. But if they think I was blindly following my party, that’s a joke. It is the joke of the millennium.
Mr Njie are you in touch with the former president Yahya Jammeh?
Yes, I am.
How is his situation in Equatorial Guinea?
The former leader we all know he is fine. I wouldn’t want to talk but as the former head of state of our country, founder and great leader of the APRC, we wish him well and… we wish him well.
The APRC Interim leader, Fabakary Tombong Jatta, earlier said the APRC members are praying for Jammeh’s return to The Gambia one day…
[Cuts in] Yes, you know he is a citizen of this country and a former head of state. There are a lot of issues that are… anyway as a former leader of this country and founder of our great party, we are sure he is well and we wish him well. Yes!
Mr Njie you claim thousands love you, but an actual test of your own popularity was when you contested and lost in the April parliamentary election in your birth constituency of Nianija and only got a little over 400 votes.
(Laughs) That wasn’t in any way a test of my popularity.
So, what next in your political career?
I am a politician, so I will continue pursuing politics. Pursue politics. Yeah, pursue politics.
So what lessons did the April election teach you, then?
I wouldn’t say for now or share what it teaches me, but I can tell you whatever the party learned from December to now it is swiftly addressing.
What are your political aspirations?
That is too personal. All I can say is that people will know when the time comes.
The APRC won five seats in the National Assembly, the parliament it used to completely dominate only a few months ago. Is that not symptomatic of the natural death of the party?
Yes we used to enjoy a considerable majority in parliament, but you know what happened in The Gambia in the last six months. There have been a lot of misconceptions, lot of misinformation, particularly during the parliamentary campaign and prior to that during nominations, but we are still content with those seats we have in parliament.
You are in The Gambia, you know the status quo four months back and the status quo currently is a quite different thing. People who were probably sitting on the fence and decided to leave the party are now back and people are joining from other parties too because they realise not everything that glitters is gold. The APRC is here to stay and it is a force to be reckoned with.
Tell us how it feels from being in the majority to being in the minority in parliament?
From majority to minority, that is not what any political party would want. Everybody wants to enjoy majority in parliament. But we will continue towards working that and ensure the APRC form the next government. And all plans are afoot towards ensuring that. All the signs… the prospects are very high towards ensuring that. I can safely say that Gambians really appreciate the APRC.
The party is a household name in The Gambia, considering the tremendous transformation the party has done over the years, transforming and changing the lives of Gambians in this country. Of course you might agree to disagree with me, which you are entitled to – you might not share our party’s political beliefs – but you cannot deny the fact that where you are sitting in your corner or in your house or locality, you [are not] benefitting and enjoying the fruits of our unprecedented development in The Gambia.
Your interim leader raised the concern that people were going round and telling people that the APRC is an illegal party and that no one should join them.
In fact, that is one of the reasons why we have very few representatives in parliament but we have since gone out to address those issues. There are a lot of factors responsible, but we have addressed all those misconceptions and misinformation and those deliberate acts to tarnish the image of the APRC.
You are on record as saying: “If you see people shouting from every [nook] and cranny of this country, it is because of former President Jammeh, who made the Gambia known to the world.” What exactly do you mean?
I am saying the APRC has done everything under [former] President Jammeh. One could only agree that any government in place is only complementing what President Jammeh had done. At the time when he took power, almost nothing was here.
He moved this country from a stone age to where it is today. When he came, there was no university, so he built one. When he came there were no hospitals, so he built hospitals. When he came there were no schools, so he built schools; free education and rural electrifications, he did them all. What I am saying is President Jammeh had done unprecedented [sic]. Now anybody coming in after him, will only capitalise and make good use of the foundations he laid. So therefore in every society, community or sector you go in, you see the hallmarks of the APRC. Positive relics. We hope President Barrow will continue from where we stopped.
The Bakau-based Mandinka rapper, Nyancho, recently lambasted those Gambian artistes who refused to show up and perform at your Kanilai celebration of only following Jammeh for the money. Is that your view?
First of all, I want to commend Nyancho and other musicians who made it to our programmes. I share the belief that Nyancho is not only thinking of today, but also what happened in the past and what can happen tomorrow. Nyancho and others know that only Allah knows what will happen tomorrow and he decided to return gratitude to President Jammeh and the APRC.
That is an act of genuine honesty. Because as a musician yesterday you were dining with the APRC and today because the APRC is not in power… is just like you are a contractor. Because as a musician, I see no reason why you should not go and perform, but still your political beliefs continue. So I share his belief that people must be mindful and not be sycophants. I share his wisdom.
Is the freezing of the assets of Jammeh and the APRC negatively impacting on your initiatives?
This freezing of assets, you look at the list… to be honest I just cannot understand. How many bank accounts they say? When you look at the list you see farms in CRR, farms in Ballanghar. You look at the accounts, the APRC accounts. I wonder, I ask myself, really, are these people doing their homework?’ Yahya Jammeh doesn’t even know the existence of those accounts.
I couldn’t imagine what I was reading. But anyway, the truth shall always prevail. Whatever one is doing, you do it with due diligence, you do it with sincerity. I also saw Jammeh Foundation Hospital accounts and said to myself, I hope the staff in that hospital will receive their salary this month because their accounts have been frozen. I don’t know what those accounts got to do with President Jammeh. I saw Prince Ebrahim Sanyang… I don’t know but it really baffles me. I was really perplexed.
And I saw in the newspapers Ebrahim Sanyang refuting those allegations. So I don’t know how this whole thing is being done but I am sure the APRC will come up with a press conference or a statement in which the interim leader will set the record straight. I assure you that… I cannot just understand. I saw also in the list Operation Save the Children Foundation, Operation Save A Baby, you know rice fields in Janjangbureh. I saw farms that communities gave to President Jammeh. I saw all those. I don’t know the yardstick they have been using but it looks very funny.
What is your general assessment of President Barrow’s 100 days in office?
I don’t know if there is anything to assess at all. We don’t have a vice president and the cabinet supposedly met only once when they are supposed to have met weekly or twice weekly or even daily. So if they can have it in hundred days only one. I don’t know. I have not seen anything that I could assess.
So you think this government has failed?
I have not heard from them yet. Probably if I have seen a blueprint or a plan of action, or see them telling people this is what they want to do, I would have been able to use it and try to assess what they have done or how they plan to achieve it. But so far all those things are absent in the public domain.
You seem to love Jammeh with a passion, why?
Although I am young, I have seen the zeal, the enthusiasm, the commitment and the love he has for his country and I have seen the developments that he ushered in The Gambia. From university to infrastructure to basic social services, education, agriculture, women empowerment and he made us realise our potentials. He is passionate about The Gambia.
He had given us the opportunity to serve our great nation and as such I really admire him. I think he is an African icon who believes in The Gambia and gave us the very best with no resources in the country at the time. He nurtured and maintained peace. That is commendable. Everywhere in The Gambia, he took people to Mecca, free education and many others. He turned illusive dreams into reality. He has really improved the livelihoods of the people.
But many said he killed, tortured, jailed and disappeared many people, embezzled public funds and that is why they do not like him.
They are entitled to their opinion. It is their right.
Thank you Mr Njie, Ramadan Mubarak.