In 2009, Sheriff Bojang, the former managing director of the Observer Company, the publishers of the Daily Observer newspaper granted a rare interview to Pa Nderry M’Bai of the online Freedom news site. This interview was later republished by the Freedom site on 28 April 2015 while Mr Bojang was serving as Information and ICT minister. We republish this testy interview here.
Freedom Newspaper: Good day Mr. Bojang. A lot has been reported here on Freedom about your present and past life. This interview will avail you the opportunity to shed light on some of the controversies associated with you. Let me start by asking you how old are you? For heaven’s sake, do not falsify your age.
Sheriff Bojang: The only ‘controversies’ are the lies and twisted stories drummed up by you and your confrères. About my age, I know chronologically I’m a few years older than you but mentally thrice your age. Next silly question.
When did you start writing for the Daily Observer? What inspired you into journalism?
After sitting for my GCE Advanced Levels exams, I got a scholarship to Malaysia but decided to stay home and work for a year… a year became ten!
Who is Kenneth Y Best?
A Liberian refugee who came to Banjul and started a business called Observer Company Gambia Ltd.
What was your status at the Observer, prior to the sale of the paper?
Is it true that you served as an emissary for Amadou Samba to help negotiate during the sale of the Observer? Mr Best acted based on the information you gave him about Samba to sell the paper to a close associate of the President. Your views?
I did not serve as emissary for anyone. Kenneth was deported to Liberia and found his way to the States. He was looking for a buyer for Observer because he said he wasn’t seeing a dime from his business in which he and wife Mae Gene had invested all their life-savings. In addition, they took loans from the banks in The Gambia. At about the same time some hangers-on of a now jailed politician had made a couple of attempts to firebomb Observer. It happened that Amadou wanted to buy and I put him and Kenneth in touch. What happens after that; how much and how the deal was done, Sheriff Bojang had no idea. Kenneth knew who Amadou was so he didn’t have to ask me. You could have called and talked to Kenneth in Monrovia rather than filling your pages week-in, week-out with vacuous gossip on this matter.
Don’t you think your move to befriend influential folks like Amadou Samba puts your integrity as a journalist into question? How can you be independent, when politicians can use you to pursue their political interest?
I did not court Amadou’s friendship. I met him, interviewed him and he was impressed by something he saw in me and said he would help whenever I want to go to university. This was years before he bought Observer. How can you not have the utmost respect and loyalty for a man who treats you like his son, offered you everything yet he would not make undue demands of you, has never even raised his voice at you and would tell you to follow the dictates of your conscience?
Secondly, I know Amadou as a businessman not a politician though a strong supporter of Jammeh. On the flipside, if you know anything about the cognitive theories of critical media, you’d know that politicians and journalists feed off each other. I have never been a tool of any politician. I have always strived to operate with an even hand giving everyone a voice whether you are from APRC, UDP, PDOIS or NRP. Can you truthfully deny this having worked under me all those years?
What happen after the sale of the Observer? Were you not compensated for the role you played in helping Samba to secure the paper in the form of job promotion?
The then chief editor left to start his own paper and the logical progression was for me to take over. In fact, at that time I had a more attractive offer from my friends, Simon Abraham, Ebrima Drameh and Sheikh Tahirr Njie. They were going to buy machines, give me a house, buy me a car and let me run my own newspaper. That would be anything better than what I would get at the Observer. What do you guys know? Only peddle gossip like old Mba Jonsaba and her company at old Brikama market.
Sheriff Bojang used to be very critical during the PPP administration. You maintained the same journalistic trend throughout the transition period. But how come that you change your style of reportage after the sale of the Observer? Were you bought by the system or what? Do you owe any special obligation to Yahya Jammeh and Amadou Samba to a point that you have to abandon independent journalism?
As I wrote in the introduction to my new book, I am aware that as a writer I am the product of a specific social background, personal history and education. This conscience has not been easily suppressed by any press baron, ideology or group complicity and reflects in my work. I never changed my style. I have always been critical. Being critical does not mean being propagandist or oppositionalist just for the heck of it. I’ve never been either.
Be honest with me. You went through a lot of pressure shortly after the sale of the Observer. Your efforts to maintain the paper’s independence were frustrated by the new owners of the paper. Right or wrong?
I had a free rein to do what I saw fit. The pressures came a year later.
Why were you sacked from your MD position?
I do not know but you can ask one Saja Taal and one limping b**d called [name redacted].
Reports have it that the NIA and the police were investigating you on allegations of abusing company properties? What happen to your Benz?
Police and the NIA? How come no one ever told me about this? Where exactly did you hear this one? Reports from where? Another of your verisimilitudes? I had two Mercedes, which one?
What prompted your departure from The Gambia?
To read postgrad journalism at City [University London] but switched to International Relations at LMU. Yes I have and by way of info, just completed another masters programme in International Studies & Diplomacy at CISD.
Are you sure you are not wanted by the state?
And why would the state want me? The bounty is on your head, not mine. I go in and go out [of The Gambia] as I please.
It’s very expensive to attain University Education in the West. Who paid for your studies?
Tuition for international students is prohibitive. Amadou Samba paid for me. And let me tell you something. He has paid for many others to travel abroad seeking education including several from Observer years before he bought Observer. He’s even bailed out the GPU when they went to him cap in hand because the landlord threatened them eviction.
Are you an APRC agent?
Ha ha ha ha! I’ve never been a member or an agent of any party at election or any other time. The last time I ever told anyone about a political party I supported was in 1999 or so when I was interrogated at the NIA regarding a story written by one of my reporters. I told them I supported Sedia Jatta.
But it was reported somewhere in the Freedom Newspaper that you faxed the crude oil story penned by Pa Nderry M’Bai and Alieu Badara Sowe to the State House before going to press. It was also reported that you censored the content of the said damning report against the Jammeh Government. Your comments?
You have repeated this lie so many times on your site that I am beginning to believe it myself. Bullocks! Sheer lies as usual. I have never in my life faxed anything to State House. I would any day help Ousainou Darboe out of a trouble than put him in one. Is getting the ‘other side of the story’ censorious?
Is it true that you were advised to fire Pa Nderry, but you still kept him on the Daily Observer payroll?
You know the story, why don’t you for once tell the whole truth, that in fact I was helping you all along and that you were very thankful to me.
How about Omar Bah? Were you not ordered by Amadou Samba to fire him, following the arrest of his father by the police? That Bah’s father was the UDP chairman in Niumi and therefore Amadou Samba thought that an opposition son should not be allowed to work at the paper? What happen?
Cherry picking your facts again. Distorted. I stood by him and he didn’t go anywhere.
Fine, you fought very hard for these reporters, but why should you allow to be remote controlled by the system?
I was not remote-controlled by anyone. Over the past two years you have tried to paint this picture of me as a gutless cap doffer; that I was some sort of poodle pulled by a leash. You’ve worked under me and you know that was not true. And not one honest person among the two hundred people who worked under me would say so.
What happen to the Omar Barrow Trust Fund?
I am not going to rehash that story. Read my extensive answers on this in my interview with PK Jarju in allgambian online last year. I’m going to The Gambia soon and we’ll close the lid on this matter once and for all.
Is it true that you and Fatou Jahumpa slept in the same hotel room during your trip to Taiwan?
Even the very thought of it is gross! Sheriff Bojang does not have affairs or sleeps with other people’s wives. I have never and will never ever do that! You claimed that I did. Do you have even the tiniest shred of evidence? How can you exculpate yourself should I one day decide to seek redress in a court of law? I can place my hand on the Qur’an and swear in the name of Allah and all that is holy that such a thing has never happened. But will you? No! Simply because you are lying, else Allah’s wrath will befall you for besmirching the reputation of an innocent married woman. If you want to heap dirt on Sheriff Bojang for whatever reasons, why not do so and leave innocent people like FJC, Sadibou Jadama and others out of it?
What are your views about Mai Fatty’s new political party?
The newfound warrior from Kaabu! Hahaha. Don’t you think he’s first got to make up his mind about the name of his party: Is it ‘National’ Congress or ‘Moral’ Congress? (laughs) I’m wishing him speedy recovery.
Is Mai Fatty a Presidential material in your view?
Define presidential material.
Do you think the current opposition is in the position to dislodge the ruling APRC from power?
Jammeh has a knack for checkmating them even before the game begins. They gift him too much political capital and he spends every dime of it.
Why don’t you try your hand in politics? You sound like a politician in the waiting?
Will I have your vote? All political careers, they say, end in failure?
What are the shortcomings of the Jammeh administration?
Attempting to run The Gambia as if it is Jammeh Kunda Inc.
How about the Government’s success stories?
Education, education, education. He’s got this right and in the long run, I think all else will follow.
Do you believe in the President’s claim that he can cure Aids?
He says he can, his patients say he does. You and others say he can’t. What do you want me to say?
Do you know Jammeh at a personal level? What kind of person is he? Is he evil as portrayed in the online community?
I don’t. Met him in a group only twice. I know he is not a saint but he is not Satan either. But he certainly understands the logic of power and is a classic neo-realist political operator.
Do you still harbor Ministerial dream?
But I have never harboured such a dream in the first place. I do not hanker for it and have never lobbied for it. I first heard this when you wrote claiming I once told you so. May be I told you in your dream.
Neneh McDouall Gaye has been hired as Gambia ‘s Ambassador to the US. Perhaps, you might be rehired as Observer MD. Will you respond to any invitation extended to you by the Government?
But is it the Government that hires the MD of Observer? I was certainly not hired by the Government. Observer belongs to my past; I’d rather do my own thing. I can’t understand why some of you people who were asked to leave the Observer have this seemingly eternal fixation with Observer. Observer this, Observer that. Give us an effing break!
Why do you guys think that you own journalism? That you are more experienced than other folks? What’s more honorable than devoting one’s time and energy in holding a despotic governmental accountable to its people. Why can’t you set up papers and practice professional journalism than criticising others’ expertise?
The scriptures say speaking truth before a tyrant is an act of worship. If you think there is tyranny in the land and you are speaking against it, more power to your pen. My problem is this ceaseless torrent of sulphurous lies, personal attacks and bad writing. All this braggadocio masquerading as feral journalism|! Yeuk! People hide under pseudonyms and write whatever suits their fancy about other people like witches on steroids. That is not journalism. Journalism can be angry but honest and restrained.
When do you intend to return to The Gambia?
Soon, my brother.
Will you leave your new wife behind?
You mean ‘leave’ her behind? For now we are joined at the hips!
What do you intend to do for a living upon your return home?
Sell colanut at Brikama market.
What is your beef with Dida Halake? Why should you embarrass an old folk like Halake type on the Internet?
He’s always after my tail feather. Like a leprechaun, he does not walk on steady feet and has to be careful. Who was it who first warned him, Demba Jawo?
Were you trying to impress your boss Amadou? Halake recently came on line and said some negative stuff about Samba.
Amadou Samba does not need me to fight his battle.
Any last words Mr Bojang?
Some idiot wrote something about me the other time and you asked him to apologise to me, I am waiting for yours for all the false things you wrote about me. In one article last year you made 72 false allegations against me. Omar Bah called me and apologise for the things he was writing about me. I’m waiting for yours. Thank you for granting me a right to reply… you apparently have some redeeming qualities!
Thanks Mr Bojang for granting us this interview. Extend our kindest regards to your wife. Make sure you stay out of trouble.