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Samsudeen Sarr: ‘Taste of madness’

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By Samsudeen Sarr 

I was arrested and detained at the death row wing of Mile 2 Central Prison by the AFPRC vice chairman Second Lieutenant Sana Sabally and Minister of Interior Second Lieutenant Sadibou Haidara on 27 July 1994, barely 24 hours after being appointed Gambia’s Minister of Trade and Industry.

About six weeks later with no charges or accusation of committing any crime, on Wednesday, 6 September 1994 the junta members excluding Chairman Yahya Jammeh descended on the prison yard to torture and scare all arrested detainees. Like every detainee, I was only told that I was under arrest. Period.
The prison guards led by the commissioner of prisons, the late Antou Saidy (RIP), dressed in full ceremonial uniform opened the gate around 1am.

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We later learnt about their first attempt to get us the previous night but the prison duty officer in charge of the locks and keys deliberately disappeared out of special concerns.
Alcohol-intoxicated Minister of Defence Edward Singhatey being the most active among the group, entered the building first, shouting out the name of Captain Mamat Cham and asking him to say his last prayers. Identified, Cham was dragged out of his cell, handcuffed and severely beaten right in front of Cell No 1 where I was caged since arrested. Singhatey and his personal guards did most of the beating, kicking and rifle-butt pounding his head and face. Cham was dragged away for a “bogus execution”. Nothing indicated that they were joking. Officer Ibrahima Chongan was next followed by Sgt Major Baboucarr Jeng with both of them subjected to the same gruesome torture and leaving us with the impression that all three men were summarily executed.
In my book, I did explain how with two other detainees, Singhatey further scared and humiliated me that night.

Everybody who was close to Singhatey then was aware of how infuriated he was with me for the role I played at the Denton Bridge on 22 July 1994. I had strictly cautioned them to be mindful of starting a firefight that could be gravely consequential especially if an American was hurt. I first reminded them of the conventional wisdom that the ongoing GNA military operation in the streets was nothing but “the exercise” with the Americans of which if the criminals got a hint of it being a coup, could trigger a massive looting spree of public and private properties of a magnitude that the Gambian security forces may never be able to control. I had also warned them of the overwhelming firepower of the Americans including amphibious tanks that if provoked into a confrontation will annihilate everything they had. That warning effectively restrained their violent intentions and prevented them from firing a single shot even when fired at by members of the TSG attempting to stop them.

Singhatey was therefore very bitter with me for preventing the planned fight he had passionately planned and expected against his perceived “enemies”.
I think his special gift as a young lieutenant, barely 26 years old, of winning the best marksmanship shooting competition in the GNA for two or three consecutive years, ended getting into his head. He thought he was a better soldier than anyone in the world.
In 1996 after the Farafenni insurgency by Kukoi’s mercenaries who murdered eight innocent soldiers, Singhatey came up with a hasty plan for the GNA to launch a military attack on a military camp in Kaolack, Senegal, in retaliation for “allowing the mercenaries to live and plan the attack from there.”
That’s another interesting story detailed in my book. Former CDS Colonel Baboucarr Jatta can bear me witness on this one.

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Young Singhatey by all measures was to me a psychopath with suicidal tendencies especially when under the influence of alcohol.
Anyway, in his intoxicated mood that night, he pointed his weapon at me in the cell yelling all kinds of profanities and threatening to shoot me for lying to them about the Americans and their amphibious tanks. He then ordered me to drop down on the floor which I did so hard that I bruised both of my elbows. It was really scary but a far cry from being subjected to the terrible torture carried out right before my eyes.

Then just before departing, one of the GNA soldiers, Private Albert Gomez, once in my platoon and now among Sabally’s guards, whispered to me that the whole exercise of executing the three officers was a sham aimed at merely scaring us. On their way out, I clearly heard Lt Yankuba Touray – junta member – jokingly shouting over my window that they were coming back for me the next day. “Mr Amphibious!” I could hear some of the guards with him laughing over the jovial threat.

So with Private Albert Gomez’s tip and the joke and laughter from Lt Yankuba Touray’s men, it became evident that there was no execution. Normal people cannot carry out that kind of human slaughter for the first time in their lives and within minutes started cracking jokes and laughing about it. In fact, while Singhatey was switching the trigger of his gun, up and down, pointed at the face of one of the detainees next to my cell, Yankuba Touray, out of real concern, cautioned him to be careful. He turned around and admonished Mr Touray not to tell him what to do for he knew exactly what he was doing.
Read my book folks, the whole story is there.

I therefore had no doubt whatsoever that the other three members of the junta Sana Sabally, Sadibou Haidara and Yankuba Touray were there that night for the fun of merely scaring us, but as for Edward Singhatey, being drunk and acting recklessly with a fully loaded AK 47 rifle in hand, to me, bordered on an evil intention that I was afraid if repeated, could result in a deliberate or accidental shooting and killing of a detainee. And with one killed, the others would have never been spared.

Already we were informed of his failed appeal to the junta to have all detainees executed by firing squad, an advice to him that according to Alagie Kanteh, originated from former head of state and junta leader of Sierra Leone, Captain Valentine Strasser. Singhatey had asked for an approval from Jammeh but the chairman rejected the request. Mr Kanteh seemed to have forgotten about that in his testimony although I mentioned it in my book.
Singhatey’s admiration of Captain Strasser was not a secret, the main reason why he adopted the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) name in resemblance of the Sierra Leone junta’s name National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) that was in power from 1992 to 1996. Captain Mamat Cham totally misled the TRRC there for saying that he suggested the AFPRC name to the junta.

Upon their final departure with the threat of coming for me the next day, I sat up on my hard bed for the rest of the night thinking about what to do to minimise my injuries in the anticipated dragging and beating. They had shown us blood of the tortured officers.
We were locked down the entire following day. That evening, in the midst of a dead silence, I prepared myself by putting on three pants, three shirts, got my tooth paste and brush under my layer of underwear and anxiously waited for the bullies.
The night passed eventless but the lockdown and deafening silence continued interrupted only when meals and water were served and the chamber pots collected, washed and returned.
To be continued.

Samsudeen Sarr is a published author, former diplomat and commander of the Gambia National Army. He now runs a vehicle repairs services in Kotu.

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