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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The sobering verdict and the alarming gossips

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By Samsudeen Sarr

We all have read or heard about the verdict on the 13 of July 2013. That Justice Kumba Sillah Camara who presided over the case of the indicted National Intelligence Agency (NIA) suspects in the sad but controversial trial of the late Solo Sandeng finally passed her judgement and ruled death for all five of the accused. The reported five men are the former director general (DG) of the agency Yankuba Badjie and four of his assistants namely Sheikh Omar Jeng, Baboucarrr Sallah, Masireh Tamba and Lamin Darboe.

However, public opinion over the whole case and its unmerciful finale that stretched over five years at an exorbitant cost exceeding D50 million remains widely divided for very good reasons. I have repeatedly written and exposed the agent provocateurs behind the rebellious tragedy since its occurrence in 2016 and how Mr. Sandeng was wheedled and paid by Gambian dissidents abroad into leading a mass uprising intended to render the country ungovernable. And in his testimony at the Truth Reconciliation Reparations Commission in December 2020, one of Sandeng’s key partners in the rebellion, Mr. Fa Lang Sonko confirmed the payments and paraphernalia sent by the dissidents to Solo and collected in Dakar, Senegal.

I will therefore refrain from going over all those details again.

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But I will say this: While some people have expressed their satisfaction over the verdict and commended the judge for doing a good job, a good number of Gambians still feel skeptical about Mrs. Camara’s eligibility to take such a case linked to the excesses or contemptible actions of the government of former president Yahya Jammeh.

No one will argue that the death of Solo Sandeng in the hands of the Gambia security forces and in particular the way and manner the NIA had handled his case and their dumb attempt to conceal the evidence of his death wasn’t the sort of crime consistent with capital punishment; but the decision of appointing Justice Kumba Sillah Camara to take the case seems more of a parody of justice than otherwise. Is her father lawyer Ousman Sillah not the man viciously attacked by gunmen in December 2003 and nearly got killed at a time when he was defending the late Baba Jobe indicted by the state for “committing economic crimes”? The ever lingering conventional wisdom over that incident is that Jammeh ordered the attack, although he denied it with the shooters never caught or known. I may be wrong but I strongly believe that the judge is for that reason incapable of detaching her emotions and feelings from what happened to her father and couldn’t adjudicate the case with absolute impartiality. That she should have indeed recused herself from the case in the same way Lawyer Sheriff Tambadou did in July 2017 after he was secretly recorded in a meeting with the wife of DG Yankuba Badjie, Mrs. Ndura Badjie, where he sounded to have sincerely questioned the rationale behind the prosecution of the suspects, albeit he was the co-prosecutor in the litigation. Lawyer Sheriff Tambadou defended his silly statement and called it a personal opinion that had nothing to do with his brother Lawyer Ba Tambadou who was then the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. But what else could a brother explain better to protect another brother under the circumstances?

However, the other mind boggling issue is why the Gambian judges in the high court keep on sentencing people to death when the president on the 18 of February 2018 publicly declared a moratorium on the death penalty in The Gambia? He reiterated the commitment in his speech delivered at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly in September 2018 where it was embraced as a significant watershed towards “undoing the harsh policies of Jammeh”. But since then we have seen Yankuba Touray and now five additional former members of the APRC government sentenced to death in our courts that ostensibly disregarded what President Barrow had declared to the world four years ago. I had the feeling that the National Assembly should have since repealed the death penalty statute from our constitution and give Barrow and the country a better image of human rights champions. Or the judiciary to at least orient the Gambian judges into settling for life in prison rather than death penalty judgements. Hopefully, something will soon be done to rectify the mess.

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That said, let me shift to my next important topic: there is a snowballing gossip in The Gambia that the NPP government is more Fula-friendly for employment than it is with other ethnic groups. Few acquaintances have raised the matter to me which I had had no cause to believe and had dismissed it as baseless. But I decided to write about it after seeing the same criticism increasingly popping up on social media.

However, while Barrow may not yet know about the allegation I think he needs to be informed about it right away. That some Gambians are complaining about the disproportionate appointment of Fulas and those Gambians fluent in the Fula dialect to key government positions than members of other tribes. That someone has to come from a family of Fulas or has a good command of the language to stand a better chance of securing an attractive government job. True or not, I can’t tell but I will be paying greater attention to the issue from now on.

In my book Coup d’etat by the Gambia National Army, published in the USA in 2007, I devoted a whole chapter on how ethnicity to a great extent corrupted certain government institutions and individuals in both the first and second republics and went on to predict the possibility of repeating the same taboo in “ a future third republic”. The Gambians who read the book may recall what I wrote about the subject.

I gave an example of how the presidential-guard company of the PPP government after the departure of the Senegalese troops from the country in 1989 was particularly transformed into a unit commanded and controlled by Gambian personnel of mainly Mandinka origin who only tolerated members of their ethnicity and those who fluently spoke the local language. That even those in the company’s high command positions openly identified themselves as pure Mandinkas with claiming to be direct descendants of President Jawara and would only speak rudimentary English and acceptable Mandinka in the vicinity. I was a living witness of the nightmare and my poor knowledge of the Manding language didn’t help. In fact some Jolas in the first republic having Mandinka-like surnames-such as Jammeh, Jatta, Bojang, Badjie, etcetera-used to claim “Mandinkahood” for better recognition and survival in the system. I will for special reasons not name any names, but they all know themselves. Interestingly after Jammeh took over the government in 1994 which I again explained in my book and was soon confirmed to be a Jola but not the Mandinka many people had initially thought he was, the chameleons began to undergo seismic tribal transformation. Suddenly Jolas in the armed forces and in the civil service who used to disguise as Mandinkas rapidly metamorphosed back to their roots. And before we realized it the Jola and English language became the dominant State House language. Also, none Jolas who spoke the language comfortably survived better than those who didn’t. I probably would have done what many Gambians thought was the perfect gateway for assimilation and success which was to marry a Jola wife. But I was flushed out of the system too soon, in 1999. Ironically after Jammeh departed in 2017, the Jola-speaking Mandinkas or the shameless converts desperately tried to reinvent themselves. But the cheats had by then exhausted all their tricky cards in the game. My main question now is whether we are slowly being driven into another compulsion to marry Fula wives or forced into mastering the dialect in order to gain recognition in the system or is this all a figment of overheated imagination that the NPP government is indeed the awaited Fulbè ascendency to power?

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