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Tribute to a giant mentor, and dear friend

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By Adama Deen

I came to know PBS, as he was fondly referred to, in December 1989, when I was on holidays from the US for the first time in ten (10) years, when I left the shores of my country in pursuit of higher tertiary education; Phoday personally recruited me, him and the late Lamin Sanneh, (former Director of Technical Services (DTS), Ministry of Works), to join the Second Highway Maintenence Project (SHMP) under the ministry; which at the time, the SHMP project was under moratorium, and project disbursements were on hold by the World Bank, until such time, key project capacity recruitment issues were addressed by government, including the recruitment of a qualified national, to fill the position of transport planner, to oversee the reform of the transport sector, including, introduction of sound transportation planning systems, for the roads sector. My decision to join the ministry was brokered by two friends of mine (late Famara Jatta, and Alh. Yusupha Kah), both of whom, were at the time working at MEPID: Ministry of Economic Planning & Industrial Development, as cadet/senior economists???, if my memory serves me well. Phoday, until his passing, was married to my cousin aunty Oumie Njie, who personally also went to my late mum to convince me to accept the Transport Planner position (On-contract) at the SHMP project. I finally excepted the job offer in principle, and went back to Atlanta, to resign from MARTA – Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority; I packed “my bags”, and returned home with my young family in late Jan/Feb 1990. Honestly, it was not an easy decision to make, because of the huge financial and career sacrifice I made to come back home, given the uncertainty, over the next two years, when the SHMP project was scheduled to close. Joining the project in Jan/Feb 1990, not only was I not given the latitude by PBS to set-up the TPU – Transport Planning Unit, but he involved me in every aspect of strategic sector policy issues; I began to be conversant with the tools of state crafting: i.e., understanding the filing system of government, portfolio numbering, the minute sheet, etc., but more importantly, the art of writing Policy and Cabinet Papers (CPs), and being well conversant, with country strategy papers with donors: ERP, SAP. At Works, Phoday gave me to oversee the physical handover of the PWD old sheds and stores: (Carpenters Workshop, etc.), to GPA, as the 3rd Banjul port development programme was just about to kickoff, under my Kotoh, Alh. Pa Cham, former MD, GPA. To improve my writing skills, I’d take some of the files on Phoday’s desk on weekends: Laminkoto Passimus Road Upgrading Project; Essau-Kerewan-Farafenni Road Study; Banjul Port Expansion Program & Acquisition of Half-Die Properties & PWD Yard; GUC G6 Danida Generator (grant project), to name a few; On weekends, I would spend many hours, reading over many of his long and grammatically structured minutes, written to the minister (Cham, and later Baldeh), and some times to colleagues within the ministry (Director, DTS, another prolific writer in his own rights!! PBS, was a master at writing, and confident of his craft, to the extent that, he writes with nothing, but fountain pens of different ink colours, he would use, to punctuate with series of semi-colons, and one full stop – his long coherent, and many sentences. A friend of mine once told me that, at “Saints” (St Augustines High School, Banjul), where PBS taught History before joining the civil service; his students, were so impressed with his writings skills, that, once, they took time to count over 13 sentences of short prose, PBS once wrote, adjoining them with semi-colons, hyphens, and one full stop (period). Yes, that was vintage PBS, the mentor, I came to undergo apprenticeship of 3 and half years (1990 – July 1994), studying and learning from this God-gifted brain, a son of the soil, and royalty from Jarra Soma, and son of Mba Fanta Jarjussey. Unfortunately, all came to a halt, when the July 1994 Coup occassioned, and Phoday, and many of his colleagues, of the time, in the civil and public service, were lost by this country. PBS, was a very hard working boss; he never left the office before his subordinates; and neither comes to work late. One of his greatest qualities was his benovolence towards others, especially, his people of Jarra Soma, and colleagues, like myself, late Tapha Leigh, and many others… drivers, cleaners… you named them. Many a times, I have witnessed when people will come from the provinces to ask for him at the office, rather than at home at Cape Point. Knowing very well that he has a lot on his desk, he would always squeeze time from his busy schedule to receive them; and of course, he will always pull the desk-drawer, to give handsomely to his people, “what belongs to them”, but kept by him. I remember him always telling me, after such visits, that these are legacies of his dad, the late Chief Saikouba Jarjussey, of Jarra Soma; that, he has no choice, but to fulfil his dad’s posthumous wishes, for him, doing the needful. Like he impacted on me, without doubt, Phoday was equally moulded, as one of the “disciples” of his former mentor, former Secretary General, and Head of the Gambia Civil Service, Dr. Jabez Ajo Langley, whom he served at OP, in many capacities, with the likes of my Kotoh, Bun Jack et al. There was not a single moment that Phoday would not reference the exemplary qualities, of his mentor-boss, Jabez, which undoubtedly rubbed on him, and, in my opinion, without doubt, later defined his fine qualities of the quintessential civil servant that Phoday was! His relationship with Dr Langley, he once told me, was defined by these attributes: trust and confidence, between the master and mentee. When he is completely immersed in qualitative delivery of the work at hand, with tight deadlines to meet … be it drafting a policy CP, or a Speech for the minister, he would call me to join him; often, he would share with me, some of his favourite anecdotes during such “conclaves”, I guess, to “boost my energy, and interest” in the work at hand. The gatekeeper was aunty Jankeh Njie Jobe, his PA (Personal Secretary/Assistant). This iron lady knew her boss more than any one of us; without doubt, PBS, cannot function at work without aunty Jankeh; she knew everything, PBS needed as PS. When “work comes to shove”, his office will be locked from the front end, and only the middle door he shared with DTS (Lamin Sanneh) will be left, ajar, for people like me to enter from. Perhaps, one of his best anecdotes in his repertoire of civil service accolades, which, without doubt, marked the pinnacle of his success and relationship with his boss, Jabez, was at CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting), in Australia or News Zealand (can’t remember). As one of the speech writers of Dr Langley, and by extension, Sir Dawda, he had the opportunity, Phoday narrated to me, to be assigned by the SG, to write the speech of the president for the Summit. He said to me, “Adama, there was not a word, or a phrase, in the speech that, I didn’t check, and convinced, of its grammatical, or contextual correctness!”. Remember, PBS was a history student of “Merr Dr Mahoney (mother of Sola); he was a cut from the fabrics of these two geniuses of “KM”, ie., “knowledge”(Merr and Jabez). He later told me… “my only challenge was…because of strict security and protocol at the Meeting, I didn’t have the opportunity to share the final draft with Dr Langley”. As it was about to be Sir Dawda’s turn to speak at the podium, I rushed over to the SG seated, to handover the Speech in the special file-inlet, but only for the boss, to clear me with a nod, and a hand rest on my right shoulder… to handover the prepared speech to the president, without him having a final glance of the finished product! The Speech was delivered flawlessly by Sir Dawda, a master, of such occasions. My stint with Phoday was regrettably short lived; but without doubt, he left the greatest indelible imprint on my civil and public services career progress. He gave me the opportunity, which many of my young professional colleagues in the civil service, never had – to represent him on high level policy making platforms (i.e., PS retreats at Sapu, CRR, and elsewhere, chaired by my favourite SG, of the time, Alhaji Abdou Sara Janha). And, on many SOE boards – making policy decisions without clearing them with him, as a junior policy hawk, but always keeping him informed by minuting the relevant subject matter file. Indeed, my relationship with PBS, was same, as his and that of his mentor…”trust and confidence”. Thanks Phoday, you have immensely contributed to the development of the motherland; your marked successes can be felt on the ground today – impacting positively, the lives of many Gambians, from Banjul to Kartong, to Jarra Soma-Farafenni and Koina. You sowed the seeds of these, projects, and many unlisted ones: 1. Laminkoto Passimas Road 2. Kerewan Bridge; Chamoi Bridge 3. Essau-Kerewan-Farafenni Road Upgrading 4. Farafenni – Jarumeh koto – Passimas Road 5. Banjul Serrekunda Highway 6. Banjul port expansion programme & PWD container terminal project 7. Banjul International Airport – infrastructure development programme (runways and aprons) 8. Gamtel telecoms development under Caisse Central, in particular, the first generation, legacy terrestrial fiber optic cable 9. GUC Danida G6 engine 10. Construction of the new Ministry of Works HQ at MDI Road, funded by GPA under the 3rd Banjul Port Expansion Programme, the PWD container terminal 11. GPTC bus modernisation programme under Ismaila Ceesay and Bakary Houma 12. Restructuring of DTS, and the establishment of the autonomous roads agency – “Gambia Highway Authority” (now called National Roads Authority-NRA) 13 Gambia Airways – Aircraft acquisition, and flight programme 14. Department of Civil Aviation transformation to GCAA, under Bai Jagne and Malick Cham 15 Establishment of the Gambia Ferries Services Company (GFSC) under Kebba Ceesay 16. And the list goes on and on… My sincere condolences to Aji Oumie Njie, and daughter Fanta Jarjussey, and the rest of the Jarjussey family, in the UK, Banjul, and Jarra Soma. Adeus boss PBS, rest in peace! Abaraka. Jerejeff!

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