By Omar Bah
The voter registration exercise in Kombo Manduar descended into chaos yesterday after two attestation points belonging to different alkalolu (village heads) sparked a confrontation over which one is legitimate to approve attestations.
Images of the ensuing chaos emerged on social media as the people of Manduar Mandinka, the original settlers opposed the presence of a man claiming to be alkalo of Touba Manduar, predominantly habited by the Wollof, who began to issue his own attestation for claimants from his community. As the tension intensified riot police were deployed in the area to diffuse tensions.
According to the alkalo of Manduar Mandinka, Ba Jerreh Bojang, his villagers did not know or recognize Touba Manduar as an entity with its own alkalo.
“There cannot be two alkalolu in one village,” he told the Brikama-based Home Digital Radio and online TV. Alkalo Bojang further alleged that people of Touba Manduar are pushed by some high authority to claim their own alkaloship.
“A message came from some authority for us to allow the registration to continue after which the matter could be discussed,” he alleged.
However, the people of Touba Manduar insisted that they are a separate village and that they should be in charge of their own voter registration, leading to the clash between people from both sides.
At the height of the melee, the IEC registration staff stopped the issuance of voter cards and packed their materials to allow the police to calm the situation.
But the chief electoral officer, Samboujang Njie told The Standard yesterday that registration in Manduar Mandinka will continue despite tensions.
“I can confirm to you that the tension has been resolved by the police and registration has resumed in Manduar Mandinka. As we speak, I am heading back to the office to brief the IEC chairman and surely we will come up with a position on the matter.”
The Gambia Police Force have reportedly arrested at least five people from Manduar. Police spokesman Superintendent Lamin Njie told The Standard the villagers clashed over having two alkalolu preside over attestation for voters.
“What actually happened is that the IEC has put a voter registration centre at Manduar. So there is this Manduar Touba Wollof and Manduar Mandinka who have different alkalolu. The Manduar Touba Alkalo is legally appointed since 2012. So since there is one registration centre, the IEC suggested that both of them come to the centre and give attestations to their people, meaning each of them will identify their own people,” he said.
However, PRO Njie said some youth from Manduar Mandinka said the other alkalo cannot be at the registration centre.
“They said the Manduar Touba alkalo should not be allowed to issue attestation because he is not recognised. I understand that as a result, they came to vandalise the Manduar Touba alkalo’s table and stuff and they created some obstruction. This was why the police decided to intervene and deploy officers there and control the situation. So in that process, five people have been arrested for obstruction related issues and their matters are under investigation,” Njie said. He said the police are currently engaging the IEC and other relevant stakeholders to bring an amicable solution to the problem.
“In fact, we understand that the IEC is going to put up another registration at Manduar Touba so that there will be two separate centres. We want to call on the youth of Manduar Mandinka to exercise restraint and allow the registration process to continue because we got intelligence that even if a registration centre is established at Manduar Touba, they are going to disrupt the registration there because they don’t recognise the other village,” he said.
NPP deputy spokesperson, Seedy Njie was accused of fuelling the tension. A source at the village said Mr Njie was seen discussing with police officers on the ground.
When contacted for comments, Mr Njie said: “I was called by our agent at Manduar about the situation and I went there to find out. I found the police there and I went straight to the IEC supervisor and asked him what was happening. So it is ridiculous for anyone to say I went there to fuel any tension.”
He urged the police to ensure that those who are culpable are brought before the law.
Mr Njie said when the matter was brought to his attention, he contacted the West Coast Region governor who informed him that the Touba Manduar alkalo was appointed since 2012.