Yankuba Colley was born in Talinding and was educated in schools in Kafuta and Banjul. He enrolled for a computer science course in England but failed to complete. He served in The Gambia Police Force for ten years from 1982 to 1992 and rose to the almighty high position of first class constable. Subsequently, he served in the Kanifing Municipal Council as mayor for ten years and is also the national mobiliser of the former party in power, now opposition APRC. Midweek, Bantaba anchor Omar Wally, sat with him and began by asking:
How did a first class policeman become mayor of The Gambia’s most populous municipality?
Politics has been in my life since I was very young… since secondary school. I had a teacher called Baboucarr Jobe who influenced me. Honourable Fabakary Tombong Jatta also influenced me. By then we were all oppositions.
You said you supported the coup from “day one”, which party did you support before that?
I supported the National Convention Party and later supported People’s Progressive Party because of OJ [Omar Jallow]. At the time, the way the country was moving, I was not happy with it. I voted in the first republic once and I voted for OJ but I did not vote for Jawara.
But really, what was your main motivation for supporting the coup, was it because Lt. Yahya Jammeh, it leader, is a Jola like yourself?
No! Jola? You see me, I don’t believe in tribes since I know myself. I’m a Jola, my mother is a Serere; I cannot even speak Jola. In The Gambia then, we didn’t support political parties because of a tribe. If that were the case I would have supported Antouane Jatta against OJ. Then, we didn’t talk about tribes in Gambian politics.
So who made tribalism an issue in Gambian politics then?
Yes, during the second republic some people were trying to champion certain agenda.
Which people and what agenda?
The United Democratic Party.
But the UDP was not in power; was it not in fact your party leader Yahya Jammeh?
No. Jammeh did not bring tribalism in The Gambia. If you look at Jammeh’s line, there is no tribalism.
Then how did the UDP bring tribalism into Gambian politics?
No. I’m not blaming UDP [per se]. But there are some people who are promoting that agenda and that is wrong for The Gambia. Tribalism has no place in The Gambia, we are interrelated. I told you about my family, even in my compound they speak only Mandinka.
So what does being a Jola means to you, since you even speak better Wolof and Mandinka?
Great! I’m very happy to be a Jola. I’m a Jola to the core.
You stood by President Jammeh through thick and thin and even organised solidarity matches when he was under heat. For example, you supported his decision to execute 9 death row inmates in 2012. Why?
People don’t even understand. Leadership is difficult. If you are to support a leader, you have to support him in totality. When that happened, the first thing I did before the solidarity march was to plead with him not to continue with the executions. I think I succeeded. I put up some elderly people to talk to him not to go ahead with [further] executions.
If you have such persuasive powers, why didn’t you stop him from executing the nine inmates in the first place?
I was not aware. We are not in the inner cycle, we are outside. Some of the decisions made at that level, we as individuals, we never knew.
But the pronouncement made on state TV was that he carried out and would carry out more executions if the crime rate did not drop.
That was what he believed, that crime must go down, and said there were unnecessary killings and he wanted to put a stop to that. That was the reason he did what he did.
But those executions did not reduce the crime rate in anyway?
Of course yes they did. Of course yes. Unless people want to say that Jammeh is no more here, so they can label him anyhow. But everybody knows that crime during Jammeh’s time stopped. It was reduced 100% or if not 100%, it was reduced at least by 70 %. Hardly you walk on the streets and found somebody trying to cause certain ill-doings within the society.
How can you say it is the law that killed them and not Jammeh? They were sentenced but the law did not execute them. And why were those nine picked from the entire death row inmates?
That one I cannot answer. It is only Jammeh who can answer that. That one you know I cannot answer. I’m not somebody who can talk on Jammeh’s behalf.
Don’t you think you have had blood on your hands?
How can I have blood on my hands? Jammeh did not kill them; it is the Constitution that killed the 9 death row inmates. Remember, it is the laws of The Gambia that executed them. People don’t blame the judges who made those rulings that those people should be killed.
The judges sentenced them to death. That does not mean that they should actually be executed.
Those people were taken to court and it was pronounced that they should be executed. The judges could have given them lesser sentences, for example, life imprisonment.
Your critics said you along with Fabakary Tombong Jatta, Babou Gaye Sonko are not so formidable politicians because three of you are among bigwigs of APRC and you all live in Talinding, yet you lost Talinding in three successful elections, namely, the local government elections, 2016 presidential and 2017 parliamentary elections.
Sometime the way politics happens, you fail but that does not mean we are not political bigwigs. Remember, I won all my elections and in Talinding nobody defeated me. You can’t underestimate somebody in elections. It all depends on what you sell to people and how people conceive your message.
Mr Colley, can you tell us as the APRC national mobiliser, how your party lost the 1 December presidential election?
That election was a big surprise. And I still believe that we were not defeated.
Why would you say that?
What I mean is that I cannot still believe that we were defeated. What I’m saying as a politician, I still cannot believe that we are out of power.
So you were caught by surprise and still in shock?
Yes, a very big surprised for that matter. We still really don’t know, we are trying to diagnose it.
People say Jammeh lost in June 2016 when he insulted and threatened to kill Mandinkas during a rally in your neck of the woods.
That is possible. Honestly, we had so many problems on the way towards the election. We pronounced Gambia an Islamic state, that contributed. Some people used that against us when he did not even referring to all Mandinkas, but some used that to gain support. But up to election day whoever had told me Jammeh was going to lose, I would have said no.
Mayor, are you not window-dressing, Jammeh said “You [Mandinkas] came from Mali, you better behave, I will not allow foreigners to destroy this country, I will wipe you out and noting will come out of it.” He did not say some. Even if he said some, was that not detrimental to his politics?
Of course it was detrimental to his politics.
You should have rebuked Jammeh for that remark?
But why should I do that?
Did you agree with that statement then?
No. He should not insult them. And if they take it as an insult, Jammeh should not have done that. If he insulted Mandinkas, it means he insulted me too.
Now, why did you side with Jammeh and not Gambian people knowing that he clearly lost the December election and wanted to subvert the sovereign will of the Gambian people?
Then, I didn’t even believe that he lost, I am telling you.
What do you make of the revelations at the Janneh Commission currently sitting?
Zero. It is witch-hunt. It’s a selective justice. Jammeh ruled for 22 years and almost all those people at the commission were part of the government.
But it is not only Jammeh’s close aides who appeared at the commission, people in Barrow’s inner cycle also appeared in the commission, so how is that a witch-hunt?
That is how I am seeing it. Some people are on the panel were mentioned, they should resign. Why are you journalists not talking about those things?
AFPRC/APRC said they came to power to end corruption and bring about probity but this is apparently a lie, given the revelations at the commission?
It’s possible. For me, one thing I will tell you is: I have never listened to the commission. I don’t know what is happening at the commission because it doesn’t interest me. Even if I’m called to go there, I will, but it will not interest me.
Less than sixty seconds ago, you said the commission is a witch hunt, now you are telling me you don’t know what happens there. How can you brand the commission a witch hunt when you don’t even know what goes on there?
I know it is witch-hunting.
I suppose you are relying on a hearsay regarding the goings-on at the commission?
I feel it will disturb me. Me, I have an easy life. I don’t want to have pressure.
Why do you think Gambians should continue supporting the APRC after the evident plunder being revealed?
What we have done in The Gambia is unprecedented.
But many were killed too.
Yes. You cannot rule for twenty years without negativity, without having faults. Are we malaikas [angels]? No we are not, we are human beings.
Pundits are predicting a scenario where APRC goes into an alliance with GDC. In case of such an alliance, will you accept GDC leader Mamma Kandeh to be the leader?
It can happen not only with GDC. And if people wish Kandeh to lead two political parties, I will allow him to lead. We are not jealous.
Have you been in touch with Jammeh?
Never. I’m not in touch with him.
What have been your biggest achievements as mayor of KMC?
Building a senior secondary school, July 22nd Academy now changed to Charles Jow. That is what I consider my biggest achievement. That is achievement I will die with.
How about failures?
What stands out is the non-collection of garbage in the municipality.
Are you quitting politics or just not contesting mayoral election in 2018?
I’m not contesting but that does not mean I’m quitting politics. I even told Jammeh that I would not be contesting for a third term and he accepted. He even asked how about if people say they wanted me, I said no.
Do you have any regrets, politically?
The only regret I have is when Jammeh was defeated. That is a regret. I held a position which made Jammeh won landslide in previous elections and he was defeated while I held the same position. The biggest regret was this very past presidential election.
Finally, what are you leaving behind at KMC?
I am leaving KMC that did not solve the garbage problem. But equally, I’m leaving KMC with big hope – that there will be more development.