Shades of November 11, 2001

Daba Marena, 4 Others EscapeWednesday 5th April 2006The Office of the Inspector General of Police has yesterday issued this paper a press release, informing the general public that during the process of transferring some of the suspected March 21st coup plotters to Janjangbureh Prison in the Central River Division, former NIA Director, Daba Marena, alongside others have managed to escape.

Among those who also managed to escape, according to the release, included Lt. Ebou Lowe, 2nd Lt. Alieu Ceesay, Warrant Officer, Alpha Bah and Staff Sgt. Manlafi Corr.According to the release, the vehicle in which the escapees were being transported had crashed into a ditch and almost somersaulted.

“The five men are still at large and believed to be on the run,” the release added.The cooperation of the general public in volunteering any information that would lead to the arrest of the above mentioned fugitives, it was stated in the release, is sought.“The public is also reminded that any person(s) who harbour(s) or render(s) any assistance to these suspects is/are liable of an offence, and would be dealt with accordingly,” added the release.“The general public is hereby assured that there is no cause for alarm as the situation is under control,” the release concluded…. Point

And today grapevine has it that the men might have be summarily executed and this whole escape episode is the government’s cover story. It is sad and tragic, but I am inclined to believe that was in fact what happened. How in God’s name can five unarmed men escape from their armed guards? We are not told what happened to the guards. Are they in cohorts with the prisoners? I seriously doubt that. The last time and only time I saw Daba Marenah…circa 1996, the man doesn’t come anywhere close to physical fitness by any definition. But the government will want us to believe that he managed to get away from some armed young thug. If that is not an insult to our collective intelligence then what is it? Another thing that bugs me about this tragedy (that is what it is) is why are they transfering these men to Janjanbureh? Mile two central prisons is closer to the courts…oh forget about it. I guess transfering them to Janjabureh is a perfect cover for their sick and vile plans.

I am not saying these men are dead, but the story emerging is eerily similar to that murderous rampage the Gambia witness in November of 2001, when several fine men were brutally murdered by Yaya and his cronies. Here is how Captain Sarr going by the pseudo Ebou Colley narrated that incident on Gambia-L:

KB Dampha, I am pleased but equally saddened that you asked about Gibril Saye or Lieutenant Saye. Pleased in the sense that his case needs to be told which I shall attempt to do the way I understand it. But am also quite sad to remember every thing about this fine soldier who was too good to die the way he did. Everything you mentioned about this soldier, especially his devotion and love to promote sports in the GNA-had a keen hand in football, basketball, volleyball and everything-made him more so a victim to be mourned and wept for until that day when his bodyis exhumed from that toilet pit and given a decent burial.

We can classify Saye as the real soldier with difference. He was nice, respectable and highly competent. But above everything, the young man was soft hearted, couldn’t hurt a fly when it comes to killer instincts that we saw among the ranks of the army since 1994. The guy had conscience and would rather die than see the truth twisted and remain indifferent to it like so many APRC lackeys we see today. One of the reasons I later learnt for the AFPRC’s decision to eliminate him was among other things his constant challenge to all of them over our detention at the central prisons without any credible reason or explanation for it. I understand he had openly and constantly protested to the council membersto try us if they had anything against us or set us free.

But death row at Mile Two prisons was not, as far as he was concerned, a place for good officers like us. He had even gone against all odds one day by coming to the prisons to see us with encouraging words to the effect that they were working hard for our freedom. He had brought us provisions and toilet articles as well. It was shocking to learn few days later that Saye was dead.

So you were right Dampha in stating that the 11th November event found me in jail. About thirty-five of us were detained for nothing we did. But I can still remember how devastated Saye’s family was over the death of the man who solely provided for them. They even had to send a secret inquirer at Mile-Two prison to find out whether Saye was detained with us. His father cannot still get over what he new was a murder of his son, because he saw his son when he was leaving for work the morning after the so-called abortive counter coup. Soldiers who were present at the camp that day also took the trouble to go to the family house and explained to them what happened at Yundum that weekend afternoon.

I personally conducted my private investigation over the case and came out with the concrete evidence that these men were murdered when they least expected it from these cowards. A man like Saye would have never dreamt about Sana Sabally taking a direct role in his slaughtering. They were very close job associates, sharing the same office where Saye was his deputy in the heavy-weapons platoon. They were always together in their small office by the fuel storeroom. Before the coup one would easily mistaken them for brothers given the way they used to hang closely together. On the flip side however I think that was the reason why Sabally freaked out after the 11th November massacre. Killing a human being out of no justifiable reason could be psychologically very traumatic to the mind of the killer but when the relationship between the killer and the victim was bonded by that human factor bordering on friendship and love, the tragedy turns into a clinical nightmare. Anyway, that’s another trivial story that I may come back to in later discussions. But as I said I started my investigation about 11th November in the jail with special interest in Saye’s case. The first opportunity I had to know what exactly happened was when in February surviving soldiers arrested and accused of complicity in the counter coup were brought to Mile-Two prisons under heavy armed guard.

The notorious Staff Sergeant Kanyi was part of the guards. They had to be transferred from the Yundum cells to death row at Mile Two. They were WO-2 ATrawelleh, Sgt. N kabareh, Sgt. S. Manjang Cpl.A.Jallow, Cpl. M. Saidykhan, L/CPL M.O. Njie, L/CPL K.Kamara and PTE. B. Manneh.

When they were first brought in, they were so much convinced of being lesser criminals than we were that for a while they refused to say anything pertaining
to what bought them there. Every one of them thought his arrest or detention was a mistake because, as far as they were concerned, they did not have a clue about any organized counter coup as such. As a result they all thought sooner rather than later they were going to go home.

Then on the 22nd February 1995, each of them received a letter from Baboucarr Jatta’s office (then army commander) warning them to brace up for a general court martial scheduled to start on 25th February1995. That was to say that they had barely thirty hours to face a court martial on charges of treason. For their defense, they were not allowed to have any representation from professional legal officers or practitioners. The following officers’ names were forwarded to them as the only available persons they could choose their legal representatives from: Captain M.B. Sarr, Captain S. Fofana, Captain JP Jasseh and Lt. Seckan. These were men who were big time legal illiterates. For the prosecution however, Justice B.Akamba a Ghanaian solicitor was the head of the team. It was clear to all the accused that it was after all a kangaroo court martial that awaited them and they also knew that Baboucarr Jatta was a genius at it. It was a lost course to all of them. That was the time they really started talking. By the time they were hastily tried, found guilty and all sentenced to nine years imprisonment with hard labor, they had told us everything they witnessed and knew about the murder of their colleagues.

Most of them were arrested after Barrow, Faal and Nyang were killed but well before Saye was arrested. They were in the Yundum cells when Saye reported for work the following morning and was placed under arrest by the military police. Every clothes he was wearing (he was in working uniform) was taken off him and was left with only his underwear before the military police forced him to join them in the cells. He was stunned and tried to ask for explanation but was simply told that the orders came from the council members of the government. Who were they? Of course the cowards: Yaya Jammeh, Sana Sabally, Edward Singhateh, Sadibou Haidara and Yankuba Touray.

Anyway like all of them who were detained Saye had felt that the error would be corrected and that he would soon be set free. Then the next day while Major Frazer Joof, commander of the military police unit was taking their statements at the military police office, they received orders to stop the investigation and send them back to the cells. They were informed that the council members were at the officer’s mess discussing their fate. It was lunchtime, so they decided to have their meals. Half way in their eating they heard some strange movements out side. Then a voice they could not recognized started calling for all those officers arrested to come out now. Sorting out the officers from the other ranks was, according to them, very scary .

All the officers were handcuffed the moment they stepped outside. Then they loaded them like sheep in the back of an army Land Rover and covered them with tarpaulin. The windows of the cells at Yundum were not quite high, so those in the cells could clearly view the activities going on outside. It was from there that they saw the convoy of council members departing with the officers including Saye. Baboucarr Jatta was with them too.

For two to three hours they sat in silence praying and hoping that things were not
really what they thought they were, until they heard the convoy roaring back into the camp with the green tarpaulins all soaked in blood. They drove them back to the toilet area where they stayed for another twenty to thirty minutes. Then they came back and called for Sgt. E.M. Ceesay and Sgt. Basiru Camara to follow them to the back. Few minutes later they heard burst of automatic gunfire twice. They were the last two to be murdered.

It was a nightmare of unprecedented proportion that shocked every person with human emotion that evening. The second part of my investigation, which filled in the blank spaces left by the accused men, was completed when I was freed from detention after ten months. After being released and reinstated back to the army, I eventually became very close to Baboucarr Jatta who in his non-stop effort to clear himself of any wrong doing that day told me the missing details. Anyhow taking stock of what Jatta had in mind could be extremely elusive. Sometimes he would echo as if
Lt. Barrow had really planned a coup; but at other time it is as if, the AFPRC government, in order to eliminate the officers and soldiers who felt they betrayed the nation and the army, framed everybody.

For example when Lt. Barrow was arrested that night, Jatta’s explanation was that he had found him surrounded by Sabally and his guards after he was severely beaten up. He said that Sabally showed him a list of names of government officials Barrow and his partners had planned to execute if they had succeeded. His name Jatta was on top of the list.

But he said upon scrutinizing the paper he had discovered that the list was forged to justify their desire to execute them. As a matter of fact, he confirmed the forgery in the paper when he noticed that his own name on top was quickly scribbled in pencil while the whole list was in ink. He said he took the list from Sabally and walked up to Barrow and asked him why he wanted to kill him. But as soon as Barrow started swearing that he did not mean to kill anybody, Sabally turned around and hit him on the mouth with the wooden butt of his AK47 rifle, breaking all his front teeth. “The torture they subjected Barrow and Faal to”, Jatta had said, “even if they were not shot and killed finally, they would have most likely died from their injuries”.

Jatta also explained how all those arrested were later taken to Mile-Two prisons first and then to Fajara Barracks that night for execution during which a good number of them took the risk and ran away into the dark. Almost all of them escaped to Cassamance including Lt. Minteh, Lt. Jarju Lt. Bah Lt. L.F. Jammeh, Sgt Jadama, Sgt. Joof and others.

The dash for freedom happened when the captives were forced in line at the middle of the field and then ordering some selected soldiers to open fire on them in a typical military execution style. Three times the order was given, and three times the soldiers aimed and fired above the heads of the victims. Then Edward Singhateh soon got frustrated with the firing team, walked up to where Barrow was standing, held him by the wrist, pulled him away from everyone and then fired two shots at him. One bullet hit Barrow on the leg and the fatal one went through his ribs. He fell down on the ground kicking and moaning until his whole body was reduced to weak involuntary twitching of his muscles here and there.” It was then that everybody woke up to the reality that they were dealing with real killers”, said Jatta.

There was total chaos. Some running for their lives others dumb founded by Singhateh’s action while most of the soldiers suffered total shock. However, Faal was unable to move because of the injuries he had sustained that crippled him altogether.
The bullet that finished him was fired from the late Sadibou Haidara’s handgun. After that Staff Sergeant Kanyi was left with his sadistic pleasure of pumping more brass into poor Faal’s body. However let us not forget that in the heat of all this commotion, Lt. Gibril Saye was at home perhaps helping his wife nurse the three-week old son they just had. So to even say that he was seen that night around anywhere the coup was staged was ridiculous much more being killed in a firefight that night as the cowards tried to sell to the world. With the number of soldiers supposedly killed in that single incident that night, it is practically impossible or mind boggling to imagine that it was a fire fight where all the enemies were shot and killed while no one in the friendly forces got a scratch on him.

That must have been the cause of the bitterness from Saye’s family members especially from his dad. It should have also been a wake up call to the entire Gambian population that the so-called soldiers of difference were nothing but sadists with death. But as Dampha rightly put it the civilian population in most cases hardly show any interest in what happens in the army or have little sympathy to the soldiers in active service. The general concept is that they are all the same, so whatever may happen among them good or bad is their own business. On the contrary, most soldiers are ordinary people, the typical Gambian type who sees his work as a source of earning income.

Although the salary is very limited, the majority works hard to manage their lives with it, get married, raise and support good families hoping to survive the danger of being killed in the job or avoid the evil of killing unnecessarily until such time when they finish their signed contracts and leave for something better. However, talking about the summarily execution at Yundum in which Saye was murdered Jatta had explained it all in the way he experienced it. As it was weekend, he said he was at home when he received a call from an officer at Yundum Barracks reporting the presence of the council members at the officers’ mess. And the way things appeared they did not seem to mean any good towards the arrested officers and soldiers in the cells. He immediately drove to the camp and found them in the mess as reported. When he entered, they instantly stopped talking.

But after a short while they informed him of their decision to execute everybody in the cells for their role in trying to overthrow their government. According to Jatta, he tried to talk them against the idea in every way to no avail. At one time he said he almost got Sabally, the vice-chairman then, to understand, but Singhateh called Yaya at the state house to inform him about the situation. When Singhateh returned from making the call at an office close to the mess, he said that Yaya’s decision was final-death for all the officers. That was when everybody moved out to get the officers from the cells. It was lunchtime just like the survivors inside the cells explained it later at Mile Two.

Anyway everything was the same except that those in the cells missed what happened in the killing process. When the officers were handcuffed and covered with tarpaulin in the back of the Land Rover, Staff Sergeant Kanyi was ordered to ride with them at the back. By the time they arrived at the execution ground behind Njamby Forest, Kanyi had severely hurt most of them with bayonet stabs all over their bodies. He was that instruction to Kanyi originated from Singhateh.

Jatta had claimed to have followed them all the way to the killing field to put more pressure on them and to still try to talk them out of it. Well, he must have done a perfectly disgusting job in convincing them not to kill, anyway. The officers were as soon as they arrived at the ground lined up in a firing-squad formation to be shot. It was another tense moment where it appeared as if everyone was waiting for the other person to commence the shooting. Then as if it was an accidental discharge from Kanyi’s weapon who was standing very close to Singhateh, he fired straight at the officers hitting Saye and killing him instantly. After that, it was a matter of finishing the rest since one had already died. It was the final green light for the butchering orgy to start.

Jatta went on to explain how confused the council members felt when the killing was all over. They were altogether confused with what to do with the bodies. They finally arrived at the stupid decision to have their guards bury the corpse in the bushes somewhere. Jatta said he talked them against that for fear that people will soon find the bodies. That was how they were eventually taken to Yundum Barracks, to the toilets. He talked about how Sgt. E.M.Ceesay and Sgt. Basirou Camara were also killed that day.

He could particularly remember Lance Corporal Batch Jallow, Singhateh’s driver at the time pulling the trigger on those two. He further gave the gruesome details of how Saye’s long legs (he was about 6ft. 8ins. tall) could not fit in the ditch together with the others and how Kanyi and co used a machete to cut off his legs before force-fitting the body in the mass grave. It was the mother of all evil that I know the culprits will account for someday. It is hard to comprehend how brutal these demons were on people who did not hurtanyone in their existence. Why was it impossible for anyone among them to stand up and say that this must stop, for it is all-wrong? Where was god in the hearts of these GAMBIANS?

Jatta said Saye’s father made a final attempt to know about the fate of his son after Sana Sabally and Sadibou Haidara fell victims of their own creation on the 27th of January 1995. He had gone to the ministry of defense to ask Singhateh but the old man was referred to his office at the army headquarters. All that the father wanted to know was whether his son was dead or alive. He said he frankly told him to give it up in ever seeing his son alive again because he was really dead.The old man, he said, thanked him for the information and left with high emotions. Now back to where I stopped in my last piece COUP IN GAMBIA.

For a brief flashback, I was part of the team of the American guests visiting the vice president’s office when a GNA officer at the state house told me about the soldiers at Yundum Barracks on their way to Banjul to overthrow the PPP government. However, because of my duty that day to escort the guests upstairs to Mr.Sahou Sabally’s office, I tried to calmly perform it without raising any alarms. Yet I was very worried. The whole thing was really scary. Upstairs, Mr. Sabally welcomed the team in few nice words and then said. “Gentlemen, I am afraid to inform you that we just received a report that the soldiers at Yundum Barracks were on a rampage again”. He had sounded as if the matter was a familiar thing that may die out soon.

It was pretty much possible that Mr. Sabally had thought that it was one of those demonstrations from Yundum again which the TSG could stop like they did before.
Whether Mr. Sabally understood the imbalance of power between the two forces
caused by the Nigerians lately could be anyone’s guess. Whatever he was thinking
at that moment, he appeared very calm about the matter. Anyway Mr. Winters the
ambassador before stepping into the office immediately asked whether it was not
better for them to go back to the ship until the situation was under control then they come back.

The vice-president insisted that there was no need for that. He told them to stay indicating that it was possible that their help may be needed. While they stepped into the office, I took permission to go and find out what was going on. It was granted. Downstairs, the same officer who first announced the trouble at Yundum was still at the spot I left him. I wanted him to tell me more about what he had heard and whether it was not mistaken for the exercise rehearsal the GNA was supposed to hold with the American marines that morning.

It was not a rehearsal or anything like that. The way they got the report, the soldiers had broken into the armory sharing all the weapons among them and were coming down to Banjul. Asked whether names of any leaders were mention in the report, he said no. I did not know whether it was only the other ranks again like the past two demonstrations before or whether the officers were part it this time. I looked at the state house environment again especially the security situation and felt very insecure there. I had my office there and had been working there for almost two years but the officers and other ranks of the presidential guards were like clowns.

These people never trained, did not understand section, company or battalion battle drills. They did not know the difference between camouflage and concealment in the language of battlefield tactic. Combat fitness did not exist in their vocabulary. They were overfed, better paid than all the security forces in the country, spoiled and generally very rude towards GNA officers. Their only reserved powers were linked to the crazy “jujus” they carried in abundance making think that they were bulletproof charms. The charms were only for bluffing, because if they had strongly believed in those powers the majority would not have thrown their weapons at the last minute and jumped over the tall state house fence and disappeared into Banjul.
Those who remained, Musa Jammeh and others, simply opened the gates and
surrendered. But how could we blame them if their main commander who should have taken charge of the critical situation Captain Lamin Kaba Bajo chose to abandon the camp and joined former president Jawara on board the USS Lamour County?

What was there to protect in a president who had lost his nation? Perhaps if he had
stayed the majority of his men would not have had the nerve to run away with their tails between their legs. What else would you expect from such men, anyway? I knew that staying with the state guard was unwise or even suicidal. Beside, they only had AK47 rifles and most of them hardly used their weapons for training or anything.

If it was true that the soldiers had actually broken into the armory, I thought, and were bent on taking the country by force, there was no force that could challenge them in the country. The GNA armory was jam-packed with super deadly weapons such as the RPG-7s,AAMGs, 81MM and 60MM mortars that excluded the medium range machine guns and the Chinese-type LMGs.

Truthfully the GNA was not quite trained on how to employ these weapons in combat, but I know by merely firing them at the direction of any enemy force not exposed to even the sound that comes out of their barrels was enough to chase them away or make them surrender. I therefore told the officer what I believed could have been a possible way of pulling something. The Gambia Marine, commanded by Major Antouman Saho had new 50 Caliber machine guns delivered by the Americans that very morning for the patrol boat.

The firepower of those weapons were enough to make the soldiers from Yundum to listen if fired back to them out of necessity. The ballistics of their projectiles has the capability of piercing six inches of homogeneous steeland was meant to kill armor in
battlefields. They are so deadly that there in an international law forbidding anyone
from shooting it directly at humans. With the men at the Gambia Marine who had
some pretty good experience with similar weapons of the Chinese type mounted on
some of their other patrol boats, it was possible to assemble a counter force
that could challenge the soldiers from Yundum.

The gentleman agreed with my analogy; hence I took off to the Marine Unit base. Major Saho was there, but he would not buy my idea. He was in his office and was fully aware of what was going on but had put it to me that he did not even want his men to know about the coup situation because he did not trust them. ” I don’t want to have anything to do with this trouble”, he had continued. “Was it not the Nigerians who were being paid fat salaries to defend the country? Let’s leave things with
them to solve.” Nothing was going to make him involve himself in the problem or his men or weapons for that matter. Anyway when I heard him talking to the concerned citizens calling him from various offices in the country asking to know what was going on, and he kept on assuring them that special plans were underway to arrest the situation, then I realized that I was at the wrong place.

Banjul was an island and the last thing I wanted was to be cornered in the city in unarmed conflict. After all most of our family members were at the other side of the bridge. I decided to drive alone via Bond Road towards Yundum. I had had no reason to fear any soldier from there. As for the officers, leaving the Nigerians out, there were Major Davis, second in command of the battalion, Captain Badjie (now colonel) commanding “C” company, Captain Sonko Commanding “B” company, Captain Johnson, AHQ Camp, Captain Dibba Band, the late Captain Baldeh Band, Lt. Ndure Cham (now major) engineering section, late Lt. Barrow MT section, Lt. Sheriff Gomez, battalion adjutant, Lt. Yaya Jammeh MP commander, Lt. Mbye platoon commander, 2LT Haidara platoon commander and 2lt Singhateh, platoon commander. 2Lt Sabally was supposed to be at Farafenni at his new parent unit. Going by anything in the past present or even future, I could not see what I could have done wrong to any soldiers or officers for me to be treated otherwise than with respect and understanding. Terrible thinking in a coup situation, as I learnt later.

In the first place, I was later made to understand that Major Antouman Saho had reported me to all the council members that I went to the marine unit to get his weapons to counter the coup but that he drove me away because the coup was an absolute necessity. That, I suspect, contributed to my arrest and detention four days later. Betrayal by people you trust is another coup malady. So in trying to draw some basic principles for any soldier caught in a coup situation, my first ones will include this one: NEVER TRUST ANYPERSON IN UNIFORM AROUND YOU. However, my trip to Yundum stopped at Denton Bridge, where the TSG commanded on the ground by Majors Chongan and Swareh were making frantic efforts to prevent the soldiers from crossing over.

Those are some fine men they killed and they won’t hesistate for a minute to kill some more. Yaya told us so in his six feet deep speech.

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