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Ndey Tapha Sosseh telling the execution story!

By Ndey Tapha Sosseh

Today, Friday August 23, 2013, marks the anniversary of the executions of nine death row inmates in The Gambia Mile 2 prisons.  An incident that shook the world for no one had taken it seriously that the threats made by President Jammeh at the traditional Eid El Fitr meeting on August 20, 2013 with the Muslim leaders would materialize into reality. 

On that fateful night as news came to me from my colleague, Amadou Scattred Janneh that the executions had indeed taken place against all hopes that it would not – I quickly alerted my colleagues at CSAG about the alarming event.  Amid denials from the Government of The Gambia and doubts from even my closest friends and associates it was thanks to the online media that CSAG and Amnesty International were vindicated.  For several days, the government of The Gambia put out press releases denouncing the story as irresponsible rumour and a senior member of the Senegalese Human Rights Community told me that one of their ministers of state had met President Jammeh who denied that the executions took place.

Human rights groups say they had also contacted opposition and other leaders in The Gambia who on the basis of denials by the government also doubted the credibility of the story.  Without the perseverance of CSAG, Amnesty International and the online media, the families of Lamin B. Darboe, Alieu Bah, Lamin Jarju, Dawda Bojang, Abubacarr Yarbo, Malang Sonko, Lamin F Jammeh, Gebe Bah (Senegalese), Tabara Samba (Senegalese, female) would still not know what happened to their loved ones exactly on that dark and dreadful night.

If one year after this sad saga and using the same platform – the traditional meeting of the President with the Muslim leaders on the occasion of the feast of Eid El Fitr – President Jammeh once again threatens to execute Lamin Jobarteh, the erstwhile Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Njogu Bah, former Secretary General and Minister of Presidential affairs and National Assembly Matters, if sentenced by the courts for the charges levied against them then it behoves us all to take this threat seriously.  We cannot standby and wait for a repeat of such horrendous acts on the part of the government followed by rebuttals thus my response, Lu defu wahu[1], to the current Secretary General, Momodou Sabally on his remarks made on Eid El Fitr.

Thursday August 8th 2013 was significant in so many ways.  It marked the end of Ramadan and the celebration of the Holy Feast of Eid El Fitr.  It also was the day when the new Secretary General of The Gambia Momodou Sabally possibly made the greatest faux pas of his career by making statements against the online media.  Sabally’s error of judgement is likely to haunt him all his life.

Momodou Sabally failed to realize that high profile people do not put themselves in adversarial positions with the media, making utterance that put them in untenable situations much more so at the beginning of their new appointment.   Maybe he never heard the adage by Mark Twain to “never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.” Mark Twain was referring to the power of the newspaper.  Applied to the online media, Momodou Sabally should be well advised to “never pick a fight with people who have unlimited access to the Internet.”

Despite assurances to the contrary made to President Jammeh, Sabally and his cabinet colleagues are aware that irrespective of whatever legal restrictions that the Jammeh administration tries to put in place, the content and output of the online media is outside the control of the Government of The Gambia, hence his appeal to the religious leaders to intervene to stop “tarnishing the image of The Gambia.”

Others have already expounded on the foolhardiness of this futile statement of the Secretary General.  Did Momodou Sabally believe that his appeal would have some results?  Did he really believe that the Muslim religious leaders have influence the online media?  Does he really believe that the online media is campaigning against the government of The Gambia?  I think not.  What Mr. Sabally tried to do was to make a great first impression.  Unfortunately he failed in his bid to impress others at his first public engagement with the Muslim leaders.  As someone who had earned the title of “top class student”, Mr. Sabally’s behavior was rather “bottom class”.

First class students generally are smart enough to know that first impressions matter and that with every new encounter, one is evaluated and a lasting impression is formed about you.  These first impressions can be nearly impossible to reverse or undo, making those first encounters extremely important, for they set the tone for all the relationships that follow. This first impression that I got was of a person who is uninformed but wants to appear savvy.  Unfortunately he floundered for he was totally out of his depth when he accused the Gambian online media of making degrading statements against the government of The Gambia.

Sabally failed to realize that Lu defu wahu, and that the online media have not said anything that is untrue.  Sabally, like other Jammeh sycophants wants the story to be told differently.  The online media and Gambian activists are relentless in their quest to tell the story as it is and not as the President, or his Secretary General or any other person wants it to be told.

The present Gambian story is ugly.  It is characterized by IMPUNITY.  Killings, disappearances, abductions, unlawful arrests, reprisals against media houses, or anyone thought to be anti-Jammeh, pillaging of people’s properties and businesses, rape, drug dealing and corruption are the order of the day.   Can Sabally who swore on oath to serve without fear or favour truthfully say that this is not happening?  Can he deny the assassination of Deyda Hydara, the disappearance of Chief Ebrima Manneh, the torture of Musa Saidykhan, the arson attacks on Radio 1 FM and the Independent Newspapers, the closure of Citizen 1 FM and Teranga Radio, the arrest and detention of the GPU six and their subsequent release, the imprisonment of Dr. Amadou Scattred Janneh for the printing of Tee shirts with the slogan “Say No to Dictatorship” and the printers of the Tee shirts and the beatings, arrest and deportation of so many journalists including Kenneth Best, former proprietor and editor in chief of the Daily Observer Newspaper?

My response focuses on the media and not the global human rights abuses as Mr. Sabally’s diatribe was focused on the online media.  If the local Gambian media and journalists were not repressed by government, if journalists on the ground had the leeway to practice freely then there would not have been a mushrooming of the online media.  In trying to impress, Sabally depicts the media as the transgressor and the government as the transgressed.

What an anomaly?  Then again, it is not really an anomaly for in The Gambia of today, lies are truth; patriots are unpatriotic, the sincere are insincere.  Where Jammeh and his cabinet can go to the extent of formally writing to institutions and financial partners discrediting hardworking and honest Gambians who have worked tirelessly in service of the nation for many decades,  declaring them persona non grata and describing them as enemies of the state.  Baffled that despite all attempts to stifle them in a bid to coerce them to join his bandwagon (if you can’t beat them join them), these individuals continue to prosper, the Jammeh administration decided to target their livelihoods.

To choose the Holy Feast of Eid El Fitr, a day which exhorts forgiveness on Muslims, a day when Muslims are expected to whole-heartedly ask for forgiveness from each other and pray for forgiveness and strength of faith to display ill feelings towards the online media by saying untruths about them.

The Muslim who has completed the fasting of Ramadan is expected to continue his or her life in the spirit of Ramadan.  Yet on the very day that marked the end of the fasting period Mr. Sabally, instead of contemplating and reflecting on the day chose, like his leader Yayha Jammeh to make statements that demonstrate his lack of depth and knowledge of developmental issues.  What influence if any can the religious leaders have on the online media? His predecessor Njogu Bah had implicitly asked Imam Baba Leigh to focus on his religious teachings and stay out of politics.  In an immediate about turn the Secretary General who took over from him is now asking the Muslim religious leaders to pro-actively intervene and ask the online media to desist from criticizing the government of The Gambia.

After Sabally, other speakers buttressed this point.   In effect, what Mr. Sabally and the other speakers did on this occasion was to urge the Muslim religious leaders to be accomplices to murder,  disappearances, rape, torture, pillaging of properties and business and many other atrocities.  Horrendous acts that they should be preaching against in their pulpits, a move which led to the arrest and detention of their peers – Touray of Brikama, Ba Kawsu Fofana and Imam Baba Leigh – are the very things that they are asked to condone.  If the media at home cannot point these out because of repression then their online media peers will do so.

The online media has demonstrated that they have the commitment to continue to call attention of Gambians and the whole world to the massive human rights abuses that are ongoing in The Gambia.  They have criticized the authorities when state officials and politicians make mistakes.  The news they give is designed to stimulate a criticizing attitude towards the political course of the country so that society, in its turn, can hold the public authorities to account.  This can only be done if society is aware of its actions and if necessary can intervene.  If we have the opposite of this then we will have to deal with an authoritarian regime as we are doing today.

It is thanks to the uncritical, hypocritical stance of the Isatou Njie – Saidy’s, Momodou Sabally’s and Njogu Bah’s that the country has landed in the mess that we are in today.  Sugar coating the bitter pill only masks but does not take away the bitterness.  Similarly apportioning blame where it does not belong will not make it stick.  Truth will always prevail.  The nafeha’s[2] on Yaya Jammeh’s government turn a blind eye to the living reality and suffering of the people of The Gambia and for their own selfish interests give a rosy picture of the country.   People who twist the truth; people who have no respect for the rights and reputations of others; people who in the name of public interests and safety and national security are willing to condone maiming, killing and destruction of lives and properties.

Mr. Sabally and others should know that anytime they come up with such false platitudes in a bid to please the tyrant that they become victims of their own subterfuge. Coming 12th in the list of Secretary General’s since 1994,– Larey Ceesay, Mustapha Wadda, Julia Dolly Joiner, Tamsir Mbye, Alieu Ngum, Ousman Jammeh, Mariama Khan, Abdoulie Sallah, MamBuray Njie, Njogu Bah, Madi Jatta and Momodou Sabally (not counting the number of times that Njogu Bah has been recycled).  Mr. Sabally should know that there were others there before him.   Not all of them have degraded themselves but served with dignity and honour and moved on to other things.

Then there are the Momodou Sabally’s, Njogu Bah’s and Abdoulie Sallah’s who sing the same monotonous tune about the media.  When they have to face up to the music they turn to the same media that they castigated to publicize their cases for them so that they can have some semblance of justice.  In 2009, after a relentless global campaign following the arrest of my colleagues, Abdoulie Sallah made the declaration that it is “stupid people like Ndey Tapha Sosseh that go on CNN and BCC to spoil the image of the country”, two weeks later he was removed from office and arrested kicking, squealing and squeaking – ‘Waye Yai Yoye, Fo Len Ma Yobuh.  Hame Ngen Ne Werou Ma[3] all the way to Mile 2 Central Prisons.

The recent the sacking and arrest of Njogu Bah has received wide publicity on the online media in spite of his unequivocal stance against the media that brought public attention to his plight.  His family turned to the media, expressing concern.  Again, it is the ‘enemies of the state’ that are championing his cause.

These are things that the present Secretary General has chosen to ignore or turn a blind eye to.  Everyone, including Momodou Sabally know that up to the time of his dismissal, arrest and detention Njogu Bah was at the “the top of the class”  in singing praises, wishing the President well and praying that he remain in office for “nine hundred years.”  The Secretary General turned praise singer sang so well that in addition to being Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service he was given an additional portfolio that of Minister of Presidential affairs and National Assembly Matters on the 26th July 2012.  The man who was so favoured and trusted fell from grace less than a year later.  He was not among those who were “tarnishing the image of the country.”  On the contrary he was among those who were painting a glossy picture of the country and was a strong opponent of those whom he perceived to be the enemies of the state.  Maligned and vilified only by the powers that be -their only crime telling the true story instead of presenting a fake picture of the country.

Better to tell the truth and be damned than to speak falsehood and be damned.  Sycophancy did not help Ngogu Bah for in unequivocal terms Yaya Jammeh has publicly stated that he will never forgive him.  What crime could he have committed that is so great that it cannot be forgiven.  Sabally, sat and listened to the utterances that were being made against the man who had occupied the seat before him.  Putting aside the legal arguments against the prejudicial statement by the president the context of the day should be taken into consideration.  The Holy Feast of Eid El Fitr is a day of forgiving and forgiveness; A day when Muslims gather in a joyful atmosphere to offer their gratitude to Allah for helping them to fulfill their spiritual obligation prior to Eid. This form of thanksgiving is not confined to spiritual devotion and verbal expressions but goes beyond to manifest itself in a humanitarian spirit – the giving of alms to the needy.

Where was the humanity in this gathering (an assembly of Muslim religious leaders) when the President threatened to execute Njogu Bah and Lamin Jobarteh if found guilty and sentenced to death.  This was not a threat against the persons who were tarnishing the image of the state but against two men who up to the time of their sacking and arrests were defending the state and painting it with a glossy paint. Now they have the paint all over their faces and hands and are wishing in their hearts that they had gone with truth and not falsehood.  He who dines with the devil dances with the devil.  The devil who in his two faced manner castigated the Muslim religious leaders for not giving him advice.

I’m completely at a loss to know what advice or truth speaking Jammeh was referring to.  Just trying to comprehend the sense of the contradicting statements between President Jammeh and his cabinet is mind boggling.  Jammeh claims he wants to hear the truth, yet any person who has tried to tell him the truth, whether you’re an ally, opposition leader, religious leader, journalist or family member, he has publicly castigated, bullied, terrorized and or locked up.  Many of those who dare to tell him the truth are now living in exile.

It is these same people that are described as enemies of the state, hell bent on destroying the image of The Gambia.  The Muslim Religious leaders of course know better than to take this at face value. They have had enough lessons to learn from.  Since the 1994 military take-over Jammeh has called our Imams murderers, liars, gold diggers, fathers of thieves, prostitutes and alcoholics.   No Imam will run the risk of being ridiculed by the President.  Outside such occasions the fate of the few that have tried to speak up is well known.  There is no need to repeat what has happened to Brikama’s Imam Touray, Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana and Imam Baba Leigh.

Harry Truman (33rd President of U.S) said  “I want people around me who will tell me the truth, who will tell me the truth as they see it, you cannot operate and manage effectively if you have people around you who put you on a pedestal and tell you everything you do is right because that in practice can’t be possible.”   How true.  No man is perfect except of course Yaya Jammeh who since he took over the reins of power has systematically “swept away everyone” that he considers to be standing in his path.  In spite of having numerous examples of the people who have been used and abused there are still people who think that they are the “sacred cow” – the one who will survive Jammeh’s bulldozer.

Think Sabally, think.  The survival rate of a Secretary General is one and a half years (less if the recycling is taken into account).  The highest position in the civil service has been reduced to nothing, with its occupants imprisoned on flimsy charges, recycled like bin bags and the incumbent lives on a roller coaster.  Take the position by all means but watch what you say or keep quiet. It is difficult to see you speaking up as advised by Enoch Powell (British Politician) who said that, ‘’to see and not to speak will be the great betrayal’’.  If we go by this advise then we can ask ourselves who the traitors are?  Cast out the stone in thine eyes before casting stones at the online media.

To the families, relatives, and friends of all those executed on that fateful night, I once again extend my most sincere and heartfelt condolences.  Yours’ is a battle that we have sworn to uphold and we will do everything within our means to fight on your behalf to ensure that you are given the opportunity to be able to decently bury your loved ones and bring closure to this unfortunate, dark episode of our history.

I also take this opportunity and make a personal plea as secretary general of the CCG and CSAG to call on those families who are yet to sign up to the Court Case taken up on their behalf at the ECOWAS Community Courts to reach out and do so.  It’s never too late to stand up and fight for your rights, for each and every one of you that remains silent and does not act, all Gambians continue to suffer.

May the souls of your loved ones rest in peace.