Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) heard on Monday, that the original plan that was hatched by some members of the July 22nd coupists, include the mass execution of all the Ministers in Sir Dawada Kairaba Jawara’s government, including the senior Gambian army officers, who were working directly under the command of the Nigerian Army Training Team in The Gambia at the time, FREEDOM NEWSPAPER CAN REPORT. The disturbing revelation was made by Ex- Army Captain and former Junta Spokesman Alhagie Kanteh. Kanteh lasted for ten days as Junta Spokesman before he was arrested and dumped in jail. He was released three months later amid mental and psychological torture he ensured while in jail. Though, he was not physically tortured, Kanteh said, he saw his fellow military detainees being tortured by Council Members led by Edward Singhateh, Sanna Sabally and co.
Kanteh, who was living in exile in Switzerland, was the fourth witness to appear before Gambia’s TRRC. He testified for hours before the TRRC on Monday.
He began by informing the Commission his past employment record before joining the army in 1985. He first worked as an agricultural extension worker, before taking an employment as an agricultural science teacher at the Crab Island Secondary School in Banjul.
The former army officer told the Commission led by Dr. Lamin Sise, a former United Nations official, that the plot to overthrow Jawara’s thirty years rule, was first discussed during an army training mission that was held in Kudang. Kundang is located in the Central River Region of The Gambia.
He said some disgruntled officers converged at a tree, where the plot was first discussed. What followed next, according Kanteh, was another clandestine meeting that was held at the Yundum barracks, the home of Gambia’s infantry soldiers.
In attendance at that meeting, includes the original coup plotters: former Second Lieutenant Alhagie Kanteh, Second Lieutenant Edward Singhateh, Second Lieutenant Sanna Bairo Sabally, Second Lieutenant Alpha Kinteh, Second Lieutenant Sadibou Hydara, and Basiru Barrow.
Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, who later became coup leader, was not among the original coup plotters, Kanteh said. Jammeh was recruited by Edward Singhateh to join the coup plotters.
The justification for the coup was: The disgruntled young officers were not happy with the presence of the Nigerian forces in the country. The Jawara government at the time had reached an agreement with the former Federal Nigerian government to train and oversee the affairs of Gambia’s Armed Forces. This never went down well with the young Gambian officers, Kanteh remarked.
Kanteh testified that the young officers, including himself, believed that the presence of the Nigerian forces in The Gambia at the time, amounts to foreign occupation. They were also not happy with the power struggle among the top echelon of The Gambian army.
He branded the senior Gambian officers as “puppets” of the Nigerian officers. He said The Gambian officers were insensitive to the plight of the men under their command. They were instead preoccupied with who among them, will replace the Nigerians once they leave the country.
Kanteh also questioned the competence of the Nigerian officers, who were sent to The Gambia to train them. He said some of the training techniques that they offered to The Gambian officers, could not be traced to any army manual–be it domestic or international.
Gambian soldiers were faced with poor pay, lack of good housing conditions, poor food, lack of mobility to work, among others. The Nigerian officers earns thrice more than The Gambian officers, coupled with the blatant family clan army that Ndow Njie was operating at the time.
Kanteh said almost all the Commissioned officers were related to Ndow Njie; either directly or indirectly; while promotions in some occasions were not based on merit, but nepotism. He said he was denied promotion for five consecutive years.
Kateh enrolled into The Gambian army as an High School graduate. He was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal upon completion of his recruit training. He briefly served in the army band, before becoming an infantry soldier.
The British Army Training Team in The Gambia even had to intervene in his case so that he could be accorded an opportunity to challenge the officer board exam, which later earned him an officer’s training course in Sandhurst, in the United Kingdom. Kanteh also had attended officer’s training in Forth Benning, Georgia, in the United States.
Rampant corruption, nepotism, and cronyism were prevalent in Jawara’s government, according to Kanteh. He cited the corruption allegations that were made against Saihou Sabally, by the late Gambian journalist Sanna Tix Manneh.
Notwithstanding, Kanteh said, Sabally, was later appointed Vice President by President Jawara. He said the coup was premised on the foregoing above mentioned prevailing circumstances.
It was during the preliminary talks to discuss ways and means of staging the coup, that Edward Singhateh, remarked that they will execute all the PPP Ministers and senior officers in the army, once the coup materializes, Kateh said. Edward’s position was supported by Sanna Sabally, he added.
Kanteh told the Commission that he was strongly opposed to Singhateh’s preposition for the execution of the PPP Ministers and the senior officers. He was supported by other officers such as Alpha Kinteh, Basiru Barrow, and others.
There was a stalemate at the second meeting which was held at Yundum. He said he later discovered that Edward Singhateh co-opted Yahya Jammeh into the coup plotters.
Jammeh was a former member of Gambia’s National Gendamerie. He was transferred into the army shortly after the Gendamerie was amalgamated into the police. He became the Commander of the military police. He previously held the same position at the Gendamerie.
Kanteh said it took sometime before Jammeh could assimilate into the military work ethic and culture. He said the Gendamerie, where Jammeh had his training, was a different orientation compared to the army. He said Jammeh was not a soldier, when he was transferred to the army.
He branded Jammeh as “an indiscipline officer, unpredictable, a congenital liar, and lack of respect for authority.”
For Singhateh, Kanteh said, he was a sadist, and heartless human being. He describes Sanna Sabally, as childish, and arrogant. He said Yankuba Touray was not only a clown, but an ass kisser.
The coup later leaked and some officers were disarmed at the airport upon President Jawara’s return from a trip to the United Kingdom. The following morning on Friday, July 22nd, 1994, the young officers executed the coup plot, he said.
Kanteh was on his way from his home village Njaba-Kunda, attending the burial of his brother, who died in Germany, when he heard about the news of the coup. He boarded a ferry from Barra to Banjul, where he met Edward Singhateh at the Marine Unit. Singhateh was at the time trying to convince Antouman Saho, the commander of The Gambian Navy to join the coup. Singhateh even promised Saho that he would be appointed Minister by the junta if he agrees to join the coup. Saho didn’t give Singhateh any definitive answer.
Former Justice Minister Assan Jallow, and Alkali James Gaye, former Tourism Minister, were at the time detained at the Marine Unit. They were paraded facing the sea, according to Kanteh.
Kanteh said he even had to console Jallow and Gaye that they would be fine. Both Jallow and Gaye appeared confused and frustrated. Gaye was excessively smoking cigarette, according to Kanteh.
Kanteh was briefed by Edward Singhateh about the coup. He was told by Singhateh that the coup was a success story, and he (Kanteh) was free to join Yahya Jammeh and co at the State House.
Kanteh was immediately allocated a car and a driver. He visited the police headquarters in Banjul, where he met armed soldiers led by Sanna Sabally and Sadibou Hydara, vilifying the senior officers there. He said some of the police officers even had to run for their lives. He told Sabally and Hydara to take it easy. He later proceeded to the State House, where he met Yahya Jammeh, and Edward Singhateh.
During his interactions with Jammeh, Kanteh discovered that Jammeh was not with himself. He was not coherent in his communication with Kanteh and was dressed weirdly.
Jammeh assured him that there wouldn’t be any retribution or form of execution of PPP Ministers and senior army officers. He was convinced, and he then joined the mutineers.
It was apparent to Kanteh that Jammeh was calling the shots and not Singhateh. He noticed that Singhateh was following orders from Jammeh.
Kanteh was allocated with guard escort to his home, where he rested for two hours, before joining Jammeh and co at the State House. He was dressed in combat ready.
The Council later appointed him to serve as the junta’s Public Relations Officer. He never lasted long on that job. He was arrested ten days after his appointment and imprisoned at the mile two prison.
Police Detectives later came to interview him before his release from prison. He was asked to sign a statement that he was detained because he was involved in a plot to overthrow the junta. Kanteh refused. Though, he penned a statement that he doesn’t know why he was detained after his short stint with the junta. Kanteh was among the first batch of security detainees to be released from jail.
He adduced that the likes of Ebrima Congan, RSM Baboucarr Jeng, Sheriff Gomez and others were tortured while in prison. He said former army staff officer Samsideen Sarr “nearly gone insane” as a result of the mock execution tortures meted out to Chongan and co. Both Kanteh and Sarr were at their one man cells, when Edward Singhateh emerged from what was referred to as ” an execution ground” at the time with stains of blood evident on Singhateh’s hands.
The remaining detainees, including Kanteh, were convinced at this time that Chongan and co have been executed. Sam Sarr then started to exhibit signs of mental illness. He refused to eat for days, Kanteh said.
Kanteh tried to console Sarr to be steadfast and keep the faith, but Sarr couldn’t muster his courage. Kanteh regained his consciousness and later discovered that the alleged execution of Chongan and co was a mere hoax cooked up by Singhateh and Sanna Sabally. He discovered that the bullets that were purported to have been fired at Chogan and co, were fired in the sky.
Written By Pa Nderry M’Bai
Email: [email protected]