LAWYER OUSMAN SILLAH BREAKS HIS SILENCE
Folks enjoy lawyer Ousman Sillah’s 2004 Interview published in the Independent newspaper on 20thFebruary 2004.The interview was conducted by our special correspondent Dr. Ebrima Ceesay.
After the attempted assassination of lawyer Ousman Sillah who was shot some time in December 2003, the veteran lawyer gave me an exclusive on 18th February 2004, as soon as he was discharged from hospital in Dakar. Thanks to his son Pa Modou (Shortie), I was the first journalist to have interviewed lawyer Ousman Sillah. The story was also published in the now defunct Independent newspaper on 20thFebruary 2004.
“The Doctors in Senegal have now removed the bullets that were shot into me and have given them to my wife. I have lost one kidney and there is also a slight disfigurement to my face as a result of the gun shots. Although I have lost one of my kidneys, I nonetheless thank God for sparing my life”.
These were the words of Lawyer Ousman Sillah, now out of hospital and continuing his recovery at a friend’s home in Dakar, Senegal. For merely carrying out his job and defending Baba Jobe in line with the ethics of the legal profession, Mr. Sillah has paid a heavy price. Yahya Jammeh has brought lawlessness, tyranny and repression to replace the rule of law in The Gambia, and Ousman Sillah has been a victim of this wicked regime. Speaking exclusively to me, in a recent telephone interview, Lawyer Sillah said that he had no doubt in his mind that the shooting was a state-sponsored act and had been motivated by his aggressive defence of his client, Baba Jobe.
“I don’t know the names of those who carried out the shooting, but I have a conviction that it was state-sponsored. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence to show that this was an attempted murder carried out by people acting on behalf of the state,” Sillah continued.
During the interview, I put it to Mr. Sillah that I had been informed by a reliable source at the heart of Jammeh’s government, that it was Edward Singhateh who with the approval of Jammeh, gave the orders for the killing of Mr. Sillah. I also told him that my source reported that after the shooting, Edward Singhateh had sent a soldier to the Banjul Mortuary (Dead House) to find out if Sillah had been killed. I gave Mr. Sillah the names of the two soldiers alleged by my source to have carried out the attack. I am continuing to withhold the names of these two men from this article.
Lawyer Sillah commented that it was his conviction that the state had had a hand in his shooting, but that solid evidence was required in a court of law to prove the case, and that circumstantial evidence would not suffice.
“It was an attempted murder, but the legal elements are very complex,” Sillah added. Recalling that terrible night, Sillah said that on the evening of 25/26th December 2003, he left his home at around 10pm to go to the Pipeline road near the Mosque to attend the “mour” of Rugie Lowe, Malick Lowe’s daughter.
“I was at the ceremony until midnight, and I left to return to my home opposite Marina International School in Bakau. I drove my son’s car that night. My own four-wheel drive vehicle was being used by my wife and the driver, so I took my son’s car. I was alone in the car as I drove home,” Sillah recalled.
“When I arrived at the gate of my compound, I waited for my watchman to open the gate for me. It was then that I saw two figures coming from a pick-up vehicle just behind my car. The pick-up did not have a number plate and was of the type used by the Gambia National Army. I have seen pick-ups of this type being driven towards State House in Banjul. While I was still in my car calling on my watchman to open the gate, I saw the figures moving closer to the tail end of my car. Just two meters away.”
“They came closer to me, while I was still sitting in the car, and I clearly saw them holding guns. The two men each had a gun. One figure was fairly tall, and the other was much shorter in stature. I turned my head to them, and saw the tall man raise his gun and direct it at me. I never came out of my car. And then the first shot came, and I felt an explosion in my head.”
“Having been shot once, I fell in the car seat towards the gear lever, and as I tried to sit upright, another shot was fired at me. That shot blew up the right side of my face below the eye. I recall putting my hand to that side of my face to check what had happened. I remained slumped in the front of the car and I kept motionless. I was not aware of other shots being fired at me, but I did become aware that my two assailants had returned to their own vehicle and driven off.”
Here, I pointed out to Lawyer Sillah that according to my source, his assailants were wearing dark glasses and that they had a walkie-talkie machine on which they could brief Edward Singhateh on the outcome of their dreadful mission. Lawyer Sillah could not recall whether his assailants had a walkie-talkie or were wearing dark glasses.
Continuing with his description of events, Lawyer Sillah said, “Being aware that my assailants had left the scene, I then struggled to open the car door, and I staggered into my compound. The incident had happened at the gate of my compound, and not inside it. I got to my house, bleeding profusely. I staggered onto the settee in my living room. I told my watchman to fetch my wife and tell her that I had been shot. My wife came into the room and I was rushed to the Ndeban Clinic. At this point, I was still conscious, and I narrated my ordeal to my doctor, Doctor Faal.”
“I was taken to the operating theatre, and then the Chief Justice, Justice Gibou Janneh and some lawyers came to visit me. After a while, I was taken to the airport to fly to Senegal. I was in terrible, acute pain but I remained conscious.”
Asked about his treatment in Dakar, Sillah continued: “I had a successful operation in Dakar and am grateful to my team of doctors, especially Professor Idirissa Sillah and Dr Hobbalah, a surgeon specialist who looked after me very well. The bullets have been removed from me, and my wife has them. The doctors have told me that they have also removed one of my kidneys, leaving me with just one.”
Asked where exactly he had been shot, Sillah said, “I don’t know for sure. I felt a shot in my face. There was a bullet that had exited from my back. I was certainly shot more than once. I bled a lot. My condition was so bad that my watchman cried like a baby in my sitting room, while he waited for my wife to attend me.”
“The intention of my assailants was to kill me. They wanted to eliminate me. But God is great. I am now at my friend’s house in Dakar, and I am recovering fairly well. I have had the stitches removed from my face. My face is slightly disfigured, but my back has healed up properly. I have some stitches left around my stomach area. I go for a change of dressing every other day.”
Asked about his plans for the future, the veteran lawyer said, “I will be in Dakar in the short and medium term. I have no plans to go back to The Gambia right now. I will use this period to reflect on the future. From Dakar, I intend to visit the USA followed by a trip to the UK. I shall only return to The Gambia in the longer term.”
Questioned about whether he intends to sue the state, he replied, “I do not know about legal action. Who can I sue? I have my own conviction that the shooting was state-sponsored, but in a court of law, it is necessary to have more than circumstantial evidence. I find consolation in the calls of sympathy I received from all parts of the world. This incident has touched many people and let us hope and pray that something good will come out of it at the end of the day.”
Asked about his relationship with his client, Baba Jobe, Lawyer Sillah commented, “I met Baba Jobe once, and then again at the Library of the Court house just a few minutes before the case started. A team of lawyers and the YDE Management had arranged my meeting with Baba Jobe. While representing Jobe, I was doing my job in line with our professional ethics. For me, I will defend a person regardless of his or her color, religion, tribe, political affiliation or history.”
Asked whether he felt Baba Jobe was likely to be acquitted, and to give his comments on the case, Lawyer Sillah responded, “The matter is sub-judice and as such, I cannot comment on its merits or demerits at this point.”
Sillah did however indicate that Baba Jobe felt that he had been badly treated by the APRC regime, given his loyalty to Jammeh and his services to the APRC party.
“Jobe was genuinely stunned by the actions taken against him by his former friends. By the way, Baba Jobe always has his personal lawyer. I was only to lead the criminal aspect of the case, and that was the economic crime he was charged with. Baba Jobe had apparently been impressed with my style of cross-examination.”
Salah continued, “I don’t deserve an attempted murder. In fact, no-one does. Anyway, I am glad that people have spoken for me. People are writing on the Internet and in the newspapers, expressing their support and sympathy for me and my family. I did a lot for my country – in the Police, in the Judiciary and in Sports. In fact, I once acted as Acting Chief Justice of The Gambia. I was also the Captain of the Gambian National Soccer squad which last defeated Senegal.”
He added, “You see, as a lawyer, you defend your client vigorously regardless of his background and history. That is what our professional ethics demand”.
Asked about his recent meeting in Dakar with a Gambian government delegation led by the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice, Sillah said that he was never given the impression from the outset that this was going to be an official Gambian Government delegation.
“I got a telephone call from the Judicial Secretary about the trip, and I was made to understand that there was going to be a delegation from the Judiciary and not the government. They came to visit me with the Chief Justice and Ebou Momar Taal, the Gambian High Commissioner to Senegal. They disclosed that they were sent by Yahya Jammeh. Well, I gave them a run-down of how I felt. I am yet to hear any condemnation of this barbaric act from the government. Members of the Bar Association came to see me recently.”
Sillah then recalled, “By the way, I was driving an Audi hatchback, red in colour, when I was shot. This car was owned by my son, Andy.”
On Baba Jobe’s trial, Sillah added, “If the court in which he is being tried is a good court and a fair court, then Baba Jobe is likely to go free since the case of the state against him is very, very weak indeed.”
At this point, my interview with Ousman Sillah came to an end. It had lasted for more than an hour and had obviously been distressing for the veteran lawyer to recall the events of that December night and the pain which followed on from it. I expressed my deep thanks that I had been given the chance to ask some pertinent questions, and I ended the call with prayers from myself and the entire Gambian community around the world for his speedy recovery to full health.
And now, like you, I am wondering what is the state of the police investigation into the attempted murder of Ousman SIllah? What are our Gambian police doing to bring the two assailants to justice? What investigations have been done on the red Audi driven by Lawyer Sillah that fateful night? Have the Gambian police asked for a return of the bullets removed from the lawyer’s body and later handed over to his wife, Ancha? Are they doing forensic checks on the bullets in an attempt to locate the gun or guns which fired them? Have witnesses to the murder attempt been sought, questioned, re-questioned? Have the police undertaken a search for an army-type pickup? Has any pick-up been examined for traces of blood? Where are the murder weapons? What make of gun(s) fired those shots? Have the Gambian Police asked for further details from Lawyer Sillah during his long recovery period in Dakar?
Has the Gambian Government launched a full-scale and urgent enquiry into the shooting of one of The Gambia’s judicial luminaries? What precisely have our police and government been doing since December 26th? Well, in usual APRC-Jammeh fashion, they have been doing A LOT OF NOTHING.
Investigations into the details of the murder attempt have ground to a halt. The government continues its witch-hunt against its own criminal elements and refuses to set up an official enquiry. All those avenues of enquiry which should have been followed up have come to dead ends. Nothing is happening except of course, Ousman Sillah is still paying the price in pain and distress.
Fellow Gambians, it is absolutely vital that we start to lobby and to lobby in earnest for a full investigation into this dreadful crime. We need to be pressing the Gambian Government, the Gambian Police, the Commonwealth, the national and international judiciary, the Bar Association, everyone in fact, who could help to ensure that Sillah’s assailants and their pay masters are brought to justice.
And let us not forget all those other crimes committed against our brothers and sisters which remain dusty on shelves of government inactivity. Let us also lobby for Gambians like Ousman Koro Ceesay, Lt. Almamo Manneh, Lt. Basiru Barrow, Lt. Gibril Saye, Lt. Ndot Faal. Let us lobby for good men like Dumo Sarho who is still languishing behind bars for a non-existent crime.
As peace and justice loving citizens, we cannot stand back while Jammeh and his heinous criminals commit murder on us. We have to do all we can to bring this scandalous regime to its knees and then to bring all them to the justice which they deny to the innocent today. May Almighty God help us in a struggle for decency and justice.