1993 PRESIDENT SIR DAWDA JAWARA BROKE HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH GEN. IBRAHIM BABANGIDA

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1993 PRESIDENT SIR DAWDA JAWARA BROKE HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH GEN. IBRAHIM BABANGIDA

A reader of my last article using a pseudo name insinuated in the newspaper commentary box that my story was aimed at justifying the 1994 coup which is definitely not true. If the person in hiding for reasons best know to him was following my writings for the past two decades or more, he would have recognize my consistency in speaking against coup-de-tats. That I have never supported coups and will never support them as a means of changing any government, civilian or military. What I am doing right now is to share my experience with interested readers- and there are many of them out there-on what I witnessed as a member of the Gambia National army from 1985-one year after its formation-to 1999 after I was retired as the army commander. Well before joining the army I had developed this propensity of writing about my experiences and have over the years honed my skills in doing so with minimal strain. Appearing anonymous and cynical about what I am writing by cherry picking a sentence or two in perhaps a five-page write-up with multifaceted concepts, some as contrastive as day and night, merely uncover the mindset of a conspiratorial character indistinguishable from a familiar coup plotter. More often than not, it boils down to readers not understanding what they read but will still criticize as a means of massaging their egos with self-importance substance; but in this case It is humbling to see that the critic was alone in his or her misinterpretation of my story.
Back to my central subject, another military colleague who read the same paper called to remind me that President Sir Dawda Jawara indeed sought for the Nigerian Army Training Assistance Group (NATAG) help from Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in 1991 right after the first demonstration of the GNA soldiers and not after the second one in1992, as I had stated. He was right. That was indeed the reason why the young GNA military officer appointed to replace the Field-Force commander carried the designation of acting army commander until NATAG took over in 1992.
Colonel Abubakar Dada visited the Gambia in early 1992 on a familiarization tour of the country and the army and held a meeting with the officers at the Yundum Barracks Officers Mess Room.
In the meeting, the prospective commander after his introductory remarks explained how in the Nigerian Army commanders regularly met their unit subordinates for such counseling sessions called “Dorbar”, aimed at sharing concerns over specific and general issues essential for policy revamping.
Outstanding among the topics discussed passionately with him was how the army could transcend the unethical and unprofessional tradition of the promotion of soldiers and officers not rooted on merit or qualification but on who was conscripted or commissioned first.
It was a policy inherited from the old Field Force vanguard, perhaps along with the first commander, a product of that generation.
Regardless of the BATT ’s primary role in forming the modern army in 1984 the archaic and discriminatory custom persisted.
And it was rather obvious that Gambian officers trained in British military institutions enjoyed a more favorable treatment from the BATT than those trained elsewhere like from America in particular and Pakistan.
Colonel Dada before leaving assured us of prioritizing the correction of the undesirable promotion practice with the introduction of meritocracy as soon as he returned with his team. He could’t tell us when they were due to arrive or start.
After his departure to Nigeria, the government deliberately dragged its feet over the whole process of implementing the contract while the new young commander continued in his acting capacity with several Gambians convinced of his capability to handle the job. That the Gambia may not after all need Nigerians to sort out the GNA problem because he was proving quite able to handle the situation. Then in September 1992 the second contingent from Liberia rioted more violently in Yundum Barracks, crumbling the young army commander’s ambition like a house of cards.
Scared and confused, the government sped up the arrival of NATAG faster than customary.

They were all in the country within a month and wasted no time in starting the job. The young acting army commander couldn’t get along with the NATAG but Dada recommended to the government to retire him from the army and redeploy him to the foreign diplomatic service. It was done.
The government did not terminate the contract of BATT per se, but the team’s role was rendered redundant in the presence of NATAG, forcing Colonel Jim Shaw and his assistants to honorably withdraw and leave the country right away.
The NATAG started well. They were very happy in the Gambia and were well paid in US dollars by the Nigerian government while the Gambia government subsidized their income with other basic services such as housing, utility, travel and medical expenses.
Nothing changed in the earning capacity of the GNA officers and soldiers. That gave the Nigerians a far more respectable status in the community than the indigenous soldiers.
But we were optimistic about the good times ahead under NATAG.
They started reorganizing the army doing a splendid job of structuring the force properly like a real conventional army, composed of a commander’s department at the apex of the pyramid branching down into two major bureaus, operation and administration, with the latter broadly expanded into support units hinged on making the work of the former much easier. It was a brilliant reorganization, relocating the headquarters from Yundum Barracks to Banjul, separating the administrative personnel from the combat and support forces.
With all honesty, the GNA administrative structure in particular as we know it today has to be credited to the wisdom and sweat of Col. Dada and NATAG which I still can’t wrap my mind around why the British never upgraded us to such a vital establishment.
The Nigerians further compiled a reference document imperative to all military institutions, elucidating the terms and conditions of services of every enlisted soldier and commissioned officer in the GNA.
They however took command of all key positions in the army from the headquarters to the battalions including certain support units. That was later discovered to be a big mistake. Colonel Dada’s promise of stratifying the officer corps based on meritocracy instead of on first- come-first-served basis was never executed.
He conducted a two-week training program for all officers and subjected the participant to an aptitude test, disregarding ranks, specializations or qualifications in subjects purely infantry and staff office duties. NATAG’s understanding of staff office duties was exceptional.
Commander Dada used the results to convince the government that the junior officers were better qualified than their seniors.
And to address that, he further advised them against rushing into organizing the officer corps based on the results, lest it could undermine discipline and morale among the senior officers and perhaps render the army unmanageable. They therefore would need their contract adjusted into a flexible timetable, not restricted to the two-years limit, allowing them to satisfactorily train the senior officers for an orderly transfer of command whenever they were ready. Signifying that they could stay for three, four or more years before the GNA was ready to operate on their own under a Gambian commander. With the good life in town who wouldn’t have done that?
He solved the Liberian problem by downsizing the GNA’s troop contribution to ECOMOG from an original company size of about a 100 or so to a section of 10 men with one officer. The Liberian war by then was no longer as fierce as before with ECOMOG having a sustainable edge over the rebels.
Their next unwarranted programs was over-arming and training the GNA with sophisticated arsenals as if we were preparing for war against Senegal. The government just let them did whatever they wanted with no questions asked or limits drawn.
They literally armed the GNA with the tactical and technical knowhow that gave them all they needed to overthrow the government without effective resistance from the police who hitherto were equally powerful to confront the army.
Notwithstanding, I still believe that if the political dynamics in the Gambia and Nigeria didn’t change in 1992 and 1993 respectively the coup might not have occurred or succeeded.

Starting with Nigeria, the government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida came to a controversial end in 1993 and in a manner that afforded Defense Secretary Gen. Sani Abacha, the wherewithal to seize power and continued Nigeria’s nightmare of enduring another military government, when the whole world including Nigerians was expecting the country to finally discard such oppressive systems for civilian rule.
There was worldwide condemnation of the scandalous manner in which Gen. Sani Abacha took over the government on November 17, 1993 from Ernest Shonekan the interim president appointed by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida after he annulled the June 12th 1993 national elections, globally accepted to have been freely and fairly won by Moshood Abiola, the top contender.
As a result, both Gen. Babangida and Gen. Abacha became instant international pariahs. Concurrently in the Gambia, President Sir Dawda Jawara was in 1992-1993 trying hard to repair his battered image in the international community for arbitrarily declaring at his party’s congress in 1992 his intention to retire from politics after being in office for way over three decades and when the world was at the zenith of celebrating his humble resolution he changed his mind to the consternation of every admirers.
His diehard political loyalists had assembled the nation’s Islamic leaders or imams to the statehouse to persuade him to stay for “Allah’s sake”. He expeditiously retracted his statement with the laughable excuse that retiring when the people still needed him would be like defying Allah’s wish.
The incident caused huge division among his party members between those who thought he meant it and expressed their support of his decision to leave and those who thought he didn’t and coaxing him zealouslyA reader of my last article using a pseudo name insinuated in the commentary box that my article was aimed at justifying the 1994 coup which is incorrect. If the person in hiding for reasons best know to him was following my writings for the past two decades or more, he would have realized my consistent position against coup-de-tats. That I have never supported coups and will never support it as a means of changing any government, civilian or military, period. What I am doing right now is to share my experience with interested readers on what I witnessed as a member of the Gambia National army from 1985-one year after its formation-to 1999 after being retired as the army commander. So being anonymously cynical about what I am writing and cherry picking a sentence or two in a five-page discussion with multifaceted concepts tells a lot about the character of a conspiratorial mind identical to that of a coup schemer. It is however humbling to see that you are alone in misinterpreting the story. Thanks!
Back on the main theme, another military colleague who read my last article called to remind me that President Sir Dawda Jawara indeed sought for the Nigerian Army Training Assistance Group (NATAG) help from Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in 1991 right after the first demonstration of the GNA soldiers and not after the second one in1992, as I stated.
He was right. That was indeed the reason why the young GNA military officer appointed to replace the Field-Force commander carried the designation of acting army commander until NATAG took over the command in 1992.
Colonel Abubakar Dada visited the Gambia in early 1992 on a familiarization tour of the GNA, six months before the second demonstration of the soldiers from Liberia and held a meeting with the officers at the Yundum Barracks Officers.
In the meeting, the prospective commander after his introductory statement explained how in the Nigerian Army commanders regularly met their unit subordinates in such counseling sessions called “Dorbar”, aimed at sharing concerns over specific and general issues for essential policy revamping.
The government discussed the issue of the soldiers from Liberia as one of the fundamental reason for appointing him GNA commander which he knew how to handle; but the outstanding subject passionately discussed was the officers’ common viewpoint on how the army could transcend the prevailing unethical and unprofessional tradition of promotion of officers particular not rooted on merit or qualification but on who was commissioned first.
It was a policy inherited from the old Field Force vanguard, perhaps along with the first commander, a product of that generation.

Regardless of the BATT ’s primary role in forming the modern army in 1984 the old and unfair promotional method remained enforced.
And it was obvious that Gambian officers trained in British military institutions enjoyed a better favorable treatment from the BATT than those trained elsewhere like from America and Pakistan.
Colonel Dada before leaving assured us of prioritizing the correction of the undesirable promotion practice with the introduction of meritocracy as soon as he returned with his team. He could’t tell us when they were coming to start.
After his departure to Nigeria, the government deliberately slowed down the whole process of implementing the contract while the new young commander continued in his acting capacity with several Gambians convinced of his ability to handle the job. That the Gambia may not after all need Nigerians to sort out the GNA problem. Then in September 1992 the second contingent from Liberia rioted again in Yundum Barracks, scaring the government more than ever, speeding up the arrival of NATAG.
They were in the country within a month. They arrived and wasted no time in starting the job. The young acting army commander couldn’t get along with the NATAG and was retired from the army by the government and redeployed to the foreign diplomatic service.
The government did not terminate the contract of BATT per se, but the team’s role was rendered redundant by the arrival of NATAG, forcing Colonel Jim Shaw and his assistants to honorably withdraw and leave the country right away.
The NATAG started well. They were very happy in the Gambia for enjoying huge salaries, paid in US dollars by the Nigerian government while the Gambia government provided them with other basic services such as housing, utility, travel and medical expenses free of charge. Although with the GNA officers and soldiers gaining no additional benefits in their flat earnings, their conditions remained hopeless but still optimistic of the future under NATAG.
However, starting with the reorganization of the army, they did an extraordinary job in properly structuring the GNA like a conventional army, composed of a commander’s office at the apex of the pyramid down to its operational and administrative organs, further organized down into complementary units effectively coordinated under one administration. An orderly system of processing documents through revolving files were also introduced. With all honesty, the GNA administrative structure as is seen today is credited Col. Dada and NATAG but not the British whom I still cannot wrap my mind around what prevented them from upgrading us to that vital level.
The Nigerians further compiled for us an essential document to all military establishments elucidating the terms and conditions of services of every enlisted soldier and commissioned officer in the GNA.
They however took command of all key positions in the army from the headquarters to the battalions and certain support units. That was later discovered to be a serious mistake. Colonel Dada’s promise of stratifying the officer corps based on meritocracy instead of on first- come-first-served basis was never executed.
He conducted a two-week training program for all officers and in the end tested those who participated, disregarding rank, specialization or qualification in subjects derived purely from infantry-officer curriculum. He compiled the results and used them to convince the government that the junior officers were far more competent than their seniors.
And to do things rightly, he advised the government of the danger of rushing to organize the officer corps based on those, lest it could undermine discipline and morale among the senior officers and even render the army unmanageable. They therefore persuaded the government to adjust their contract into flexible timetable, not pegged at the two-years time limit, allowing them to satisfactorily train the senior officers for orderly transfer of command the they were ready to departure. Signifying that they could stay for three, four or more years before the GNA was good enough to operate on their own.

He solve the Liberian problem by downsizing the GNA’s troop contribution to ECOMOG from an original number of a company of about a 100 or so to a section of 10 men with one officer. Liberian war by then was no longer as fierce as before with ECOMOG having better understanding of the terrain and an offensive edge over the rebels.
Their next questionable programs was over-arming and training the GNA with sophisticated arsenals as if we were preparing for war against Senegal. The government just let them did what they wanted without questions asked.
It literally armed the GNA with the tactical and technical advantage that made it possible to overthrow the government without effective resistance from the police who hitherto were equally powerful to confront the army. Indeed, the capability of the army to overthrow the PPP government in 1994 was inadvertently put in p[lace by over arming it with the desired training. Notwithstanding, I still believe that if the political dynamics in the Gambia and Nigeria didn’t change in 1992 and 1993 respectively the coup might not have occurred or succeeded. Starting with Nigeria, the government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in 1993 ended but in a regrettably manner that provided Gen. Sani Abacha, the Secretary of State for Defense the wherewithal to seize power, when the whole world was expecting the country to finally forgo successive military for civilian rule.
There was worldwide condemnation of the scandalous manner in which Gen. Sani Abacha took over the government on November 17, 1993 from Ernest Shonekan the interim president of Nigeria, appointed by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida after he annulled the June 12th 1993 national elections, globally accepted to have been won by Moshood Abiola, the top contender.
As a result, both Gen. Babangida and Gen. Abacha became instant international pariah.
And talking about the Gambia, President Sir Dawda Jawara at that moment was trying to repair his battered image in the international community for declaring at his party’s congress in 1992 his intention to retire from politics after being in office for over three decades but just to later change his mind. His diehard political loyalists assembled the nation’s Islamic leaders or imams to the statehouse who prevail on him to stay for “Allah’s sake”. They got him into retracting his statement with the laughable excuse that leaving when the people still needed him would be like defying Allah’s will.
The incident created a huge division among his party members between those who supported his decision to leave and those who didn’t. His reactions after everything reflected his endorsement of the diehards over the liberals rewarding the former and disassociating with the latter. The bad blood within the party didn’t help in recognizing the danger in the army.
Then I believe his resistance to betray his reputation as the paragon of democratic values coupled with the global negative perception of the Nigerian military for derailing the country’s path to imminent civilian rule, prevented him from being the first to recognize the government of Ge. Sani Abacha. If he was not burdened by all the issues above, I am sure Sir Dawda wouldn’t have hesitated to congratulate Gen. Abacha for his own interest. He did it for Master Sgt. Samual Doe in 1980, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in 1985 and even for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi after the Libyan leader overthrew the Western-backed monarch of King Idris 1 on September 1, 1969. I can sense my readers especially the young ones puzzled with what I am saying about the Gambia and Libya.
You see, Gambians who had witnessed it all tend to forget that Sir Dawda and Colonel Gaddafi were initially friends so cordial that in 1976 the Libyan government invested heavily in the Gambia to establish the first public-bus-transportation company called the Gambia/Libya Arab Public Transport Corporation? The funds, as usual, were transferred to England manufacture and deliver the beautiful new Leland buses to the Gambia that stared a modern and very successful bus service in the country. What happened between Sir Dawda and Colonel Gaddafi until they fell apart few years later with Libya losing its investment in the Gambia, is left to historians to find out. But it made Gaddafi bitter and started treating Sir Dawda as his worst enemy. He even invited rebel leader Kukoi Samba Sanyang and his followers who were on the by any means possible even by weeping like babies which some did before him will make him stay. His reactions later was to reward the sycophants and demote the true believers. Hence, the bad blood within the party veiled the vision of his divided government from recognizing the

ticking bomb in the army; and probably for those who noticed it never care or just had clue about what to do. The coup rumor in the country was everywhere a fortnight before, I am sure a lot of them were aware.
Then I believe his resistance not to betray his reputation as the paragon of African democracy, plus his recent controversial announcement to retire and change his mind to the disappointment of the world coupled with the global denunciation of the Nigerian military for derailing the country’s path to imminent civilian rule, all helped in restraining Sir Dawda’s habit that would have compelled him to be the first to recognize the military government of Gen. Sani Abacha. If he was not burdened by all the issues above, I am sure he wouldn’t have hesitated to congratulate Gen. Abacha for his own interest. And let us not also forget the the cold war had ended making coups less desirable to their inventors, our colonial masters. Indeed veteran political guru like Sir Dawda understood better than anyone that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies but only permanent interest.
He did it for Master Sgt. Samual Doe in 1980, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in 1985 and even for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi after the Libyan leader overthrew the Western-backed monarch of King Idris 1 on September 1, 1969. I can sense my readers, especially the younger ones, scratching their heads over what I am talking about of Sir Dawda having anything to do with a “dictator” Colonel Gaddafi.
But hey, Gambians who had witnessed it all would agree with me that there was a time when Sir Dawda and Colonel Gaddafi were the best of friends in Africa; a friendship so cordial that in 1976 the Libyan government invested heavily in the Gambia to establish the first joint public- bus-transportation company called the Gambia/Libya Arab Public Transport Corporation? The funds, as usual, were transferred to England and the British Leland-auto-production company manufactured and delivered to the Gambia state-of-the-art Leland-busses, very comfortable, spacious and really beautiful that started a modern and very successful nationwide commercial bus service in the country. What happened between Sir Dawda and Colonel Gaddafi until they fell apart few years later with Libya losing its investment in the Gambia, is a food for thought for historians. But it angered Gaddafi bitterly turning him into Sir Dawda’s worst enemy. He even invited rebel leader Kukoi Samba Sanyang and his followers who were on the run since the Senegalese forces chased them out of the country in 1981 to move to Libya for military training in their terrorist-training camps. I will be talking about that later.
It was however not until during the 1987/88 fiscal year that the Gambia parliament amended the act that changed the name of the transport company to Gambia Public Transportation Corporation (GPTC). Did you know about that? Thanks for reading.
To be continued in the next article.

Samsudeen Sarr
New York City

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