By Yankuba Jallow
A former Captain in the then Gambia National Army (GNA) now the Gambia Armed Forces(GAF) in the person of Ebrima Baba Kambi, told Commissioners of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission that GAF should be restructured.
Former Captain Kambi made this statement yesterday January 24th before Commissioners of the TRRC, when he appeared to testify before them. Kambi explained how arrested Ministers in the former PPP regime, were released by the Junta led by former president Jammeh. The Ministers according to Kambi, were arrested by the AFPRC Council shortly after the coup. He said he was the one who advised Yahya Jammeh to release the ministers who were detained at the former National Security Services (NSS).
“At that time, Yahya Jammeh does listen to my advice and both of us went together to the NSS office and facilitated the release of the Ministers. I walked with Yahya Jammeh and few soldiers to the office, and he addressed the detained ministers. One of them told Yahya Jammeh that he was very young and should ensure that he did not change the National Anthem,” he said.
The 54-year old said before the 1994 coup, he was the officer in charge of logistics for the Gambia National Army (GNA), and this include transportation and procurement of uniform for soldiers.
He said Yahya Jammeh was a Gendarmerie; that when it was disbanded, he joined the GNA. He said Jammeh was then made the head of the Military Police who was directly answerable to him (Kambi). He said Yahya Jammeh’s rank was maintained as Lieutenant but the rank of Sadibou Hydara, who also came from the Gendarmerie, was reduced from a Lieutenant, to a 2nd Lieutenant.
“Yaya’s rank was maintained because he was the head of a Unit (Military Police), whereas Sadibou Hydara was not heading any unit. The Army training and that of the Gendarmerie, were not the same,” he emphasized.
He said the battalions in the GNA were headed by Nigerians; that on July 22nd 1994, he was going to work in a vehicle with Captain Ben Wilson and Captain Baboucar Jatta to Banjul. He noted that they were stopped by a group of soldiers at the Denton Bridge who insisted that they should go and answer to their seniors (the leaders of the coup), at the Fajara Barracks. He added that afterwards, he went home and later proceeded to the Nigerian Commander’s residence around Senegambia, and met Captain Mamat O. Cham. He said as the logistician of the GNA, he was the one who rented the house for the Nigerian Commanders; that after discussion with the Nigerian Commanders, he left for the State House in Banjul in camouflage clothes. He noted that he saw Captains Mamat O. Cham and Samsideen Sarr at the State House.
“I met Yahya Jammeh and he explained to me what had happened. He appointed me as the Chief of Staff at the State House,” he said.
He said he was the one who took all the vehicles for the former Ministers in the Jawara Government; that he was the one who provided all the personal guards of members of the Council with brand new uniforms. “I was the Chief of Staff until my arrest,” he explained.
He said Lang Tombong Tamba came for him at his residence and asked him that the Council urgently needed him. He noted that they were going on a trip; pointing out that when he reached State House, he was stopped by an armed soldier to wait downstairs for Council members for some ‘purported’ travelling. Kambi said thereafter, Sanna Sabally and Sadibou Hydara came with a group of soldiers who all pointed their guns at him and ordered that he should enter a vehicle allocated to Sana Sabally. “They drove me to Mile II and I was detained at the Maximum-security wing,” he said.
According to Kambi, the quality of the food they were served at Mile II was not good at all. “I will not even give my horse that kind of food,” he said. He added that his health condition was not put into consideration at the time he was put in a cell. He said he suffered a severe leg injury when he went to a peacekeeping mission in Liberia. Kambi adduced that his health condition worsened following his detention. He noted that there came a time when he used to receive physiotherapy and that with the help of her wife, he sought permission from the Junta. “The Junta was responsible to give permission for people to have access to us at Mile II,” he said.
He explained that one Bojang, who was an uncle to Yahya Jammeh, was very helpful to detainees at Mile II, by passing out information to their families and helping to smuggle things into Mile II, and ensuring that the detainees receive those things. He said he managed to smuggle a note addressed to the American Embassy. “My family left the Gambia whilst I was in detention because in the note, I indicated that the Embassy should support my family,” he said.
Kambi said he was charged with treason alongside his co-accused person Dr Njie; that when they were arraigned before a Court-martial, the matter was struck out because the witnesses were giving inconsistent statements. He noted that he was rearrested after the Court-martial and taken back to Mile II, whereas Dr Njie was allowed to go home. Kambi said he stayed at Mile until 3rd February 1996 after the presidential elections, when he was released on bail up to the time he was appearing before the TRRC. “Jammeh told me that he wanted to release me but he feared that it may result to blood being shed. He told me that the other members of the Council wanted me to be detained at Mile II,” he said. The witness said Jammeh then facilitated his pay as a soldier including his pension. “Jammeh appointed me as Principal Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of Interior and the coordinator of the defunct Drug Control Council. I was the desk officer for the Gambia Prisons Services and the Gambia Immigration Department,” he said.
He said he left the Ministry of the Interior and took up a job at the Gambia Civil Aviation as deputy head of security.
Like many other witnesses, former Captain Kambi said on September 6th 1994, members of the Junta excluding Yahya Jammeh alongside other soldiers, tortured Ebrima Chongan, RSM Jeng and Captain Mamat O. Cham, at Mile II; that they were dragged, kicked and beaten up by the alleged torturers. He noted that the soldiers also released gunshots for everyone to believe that the trio were murdered.
Kambi said he saw Edward Sighateh and Alagie Martin at the time they brought in Sanna Sabally and Sadibou Hydara to Mile II as detainees.
On his recommendation, the witness said the TRRC should invite the perpetrators to come first and admit to their wrongdoings and seek for forgiveness. On the Army, he said there should be proper regimentation and that promotion in the Army should be based on merit; that for a soldier to move from one rank to another, the individual should pass exams. He said the country should graduate from promoting soldiers based on politics.
“The Army should be restructured,” he concludes.