By Kebba Jeffang
An ex-senior member of Gambia Police Force, who served briefly as secretary to the junta after the military takeover in 1994, has delved into the processes that characterized the manner cabinet was formed.
ASP Aboubacarr Jeng, now working with the United Nations as security and safety expert was testifying as forth witness of the ongoing truth commission (TRRC) on Tuesday, January 15. He was appointed Secretary on Saturday 23rd July but fired and detained four days later.
During his few days’ appointment at State House, he observed the leader of the Junta Yahya Jammeh was obsessed with power.
He said he remembered Jammeh habitually reminding the senior military officers of Gambia National Army that ‘monkey will not work and baboon chops.’ Jeng’s interpretation is that Jammeh was referring to senior officers, the likes of Samsideen Sarr, that the junior officers are the leaders of the coup.
“I was made to understand on Sunday (July 24th) that Yahya Jammeh was the Chairman of AFPRC (Armed Forces Professional Ruling Council). Sanna Sabally was appointed Vice Chairman, Edward Singhatey was appointed Minister of Defence, Sadibou Hydara became Minister of Interior, Sam Sarr became Minister of Trade,” he said.
Jeng said the 2nd Lieutenant Yankuba Touray happened to be Minister of Lands and Local governments because there was disagreement in the appointment of Amadou Suwareh who claimed to pave ways for the plotters. He said Touray was not part of the original coup plotters as he only came to State House from Farafenni barracks along with Captain Sam Gibba. According to him, the duo was in fact asked to return to Farafenni but Yankuba stayed.
He said other ministerial capacities were reserved for some civilians such as Halifa Sallah and Samuel Sarr of PDOIS, Satang Jaw, Amina Fall Sonko and one Tambedou, etc.
“These positions were earmarked. The feedback from Hon. Halifa Sallah and Samuel Sarr was explicit. They categorically made it clear that they cannot associate themselves with the coup but as citizens, they will take part in the development process of the country. They flatly rejected it,” said the witness.
However, he said the rest of other members of the earmarked list had accepted the appointments.
Recollection of July 22nd
Mr. Jeng, born on the 3rd September 1963 said he was enlisted in the Gambia Police Force 1993 as Cadet upon his postgraduate course in the United Kingdom. He said the coup met him on attachment at prosecution unit at the police headquarters in Banjul.
He remarked: “The fact is that I was working at the headquarters and I have heard of an incident at the airport and the rumour of a coup. It was scanty and sketchy.”
He said Chongan, the then Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of operations briefed them on the activities of some elements of Gambia National Army (GNA) and measures to be taken to ensure there is no spill over.
He testified: “Among the measures was deploying members of Tactical Support Group (TSG) to Denton Bridge as well as fortification of police headquarters. I and others were tasked to collect some arms from Banjul barracks to give it to some TSG members. These were given to officers who have knowledge about fire arms. There were key deployments to various strategic locations around 10 am. I was at the police headquarters.”
However, he said the coup could not be averted as the democratically elected government was removed.
He recalled Sabally meeting AIG Chongan later in his office and scattered stuffs and said ‘there was no room for discussion’ and ordered all of them to assemble at Standard Chartered Bank which they did.
Unprepared plotters with no agenda
Mr. Jeng, 56, said the Junta did the coup without being prepared in terms of defensive capacity and without agenda. According to him, the coup could have been aborted even after takeover had there been resistance.
“I observed that there was uncertainty because the thought of foreign intervention was always perceived from Senegal and from the American troops who were in town for training. In fact, some soldiers put underwear shirts underneath their uniforms and jogging pants in the event that there is foreign intervention they can join the civilian society.
“It is my assessment that the coup could have been aborted even after the coup.”
He said he knew well that the Junta were not prepared for the fact that they cannot even communicate to people about their decision.
Jeng’s appointment and imminent trouble
Jeng’s appointment as secretary to Junta lasted for just four days; from Saturday 23rd July to Wednesday 27th July according to his testimony. His task was to take notes of meetings, discussions for record purpose.
On Saturday, he said they (Chief Superintendent Sheriff Mbye, ASP Pa Mbye, and ASP Bajinka, etc) decided to visit the State House to know what was required of police at the time, just a day after the coup.
“We met the Junta team in a meeting including Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, 2nd Lieutenant Edward Singhatey, 2nd lieutenant Sanna Sabally, 2nd lieutenant Sadibou Hydara and other members.
“We spent some time waiting as if it was like our presence was not felt. After a long wait, Jammeh enquired why we were there. Chief Superintendent Mbye told him that we were there to find out what was required of the police at that critical time as part of consultation between forces.
Jammeh, according to him appreciated their visit and then appointed CS Mbye as interim Inspector General of Police as well as others to fill other ranks.
“I and few others were asked to support those appointed. I recommended to the Junta that there was need to inform citizens to allay their fears and to inform them about the state of affairs. This was accepted by them. As we were about to leave, Jammeh told me to stay behind as he would soon be appointed,” he testified.
Jeng said Singhatey later called him to ask about his educational background and then instructed that he be given military uniform. “I was then given a camouflage uniform.”
He said the studio of the former president Jawara was allocated to him as his office on Sunday.
Jeng recalled a series of meetings the Junta held with foreign embassies including the United States, United Kingdom, Sierra Leone. He said the object of the meetings was to inform the diplomats of the reasons they did the coup with key focus on the corruption of Jawara’s administration.
“Jammeh was highlighting that the coup was a result of endemic corruption and redundancy and the allegation that they were cultivating dynasty by sending their children to acquire education abroad to replace them in their positions. The US ambassador disagreed the way corruption was described by him. I raised my hand for the third time; this time I was allowed to talk.
“Jammeh twisted his armed chair and said, ‘Yes Jeng. I said I understand what the ambassador was saying. He rudely and abruptly cut me by saying, ‘Jeng don’t ever talk when I talk.’”
Jeng said he was arrested on Wednesday after his family visited him on Tuesday. He added that he was taken to Yundum Barracks for detention. He remembered that they accompanied him to his house to undress his military uniform in order to hand it over.