By Gambian Patriot
(A Former Senior Police Officer Relates Witness Account)
Just a few months after being appointed the Inspector General of The Gambia Police, Ousman Sonko had his biggest test as the head of the Internal Security of The Gambia.
July 2005, a group of several unknown but unarmed foreign nationals were rounded up on the beaches of Lower Nyumi. Their mission and motives were unknown as they only claimed to be immigrants en route to Spain through the sea but had gathered there to wait for their agents who would provide the boats for the journey.
Being a paranoid government with Ill-trained and unprofessional security heads, the immigrants were suspected to be Mercenaries who were hired to invade the country to overthrow the government, especially the time coinciding with the July 22 anniversary [when former Junta No. 2 Sana Sabally based in the neighbouring Senegal was expecting to attack]. No sooner than the intelligence reached Yahya than he gave orders for all of them to be apprehended and detained in secret. They were transported to Banjul at night and detained at a secret location.
What should have then followed was a detailed investigation to ascertain what was a perceived National Security Threat – if there was any. Their countries of origin were confirmed from their travel documents and their Senegalese agents were as well named to the security who were interrogating them. Police Intervention Unit officers were assigned to guard the location but they had no access to the suspects.
Soon Yahya gave orders as usual to execute them to set example to others. Ousman as the IGP was as well still a leading member of the Junglers. Ousman along with Tumble Tamba and Musa Jammeh led the mass execution at diverse locations in groups. I do not know the details of the methods used in the killings of all but according to a witness who saw the killing of the last batch of 8 who were later dumped in the suburbs of Brufut Ghana Town, they were killed like this: A round pole with a diameter of about 3 inches was erected and the capturex stood with their backs to the poles. Then their hands and shoulders were pulled to the back by two people forcing their chests joints and skeletons to open and die. No weapons were used on them which was in accordance with Yahya’s orders. They were to be used to send clear messages to their people yet leaving minimal clues.
When the news of their bodies been found came out the next day, the government as always played their mute game with no word from them or their media. Only Foroyaa newspaper came out with the story and as always raised and asked the unanswered questions of who and why. The bodies were collected and dumped at the mortuary of RVH where they were left to almost decompose before burying them at Jeswang. When they sent the press release to GRTS a week later, they claimed that the bodies were washed ashore from the sea which was only a fat lie as the location of the bodies was quite far from the sea shore. But again, with the usual indifference of the Gambian population, no one raised any eyebrows and the incident soon died down.
This author, just as at the time of the death of Deyda Hydara was posted at one of the stations that was directly involved in the case and its initial investigations. One of the captives had accidentally escaped and was captured and briefly detained at Bundung station. I later lost track of him after he was taken away.
A short way into the investigation, again Ousman unceremoniously transferred the senior police officer in charge of the investigation to a dormant office at Kairaba Station to create an institutional memory loss and punish him for his diligence in the investigation. The Gambia government thereafter never made any public statement about that incident until four years later when the joint UN/ECOWAS investigative team released its initial report on it in around 2009/10. This report fell short of blaming Yahya’s personal involvement, blamed members of his security forces for the killings. But the million dollar question that this investigation failed to answer was: “Who gave orders to those security for the killings?” And if it was not Yahya, what action had he and the government taken against those officers and why they had remained mute about it.
In March 2006, I was a senior police officer in Banjul. When we came to work on this Tuesday morning, we were informed of the attempted coup led by the former Chief of Defence Staff Col. Ndure Cham. I was on standby together with all the headquarters staff till around 8:00pm. I remembered when Major Musa Jammeh and his Jungler team came through the headquarters while they were on their arresting spree. We were all paraded on the parade ground as he walked among us looking into our eyes in an attempt to find suspicious looking officers.
Ousman, as the IG was hardly in office as he and the newly appointed CDS and Director General of the National Intelligence Agency -General Lang Tombong Tamba and Harry Sambou, respectively, were busy coordinating and supervising the arrests, interrogations and tortures of the suspects. What I still cannot understand, is why five years later when Lang Tombong was charged and tried for that coup, Ousman was not charged along with him. He was indeed equally aware of the plot and was the one who called Captain Bunja Darboe and intimidated him on the phone and told him that their plot was known. This was just before he was arrested.
Ousman had equally not informed the President or a Minister as dictated by law. If Lang could be found guilty for this omission which was translated as being a part, where was Ousman left in this if it were not a selective justice?
When Daba Marena and the others were being tortured to death on Yahya’s orders, all three of them were supervising it and filming it for Yahya. All three of them brought the press release which was given to the then police PRO to sent to GRTS that those suspects were being transferred to Jangjang Bureh and they escaped after an accident. Until today, nothing is said about the location of the accident, the guards or the escorts and why they were supposedly being transferred to Jangjang Bureh instead of Jeswang or other several known and secret detention centers. But the day that all secrets would be revealed is just quite near.
I will be back with part three to paint a picture of Ousman Sonko’s role in the arrest and disappearance of journalist Chief Manneh, Kanyiba Kanyi and others.