The above-named book, The Price of Duty, is a memoir authored by Ebrima Ismaila Chongan. The book is informative, educative, enlightening and inspiring, as it is thrilling, engrossing, gripping and captivating. Among the contents of the book are photographs serving as illustration. These include a photo of the author with Yahya Jammeh and other people. Jammeh’s image in that photo looks very much like his image in the photo published recently by the Freedom Newspaper, in which he and his colleagues are brewing ataya (Chinese Green Tea). The book also contains a prison diary and an annex/appendix in the form of reports cataloguing important happenings and human rights violations, as well as newspaper articles. It is easy to read and understand, as it is written in simple English. The author has used humour in his narrative, which gives the book the power to attract and hold the attention of readers. You will not be able to help laughing out loud occasionally, but you may need a tissue paper or a handkerchief to wipe tears off your cheeks while reading the book.
About the Author
Ebrima Ismaila Chongan is a former Deputy Inspector General of Police and officer of the defunct Gambia Gendarmerie. According to him, his inspiration sprang from former detainees whose books he read while in detention. Chief among them is the Guinean Alpha Abdoulaye Diallo who was incarcerated for ages by President Ahmed Sékou Touré of blessed memory.
Chongan is widely hailed as a hero for his attempt to foil the July 1994 coup d’état which, unfortunately and regrettably, catapulted Yahya Jammeh to the position of Head of State of The Gambia. On that fateful day (22 July 1994), Mr Chongan put his life on the line- to borrow Jammeh’s famous expression- to defend the constitution of his country by trying his utmost best to foil the coup. His determination and audacity amazed many, including Sheriff Samsudeen Sarr, the newly hired spin doctor of Yahya Jammeh. Sarr could hardly believe his eyes. As he has indicated in his writings, he thought Chongan was committing suicide. Chongan did all he could to stop the advancing rebels but to no avail. His men, the “loyalists”, swiftly switched side to save their souls. He was forced to flee for his life when bullets started raining from the rebels. As he has put, he and the few men left on his side “went on their four”- their palms and knees- and crawled a long distance in the mangrove swamp near Bond Road in the outskirts of Banjul to avoid the bullets. They then got up and ran fast to the police headquarters in Banjul. He later went into hiding, and subsequently arrested and detained at Mile Two Central Prison under extremely difficult, terrible conditions for over two years. He was tortured ferociously and brutally by the junta members, which left him with serious bruises and severe pain all over his body. Surprisingly, his former colleagues tried by all means to help the junta to hold him in detention. They pressed flimsy charges of stealing against him and arraigned him, with the court dragging for quite a long time. However, nothing daunting! He remained imperturbable, steadfast and determined to clear his name before leaving The Gambia. The junta later dropped the charges and released him. Unlike his former colleagues who wasted no time in joining the junta, he flatly refused to climb aboard its bandwagon. Without his knowledge, some of them initiated a process to bring reconciliation between him and Jammeh so that he could be employed by the junta. He thanked them for their efforts but told them that he could not work with Jammeh. According to him, they had good intentions and wanted to help him to secure a job from Jammeh, but his conscience would not allow him to serve under him.
It is also worthy to mention that Chongan played a very important role in defusing tension during the 1987 Armitage High School student riot and the Brikama water crisis. As narrated in the book, the students were protesting over poor conditions at the school. They wanted to barricade the road leading to George Town so as to prevent former the president, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and his convoy from entering the town while he was on a nationwide tour. Chongan sought permission from him to negotiate with the students. He went to the students unarmed with some of his gendarme colleagues under his command and asked them to select representatives to go and have a discussion with the president. The students wholeheartedly accepted his proposal and hence selected their delegates. Sir Dawda ordered a secretary to take notes as the student representatives voiced their grievances. Thus, a violent confrontation was averted. This narrative was corroborated by statements made recently on Gambian online radio programmes by the renowned politician and indefatigable freedom fighter, Honourable Omar Adamou Jallow (OJ). Can we expect this humble, modest and conscientious act of Sir Dawda from his successor, Yahya Jammeh? Certainly not! Judging by Jammeh’s arrogance and the butchering of students by his security forces in April 2000- allegedly and believably under his command- what would we expect Jammeh to do if he was in Sir Dawda’s position? Your guess is as good as mine.
In a like manner, Chongan was able to placate, pacify and disperse the angry crowd that wanted to storm the Brikama police station during the water crisis. He tactfully convinced them to send representatives to negotiate with the police commissioner and his team, which they willingly did. Once the representatives entered the station, the other members of the crowd started melting into thin air, with the commotion abating. Hence, the impending, looming catastrophe was avoided. I therefore crown Chongan security genius and peace-maker, just as Samsudeen Sarr has recently done to his master Yahya Jammeh.
The prison conditions were torturous, precarious, tormenting, agonizing, distressful, pitiable and deplorable, to say the least. The security detainees, including Chongan, were kept in solitary confinement for over 23 hours a day at the beginning. Each had in his cell a plank of wood serving as a bed, a small tin to use as a pit latrine, and a small bottle of water. They were not supplied with blankets or mosquito-nets despite their endless demands and the numerous mosquitoes feasting on their bodies. They found it extremely difficult to have sound sleep, and sometimes wouldn’t sleep a wink. The quality of their food was far below standard, and they had to fight with rats that were equally hungry and wanted to have their share of the poorly prepared, unpalatable food. As they couldn’t wash their hands, the hungry rats used to gnaw them when they slept. They were not given proper medical treatment, even after they sustained torture wounds. The prison “doctor” used to apply on their wounds what the author has referred to as “GV paint”- a name the detainees later called the doctor humorously. Some security detainees were even denied the chance of hospitalization at the main referral hospital in Banjul (Royal Victoria Hospital) in spite of the gravity of their illness. Initially, the junta didn’t allow their family members to visit them or send them anything. This later changed to 30-minute visits once in a blue moon. During such visits, they were not allowed to have private discussions with their loved ones; they had to have conversations with their visitors in the presence of prison officers. Items sent to them were normally intercepted and tampered with or taken away by unscrupulous prison officers. However, some kind, compassionate prison officers later pitied them and became helpful to them. The detainees seldom received visitors from international organizations. The International Red Cross visited them twice but couldn’t get the true picture of the prison conditions, as the prison offers did all they could to camouflage the situation. They once received Bishop Michael Cleary. He prayed for them and gave them reading materials which they direly needed at the time. According to Chongan, his visit proved to be consoling to them. However, Chongan has lamented over the fact that the venerable Bishop Cleary was the only religious leader who visited them and that the Islamic religious leaders were nowhere to be seen despite the fact the vast majority of Gambians are Muslims. I say “No wonder!” as this is the norm, not the exception. When Imam Baba Leigh was abducted by Jammeh and his gang of scoundrels, the Islamic religious leaders distanced themselves in order to avoid Jammeh’s wrath. On the contrary, the Christian community expressed their solidarity, continuously supporting his family in cash and kind. This is what is expected of religious leaders. Not undue, misleading praises motivated by fear or material gain!
It is gratifying to note that Chongan’s family, particularly his dear wife Awa Jobarteh, stood firmly by him. They concurred with him that he should clear his name and refuse any job offer from the junta. Awa used to send him things he might need, though some of them failed to reach him. Awa courageously confronted the uncompromising, cruel junta when they denied her visit to her husband. As Chongan has explained, her bravery was derived from her long stay with soldiers and gendarme officers at Fajara Barracks.
I commend Chongan’s wife for her co-operation and support to him during those trying moments. She has really proven the saying “Behind every successful man is a woman.” She is the type of wife every man is looking for. Bravo Awa! May Allah reward you abundantly! Amen!
November 11 Coup Plot
Chongan’s account of the November 11 incident- based on what he had heard from alleged participants who were detained- is very revealing. It was a coup plot, not an attempt as alleged by the junta. On receiving information on the coup plot, the junta members- with exception of Yahya Jammeh- went to Yundum Barracks to negotiate with soldiers. They appealed to them not to cause trouble, assuring them that they were willing to co-operate with them. Sometime later, they abruptly rounded up and arrested their unsuspecting suspects. They took some them to Mile Two, detaining some, executing many others. They then went to Fajara Barracks and fired heavy weapons in the air to simulate a shout-out/crossfire. Afterwards, the junta announced that some soldiers attempted to overthrow them and that resulted in a crossfire during which some of them died. Chongan’s version is validated by the case of Lieutenant Gibril Seye (May his soul rest in peace!). As his father had told The Point newspaper- according to Chongan- Gibril Seye visited his family after the purported shoot-out. He later reported to work and was never seen again, only to be counted among those who died in the “crossfire” reported by the junta. Concerned about Seye’s failure to contact his family, his father approached the junta and enquired about his whereabouts. The junta got very angry with the old man and thus threatened him, insisting that his son died in the “shoot-out”. What a fat lie! What a pity!
As he has narrated, Chongan crossed paths with Yaha Jammeh: as students at Gambia High School and officers in the Gambia Gendarmerie. Chongan did a lot of favour for Jammeh as his neighbour at Fajara Barracks and his boss in the service. He used to give him money and food cooked by his wife- the very lady he (Jammeh) denied access to her husband after detaining him; the very lady that Jammeh refused to face and hence dodged when they accidentally met at Royal Victoria Hospital during her husband’s detention. Besides, Chongan saved Jammeh from dismissal for misconduct as the then Commander of the Gambia Gendarmerie, General Paté Seck of Senegal intended. While escorting President Jawara during a tour of the country, Jammeh fought and seriously wounded a person at a nightclub in Basse. Chongan recommended delaying Jammeh’s promotion rather than sacking him straightaway. He insisted and saw to it that his recommendation was implemented. This Basse incident narrated by Chongan has been substantiated by the account of Jammeh’s former gendarme colleague Musa Mboob on Freedom Radio Gambia online. According Musa, they were cautioned against misbehaving prior to their departure from Banjul and told categorically that any evidence of misconduct could hamper or delay their promotion which was due. Mboob further explained that he and his other colleagues advised Jammeh not to go to nightclub and reminded him of the nullifying effect his misbehaviour could have on his promotion but he didn’t pay heed. However, Jammeh cried foul regarding the delay in his promotion when he came to power, accusing his superiors of discrimination. He was economical with the truth, as he is gravely deficient in honesty and sincerity. Jammeh should note that he cannot rewrite history, no matter how much he endeavours to distort or alter facts. Chongan’s narration has exposed Jammeh more as an ungrateful, undisciplined person- a brutal betrayer and a bully. What moral authority does Jammeh have to castigate our elders, telling them that they have failed to inculcate discipline in our youths? None! Baffled by Jammeh’s frequent mention of Chongan’s name, Pa Nderry Mbai once asked a pertinent question on Freedom Radio: Why is Jammeh so obsessed with Chongan? I think Chongan’s account of events in his book has satisfactorily answered Mr Mbai’s question. The fact of the matter is that Jammeh doesn’t want to see anybody other than himself regarded as a hero or a brave person. Besides, he is not comfortable living on earth with those who helped him when he was in need. He is under the influence of inferiority complex. What a strange character!
Sheriff Samsudeen Sarr
In his book, Chongan has described Sheriff Samsudeed Sarr as a good person and a great writer. As he has put it, Sarr was of immense help to them during their time in detention. Sarr was among the first detainees to acquire a radio set. He used to give them national and international news. Additionally, Sarr anonymously wrote letters to the BBC Focus on Africa programme highlighting the bad conditions of the prison and their detention. According to Chongan, Sarr used what they called the three Fs to lecture them on how to deal with the Jammeh regime: Fight it, flee it or flow with it. As Chongan has narrated, Sarr was so frightened and terrified after he (Chongan) had his torture session with junta to the extent that he (Sarr) started behaving strangely, leading them to believe that he had gone mad. However, Sarr has tried to dispel- in his writings- the widely held believe that he had lost his marbles in prison. He has claimed that he was feigning madness to earn clemency and escape torture.
Using his full name and based on the aforementioned three Fs, I have come up with a formula to illustrate some aspects of Sarr’s character, just as I have done with his master Jammeh in one of my write-ups: F3= S3. This formula explains Sarr’s behaviour pattern. I call it Sarr’s Philosophy of Dealing with Dictatorial Regimes (SPDDR). Sarr flowed with the junta regime by hurriedly defecting and joining its bandwagon on the day of the July 1994 coup. Shortly afterwards, he was unceremoniously given the sack, arrested and detained. He fought the Jammeh regime by exposing it to the entire world in his letters to the BBC- a media house owned by the Whites he now accuses of fighting Jammeh out of hatred and racism. Soon after his release, he flowed with the Jammeh regime by joining it for the second time. However, he fled the Jammeh regime and sought refuge in the US- a country he now censures scathingly on human rights issues with a view to pleasing his master Jammeh. Sarr resumed his fight by launching blistering criticism against Jammeh and his regime upon his arrival in the US. He remained in his posture until recently when he flowed with the Jammeh regine again by joining it for the third time. Whether Chongan knows it or not, Sarr is applying his philosophy, as can be seen in the foregoing exposé. Evidently, Sarr’s behaviour is dishonourable and discreditable.
Although I wouldn’t conclude that Sarr is mad, I will treat his claim of shamming madness with caution. As far as I know, madness takes various forms, and no madman accepts his madness. Whether he was faking madness as he has claimed or not, Sarr’s behaviour has all the hallmarks of madness. Brusquely put, his behaviour strongly suggests that he is mentally retarded. This is the guy who, in his defence of Jammeh, claimed that Jammeh’s counterparts in the ECOWAS are not fair with him as they are dictated by the West like puppets to fight him. Shortly after that, Sarr brandished reports written by experts from the same ECOWAS and the UN and used them as evidence to defend Jammeh again. If Sarr doesn’t trust the leaders of the ECOWAS, how come he uses a report from their organization to back his arguments in defence of his master Jammeh? Is this rational, my dear readers? As pointed out earlier, Sarr reported Jammeh’s human rights violations to the world using a medium owned by the Whites when he was in detention. Now that he is out enjoying his freedom in America and working with Jammeh, he is blaming the same Whites for criticizing Jammeh on human rights issues. Is this logical? To me, Sarr is telling us that whatever favours him and Jammeh is right and everything else is wrong. Talking about these reports which Sarr has used in his vain attempt to convince the world that Jammeh never killed Ghanaians as reported widely by the international media, I would like to remind him that Jammeh never co-operates with investigators as expected of him. If Sarr can recall, Jammeh denied UN investigators access to the security wing of Mile Two in 2014 after promising to co-operate with them. As reported by the BBC on 7 November 2014, the two investigators were supposed to present their findings to the UN Human Rights Council in early 2015. One of them, Christof Heyns, told the BBC that the Jammeh regime had something to hide. Hence, it is extremely difficult, or impossible for any investigator to get to the bottom of a matter as desired by relying on Jammeh’s co-operation. Thus, I would say without an iota of fear that the reports Sarr has brandished as evidence in favour of Jammeh are not as reliable as he wants to make us believe, though I wouldn’t accuse the ECOWAS/UN experts of bias in favour of Jammeh. If Sarr trusts the ECOWAS experts who wrote one of the reports, he should also trust the ECOWAS court. Therefore, I expect Sarr to advise Jammeh to comply fully with the ruling of the ECOWAS court according to which the Jammeh government has been found guilty in the cases of the Gambian journalists Chief Ebrima Manneh and Musa Saidykhan and required to compensate them. Manneh disappeared without trace after his abduction by Jammeh’s thugs in 2006, and Saidykhan suffered severe torture at the hands of Jammeh’s rogues. The verdict of the court is very reliable because the court heard from eyewitnesses who are still alive. Jammeh treated the court with utter disrespect and contempt, blatantly refusing to comply.
In his recent article, Sarr has contemptuously, disdainfully and vaingloriously described unnamed Imams as “half-baked” and lambasted them for failing to obey Jammeh’s orders regarding Muslim Eid prayers, ardently defending his stance on the issue. I abhor and denounce the disunity of the Muslim community. I hope and pray for their unity. However, it should be noted that Jammeh’s interference in Islamic religious matters is politically motivated and does more harm than good, if at all there is any good associated with it. His meddling is unwarranted, as it aggravates the situation rather than remedying it. His approach is totally wrong. He shouldn’t try to impose his will on Muslims by decreeing for them when to observe Eid and bullying those who defy him. What level of Islamic and Western education has Jammeh attained? What about Sarr? What knowledge do they have? If those Imams are half-baked, one can say that Jammeh and Sarr are unbaked or raw, and that they are about to get rotten like bad potatoes.
Chongan is entitled to his views on Sarr and shouldn’t be reproached or blamed for having written his positive feelings about him. However, I hasten to add that he should rethink if he still perceives Sarr to be a good person. I can tell him with certainty that the Sarr he knew in The Gambia is quite different from Sarr the sycophant, apologist, obscurantist, prevaricator and spin doctor.