Not all Gambians jumped on the caravan of then Lt. Yahya Jammeh’s AFPRC [Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council] in 1994 when President Jawara was overthrown. There were quite a good number of formidable citizens who mobilised themselves and laid down their lives to restore the ousted PPP [People’s Progressive Party] regime in office. Their story needs to be told, understood and chronicled for the purpose of future use.
These gallent men and women planned to launch a massive pro-PPP demonstration opposite the American embassy compound in Fajara.
However, this was thwarted by members of Gambia National Army. On the day of the planned demonstration, soldiers hatched a strategy aimed at outsmarting the already energised demonstrators. They hijacked taxis and started driving on the streets of Banjul, Bakau, Serekunda and Brikama. These disguised taxi drivers lingered around strategic locations where they would pick up demonstrators with a promise to drop them off at the American embassy. Once they got in to these taxi their next stop would be Fajara military barracks where they would be detained and tortured. This was how many of the planned demonstrators found themselves in the lion’s den.
Those rounded up and detained illegally included former Minister of Agriculture Mr. Omar Amadou Jallow, Ousainou Njie of Banjul, Lang Hawa Sonko of Jarra Badumeh and Lawyer Ousanou Darboe. Ousainou Darboe (the current leader of United Democratic Party) who was at the time suffering from eye infection (apolo) was not physically tortured. But the soldiers intentionally placed 100 wats light bulbs over Mr. Darboe’s head purposely to destroy his eyes. Luckily, Darboe was released from detention by night fall.
These tortures were singlehandedly coordinated by Captain Edward Singatey, the former Defense Minister of the AFPRC. The torture team comprised of personal guards of Captain Singhatey and Sanna B. Sabally, the junta’s Vice Chairman who was later arrested, detained and court-martialed on a coup d’etat that was never contemplated.
Other AFPRC Council members visited the detainees and instructed Krubally, an army armourer to serve as the physical training instructor tasked with taking the detainees for early morning running exercise.
The torture team sent two soldiers – Micheal Secka alias Dukakis and Jallow – to the Gambia Public Transport Corporation (GPTC) headquarters to cut hard rubber on the edge of bus tyres. These rubbers were used to beat the arrested men and women most of whom were stripped naked from head to toe. Another soldier with the last name Krubally was sent to bring gallons of petrol and cotton wool. The torture team inserted petrol soaked cotton in detainees’ ears and private parts and forced to bend in front of table and stand fans. The team relaxed and enjoyed how the detainees grimaced in excruciating pain emanating from their most holy body part. They felt like dying anytime the fan blew air, one source said.
Not every detainee was subjected to this horrible type of torture. One female relative of the ousted President Jawara was among those who tasted this hard-to-swallow pill. For moral and other reasons, this lady’s identity will be hidden. Sound of her cries for help filled the air yet she was allowed to suffer in pain. She bled profusely, a clear sign that she might be going through some womanly complications but the heartless soldiers never gave in, insisting she was going through her monthly menstruation. The woman survived the torture, although she would surely develop gynecological problems along the way but her four months old pregnancy baby died. Worst of all, the soldiers who took the innocent lady to hell roamed the streets with pride as if they were not brought into this world by a woman, God’s dignified creation tasked with the noble responsibility of conceiving and giving birth to babies.
Majority of the tortured detainees, including Omar Amadou Jallow who sustained serious injury on his eyes (this is why he wears lenses), were physically tortured. Many died months after their release.
As a human rights and media activist, I felt the need to dig into this very important but forgotten or less understood story. I will do my best to bring more unreported or forgotten crimes committed by our “Soldiers with a Difference.” Indeed, they were soldiers who spoke to us in a language we didn’t understand in 1994. That is the language of tyranny, brutality, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, among others.