By Yankuba Jallow
Momodou Lamin Kassama, a former ‘Aide-De-Camp’ (ADC) to ex-president Jawara, accuses former Vice President Saihou Sabally of having a hand in the July 1994 coup d’état.
Kassama made this disclosure before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) on Thursday February 14th 2019.
Kassama alleged that Saihou Sabally who doubled as the Minister of Defense and other senior officers of the Military, had a hand in the July 1994 coup d’état. He said the head of the Nigerian Army in the country then, General Ibrahim Dada, was also involved in the coup because he was promised citizenship, that the July 1994 coup was initially planned to be carried out in March or April, but this was not materialized; that those who planned that coup were also the same people who carried out the July 1994 coup.
Kassama pointed out that Sabally instructed Turo Jawneh to be removed from State House; that this contributed to the success of the coup. He said there existed a strong allegation that Sabally used to support Yahya Jammeh and co. with money, to prepare the coup.
He told the Commission that the late Daba Marenah had disclosed to him, that the former Director General of the National Security Services (NSS), knew about the coup. He said former President Jawara was not aware of the exercise of the Gambia National Army (GNA) with American soldiers that was to take place on 22nd July 1994; that the venue was Madinary and later changed; that still former president Jawara was not aware.
Kassama said when they came from the UK on 21st January 1994, a day before the coup, the Vice President who was supposed to be in attendance at the airport, was not present; that it was a usual thing that the vice president will brief the president as to the happenings of the country and formally hand over authority to him. He urged the Commission to call Sabally to come and clear all the allegation; that the Inspector General of Police at the time, Pa Sallah-Jagne, has more information about the involvement of Sabally in the coup-making.
Kassama said he belonged to the fourth batch of the GNA and that on the 1st of February 1986, he was made officer cadet by virtue of his certificates and performance as a recruit; that he was appointed as a training instructor and he went to Pakistan where he studied as an officer; that on his return from Pakistan, he was promoted to second lieutenant.
Kassama said he was born on 17th January 1963 in Banjul; that he attended primary education in Niamina Dankunku and then Kaur from 1970 to 1977; that he proceeded to Muslim High School and later continued to St. Augustines where he attended Sixth Form, in 1982. Kassama said he worked at the Treasury Office as an Accounts Clerk for only a year, before joining the GNA as a soldier.
Kassama said he enlisted in the GNA on the 14th of August 1985. He told the Commission that before joining the GNA, he sought to be enlisted in the Gambia Police Force (GPF); but that the process of enlistment at GPF was based on whom you know rather than merit. “I do not want to be enlisted in the GPF with the help of any individual. I wanted to be enlisted based on my merit,” he said.
Kassama told the Commission that he was made ADC to former President Jawara in the year 1990; that at this time, he was a Lieutenant and later he was promoted to the rank of a Captain; that at the time of the coup, Kaba Bajo was the State Guard Commander and Lang Tombong Tamba was his immediate subordinate; that all the security apparatus at State House including the Tactical Support Group and members of the intelligence group, were answerable to Bajo.
He said in the 1990s, there were many rumours of a coup d’état; that there was a rumour at the time, that Yahya Jammeh was in communication with Kukoi Samba Sanyang; that this was why he (Jammeh) was redeployed to the Military Police Unit of the Army, from State House. He said during Jawara’s meet with the farmers’ tour’, there was rumour that someone will attempt to kill the president and Yahya Jammeh was a potential suspect although he was part of the tour; that when the rumour spread fast, he kept an eye on Yahya Jammeh and when they reached Soma, he said Jammeh referred to him as a chameleon. Kassama said there was an officer who committed suicide in his car; that the officer knew that everyone kept an eye on him, and that he was the suspect and could not control the stress and shot himself dead.
He said a suggestion was placed before the National Security Council that the State House needed additional protection in terms of weapons and personnel; that the then acting Army Commander, Maba Jobe, told the Council that there is no need for such; that if the army wants State House at any time, they would take over; this led to his removal from that position.
“This suggestion was never acted upon,” he said.
He said the impact of NATAG was mainly in the structural aspect of the Army; that they brought the idea of having the headquarters of the Army. He said there was jealousy on the side of Gambian soldiers in terms of their pay.
He said he suggested that Nigerian soldiers should assume an advisory role and Gambian soldiers can take the command role; that Brigadier General Ibrahim Dada was still the Commander until 1994 when he was recalled. He said Dada was not happy with his recall to Nigeria and was replaced by another General.
Kassama said in 1994, he traveled with former President Jawarato a summit to Tunisia and came back on the 21st July 1994, a day before the coup; that at this time, he had no suspicion about a planned coup by the soldiers.
“We came to the Gambia blindly. We did not know what was happening because there was nothing abnormal,” he said.
He said usually, there used to be many people at the airport to receive the president; but that on this day, the number of people was not large and the vice president was nowhere to be seen, that Turo Jawaneh told him that Yahya Jammeh was going to be part of a demonstration but Alagie Martin was asked to keep an eye on Jammeh for any misbehavior, so that he will be dealt with summarily.
“That night, I went to bed thinking everything was normal,” he told Commissioners.
He said on the 22nd of July, he was supposed to receive a new Chinese Ambassador who was to present letters of credence; that on the morning of the 22nd of July, he went to work at State House but was told by Kaba Bajo and Kebba Ceesay, that there was disturbance at the Yundum Barracks were shootings took place; that on that day, he was told the former Vice President Sabally was upstairs at State House receiving a delegation. The witness said the president was not aware of the delegation. He said the delegation was from the American warship; that the Vice President was also the Minister of Defence.
“When I went to inform him (former Vice President Sabaly), I was very surprised that he knew what was happening. He told me they were monitoring the situation,” he said.
He said he then proceeded to inform the President about the news of the coup; that on his way, he met the Director General of the National Security Services (NSS) and the head of the National Security Council.
“The former Vice President Sabaly told me in ‘mandinka’ that let me go and talk to my old man (President Jawara) because he is stubborn; that he was asked to pack and join the boat but he refused to go. Go and talk to him and see whether you can convince him,” the witness said.
The witness said when he talked to former president Jawara about this, he refused the idea of leaving the State House; that he called Yundum Barracks and the office of Kaba Bajo; that the phones were ringing and no one received the calls. The witness said at this time, there were not many guards at the State House, because they were preparing for a guard of honour.
He said the number of people they went with into the boat was over 45 persons including former president Jawara and his family, as well as two former cabinet Ministers; that the president was interested in knowing what the demands of the soldiers were and that when he called Inspector General of Police Pa Sallah-Jange about this, he told them to stay put. He said the situation in the boat was not good at all.
Kassama said on their arrival in Senegal, the Senegalese government before accepting President Jawara and his entourage, made a demand that former President Jawara should not request going back to power; that this took three days before Senegal accepted them. He said whilst they were in the boat, Edward Singhateh was communicating with former president Jawara; that Edward spoke responsibly and told former President Jawara that he can come back as an elder statesman; but that the former President Jawara insisted that they must go back to the Barracks and they will be forgiven.
“President Jawara promised them immunity and that nothing will happen to them,” the witness said.
He said they arrived in Senegal on Sunday evening and were provided with vehicles and taken to Residence Madine; but that the Vice President resided at Hotel Teranga.
Kassama said General Dada was involved in the whole process of the coup; that when he contacted him, Dada told him that he advised the soldiers (the coup makers) that they should not touch the citizens; that he had no knowledge that Dada left the Gambia after been recalled by his country. He said Dada refused to go back to Nigeria.
Kassama said after their arrival in Dakar, Lamin Kaba Bajo decided to return to the Gambia with the excuse of his father’s illness, although they were never aware of any illness of his father; that on the third day of their stay in Dakar, they paid a courtesy visit to the then President of Senegal Abdou Joof, although they did not discuss anything about the situation of the Gambia. He said it took a while before foreign diplomats including the British High Commissioner, the Ambassador of the USA and Foreign Affairs Minister of Nigeria, met with former president Jawara; that after 5 weeks in Senegal, they continued to the UK; that before this, they visited Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea Conakry and the US, where they met the former UN Chief, the late Kofi Annan.
Kassama concluded by describing Yaya Jammeh as someone who lacked discipline, and does not respect authority.