Retired Captain Alagie Kanteh
By Yankuba Jallow
Retired Captain Alagie Kanteh, an ex-spokesperson of the AFRPC, said the 1994 Military Coup was planned to get rid of the presence of Nigerian soldiers in the Gambia National Army (GNA).
He added that there was no way the Nigerian soldiers could have been removed without getting rid of the former Jawara Government, who gave them the authority to command the GNA.
“We thought it was unconstitutional for a foreigner to command a sovereign army. We thought the Nigerians would have provided us with technical support, but instead they took over the command at the Gambia National Army and made Gambian soldiers their juniors,” he said. Kanteh told Commissioners that he had served as the spokesperson of the AFPRC for only 10 days.
The 55-year-old said the dissatisfaction of soldiers perhaps contributed to the July 22nd 1994, Coup d’état. He said Gambian soldiers who came from peacekeeping mission in Liberia, were not paid their allowances; noting that the leadership of the Gambia National Army (GNA) was taken from Gambians and given to Nigerian commanders. He added that the Nigerians came as a team of trainers who could have provided the country with technical support, but ended up being the commanders of the GNA.
“Why were soldiers dissatisfied?” he was asked by the lead Counsel of the Commission.
“Gambian soldiers were dissatisfied with the presence of Nigerian soldiers in the Army. It was too hard for us (the junior soldiers). It was humiliating and the Nigerians were much more provided for than us,” he said. He said the Nigerians were receiving twice or three times the salary of Gambian soldiers and were provided with transportation; that this has an impact on junior soldiers and they felt that they were humiliated.
“Maba Jobe, the commander of the GNA was removed and was replaced by Abubacarr Dada from Nigeria as the leader of the GNA. Also, there was none or part payment of allowances to soldiers together with the breakdown in the chain of command. Soldiers lacked confidence in their commanders and we knew there was corruption within Government and this has reflected in the Army,” he said. He adduced that in terms of the selection of soldiers, the process was based on nepotism and favouritism.
“Commanders take soldiers to their own farms to work for them without pay. There was slavery and those who refused, faced problems. This was very demoralizing because we were not supposed to work for them on their own farms. We should work for the State,” he said.
On life at the Barracks, Kanteh said the feeding and housing system was not good; that there were no incentives for soldiers especially in terms of transportation.
“Soldiers struggled to come to work because what we were allocated was very small,” he said. He said soldiers are part of society and keen followers of news; that they read the Foroyaa Newspaper which was instrumental in providing information about the Government.
“We realized that some journalists were taken to Court for exposing corruption in the (Jawara) Government and nothing has been done about the allegation. I remembered Saihou Sabally, a one-time Minister in that Government who sued a journalist to Court and that journalist was freed. But Government has never taken action to stop the corruption. Sabally was later promoted to become the Vice President,” he said.
Kanteh said in the Army, people were enlisted without following due process or training; that they came through the ‘back-door’.
“You know we were observant of what was happening. We saw at the top of the Army, friends and family members leading. The first 10 to15 top officers in the Army were in one way or the other, connected to Ndow Njie, the leader of the GNA,” he said.
The witness put forward that he wanted to leave the Army but he was persuaded by the British to stay when they came.
“Some soldiers left because of this issue,” he said.
He said even the Nigerian soldiers noticed that the Gambian soldiers were not happy about their conditions.
“The Nigerian soldiers came up with the idea of the terms and condition of services. This was recommended by the Nigerian soldiers even though we have been trying our best for Government to improve our conditions. This was not enough for us because we wanted our Army back,” he said; that junior Gambian soldiers wanted to showcase their knowledge and they felt they know better than their Nigerian counterparts.
“The senior Gambian soldiers were the puppets of the Nigerians. When we saw in an exhibition exercise held in Kudang, the junior soldiers who were trained by Nigerian soldiers knew that they were not doing it right, and we could do far better than them, but we were not given the chance,” he said.
“We sat underneath a tree and stood aside and discuss among ourselves that we needed to do something about the issue. We wanted to make them know that they were supposed to put their house in order, because that was not the way to train soldiers.” He said the people who were underneath the tree included himself, Edward Singhateh, Yankuba Touray and Sanna Sabally. “We discussed and agreed that we should raise awareness about the situation because we knew more than the Nigerian soldiers,” he said. He said at the time, there was only one person at the Ministry of Defense who knew something about security and all other officials have no knowledge about defence.
“When I told General Dada, he told me that my pen would one day put me in trouble. I told him that we need computers,” he said.
The witness said few days after the Kudang exercise, they met at the Yundum Barracks to discuss the way forward of their agreement.
“We knew that we could not get rid of the Nigerians without getting rid of Government. This was where the first idea of the coup came about. We agreed to stage the coup,” he said; that those who attended the meeting were, himself, 2nd Lieutenant Edward Singhateh, 2nd Lieutenant Sadibou Hydara, Lieutenant Basirou Barrow and 2nd Lieutenant Kanteh. He added that Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh was not present at the meeting but he was briefed by Edward Singhateh.
“We agreed that Jawara’s Government should go. We planned for a coup d’état but we did not choose our leader,” he said.
He explained that during the meeting, there was a division on what type of coup they should embark on. He noted that Edward Singhateh was with the opinion that they should embark on the Ghana style of a coup where Cabinet Ministers will be executed by firing squad. He said he was the opinion that there should be no executions and that they should embark on a bloodless coup.
“We were unanimous on the coup but there was division in the mode of carrying it out,” he said.
He pointed out that most of the members agreed that when the coup was successful, power should be handed over to civilians after a transitional period.
“On a day before the coup, soldiers were publicly humiliated at the airport on the arrival of former president Jawara, from the UK. They were humiliated but were determined that this would not be repeated again,” he said.
He said he did not participate in the coup because he went for his brother’s funeral whose remains were brought back for burial. He pointed out that on the 22nd July 1994, upon his return from the burial of his brother, he saw Edward Singhateh at the terminal and followed him to the Marine Unit which was close. He added that he met Edward persuading Major Antouman Saho who was the Marine Commander to join the coup which according to Edward, was bloodless. He said Edward promised Saho a position in the cabinet.
He said he left the Marine for the State House after Edward briefed him about the coup; that when he reached Police headquarters, he found Edward, Sanna, Sadibou and Captain Momodou Sonko, creating pandemonium and telling the police what to do.
“The police were confused and the officers were traumatizing them. The police felt like captives. I told them to do easily with the Police because they could have done it more appropriately,” he said.
He said he went to the State House and met Yaya Jammeh who confessed to him that his wish will be granted; that there will be no executions. He added that he was allocated a vehicle and soldiers were told to go home and dress up.
“When I was leaving home, I was combat ready. When I reached the State House, I was given an assignment by Edward Singhateh to make sure that all barracks are in order, which I did,” he said.
“Yahya Jammeh lies a lot and he is indiscipline. Sanna Sabally is immature and economical with the truth. Edward Singhateh enjoys inflicting pain on people and he is a sadist. Yankuba Touray was a clown and he just wanted to fit in,” he said in response to the question by the Lead Counsel as to the attitude of members of the Junta. He said as the spokesperson of the AFPRC, he fixed an interview with a Senegalese Newspaper named Sud Quotidien; that Jammeh peeped in at the time of the interview and asked him to continue.
“After the interview, I was arrested and taken to Mile II under the instruction of Sanna Sabally. This was on or about the 5th of August 1994,” he said; that on the 6th of September 1994, members of the junta except Yaya Jammeh, attacked them in Mile and tortured Captain Momar Cham, RSM Jeng and Ebrima Chongan. He added that the torturers included Peter Singhateh, a brother to Edward Singhateh. He explained that they heard gunshots and each time a person was taken out of the cells, Edward and his co members will come with blood on their hands and tell them that that person has been killed. The witness said he has not been tortured at the Mile II Prisons but he was psychologically traumatized.
Kanteh refuted the testimony of Sheriff Gomez that he was among those who came to torture people. He said Gomez’s testimony was malicious.
Kanteh said he was born on the 6th of January 1964 in Badibou Njaba Kunda, of the North Bank Region; that he joined the GNA in the year 1985 as intake number 4. He added that he was released three months following his arrest.
AT THE TRRC: ‘July 1994 Coup Was Planned To Get Rid Of Foreign Soldiers’ Ex-AFPRC Spokesperson
Retired Captain Alagie Kanteh