By Momodou Justice Darboe
Sheikh Ba-Kawsu Fofana has revealed in startling fashion how his ambition to become SIC President over a decade ago had been thwarted by a group of renowned Gambian Islamic scholars and how the custodians of the Islamic religion in the country allegedly ganged up to sow seeds of discord between him and former President Jammeh.
Responding on Thursday to questions posed to him by The Fatu Network about the reasons for his fall-out with the former Gambian dictator, Ba-Kawsu gave a riveting account of his desire to run for the President of the Gambia’s apex Islamic body and how this desire subsequently put him in the bad books of dictator Jammeh.
Below is the transcription of his interview with The Fatu Network.
“You see, the way you come here [my house] was the way many elders came here,concerning the Supreme Islamic Council after a sermon was delivered by Abdoulie Fatty on the presence of Shia’ts in the country; how hostile they were to governments and how they kill people. After the sermon, the President [Jammeh] queried if the Shiats are in the country in the magnitude described by Imam Fatty and the danger they pose to the governments and the people. He also enquired as to whether the Supreme Islamic Council was not aware of this and the response was in the affirmative. The answer was it was in fact SIC that was playing host to the Shiats and that SIC Vice President, Ousman Jah, was the one receiving them on arrivals at the airport. Banding Drammeh was at the time President of the Supreme Islamic Council. This is how they pitched Yaya’s head against the Supreme Islamic Council. It was at this juncture Jammeh pronounced that the tenure of the Supreme Islamic Council President was over and that there must be fresh elections for a new executive.
“He said the time was up for election so that people can choose a new leader to steer the affairs of the council. Following this, lots of people have been coming to my house to express their desire for me to take the mantle and this also continued in gatherings; that they felt I had all it take to be the council’s president. When this continued unabated, I said…OK…If that is the case we can explore ways and means of getting there. We then went to Ismael Sambou who was then minister of religious affairs and Lansana Jammeh was his permanent secretary. We couldn’t meet the minister because he had been delegated by the President to attend the burial of the Caliph of Touba, Serign Salieu in Senegal.
“We however met Alasana Jammeh and he organised a meeting between us and him in his office. Lot of Imams were present and we told him we were there to seek Supreme Islamic Council leadership position. Alasan told us that the President [Jammeh] had already made it clear that the Supreme Islamic Council’s executives had their time expired and that the executive had been in office for a very long time. He said Banding had been occupying the position of council’s president for 13 years but that they [government] didn’t know anything about the council’s modus operandi. He then advised us to take recourse to the council’s constitution. When we referred to the constitution, they [officials] agreed that we can seek for a leadership role in the council as dictated by the constitution. The government officials indicated to us that in order to be eligible for the council leadership position; one must be a Gambian, has a huge following, fluent in either Arabic or English and must be able to give credibility to the council in and outside the country.
“The ministry was satisfied that I possessed all the qualities to head the council. They advised us to write a letter to the council’s executive to inform them that their mandate had expired and we were interested in the positions. We wrote a letter to them to that effect and subsequently embarked on a country-wide tour to prepare hearts and minds and a huge number of people backed us.
“So when it came to the elections, Banding was the incumbent and wanted to run again even after his mandate had expired. He was there for 13 years. Supreme Islamic Council was formed by Soriba Jabbie and the mandate for President was three years. When Banding came, he argued that three years was short and pushed for a five-year mandate. He served a one three-year mandate and one five-year mandate, making it eight years. Afterwards, they argued the council was now for a term limit of ten years but Banding had already served another five years, making it 13. They said his time was over but he insisted that the eight years will not be part of it and counting had to begin with the last five-year mandate given to him. He insisted he will run again and majority of council members were opposed to this but they cannot manifest their opposition to his bid. I insisted I wasn’t competing with him but that his time was over and that there must be elections that any qualified person can contest. However few days to the election, Banding and his entire team were removed by Jammeh and fresh election was called up.
“However, two or three days to the elections, they ganged together to choose Lamin Touray who led the prayers at State House that day. Lamin Touray had never campaigned throughout the country and people didn’t know him. It was me and Banding who toured the country and when Banding was sacked, I went unopposed.
“But they contended that Ba-Kawsu was young and they didn’t want to replace Banding with him and they then changed their positions. They also changed the President’s mind because he wanted me to lead the council since at the outset. He felt he could work with me when I win but they told the President that Ba-Kawsu is unlike other council members who would not hesitate to tell truth to the powers that be and that he wouldn’t bow down to anybody. They also told the President I could undermine his authority considering the number of people following me. The President, at this point, changed his mind in favour of Lamin Touray.
“But to make sure I lose the election, they handpicked their own supporters to preside over the process and when we raised the alarm, the entire electoral supervisory process was transferred to the IEC. So, when we met for election they connived with some Nigerians to make new ballot papers. When you are in for Ba-Kawsu, they will erase your name, put a new name there and backdate it. They also tinkered the constitution so I cannot qualify to run. So, when the country met on Saturday, 16 August and Sunday, 17 August2007, people didn’t like their conduct and they met on Sunday and elected Lamin Touray.”