Stories coming from the State House in Banjul detail an embarrassing fiasco engulfing the President’s Office, Banjul City Council, the Supreme Islamic Council and APRC women’s wing called the Jek Society. The brouhaha is said to be so bad, it would have threatened the very foundation of the seat of power if not for the greed and silliness central to its causing – scramble free Hajj tickets.
Like everything Gambia of these days, this story gets more bizzare as it unravels, with seeming unrelated facets and players all meshing together to form what could best be described as a scene out of the Sitcom; Seinfeld. So do bear with us as we try our best to relate this story without confusing you, the reader.
The story begins at the Banjul City Council. As customary, 12 free tickets were given by Yahya Jammeh (in reality, they were donated by the Saudi goverment) to the Banjul City Council to be distributed among party faithfuls for this year’s Hajj. This was where the troubles began. According to sources, the Mayor, Abdoulie Bah, in violation of the rules, unilaterally decided to give one of the tickets to his second wife to perform the Hajj on behalf of his late grandmother. Another ticket was given to Ebou Colley, husband of the Deputy Mayor. The rest of the tickets were shared among members of the Jek Society and other supposed APRC sympathizers.
The Jek Society members are now raising hell about the tickets given to the supposed APRC sympathizers because they claim these are in fact not “die hard” APRC supporters and are therefore not entitled to any of these tickets. They are accusing these folks of not being loyal enough to the party to deserve any such gift. The rift according to sources brought these women to almost exchanging blows, and so the matter had to be referred to the President’s Office.
On a separate but related development, the party supporters outfoxing of each other during such matters continues – this time, over the baggage fees at the airport for the Hajj travelers.
Instead of the usual 50Kg baggage allowance, The Gambia International Airlines (GIA) is only allowing 40Kg allowance this year. The rest of the 10Kg the entity claims, will be sent through one Pa Mbye, a contractor hired by the GIA itself. Apparently, this is an under-the-table moneymaking scheme and is bad news for businesswomen in Saudi who have been benefitting from the business for many years. This too has generated a controversy of its own that the State House and the Party are frantically trying to resolve.
On yet another separate but related development, in what observers are calling a serious blow to Imam Fatty, Yahya Jammeh has angrily purged his name from this year’s Hajj list. He was supposed to serve as a guide for the pilgrims as he has done several times before. This is the list gathered to show who and how many people are leaving for the Hajj in any given year. The list is then sent to the Saudi Authorities for the required visas to be issued. Unfortunately, this list has also over the years been politicized to a point where charges of tribalism and nepotism abound – Faturadio is aware that Jammeh has a habit of scratching any non-Jola sounding last names from this list and replacing them with his own relatives and Jola sounding names. As a further blow to Imam Fatty who was once the darling of the State House Mosque, Yahya Jammeh has also confiscated his passport and instructions have already been given to the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) never to allow the Imam on either the TV or Radio. The new kid on the block who is currently Yahya’s favorite Imam, serving as the replacement for Imam Fatty according to the same sources, is Oustass Ebrima Cham. Cham will be assisting Mbye Kah, the man in charge of the Hajj affairs. A mosque has already been seized by Jammeh and given to this Ebrima Cham to manage.
As if non of these unfolding dramas are not enough, news has a few days ago arrived at the State House of the Saudi Authorities denying visas to all the 271 people on this year’s list and Jammeh is said to be furious about this. It is through this Hajj programs that he rewards supporters, sycophants, and criminals who do his bidding. So with this threat of denial of visas, he is faced with the potential for embarrassement and backlash which he cannot withstand in a time when his regime is very weak and can fall any day. The sources close to the matter believe the Jammeh Administration will make direct contact with the Saudi Government to beg for their mercy.
In the interim, the mayhem and trepidation within the party apparatus and State House continue, we will keep our eyes on them and report back to our esteemed readers accordingly.