By Sana Sarr
We have gone through 2 sessions of sittings for the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. The testimonies have brought us some truth and some lies, but also left us with many unanswered questions. One thing is certain though, hearing first hand narratives of some of the horrific acts committed by Gambians against other Gambians has been sobering for many. There have been many tears, both for what these realities mean for the nation and also for what some of the victims and their families went through. While the commission took a break from sittings this week, here is, in humorous vein, my mid-season awards to some of the witnesses who have appeared at the commission so far.
- Zero! – SCHUPIT FOOL AWARD– Remember when your illiterate uncle or grandpa got so mad and wanted to hurl insults at someone they felt was an idiot? Yes, at their wit’s end, their go-to insult was “Schupit Fool!” This award is for the witness who came with the intention to lie to the commission, but is so dumb that they couldn’t even align their lies. The lies were so incoherent and insane that even a toddler could tell it was a lie. Unfortunately, the only person was still “schupit” enough to not realize how obvious they were…and this made them annoying enough to drive grandpa to his wit’s end.
Ensa Mendy– by claiming that a private soldier making less than $50 a month owned a mobile phone in 1994 Gambia, Ensa really proved himself an *$$ clown!
JCB Mendy– Annoying as Ensa was, he still couldn’t out-dumb his fellow lie man JCB Mendy. JCB’s lies were frequent, varied and schupit as can be. Dude was so annoying that Lead Counsel Essa Faal could no longer mask his frustration. JCB was like a ghost – one minute he was present at a crime scene and next minute he wasn’t. For example, despite confessing that he was one of the soldiers who confiscated the camera of a photographer, yet, he claimed he couldn’t tell whether the same photographer was beaten by those who took the camera. What did he do, grab the camera and then immediately close his eyes?
- Zero – COCKROACHAWARD – Following the saying that karma is a dog, many of those who participated in the gross human rights abuses for the former regime had their day at the receiving end of the evil they once supported. A good number of them, however, survived and to this day continue to wear the uniform and have their livelihood funded by taxpayer money. They did so much damage, but like cockroaches, they continue to survive…a shoe is required to squish them.
Warrant Officer Lamin Colley– could have easily qualified for a number of other awards in the liar categories. Despite reports of his alleged direct participation in at least one gruesome murder, this man continues to serve in the army and actually appeared at the commission in his army uniform! Not only did he survive the evil regime, he also continues to survive today…at least for now.
Alagie Martin – Although the former regime had slapped him around a few times, Martin has managed to survive the worst of it and continues wearing the uniform to this day. His record as both a supervisor of torture and/or a direct perpetrator himself has long been rumored around town, and it’s no surprise that victims continue to name him.
- Zero! – NOLLYWOOD AWARD– Have you seen those Nigerian movies, the ones where everything is so exaggerated to the point of absurdity? Yes, this award is for those who overdid it with the storytelling. Not only were the stories outrageous, they were also unnecessary.
Warrant Officer Lamin Colley – knowing that many of those who saw him shoot and kill a man were still around and some had even named him as the shooter, this fool, still in uniform, decided to recreate the story. He’s not dumb enough to deny shooting, but he’s “smart enough” to spin it…and thinks we’re the dumb ones to believe that he, a medic, heard the voice of Sana Sabally, a man he “was terrified of,” calling for the shooting of a soldier. This “compassionate” medic then saw the fleeing soldier shot, and with Sabally and others who ordered the shooting watching, he, “the compassionate one”, ran to save the fallen soldier… and that’s when his hand “accidentally” fell on his gun and “accidentally” pulled the trigger to shoot the man he was trying to save… in the head! “Kii mor muna d**l!!!” Nollywood directors got nothing on him, and his story may have been funny if it wasn’t so heinous!
That Jeng Guy – One of the first witnesses called, this dude probably had no reason to lie. I’m not even sure how much he lied, but his whole demeanor showed he was trying too hard to embellish his story just to appear cool. I wonder who he was trying to impress… or maybe he felt this was his 15 minutes of fame and thought to make the best of it. Whatever his reason was, I hope it was worth it, because he has since disappeared back into oblivion. I couldn’t even remember his full name… and no, I didn’t bother to look or ask!
- Zero! – MAKEUP ARTIST AWARD– We’ve talked about the dumb liars – the ones who embellished stories but because they’re not smart enough, were so incoherent that their lies were obvious. Well, there were smarter folks. They simply took a true story and carefully edited or adjusted parts of it. They did it so well that some people were unable to tell fact from fiction, just like when people use filters to edit photos for social media.
Captain Amadou Suwareh– One had to pay close attention to Suwareh’s narrative to realize that he was one of the first punks to give in to the coupists on July 22, 1994. Left to man the Denton Bridge and stop the advancing soldiers, Suwareh simply laid down and joined the criminals.
Alhaji Kanyi did quite well when he admitted to participation in some crimes, including murder, while still claiming innocence in others. He brought the tears and the ratatoyeto curry sympathy. Nyakajomm!
Dr. Binneh Minteh, one of the plotters of the November 11 attack, who escaped and eventually made his way to the USA, also used his scholarly skills to portray himself as the hero who did nothing but attempt to save Gambia. He gave very little about how the plot was hatched, how he involved unsuspecting innocent folks like Mafuji Sonko or how he learned the plot had leaked, only for him to escape, leaving his partners behind. Yes, when fiction is based on a true story, it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends.
- Zero! – MR. HEARTLESS AWARD– For a long time, many Gambians believed Sana Sabally was the most heartless and wicked of the AFPRC council members. It was not unearned. Sabally’s guards and orderlies were notorious for abusing anyone that got in their way. They publicly shot at cars on the road, beat up cameramen and went around offices to terrorize civil servants. The hearings have revealed that while he made the most noise, Sana Sabally was a punk who relied on guards and orderlies to do the dirty job, much like Yaya Jammeh. Edward Singhateh, on the other hand, who many believed to be the quiet one, seems to actually enjoy inflicting pain on others. “Gee sumayaa mofaa laa” – we say in Mandinka.
- Hero! – FAVORITE MEAL AWARD– Here we have two. “Water water chu”was a favorite stew enjoyed by the soldiers at the barracks, but it was outdone by “Wet or Dry Cherreh”, the coos meal served at Mile 2 Prisons for prisoners and detainees. Even the notorious gangster rats at Mile 2 refused to eat it!
- Hero! – ESSA FAAL AWARD– named after the lead counsel because I suspect it’s his favorite part of the job. With name worthy finalists like Di cheb, Churoo, Achopin and Lie tulu Baa, the award for Best Nickname goes to none other than Njie Ponkal. Because of how much he enjoys saying the name, lead counsel Faal should give a plot of land to Mafuji every time he says the name!
- Hero! – BRAVE HEART AWARD – many will claim heroism. Who are the real heroes?
AIG Ismaila Chongan– By all indication, Chongan seems like he was the only leader who tried to actively stop the soldiers taking over on July 22. It appears that Chongan never, not even for a moment, wavered on his belief that allowing the military to depose a democratically elected government was wrong. It’s not a surprise that the only shot fired on the day was on his orders. After being jailed, tortured and released, he left the jurisdiction and never stopped speaking out against the regime.
Prison Officer/Medic Bubacarr Jatta – Buba’s story is evidence that one can work within a flawed system and still maintain your decency, integrity and humanity. He is also evidence that one did not need to be a high ranking official to make a difference. Despite working at what was basically a crime scene, at a time of gross human rights violations, under the most stressful conditions, not least of which was the knowledge that getting caught showing kindness to the detainees could land him in the worst possible situation, this prison warden/untrained medic displayed the best of humane qualities Gambians want to be known for. He did not cure AIDS or build an orphanage. He simply showed compassion and empathy for people when they were at their lowest and needed it most…and they all appreciated him for it. Buba is a national hero!
OJ Jallow– The Civil Rights Movement had MLK and Malcolm X. Apartheid had its Madiba. Many heroes are recognized and appreciated posthumously. He was arrested and tortured in the presence of his young children. He was detained for a long time. He was beaten so badly that he lost one eye. Yet, even while in detention and being tortured, OJ continued to speak truth to power, because he felt it was his responsibility to be a leader. This angered his captors even more and they chose to make an example of him to shut others up. The civilian leaders, Jawara, BB Dabo, Saihou Sabally and many others ran into exile. Security service leaders like Chongan also left the country when they had the opportunity. OJ chose to remain in the country and continued to live his truth, without apology and not for want of an opportunity to flee like the rest of his peers. I’m sure he has many flaws, but when it comes to principles and bravery, others may rise to his level, but none can can go higher than Omar Amadou Jallow!
- MVP – he won us with his candor, his honesty, his humility and he won us with his charisma. He made us cry and he made us cry. He gave us “tinki tanka” and he offered to demonstrate to the commission how to use the bathroom with both hands tied behind his back!!! Mafuji Sonkois the real MVP!!!