A senior Gambian army officer who broke Omar Jallow’s eye socket in 1995 said Tuesday that his level of maturity at the time led to his savage act against the former agriculture minister.
Below is a full transcript of his testimony on his encounter with OJ…
I worked that time still with the Gambia National Army Training School which was of course located in Fajara Barracks. At the training school we don’t have an armoury of our own. We keep the weapons of the training school with the Fajara Barracks main armoury. And time and again, we do go to the armoury from the training school to signed out our personal weapons from there or to signed out any equipment from the Fajara Barracks. So it’s just a walking distance maybe 12, 13 minutes, 15, 14 minutes from the school to the Fajara Barracks armoury.
So occasionally, we march from the school or you walk individually on your own to go to Fajara Barracks and then collect your weapon go back to the school. When you finish the function or the duty with the weapon again you walk to Fajara Barracks and return your weapon. This was our routine. It was one of our routines at the training school.
So actually the issue with uncle OJ Jallow happened when one day we were going to the armoury to collect our weapons and I was also going to the armoury to collect my weapon then upon reaching the area of the armoury which is very close to the main gate, I saw some vehicles – pickups with trucks. They were bringing some detainees. Already that time there were other people who were detained there but when I come to the armoury going home as I am passing I used to see them on the sides you know sitting there or some of them standing there with some other soldiers.
On this occassion, once I arrived there, these vehicles were also coming and bringing some detainees. So among the group I saw Almamo Manneh I think he was among the main people who were escorting these guys to the Fajara Barracks. And Almamo I happened to know him, he comes from the North Bank, Sitanunku. I come from Buniadou, North Bank Region. When he was going to school like many other students in the cluster villages because our village was close to Berending, they bring their students to stay in our village.
There were a lot of students from the cluster villages almost the size of the boys of our village. Almamo was older than me. He was contemporary to my eldest brother Alieu Bah he also passed away. They used to move and you know at our home in Buniadou if you know my father used to have cows that time he was alive. And at our home, there is no time for breakfast, there is no time for lunch, there is no time for dinner. Anytime you come to our house, you will eat milk and then what we call cherreh. So most of the students, you know Almamo was moving with my brother plus some other guys because they are age groups…
And most of these students used to come to our home to have food there. My mom was very generous to everybody. In fact when we used to have a guest in the village the guest will go to the alkalo home, they will tell him, ‘go to Pa Ousman’s compound.’ So we used to have guests every time and these students also used to come. So that mingling with my brother and then myself I was young that time, also going to school I think I was in primary five or six and Almamo was in the senior school in Berending. I happened to know him and we used to chat. They used to send us with my brother. So I knew him from that time. Eventually when he finished school, then he enrolled in the army. When I also finally finished the school, I also enrolled in the force. So this was a person that I valued as much as I valued my own brother. And when I happened to join the army also, I used to take advice from him, if I have things that doubt me. I used to ask him because he was my senior. So even though we were not at the same unit we were very close and occasionally we used to meet at our village during programs.
So they were channeling these detainees going to those where they kept them, those hangars… if you, maybe the commission one day will go to Fajara Barracks to see for themselves. You have the armoury then when you pass the armoury a little bit on the left you have two hangars. They are both vehicle hangars. The other one is a bigger hangar and the other one if where the vehicles that are ready for use in the morning or the ones that are going for maintenance they keep them there. The other one, the spare parts and other vehicles that are not needed are usually kept there. So while they were channeling these detainees there, then Almamo had already seen me, so he waved at me and then he called me.
So then after a while, I went to the armoury. I said, ‘I will, I will come and sign my rifle but I am coming’. So I went there. So when I went there, then I saw Almamo and he pointed and said, ‘do you know these people?’ I said, ‘I have recognised some especially one.’ I think OJ was the most fair coloured among them. And also because he was a minister, I recognised him. Seen him in newspapers I read, so I recognised him. And then he (Almamo) told me, ‘this guy especially’, pointing to OJ. He said, ‘if there would be any problem in this country, a guy who wants to spoil this country it’s this guy.’ And then he started to explain to me that OJ is conniving with the Europeans. You know that time there was sanction, embargo on The Gambia and [Almamo told me] he is working highly on modalities to bring mercenaries into The Gambia and they will overthrow the new government and and the mercenaries who are mercilessly will end up killing all of us. This is the man, this is the main man who is doing that despite the fact he has been warned again and again this is what he is doing and their plans are almost ripe.’
Once he said that, of course that time, I was young. I was in my 20s and the fact that I knew him and the fact that many times I have confided in him with issues regarding some advice, personal advice and advice about the job. All those things and then pointing, telling me that he is the main problem who want to mix this country and wants us to be killed, when the mercenaries come to create mayhem and then the Gambians will suffer, our families will suffer and then on and on things like that. So definitely also around that time because of my age and my level of maturity really I was very gullible and I believed in him. And then that is what led me to join in torturing uncle OJ.
When Almamo said that and I came with Almamo, then few of them were isolated I think about three or four. They were already instructed to undress. Then I came close to OJ and Almamo himself hit him. When I came close to him, as I was coming close to him thinking of what Almamo has told me I was really angry why this guy should think like that. H has been in government for so long. These people just came in, we are transitioning. Why should he think in that line. So as I came close to him, I punched him on the stomach, I hit him on the stomach then he blend down and I started beating him with my hands. So suddenly you know because Fajara Barracks was the headquarters of the gendermarie, then when I looked around I was not satisfied with hitting and kicking him with my hands and my feet I saw these truncheons that were being used by the genderms. For some reason, they were littered around. I reached out for a good one and I was hitting him mercilessly on almost all parts of his body, his head especially. And then he fell down and I kicked him also and I was hitting him. So, this lasted for a while. Me particularly, I was concentrating on him because of what is told about him. So I was hitting him, I was beating him.
Of course like every reasonable man should be able to think that time the maturity was not there. I was in my 20s. Because God tells us in the Qur’an that when an evil monger or a perverted transgressor comes to you with any news, verify it. But also looking at the situation at that time, I was very young [and] this is a guy that I have trusted. I knew him well when I was in primary school at our village and I trusted him also. So I very naive. Definitely, I don’t have anybody to blame but myself because it is my duty as instructed by God to verify whether it was true and even if it was true, I think the most reasonable thing I should have done was to offer him some advice not to go into that.
So several occasions, I can’t remember exactly but I think three or more occasions I have been involved in beating him. And after that, later it emerged that all these allegations were not true. So, I really regretted why… It’s inconceivable why should just an information be given without verifying and then you go into beating the person like that. I accepted guilt in my mind. And really since then, I regretted it. Any time I read the paper and I see the story of OJ on the paper I feel very guilty to myself and I feel very bad. Any time I see him for example on television I feel so bad. Any time I think about it as well, I feel so bad. And after the issues of the OJs, definitely from then on I have even though I have had the opportunity to do some extreme things, I have never involved in anything whatsoever like torturing people and killing people. Even though at some point in the history of our country, everybody knows these were things that were frequent.
But Alhamdoulillah with the protection of God, since after that because this thing keeps on ringing in my mind continuously. I feel guilty and I feel that I have offended him. And ever since, I have been thinking of apologising him. And some people may wonder in their minds why since that time 22 years on now why this guy has never taken the attempt to apologise. My reasons, this was singing in my mind every single day, every single time especially when the issue of uncel OJ is mentioned. But then the reasons why I couldn’t face him to apologise him that time were two reasons; one is that the person under whose rule these things happened was still the president of the republic of The Gambia. And when you go to apologise, one you don’t know how the person you are apologising is going to react. Number two you don’t know under whose watch you did this is going to react. And for that reason, ever since I have not been able to apologise to uncle OJ although this guilt has since then been with me.
And as he mentioned in the Truth Commission, I watched it myself in the evening at my house. What he said about me is true and I want to accept the responsibility. I should not hide to accept the responsibility because if I do that also Allah will account for me. But I feel that if I come out and tell the truth and possibly apologise him, maybe with Allah’s will, he may be able to accept. Even before I was called to the commission, my brother is here, Ousman. I did call him. The whole of my family, I have never confessed to anyone that I have done this. But Ousman, we are very close I have told him about it. And then I have told him to help me. I am willing to face uncle OJ and apologise to him personally if at all it will not be a problem with him. I said to my brother Ousman that I am a human being. All human beings, knowingly or unknowingly we have offended people. And when you are young, you are not very formalised. Because after the OJ incident, I applied for this law programme to the GTTI and from 1996 to 1998 I was studying law at the Gambia Technical Training Institute. Subsequent to that, from 2000 to 2001 I was also studying diploma in management at the Management Development Institute. I was trying to build my knowledge and also trying to build my experience.
Because this is a mistake that has happened to me and I don’t want the mistake to happen to me again. So even before I was called to this commission, Wallahi Allah knows what is in the heart of everybody. I was already working on the modalities. Ousman is here, he can prove me if I am lying. Because the last time I asked him he told me uncle OJ has gone to Nigeria to observe the elections there. And that is why we did not actualise our movement to go and apologise to him.
I want to accept that I’m guilty. What I have done is wrong. I have offended him. I have offended the people of the country because I am a soldier I am supposed to protect the people of the country. And I have also offended my family with them knowing now. Is really very tormenting internally. I have accepted guilt 100 percent and I regret definitely why I have done this. I will urge the indulgence of the commission which is here to establish the truth of what happened from July 1994 to January 2017. I will urge their indulgence to try to show me the way and to help to make sure that I apologise to uncle OJ and I atoned for this sinful thing that I did.
I want to say that I’m sorry to the people of the country. I want to say that I’m sorry to uncle OJ. I want to say that to everybody in this country whether they are Gambians or they are not Gambians.
I know the armed forces is the protector of the people I should have found myself in protecting the people of the country. But like I said, I was young and crazy. So inevitably this is what happened.
Wallahi I will not sleep comfortably until and unless I face uncle OJ and I apologise to him, to tell him what happened around October 1995 when they were detained in Fajara Barracks. My part, I want to definitely apologise to him personally, to tell him, ‘I have treated you in a wrong way. I have accepted the guilt, I have accepted the responsibility and I am not perfect as a human being I will kindly request that you and your family the pain I have inflicted on you by extension the pain I have also inflicted on your family I want you to for the sake of God to you uncle OJ to please please forgive me for what I have done to you.’
Indeed I am willing to apply [amnesty]. This is why I came here and told the truth. Even if this commision was not in The Gambia, even if it was somewhere else I would not have hesitated even a second to contact them and tell things exactly the way they happened.
This is unfortunate. I don’t know how my family is thinking about me now. I don’t know the people of the country looking to this live what are they thinking about me. But I just want to say that we are human beings. We are not perfect. Sometimes when you are misguided and Satan is involved, you may do things that ordinarily you would not have done.