Gambia: Former Junta Vice Chairman Appears Before Truth Commission

By Ousman A. Marong

Edward David Singhatey, former Vice Chairman of the defunct Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) has on Wednesday appeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) to commence his testimony.

Signatehy who was subpoenaed by the TRRC was adversely mentioned in gros human right violation.

Signatehy, 51, is the third junta member to appear before the TRRC  after Yankuba Touray appeared briefly and refused to testify on pretext of constitutional immunity.  

“The officer company in the Gambia Army was fragmented. Tribalism was the order the day in The Gambia. There were clashes of culture culminated with the operational orders being compromised. We were eating rotten foods,” he explained.

Lead Counsel Essa M. Fall quizzed: “Were these contributing factors to overthrown the then government?”

“Allow me to learn sir, because I am the one on the hot seat,” said the witness.

“Well it is not yet hot Mr. Signatehy we still have much to talk about,” responded Lead Counsel Faal.

According to him, the problems in the army in 1994 were the lack of proper toilet facilities, adding that bad food had been served to soldiers.

He revealed that at some instances soldiers had to leave the barrack and get to the beaches to defecate.

He stated there was discontentment within the officer company in the Gambian army in 1994.

“There was lots of discontentment within the army. Command and control was in a mess in the Gambia army. The Nigerian Army were nice people, but were not executing the functions in their duties,” he stated.

The Coup Plan
He told the Commission that Sanna B. Sabally, Aphpa Kinteh, Alhagie Kinteh, Basiru Barrow and himself planned the coup to overthrow the democratically elected government of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara.

He explained that they gathered under a nem tree and discussed amongst ourselves and when the plan was leaked they were reported which led to the withdrawal of Basiru Barrow.

“This is the time I decided to get former President Yahya Jammeh onboard. I consulted Basiru Barrow about the matter and his respond was that Jammeh is arrogant. We later brought in Sadibou Hydara, but did not give him the full picture to as what was going on. We later informed him that the plan was leaked and that if we are caught we would be charge with treason,” said Singhatey.

He said it was only him together with Yahaya Jammeh, Sanna B. Sabally and Sadibou Hydara who could withstand the 1994 coup. 

“Our initial plan was to take over State House. Yahaya Jammhe together with Sanna B. Sabally both planned that former president Jawara should be arrested at the airport upon his arrival. I told them that wasn’t a good idea, because there might be exchange of fire at the end and there might be civilian casualties. I drew the plan for them and it was fully documented. The plan was leaked and I burnt the written documents,” remarked.

He said upon arrival at the airport the coup plot failed where former President Yahya Jammeh was disarmed.

He asded that rhere were aware of the presences of the US submarine vessel to be to harbour on the shores of the country.

“The coup was launched by Captain Sanna B. Sallay. He phoned former President Jammeh to inform him that he (Sanna B. Sabbaly) l had broken into the old armory at Yundum Barracks. Sanna informed Jammeh that he should come with me (Edward) that the coup was ripe and was on,” he said.            

He further revealed that several senior officers were arrested in the aftermath of the July 22, 1994 coup d’etat.

He confirmed arresting Sheriff Gomez whom he recalled for allegedly intimidating him with gun shots above his head through the ceiling.

“After the coup Sanna B. Sabally together with his men drove to Fajara Barracks. I later asked former President Yahya Jammeh to board the vehicle for us to drive to State House, but Jammeh must have been in fear to get into State House. I told him no Sir!  You have to get onboard, I held his arm and get him into the waiting vehicle and we moved towards State House,” said Singhatey.

He stated that upon arrival at Denton Bridge they met some tactical support group forces who mounted a checkpoint at the bridge.

He said upon their arrival at State House he asked the State Guards to open the gates failing to do so would lead him to blow the doors with his RPG riffle.

He recalled Bakary Camara asking him to wait that the keys were with Lang Tombang Tamba.

He said Bakary opened the gate and he (Edward Singhatey) asked the State Guards to lay down their weapons and they did just that.

Aftermath of July 22
He said after the successful installation of the junta they (junta members) have invited some senior officers and asked for their cooperation.

He said after the took over they physically restrained Sanna B. Sabally, because upon his arrival at State House he wws disturbed and furious.

He alleged that Sanna was threatening security detainees with gun shot.

He added that Sanna said he receives information that the security detainees were planning to launch a counter coup.

He further revealed that there was no proper structure for the junta as to who should becomes the leader.

“There was a lot of tussle amongst us as to who should become the head of state,” he asserted.

He said it was Sheriff Gomez who told them in wollof ‘Yena def sen coup bi demlen ngen wakh-tan’, meaning you did your coup already so is good that you go and discuss amongst yourselves.

“We discussed and I personally chose Yahya Jammeh as the head of state,” he adduced.

The witness denied ever having knowledge of the junta arresting security personnel.

He said Sanna B. Sabally was going round arresting different security personnel without notifying junta members.

Political Prisoners
The witness further alleged that Sanna B. Sabally together with his entourage were intimidating and torturing the political prisoners.

“I personally met Sanna at the remand wing at the mile ll central prison mock executing the political prisoners. Upon my arrival he offered me with a seat where I have witness with my eyes him torturing the civilians including Omar Amadou Jallaow alias O.J Jallow. After witnessing the whole show I left the scene, headed straight to State House and explained the matter to Chairman Jammeh and he laugh,” said Mr. Singhatey.

Asked about his involvement in torturing security detainees, particular Captain Mamat O. Cham and former Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) Ebrima Chongan.

Singhatey denied been involved in the beating of the duo, but recalled a soldier hitting Mamat O. Cham with AK-47 riffle but in his face.

He described Mamat O. Cham’s remarks about him as preconceived.

“What do you have to tell those officers you have brutalized?”  Lead Counsel asked.

“You see Counsel, you should not overflock on this issue I am the one on the hot seat so allow me to learn,” responded the witness.

“Well, it is not yet hot Mr. Singhatey. You are a trained lawyers and that’s what lawyers do,” replied Lead Counsel.

November 11, 1994
The witness informed the Commission that the junta was hinted about a staged coup planned by some soldiers.

 He said after the rumor was breaking they (Council members) excluding Yahya Jammeh went to Yundum Barracks on November 10, 1994 to persuade the coup plotters to drop the plan.

He said after the council meeting they drove back to State House and later received a call from former Vice Chairman, Sanna B. Sabally who  requested that they be dressed up and join him at Yundum Barrack that there was a coup in the making in which the ring leaders planned to arrest them all (council members) and execute them one after the order.

He disclosed that they set themselves into three groups in which one of the groups was to be at Yundum Barracks led by Ebrima Bah.

The other one to be at Fajara Barracks  headed by Sanna B. Sabally, while Sadibou Hydara and him (Singhatey) lead at the State House.

He said they left Fajara Barracks to quash out coup plotters with the motto “take no prisoners” which according to him means (to kill them) let no one of them survive.

He further explained that upon arrival at Fajara Barracks he entered through the back gate where he found the guard putting all his focus on the camp forgetting his danger zone.

“As I laid down my trap I saw one officer coming towards me in the dark and I grabbed him and held his mouth and assured him of his life. I can understand the panic and frustration in this soldier. I understand he was not part of the plan coup because he was not armed and doesn’t know what was going on. I later freed him and asked him to leave as quickly as he can,” said Singhatey.

He said as the soldier was leaving he heard exchange of gunshots from Sanna B. Sabally’s end.

“The exchange of gunshots didn’t last that long and we took over the camp.”

Sitting continues.

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