By Yankuba Jallow
Alhaiba Hydara, the Imam of Banjul International Airport has on Monday, 27th January 2020 narrated his encounter with the regime of Yahya Jammeh.
The 50-year-old said he is learned in both English and Islamic Studies. He said in 2002, he was appointed by the Gambia International Airline as the deputy chief guide for pilgrims to Mecca.
Imam Hydara appeared at the TRRC in connection with his illegal detention at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Police Headquarters, Police Intervention Unit (PIU) headquarters and Janjangbureh Prisons. He revealed that he was a member of the Supreme Islamic Council under the leadership of Alagie Banding Drammeh.
On his first interaction with ex-President Yahya Jammeh, Imam Hydara recalled that in 1994 Jammeh said he wanted to do a prayer (Laitul Qadari) at State House and late Imam Sedia Ceesay, former Deputy Imam at State House, called him and informed him that he was identified to be the first preacher because of the way and manner people appreciated his preaching.
He said the reason he was identified out of a lot was because he is fluent in local languages, English and Arabic respectively and also don’t intimidate people while preaching.
He said before Jammeh became the President, he used to go to Kanilai and hold ‘Gamo’ there. He added: “I used to do the night of destiny with Yahya Jammeh’s mother Asombi Bojang in Bakau.”
He said in July 2005, he was the Imam of the mosque at the Airport as well as the Hajj guide for the GIA. He said at this time, he was also a teacher at an Islamic institute in Brikama. He said in that year, he was also appointed as a Hajj guide and he acquired his Visa to go to Mecca for pilgrimage.
He said he delayed his flight so that he could go with his father.
“I was supposed to go with the first flight, but I pleaded with GIA to allow me to go with the second flight – they granted my plea. This was because I wanted to go with my father because I wanted to help him,” he said.
He said the first flight left on Sunday and he was supposed to go on Monday. He told the Commission that on Monday morning, he went to the naming ceremony of one CID Pateh Bah and the naming ceremony was held at residence of Samba Bah, the then Minister of Interior. He said while at the naming ceremony, he was called by Bakary Kassama, the Officer Commanding the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) office at the Airport informing him that he was needed.
“OC Bakary Kassama told me not to tell anyone at the naming ceremony about my arrest. He came for me and we left for Banjul. He told me they sent him to come and pick me up. When he arrested me, he asked me to put off my mobile phone,” he said.
He said he was picked by Kassama and taken to the NIA headquarters via the back gate.
“I was picked from the naming ceremony and no one knew what was going on,” he said.
He said he led the noon prayers at the NIA and after the prayers, he boarded a white vehicle with tinted glass and was taken to the police headquarters. He said he was taken to the head of CID Jatta Baldeh’s office.
“Jatta asked me whether I have said something about the government. I responded in the negative. He (Jatta Baldeh) asked me what I said in my sermons in the last Friday. I told him I discussed about the Hajj. He (Baldeh) asked whether I don’t discuss politics. I told him I don’t discuss politics and I don’t engage in politics,” he said.
The Imam said he requested Baldeh to come up with evidence of any of the allegations against him.
“He did not show me any proof,” he said.
He said Baldeh received a call and he was saying “yes sir, boss”.
“After the telephone conversation, Jatta Baldeh asked me to move to the Serious Crime Unit and I sat there for the rest of the day,” he said.
He said his telephone was seized from him and he was not allowed to communicate to anyone.
“They did not give me food and water,” he said.
He said after the sunset prayer, an ash coloured vehicle was brought and he was asked to board on.
“I was taken to the PIU headquarters and I was detained there,” he said.
He said at the PIU, their boss Brian Mbye ordered for his release and provided him with food – meat and milk. He added that Mbye provided him with air conditioner. He added that Mbye informed him that he can use his phone and make contacts. He said this was the time he was able to talk to people including his father. He said his father was worried and he wanted to cancel his trip to Mecca.
“I told him I was in the hands of the police. He wanted to cancel his trip to Mecca, but I encouraged him to go. I told him that I will join him in Mecca even though I already knew that my trip has been cancelled,” he said.
He said he was moved from the PIU headquarters and taken back to the police headquarters. He said the police on duty was one Mamadou Nyang who refused to put him in the cell.
“The officer who took me told Nyang that it was an order but Nyang told them the order was ‘bullshit’. Nyang refused the order to put me in the cell,” the Imam said.
He said: “I then asked for the keys to the cell and I was given. I took the keys and opened the door to the cells but those I found there said I won’t enter. Anytime I attempted to get in the cell, the inmates there pushed me out and said people of my calibre won’t be allowed to enter there, but eventually, I was able to convince them and they allowed me to enter,” he said.
He said he prayed the ‘tobaski’ prayers in the cell. He said the inmates he found in the cell were very kind to him.
“They fanned me till daybreak with their shirts. They said they won’t allow any mosquito to bite me,” he said.
He said the cell lacked ventilation and he was not given water. He said the following morning; he was taken to one Jawara Touray at the police headquarters who asked him what his Friday sermon was about.
“I told him if you want to know about the Friday sermon, you have to go to the mosque because all the sermons were recorded and labelled,” he said.
He said it was the same day when he was moved to the Janjanbureh prisons where he served the remainder of his detention.
“They don’t want people to know where I was kept,” he said.
He said the high court made orders for his release on the 31st January 2005 after spending about 23 days in detention without court appearance. He said his release came through his Counsel who made an application for certiorari at the high court.
He said he was asked to pay D30,000 by the police to secure his dignity.
“I paid the money, but I was not issued with a receipt. After making the payment I earned my peace in the hands of the regime,” he said.
He said while he was in detention, his family was removed from the residence he was occupying at the Airport by the then DG of GIA.