Monday, November 30, 2020

Ex-deputy minister challenges government to change Gambia’s prison system

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By Yankuba Jallow

Ousman Jammeh, an ex-deputy minister of agriculture has told the TRRC that the Gambia Government should ensure that the prison system is changed.

“Pay attention to our prisons, the people in those prisons have suffered decades of decadence. Let us make sure we change it for the better. People’s human rights must be respected. They must have access to good medical care and must have access to food that is fit for human consumption,” he said.

Jammeh appeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission on Tuesday, 25thFebruary in connection to his arrest and detention, his encounter with the rice producers in the CRR and the violations of his rights as a public servant.

Jammeh said some people have been in the Remand Wing of the prisons for a very long period; adding most of the inmates are not accorded speedy trial.

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“We should also look at the type of prison officers we recruit. They should have the required background, maturity and training, they should be among the best of our people,” Jammeh said.

He said the Gambia Government should ensure that the prison officers are exposed to continued human rights training so that they value the human being.

He said appointments in the civil service should be based on competence, good track record, proper background checks and relevant qualification.

The Banjul born testified that his arrest and detention was triggered by his connection to CRR rice problem. He said before 2012, he was transferred to Bakau under the Director-General of the Department of Agriculture because of the problems in CRR but was not given any position. The agriculturist said he was absorbed by FAO to facilitate the distribution of fertilizer and support rice producers and livestock.

He said three to four months after his appointment as the deputy minister of Agriculture, he was arrested and detained by the agents of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).

According to him, in 2011, Rice Farmers Cooperative Society (RFCS) wrote to the Governor of the Central River Region indicating their dissatisfaction with the leaders of the association because they did not disclose the amount generated on the farm implements they rented. Jammeh said the petitioners stated that in their petition that their association’s fund was not accounted for by the executive of RFCS.

The 68-year-old said in a meeting between members of the association and the Chairman of the Janjanbureh Area Council, who deputised the Governor of the region, the Chairman suggested that the meeting should be rescheduled because their leaders were not present. Jammeh said the Chairman also suggested for the matter to be reported to the authorities engaged in agriculture.

He said after they all spoke, the Chairman advised them to solve the problem peacefully and to follow the constitution that governed the cooperative. He said at the end, the matter was resolved amicably and agreements reached. Jammeh said after an election, the old Executive refused to hand over power to the New Executive. Mr. Jammeh testified that the old Executive refused to hand over the farm implements belonging to the association and bank accounts as well. Jammeh said it was the responsibility of the government to account for the transactions of the farmers’ cooperative as per the Act, but no accounting took place for 7 years.

According to him, the problem could not be resolved as expected because politics was involved and those in the opposite side took the matter to court and the matter was decided in their favour. He added the Sheriff Division was instructed by the then Minister of Justice to enforce the judgement.

Prior to that, Mr. Ebrima Jawara was instructed by the Director General of Agriculture to investigate the matter which he did but during the course of the investigations, the old Executive refused to turn up. He said they informed Jawara that they can’t go to Sapu for the meeting because he (Witness) was siding with them.

He said they identified a Visaca office to hold the meeting but it did not happen and consequently he suggested for the meeting to be held at one Alhagie Harouna Mballow’s compound, but he (Jammeh) also refused for the fact that he did not want Politics to spoil his work.

Mr. Jawara eventually wrote a report about his findings but to his surprise, his side of the story was not in the report and this triggered him to respond to the report written by Jawara. He said the only thing which was implemented in Jawara’s report was removing him from Central River Region.

He said while he was there, they sent Lamin Waa Juwara and Lamin A.M.S Jobarteh, former Ministers of Local Government and Justice respectively. However, he said the said Ministers held a meeting at Harouna Mballow’s place, adding there was no prior notice that the Ministers were going to his domain.

He said he answered to the Ministers and explained what he understood about the matter, but Jobarteh told him that he has annulled the elections because the majority of the women were not represented and said they will repeat the elections and committees established.

He said Jobarteh advised them to be united for the fact that the government and relevant partners had invested a lot of money in the rice projects and most of the money was derived from loan.

Jammeh said subsequent to Jawara’s investigations, the said Ministers also conducted their investigation and intimated that a sensitization be held across the villages to enable them participate in the voting process.

Continuing his testimony, Jammeh said one CID Officer Mr. Touray told him that they should go and sensitize the people. He said he delegated someone to go with CID Touray and during the tour, they went up to Fula Bantang and a vehicle hit the CID officer thereby breaking his two legs which made everyone to be scared and the sensitization was put to a halt.

He said the police called him to the Serious Crime Unit because one Ma Marie Baldeh wrote a letter to the Police. Jammeh said Baldeh said she did not write the letter because she was sick and admitted to the hospital. Jammeh alleged that former National Assembly Member, Yerro Mballow impersonated and wrote the letter against him.

Mr. Jammeh told the Commission that his transfer was unfair despite both Ministers and the Director of Agriculture recommended for it. In a High Court judgement in 2012, he said the court recognized the newly elected Executive as leaders of the cooperative.

According to him, a few days later, members of the Executive were arrested and detained by the NIA but he (the witness) told them that they did not do anything wrong and therefore should be released, and eventually Harouna Gassama and co were released from custody.

The witness testified that as he was planning to travel the following day to do the handing over, former Secretary to Cabinet, Nuha Touray called him at around 10 Pm informing him the President said he has cancelled the programme because those that were supposed to assume office were opposed to his government as he ordered for their arrest and detention.

He said he also decided to inform Governor Omar Khan to disseminate the information of the cancellation of the handing over ceremony within the region and this was how that handing over ceremony was cancelled. He added that he was on his way to Basse to attend the celebrations of World Food Program when he was called by the orderly of ex-Vice President Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy to come back because it was urgent. The witness recollected that while on the journey, he was constantly called by the NIA. He said when he came back, he went to Njie Saidy’s residence where he was handed a letter of dismissal as the deputy minister of agriculture. He said VP Njie Saidy informed him that he was supposed to do the handing over on the same day and that he should go to his office to do the handing over to his successor.

He said he left the VP’s office with the intention of going back to his office to do the handing over to the new deputy minister of agriculture, but upon arrival at the Quadrangle, he found two NIA Officers standing there who told him that they were instructed by the NIA Director to arrest him. Mr. Jammeh informed the Commission that he was later taken to the NIA. He said after he did the handing over, he was taken back to NIA but was subsequently transferred to Mile 2 on his second day.

“I spent 1 year 3 months and 7 days in which I was not allowed any visit,” said Jammeh.
He added that he was taken to the Maximum Security Wing of Mile 2. He testified that while in confinement wing number 5, he said he was provided with a mattress together with a mosquito net and a chamber pot.

He said the food they were served with at Mile II was terrible, adding that some of the inmates died as a consequent of the bad food from a sickness called Beri-Beri. He said in his entire detention he was not tortured.

He confirmed that he was released when the new government came to power. However, his efforts to get reinstated proved unsuccessful, adding that he was lucky to have a job with United Purpose. He said he was appointed as the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture by Minister Omar Amadou Jallow (alias OJ Jallow). He said OJ was not pleased with his appointment, as a result, he was demoted to the position of Director of the Department of Agriculture, a position he turned down.

In his concluding remarks, Jammeh called on all Gambians not to be quiet about problems, adding that people should endeavour to resolve them before they become malignant.

Ousman Jammeh was born on the 10th December 1962 in Lancaster Street, Banjul. He graduated from Muslim High School in 1984 and holds a higher diploma in general agriculture from the Gambia College. He also holds Honours Degree in Development Studies and Agriculture and a Master’s Degree in Development and Project Planning.

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