By Yankuba Jallow
Foday Momodou Hydara, former Deputy Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Thursday, 4th February 2021 denied Pierre Mendy’s allegation that he was the one who instructed Yahya Jammeh’s henchmen to torture him in the wake of the 2006 abortive coup plot.
He told the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that their agency departed from its core mandate.
The Bansang born said the NIA was supposed to focus on national security matters but things were added which had no bearing to national security matters.
“In my opinion, you build the NIA and you add additives that would defeat the general purpose of intelligence work,” Hydara said.
He said the Investigation Unit was created by the past regime but to him it could have been given the name Research Department.
“When we have an investigation unit, I think that is policing. It would defeat the discrete nature of intelligence service,” he said.
Hydara said the NIA operatives were supposed to be discrete, but during the two regimes (APRC & AFPRC- both under investigation) they had frequent contacts with people. Thus, the public came to know the operatives since they were having frequent contacts with people, including arresting them.
He said during his time as the deputy director general, he used to struggle to get operatives to do a discrete operation for him because the public know majority of the operatives.
Hydara said the second reason was that the NIA was created by Decree 45 which was vested with so much power, saying absolute power corrupts. To him, the NIA was not functioning like an intelligence agency.
“The Agency was no longer focused on their core duty. The distractions were huge,” Hydara said.
“Who was responsible for the distraction of the NIA” Lawyer Faal asked.
“Of course, it was the President. The NIA was seen all these while as the President’s own,” Hydara replied.
“Was there a link between the NIA with the Green Boys or Youth?” Faal asked.
“Normally, there should be no link but the only link I could remember was some of the Green Boys and Youth were conscripted into the NIA. This was so terrible. They will do the wishes of the President without having a second thought,” Hydara said.
“They became thugs for the ruling party,” Faal said.
“Yes, Counsel. That shouldn’t be a surprise. They were brought in by the ruling party and they thought their survival was dependent on the ruling party,” Hydara said.
Hydara added: “The NIA was created to be bad. It is indefensible. The NIA was like the ‘Junglers Office’. The system was illegal. It was an illegal environment.”
Hydara said the 22 years rule was terrible because the rule of law was not observed. He said the illegal operations that the NIA did cannot be called legal in the sight of the law, citing instances where NIA operatives entered people’s residences without warrant and conducted search even though the laws provided for a warrant first before embarking on such activities. He said whether legal or not, intelligence operations have to be discrete.
“This is supposed to be discrete. Intelligence operations deal with the grey area of the law,” he said.
Hydara said the NIA do not pay attention to legality or illegality.
“90% of their operations had no bearing to national security,” he said.
On the tapping of phone calls, Hydara said it was not supposed to happen unless a politician was highly suspected of being involved in activities outside the political will of the country.
“Of course, we were tapping their calls,” he said.
He said the NIA officers were interested in knowing what the political parties were doing with a view to put the incumbent at an advantage position.
“The NIA from the past was used and it has been used for the personal interest of the President,” Hydara said.
The witness agreed with Counsel Faal’s statement that it was not supposed to happen since they were paid from the tax payers’ money
The Units at the NIA
Hydara said the units created by the first republic were maintained and a few new units were created including the Investigation Department. He added that the Special Operations was later added in the agency and there was a political and dissident unit which has been in existence since the first republic.
“The unit (political and dissident) is to monitor the activities of the registered political parties with the simple reason that people do not hide under the pretext that they are political parties while they have other motives. It is a unit that people don’t like a lot. It is where people do a lot of transcribing,” he said.
Hydara said the members of that unit would cover political rallies and meetings, record the statements made and come to the NIA and transcribe everything. He said the transcribed information would be forwarded to the Analyses Unit who would deduce the information and determine whether the messages were subversive. He said along the way, the objective of the unit became misconstrued.
“The unit is more focused on politicians and spying on politicians and political parties,” he said.
The security officer said the whole objective was to serve the government of the day.
“It was created to serve the President – to give him unfair advantage in elections,” Lead Counsel Essa Faal said.
“Yes,” Hydara said.
“That is unlawful,” Faal said.
“Very unlawful,” Hydara said.
2006 – March Foiled Coup
Hydara said in March 2006, there was a coup in the making and the NIA came to know about the plot. He said at this time, the late Daba Marenah was the Director General of the NIA.
He said the panel of investigators was constituted upon the request of the former President. He added that there ware masked men and black-black officers otherwise known as the Junglers.
“It was very intimidating,” Hydara said.
He explained that service chiefs came in the evening, including the IGP. Hydara said Lang Tombong was the most superior officer and all the panelists were looking up to him for guidance and direction.
“By virtue of his position and status, he [Lang] was the leader of the panel,” Hydara said.
Hydara said the first day the panel was constituted, the NIA DG Marena was nowhere to be seen and the following day, Marena was relieved from his position. He said on the following day, the panelist including himself, agreed among themselves that the suspects must not be intimidated in any way or manner but they should be left to explain freely.
“Our nightmare started when things started to evolve to the worst,” he said.
Hydara said the manner in which the confessions of the suspects were obtained plus the environment was very intimidating.
He said the process was disappointing and regrettable, adding that the first few days of the panel. “They cooperated and told us what they knew about it, he said.
“After they cooperated, one would expect that they would be given VIP treatment. After they cooperated, the ‘Junglers’ were brutalizing these people after obtaining confessions from them,” he said.
“In my opinion, they (the Junglers) got their orders from their Commander in-Chief and this was why they were putting the suspects in pain. He enjoys seeing people in pain,” Hydara said.
Hydara denied Pierre Mendy’s allegation that he was the one who instructed the ‘Junglers’ to torture him, saying Mendy was not cooperative to the panel during the interrogation.
He said there were many other people who were accused and they later released them in relation to the 2006 coup attempt. He said Mendy was not the only one who failed to cooperate with them.
“I worked in an institution that is so treacherous. I was not doing what I was doing to satisfy Jammeh,” he said.
Hydara said Daba Marena and the suspects accused of the coup were arrested. He said ex-President Jammeh gave instruction for Daba Marena to be executed.
“Daba was executed,” the witness said.
He said the former President refused the panel’s recommendations and made orders for the prosecution of all the suspects.
About the witness
Hydara was born on the 27th July 1967 in Bansang, Central River Region. He graduated from Muslim High School in 1990 with O’Level and briefly taught as an unqualified teacher.
Hydara also spent a year at the school of nursing, but opted out because it was not what he desired. He wanted to become a medical doctor but his dream became shattered after he was not awarded scholarship to study pharmacology in Ghana by the Gambia Government.
So Hydara joined the National Security Services in 1992 and was recruited into the services. He did his basic training and was sent to further his studies in Nigeria. In 1998, he did training with the French Intelligence Services where he did intelligence gathering and disseminating. In 2000, he did a senior intelligence management course in Abuja. He holds a Diploma in law in 2008.
In 1992, he was a training detective attached at the Economic Sabotage Unit. In August 1994, he served as a liaison officer and was deployed at Fatoto. In 1996, he was a Chief Detective, and in 1998 he was the officer commanding Upper River.
Hydara was recalled to the headquarters in 2000. He also served in the Foreign Service at the Gambia Embassy in Rabat, Morocco. He was recalled in 2005 and made the deputy director of NIA. And he was dismissed in 2007, reabsorbed in 2008 and dismissed again in 2009 from the service.