By Yankuba Jallow
Baba Mouctar Leigh renown as Imam Baba Leigh on Wednesday, 22nd January 2020 explained his encounter with the governments of ex-presidents Sir Dawda Kairba Jawara and Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh.
The Serrekunda born appeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) on Wednesday to explain his victimisation by the 22 –years of misrule by the AFPRC and APRC regime.
He said his victimisation began in the era of the First Republic under the Presidency of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara who was suspecting him of having hands in the 1981 abortive coup.
He said his arrests were as a result of his frequent visits to Libya and the government then suspected him.
He said all these trips to Libya were for Islamic missions on the invitation of associations in Libya. He said he was arrested more than 10 times with the allegation that he was in contact with Kukoi Samba Sanyang. He said one time he was arrested at the Dakar airport while he was on transit. He said he was brought to the Gambia via a Land Rover vehicle and taken to a police station where he was subjected to interrogation. He said all his arrests were conducted by the National Security Services (NSS).
He said in all these arrests by the PPP regime, he had never been tortured and he had never spent a night at any police station. He said the arrests came to an end after he met former President Sir Dawda K. Jawara and told him about his missions in Libya.
“I told him all my missions were Islamic and I don’t have any connection whatsoever with the political authorities in Libya. This is when they stopped arresting me. I became free from the arrests by the NSS,” he said.
On Jammeh’s rule, he said all the problems he encountered with the regime were as a result of his sermons which in the view of the former head of state, was opposition to his rule. He said his sermons used to focus on issues of concern to the nation and this was what he preached. He said he used to read newspapers where he used to deduce his sermons.
22nd July 1994 Coup
He said on the 22nd July 1994, he was invited together with some imams to State House and they were introduced to the then Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC).
“They (the Council) told us their intention. Yahya Jammeh told us that what pained him most was the rampant corruption of the PPP government and that was the reason they took over the country. He told us (the Imams) as Imams, we are ‘the torchbearers’ and we should be paid like governors and other government officials,” Leigh said.
“Yahya was speaking in English and I was interpreting in Wollof,” he said.
He said the following day, they (the Imams) returned and after further discussion, they all appreciated the military government. He said on the third day, Yahya Jammeh asked him to join the team to Libya to meet the Libyan authorities.
“I told him I don’t know Libya politically. I told him I cannot go because my father was old and I was the one who was taking care of him. I suggested (late) Baba Jobe to him because he was one of those who were active in Libya’s revolution,” he said.
Imam Leigh said Yahya Jammeh, as a soldier was part of those who used to interrogate him under the PPP regime about his activities in Libya.
Kanilai festival and youth festival in Basse
He said the two festivals happened sometime in 2002. He said the ex-government spent about 7 million dalasis in the Kanilai ‘Futampaf’ and the Youth Festival in Basse. He said in his sermon, he mentioned that the money should have been used for the benefit of the country particularly the youth. He added that he stated in the sermon that the money could have been used to create job opportunities rather than spending it on festivals.
The Imam said he was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) a week later after he granted an interview to the BBC. He said at the NIA headquarters, he was informed that they have all the past records of his sermons and the former President was keenly monitoring him.
He said at the NIA, he was subjected to interrogation in a room before a panel of questioners. He said the current deputy director-general of the Drug Law Enforcement Agency Ebrima Bah/Jallow threatened to deal with him severely if he fails to speak the truth while interrogating him. He said he was bailed in the evening and was going to the NIA for reporting for 60 days. He said sometime later, he was asked to stop reporting.
Imam Leigh was also a founding member of the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP). He said, founded in 1986, it was engaged in the fight against harmful traditional practices in the Gambia. Imam Leigh said he is an activist against harmful traditional practices.
He said himself together with the current Vice President Dr. Isatou Touray, Aji Safiatou Singhateh among others founded Bafrow. He said along the way, they established GAMCOTRAP and this was when they parted with Aji Safiatou Singhateh.
Imam Leigh said, female genital mutilation in the view of some is religious, while others see it as a traditional practice.
“I have researched it and I see nowhere where it is mentioned as a religious activity. I began the fight against it because it causes harm to the female. I always preach against it,” he said.
He said the governments of Sir Dawda K. Jawara and Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia did not appreciate their advocacy.
“They supported us based on economic gains including the WHO projects but because of political reasons and gains, they cannot come out openly to support us,” he said.
He said he also faced serious condemnation from his colleague imams. He said they used to say he was been used by the West to go against Islam and that he will be going to hellfire. He said his colleagues Amie Bojang-Sisoho and Dr. Isatou Touray were charged with theft of 30 thousand euros for alleged embezzlement of GAMCOTRAP funds. He said these and others were what he and his colleagues faced in their activism against harmful traditional practices.
Encounters with the APRC regime
He said he used to host a talk show on West Coast Radio. He said this programme focused on enlightening people particularly the youth on their obligation in regards to religion and their duties to the country. He said Peter Gomez, the proprietor of the radio asked him to stop the programme because the regime was targeting his radio.
He said while he was preaching on the national television, former President Jammeh ordered for its stoppage and that was the last time he appeared in that programme. He said the programme was called The Ideal Woman.
He said he was the one who used to do the ‘Gamo’ for three consecutive years at Brusubi and the crowd was growing.
“Yahya Jammeh wasn’t pleased and he personally came to Brusubi and asked them to stop inviting me to their ‘Gamo’,” he said.
He said former President Jammeh gave 2 million dalasis and some bulls to the people of Brusubi for them to stop inviting him at their annual ‘Gamo’ and he promised to build a mosque for them which he never did. He said since that year up to now he has not been invited to the ‘Gamo’.
He said former President Jammeh went to the people of Gunjur and stopped him from doing the annual Sheikh Omar Futiw Taal ‘Gamo’ in the community.
“I was sanctioned not to pass Sukuta,” he said.
He said he was warned not to go beyond Sukuta by the former regime. He said the current President of the Supreme Islamic Council Momodou Lamin Touray delivered sermons in Gunjur urging the community not to allow the ‘Gamo’ to be held there. He said the President’s Office issued a press release banning the annual ‘Gamo’ in Gunjur.
“Yahya Jammeh hated me and he did everything to stop me. My colleague scholars were used to condemn me. They were used against me,” he said.
He added that at the time he was banned from going to Gunjur, the ‘Gamo’ was gaining momentum and people were coming all the way from Nigeria to attend it.
He said his programme on GRTS called Talk on Ramadan sponsored by GAMCEL was stopped. He said he was informed that he needed a permit from the Supreme Islamic Council to do the programme. He added that the clearance for the permit was to come from the State House. He said he was informed that he was banned from appearing on the national television (GRTS).
Execution of Mile II Inmates
Leigh said former President Jammeh called the Supreme Islamic Council and informed them that he was going to execute some of the inmates in Mile II.
“Yahya Jammeh swore to kill them and he doesn’t want anyone to plead with him,” he said.
The Imam said he went to the Imam of Banjul and told him about the intention of the former President and that they should do something about it.
“Imam Ratib told me he can’t do anything and he doesn’t want to be associated with it,” he said.
He said he went to Imam Abdoulie Fatty of the State House to discuss the issue.
“Imam Fatty told me they are going to handle the situation,” he said.
He said a few days later, it was announced that 9 inmates were executed by the government.
“I felt bad. I felt that the killing was unwarranted and I needed to do something about that,” he said.
“I publicly beseeched ex-President Jammeh not to execute the inmates. I told them killing them has no use to the society since they are already behind bars,” he said.
He said after the execution, people were going to the former President in the form of delegations
“The Supreme Islamic Council issued a press release and said it is not the President who killed them – it was the ‘Shari’ah’ which killed them because they were handed a death sentence,” he said.
He said he confronted Momodou Lamin Touray, the current President of the Council about their press release, telling him it was wrong and has no basis.
“He (Touray) told me they had no option. They have to do that,” he said.
He said the Islamic Council was wrong because these people were not tried according to the ‘Shari’ah’. He said the Council’s endorsement of the execution was motivated to lie in favour of the regime. He explained that criminal trial under ‘Shari’ah’ has procedures that must be followed and the adjudicators must apply Islamic law and not otherwise.
The Imam said he also issued his press release which was opposed to the execution.
“I said the execution was not Islamic and it was wrong. I preached it in my Friday sermon,” he said.
The Imam said in ‘life for a life’ was a law by Prophet Moses but when Islam came, the law was endorsed but added more options.
“A life for a life is the last option in Islamic law. I demanded the dead bodies be given to the families for their burial,” he said.
He said he went against the Council’s press release because they were erroneously relying on the religion to justify a wrongful act by the former President.
He said he was picked at home by two men who identified themselves as Sanna Saidykhan and Haruna Suso and taken to the NIA headquarters in Banjul.
He said he was tortured by the ‘Junglers’ at night. He said the torturers were smelling alcohol and they told him their loyalty to the ex-President was supreme to their obligation to God.
“They said ‘Oga’ before God. They were kicking me. They were putting off their cigarettes on me while I was naked. They beat me severely on every part of my body. I fainted and they poured cold water on me and when I regained consciousness they began torturing me,” he said.
He said after the torture session, he was bleeding particularly on his back and his whole body was paining him. He said he was subjected to interrogation.
“They were asking me why I hated Yahya Jammeh. They said I made myself as the most learned Imam in the country,” he said.
He said after the interrogation he was tortured again.
“This was repeated thrice in my first night,” he said.
He said after the ‘Junglers’ left, the caretaker at the NIA helped to dress him and he was put in a cell. He said the following day, the ‘Junglers’ came back and did as they did the first night.
“They used to torture me until I faint then they will leave me and go to drink alcohol. When I regained my senses, they used to come back and continue with the torture. They sometimes do two or three torture sessions in one night,” he said.
He said they used to ask him his relationship with the American Embassy with the allegation he was sponsored by the Americans. He said they questioned him as to how he acquired his 3 private vehicles.
He said on the third day, he was released and rearrested by the NIA.
He said on the 6th night, after the torture sessions, the ‘junglers’ asked him to implicate several people including OJ Jallow and the American Embassy that they were the ones behind what he was doing. He said when he refused to implicate them, he was tortured.
“There was no night that I was never tortured by the ‘junglers’,” he said.
He said on the 9th night, he was moved and taken to a place dubbed “bulldozer” because he refused to talk. He said he was interrogated.
“I was buried up to my chest. The torturers were masked. I spent about an hour or half an hour. They said I must speak or else I will die there,” he said.
“I decided that I will not speak because I did nothing. I was removed and taken to a cell. They told me that place was ‘Bambadinka’,” he said.
“I used to lie on a floor made up of gravel. Nothing was placed on the floor for me. The food I was served was bad,” he said.
He said he spent 5 months, 17 days and 5 hours at ‘Bambadinka’.