By Nelson Manneh
Yankuba J.N Sonko, the current Minister of Interior, has on Tuesday 9th March 2021 appeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission.
Sonko was not adversely mention by witnesses who appeared before the TRRC and there was no suggestion that he committed any crime. But according to Lead Counsel, Essa Faal, Sonko was called to the Commission because he was mentioned as a witness to certain events and his evidence will help the commission.
Born in Bunayadou in Lower Numi on 2nd May 1964, Sonko joined the Gambia Police Force in November 1982 and completed his recruitment training in March 1983. He said in those days, if officers were dismissed from the services, they were arrested. He said that was unlawful, but they did not have any choice other than to stay in the system.
“I am not denying that many public servants were doing illegal things during the previous regime in order to maintain their position but for me, I did a lot that was against Yahya Jammeh’s wish,” he said.
The witness said there were some officers who were dismissed by Yahya Jammeh, but when he was appointed as the Inspector General of Police (IGP), he called for an assessment and checked for those who were unlawfully dismissed, called them and reinstated them in to the system without consulting Yahya Jammeh. He said he reinstated one Fadera, Babucarr Bah, kebab Njie and other eleven officers without consulting Jammeh. Sonko said in 2015, he was dismissed because he reinstated some officers without Jammeh’s knowledge.
He recalled one day when General Badjie called him and told him to go to State House. He went, but he could not meet Badjie there. He was instead directed to one Tumbul Tamba, who gave him a letter of his reappointed.
Sonko said before he reinstated anyone, he would go through the individual’s file to see why the person was dismissed and if the person was unlawfully dismissed, he would bring the individual back to the system. The longest-serving IGP during Jammeh’s government said because he was doing the right thing, he was never afraid of power or authority. He said he respected leaders and as such he did not want to be disrespected.
Sonko said there was a time Jammeh told him to provide him with a list of police officers who were working at the Tourist Industrial Area which he did. He said there were about one hundred and twenty-four officers and Jammeh dismissed them. He said he went to Jammeh and pleaded for their reinstatement and one hundred and twenty-one were reinstated.
“I don’t dispute that there were some human rights violations in the police during my time, but I established a human rights unit in the police. This was to remedy such. Long time detention was happening under my watch which was a human right violation, but it was not directly under me because somebody was responsible for that,” he said.
Minister Sonko said he detained people in places where they would be more comfortable and the reason for him doing that was not because of any form of discrimination, but to give them comfort.
On the issue of the West African Migrants
On the issue of the West African migrants, Mr Sonko who was the Crime Management Coordinator in late 2008, said in November 2008, when the AU delegates came to The Gambia to investigate the killings of the West African migrants, he was instructed to join the task force to provide documents to them which he did.
He said whilst he was in the UK before he returned to The Gambia in 2007, he was aware that eight migrants were killed in The Gambia. He said he later knew that they were about fifty-six migrants killed in The Gambia.
“I was also aware that the former government was in denial of the killing of the migrants” he said.
The witness said on 22nd March 2017, he ordered for the arrest of some Junglers and detained them at the CMC. He said he went to the CMC to see what was happening there because he suspected that some of those Junglers may leave the country.
Sonko said he knew the existence of Junglers in The Gambia when one Nyabally visited him in his office. He said when Nyabally left his office; his orderly told him that Nyabally was one of the Junglers.
The witness said when he came from the UK, he learned that one of his PIU officers was transferred to the State House and he was told that the officer was among the “Black Black”- the uniform of the Junglers.
He said the Black Black had a lot of encounters with his officers, but anytime he lodged a complaint to the CDS, he would be told that they were from the State House. He added the CDS would say they were not under his command. He said sometimes the Black Black would open fire at checkpoints.
The former IGP said at that time, there were institutions that were above the law because some police offices were arrested and detained which was wrong.
“It is wrong for police officers to lodge complain at the NIA and the NIA to investigate those complaints,” he said.
He said according to the evidence that was revealed before the Commission, it indicated that the government was making some cover-up in regards to the killings of the West African migrants.
Sonko said at the time, there was no investigation on the killing of the West African migrants. He said he was asked to provide some documents, like the Barra Police Station diary and other documents to AU investigators.
He said when he requested for the Barra Police Station diary, he was directed to different officers. He opined that initially, the offices were not ready to take responsibilities, saying he didn’t only request for the diary, but the investigation report too.
He said when he requested for it, one Bah told him that the diary was with the Minister of Interior. He said he then went to the IGP of Police at the time, Ensa Badjie and they called the Minister, Ousman Sonko who directed them to one Numo Kujabie and Numo extracted some information from the diary and gave it to them.
“The document we got from Numo has something to do with Barra, but it has not indicated the arrest and detention of the West African migrants. All the international investigators needed were given to them except the Barra Diary,” he said.