By Momodou Jarju
Built on the outskirts of Banjul along the highway linking Serrekunda and the capital, Mile II was the epicenter of gruesome mistreatment of inmates, many of which went unrecorded.
The degrading and disparaging treatment of inmates which was shrouded in secrecy for decades was condemned by former Interior Minister Mr Mai Fatty when he visited Mile Two Prison in 2017 and many thought promises by the Barrow Administration that it was going to usher in prison reform, was not going to vanish in thin air. The establishment of a Prisons’ Reform Committee was viewed in some quarters as a move towards not only changing the status quo in the prisons, but as part of efforts aimed at transforming the country’s prisons into rehabilitation centers. However, testimonies of witnesses before the Truth Commission has left people questioning whether the Prisons’ Reform Committee and the authorities have done any meaningful work to improve the conditions in the prisons and whether the promise to reform the prison system has not eluded those who took over power from the Jammeh Administration.
The current administration rode to power on the promise that it was going to uphold human rights and reform the prisons system in The Gambia.
Officially known as the State Central Prison, the establishment has been dubbed a Five Star Hotel by former Gambia’s longtime ruler, Yahya Jammmeh, who went into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017.
Former President Jammeh was dethroned in December 2016 by Mankamangkunda born Adama Barrow during a Presidential run off. Adama Barrow, the standard bearer of a coalition of seven political parties and an independent candidate, outclassed Jammeh three months after he showed interest in taking over from the incumbent.
The untold stories of The Gambia’s ugly past were broadcast over television and radio from the headquarters of the Truth Commission (TRRC) in Bijilo, and for over two decades, The Gambia, home to over two million people today, looked perfect and progressive on the surface to thousands of people.
But the Truth Commission’s revelation of shocking confessions of Junglers (a hit-squad squad) and the perturbing testimonies of victims is changing the narrative.
But what is noteworthy is that the traumatic testimonies are unsettling.
The Gambia’s prison system was rotten to the core, said Essa Faal, Lead Counsel of the Truth Commission last week, as he and his-led counsels embarked on a three-week encounter with the country’s prison’s authorities last month.
Inmates and officials overseeing the prison system appeared and testified before the Truth Commission and their testimonies tainted a grim picture of Mile II as a home where inmates suffered a plethora of rights violations.
People who spent time in the prison cell described it as the worst place in the globe.
Malang Tamba is a Prison Warden and Chief Officer, who was responsible for inmates and junior officers. He was one of the prison wardens adversely mentioned by witnesses before the Truth Commission to have tortured inmates.
During his testimony, Tamba admitted to torturing three, namely, Soriba Condeh, Lamin Jah and Fallou Ceesay (a tailor). The prison warden also admitted to being oblivious of a document that outlines their mode of operation.
“All the prisons in The Gambia are better than Mile II as it is not fit for human beings to live,” Chief Officer Tamba told the Truth Commission.
Sadly, Chief Officer Tamba said: “There is nobody who knows the Prison Act. Therefore, there is nobody to teach the Act to the prison wardens.”
Onetime head of the prison service, David Charles Colley, claimed he is an expert of prison law. It took few hours before his assertion proved the contrary when he said executive order is above the law, while responding to questions raised by TRRC lead counsel, Essa Faal.
Abdou Anabil Jammeh, a prison officer at Mile II, said he witnessed eight detainees being tortured behind David Colley’s office- an allegation Colley vehemently denied.
Born in April 10th 1974, Anabil Jammeh said the eight were tortured by Ebrima Jammeh alias “Chief Torturer”, Adama Badjie, Lamin Jabang, Lamin Fadera and Sanna Kujabie and other recruits.
He alleged the deputy director general of the prison service one Yahya P. Jarju, witnessed the torture.
Anabil Jammeh said by the time the eight were being tortured, David Colley was standing at his window watching the inmates being beaten. But Colley denied this as well. But Jammeh said he was sitting at David Colley’s office while the beating was taking place.
The tortured inmates were accused of using a mobile phone in Mile Two Prison, while Anabil Jammeh was accused of smuggling the said mobile phone into the prison.
Lamin Jah, Deric Bright, Omar Jallow, Stanly- a Nigerian, Modou Sonko, Makodou, and Soriba Condeh were among the inmates beaten.
Anabil Jammeh was detained for nine (9) months before he was released and told he had done nothing wrong, contrary to the accusation that he smuggled a mobile phone which he said he did not do.
Mile II which was supposed to be a rehabilitation center for people by making them better persons, was turned into a center for punishing people, said Ali Ceesay, Former Prison Commissioner.
Ali Ceesay, who used to work at the kitchen, testified that some of the inmates were denied access to medical care.
In The Dark
Handcuffed For Three Months
Ebrima B. Njie, a prison warden was detained in a dark cell for three months and three days in handcuffs at the NIA.
His crime was allegedly letting a prisoner escape from custody, an allegation he denied.
The prisoner in question was the manager of Taranga FM, Ismailia Ceesay. Njie said he would later be transferred to Mile II where he spent nine (9) months in detention.
Njie testified at the TRRC that Ceesay was ill while in custody and he was taken to the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital for treatment.
He and one junior prison warden, Edrisa Manga, were assigned to guard Ceesay, who was the first prison he guarded. Both of them were junior officers, something he said was unusual.
Njie said he and Edrisa Manga, also a junior prison warden, were charged for aiding Ismailia Ceesay to escape under lawful custody, but they were later acquitted and discharged.
He said while he was in detention, he was told that Chief Kalilou Sanneh was bribed to help Ceesay escape from custody.
According to him, he shared a cell with a mentally unstable inmate which made his detention difficult.
Njie described Mile II prison condition as terrible and for him, the food served at Mile II prison is not fit for purpose.
“It should not be given to dogs much more human beings,” Njie said.
Sleeping In Toilets
In Mile II, more than 20 prisoners used to occupy a small cell. Lamin Jah, a Mile II inmate told the Truth Commission last month that due to overcrowding at the prison, some inmates sleep in the toilets.
Jah, who have been convicted for life imprisonment, said some inmates don’t even have places to sleep. He is in his eleventh year in Prison having been convicted and sentence for theft and rape.
“I spent two years at the Security Wing before I was convicted and sentenced by the court,” Jah said.
“Inmates Fed a Dead Bull”
Perhaps one of the most unthought-of scenes that took place at the Mile II prison was the dead bull scandal which took place in 2006.
David Colley, then the director of prison service, was pointed at by many witnesses- inmates, that he brought in a dead bull into the Mille II prison to be cooked and served to prisoners, but Colley denied the accusation leveled against him.
According to the report TRRC discovered on this case, three of those who ate the cooked carrion died. They included Malang Kanyi and Modou Sanyang who died on 13 January, 2016 and Baba Galleh Jallow who died on 18 January, 2006.
The grim picture presented by witness’ testimonies of the state of Mile II prison during the 22 years reign of former Gambian President Jammeh wa numerous. And on Monday, sitting continues with David Colley expected to continue his testimony.