By Momodou Jarju
The Former President of the Gambia Students Union (GAMSU), Alagie Nyabally, on Tuesday told the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that a press release issued by the Ministry of Interior broadcast on GRTS stating that they would not comprise the “peace and security of the country” averted the cancellation of the April 10/11 demonstration.
Born in 27 September 1974 at Missira in Bansang, Mr. Nyabally said the students’ leaders attempted to announce the cancellation of the planned demonstration to be broadcast by GRTS, but the statement was never broadcast.
“So, before we could inform all the students, the best media was going to be GRTS. But it (their statement) was not aired and only to be surprised to hear, I think, the minister of interior Ousman Badjie’s press release that they heard the students want to go and do demonstration and if that happens, they would not compromise with the security of the country,” he said.
Mr. Nyabally, currently living in Spain, said the students’ leadership was engaging the authorities including the ministry of interior, security officials and the minister of local government Kaba Bajo, whom he said played a good role in the process.
He said Kaba Bajo came to the students’ leaders and asked them to identify five people who will meet the vice president to dialogue about the matter.
“He (Kaba Bajo) tried to liaise with the students and the vice president to make sure we dialogue with her because the president had travelled. On the day of the demonstration itself Kaba Bajo came, he tried a lot of efforts to at least select five students’ leaders to go and meet with the vice president in Banjul,” he said.
He said the students’ leadership was involved in clandestine meetings and they decided to send their secretary general at the time, Sainabou Gaye, to submit a letter to the police headquarters in Banjul on a Sunday, but the letter was not accepted because the top brass of the Police was not in.
He remarked: “We wanted to make a press release to tell the students that the planned demonstration has been cancelled. We wanted to meet with the vice president and discuss with her and some of the authorities, but it was too late.”
He said already, the news of a demonstration had reached the five regions of the country.
Meanwhile, Nyabally said in 2000, he was enrolled at the Gambia College and at the same time involved in unionism and students’ activities.
He said the circumstances that led to April 10/11 2000 demonstration, was as a result of the rape case of one Binta Manneh and the death of one Ebrima Barry, both students at the time.
Binta Manneh was a 13-year-old student of Brikama Ba Junior Secondary School while Ebrima Barry was in grade 10 at Forsters Senior Secondary School in Brikama.
The former student leader said Ebrima was his student at Fosters School and like previous testimonies before the Truth Commission, he said he learned that Ebrima Barry died as a result of torture he received from the firefighters and forced to eat cement.
“That was the secondary story we heard… and because we have not heard from Ebrima he was dead, we took that story to be the gospel truth that Ebrima died as a result of torture and inhumane treatment meted on him by the service men,” he said.
The leadership of the students’ union, he went on, made a lot of efforts to get to the truth and make sure the matter was addressed, saying several meetings were convened to deliberate on the issue.
However, he said all the meetings were futile because “nothing came out of them.” Thus, he said, the student leaders and the students in general were unhappy and disappointed with that.
“We were not contented with the way and manner in which the authorities treated the matter,” he said.
According to him, the top brass in the government at the time were tied to the corner, saying they did not dare to say no to the orders from the executive, “else they would be sacrificed.”
Speaking further, he said the students’ leadership organized a press conference aimed at addressing some of the events surrounding Ebrima Barry’s case and Binta Manneh and the efforts made by the students’ leadership to ameliorate or at least try to find solutions to the pressing problems.
Nyabally said issues were addressed but nothing came out of them. The authorities did not do anything about it, he said.
Narrating further, Nyabally said when the demonstration started, security officials were chasing students and most of the students leaders were arrested and transported to different security wings. This was around Westfield and Jimpex, he added.
He also said gun shots were heard and he said as he saw one Lamin A. Bojang and Omar lying on the ground. They were shot by the security forces, according to him.
He said he left Gambia for Europe due to several arrests and harassment plus intimidation he received from the security officials after the students’ demonstration, adding his socio-political and economic rights were lost.
He said the government terminated his teaching salary and scholarship at the University of The Gambia among other things.
Meanwhile, Binger Dinshiya, Director of Civil Litigation and International Law at the Ministry of Justice earlier told the TRRC that he was before the commission to tender the report on the public disturbance which occurred on the 10/11 April 2000.
He added that he was representing the solicitor general and legal secretary. After tendering the report, the witness was discharged accordingly.