By Nelson Manneh
Director General of the Gambia Prison Service Ansumana Manneh on Monday, 8th June 2020 testified before the TRRC on the condition and activities of prison services under the APRC and AFPRC rule.
Dubbed the 5-Star Hotel by former President Yahya A.J.J Jammeh, The Gambia’s prison services under his 22-year rule, as many described it, was inhumane and the facility was used to torture people, particularly political opponents.
The Lamin born said prisons should be place for rehabilitation for inmates to become better people in the society, but the Gambian prison system lacks such programme.
“The condition of the prison was hard and harsh and that was why Yahya Jammeh used to call it his five-star hotel,” Manneh said.
The prison director said people should have the right to visitation into the prisons but under the previous dispensation, there were some people who were denied such rights based on orders from the Executive.
The 50-year-old told the Commission that under Jammeh’s repressive rule, personnel from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) used to bring government officials, politicians, businessmen and religious leaders among others into Mile 2 without proper documentation. He testified that when the NIA agents come, they used to communicate to then Director General of the Prisons, David Colley who will pass the orders to the officers on duty to act upon.
Manneh said most of the people who had issues with Jammeh were taken into prison without proper documentation. He said agents of the NIA used to come and pick people from their cells without following due process – by providing their details to the prison wardens for them to know who they were.
Manneh said Mile 2 is divided into different segments including the Remand, Female and Security Wings as well as the Main Yard. He testified that persons who are not yet convicted should be in the Remand Wing but under Jammeh’s rule, people were taken to the Security Wing under the directives of David Colley, the then Prisons boss.
He said the prisoners used to sleep on timber under the PPP regime but ex-President Jammeh brought mattresses for inmates.
“The cleanliness of the Security Wing is entirely with the prisoners and the place is still bad,” Manneh said.
He attested to the fact that there were some inmates who were denied medical attention by the then Director General, David Colley.
He said ethnicity used to be an issue with their department under David Colley’s leadership, who according to Manneh appointed his immediate relatives, most of whom were from Kanilai, in key positions in the prison services. The witness alleged that promotion within the services was based on nepotism and ethnic lines.
He testified that prisoners used to be served bad food adding some of them suffered from Beriberi – an illness caused by poor diet. He told the TRRC that the prisoners are responsible for the preparation of their own food under the supervision of some prison officers. He said the food the inmates were served was not prepared under good condition. He testified that a food called ‘Pap’, which the inmates were served with daily, was the principal cause of Beriberi.
He joined the Prison Services in 1988 and worked at Mile 2, the Ministry of Interior and Janjanbureh prisons. He said he has also worked at the Juvinile Wing in Jeshwang for 11 years (1999 to 2010). He said he was a Corporal before his promotion to Sub-inspector and then Senior Prison Officer. He said in 2010, he was promoted to the position of Commissioner of Administration and was moved to the Security Wing at Mile 2. He said in 2015, he was moved to the Ministry of Interior until after the change of Government in 2016 when former President Jammeh was defeated at the polls by the coalition of opposition parties.