By: ML Jaiteh.
Once upon a time, precisely 16 December 2004, the dark day in which Point Newspaper’s former managing editor was gruesomely gunned down in cold blood by Yahya Jammeh’s killers.
Deyda Hydra was not only my editor,but also my hero, friend and mentor who put his life on the frontline for the noble course of press freedom, the culture of truth-telling and democratic governance.
Not mindful of the consequence and threats, Deyda went extra mile in speaking truth to power and was even ready to pay the ultimate price with his precious/priceless life by constantly challenging the Jammeh dictatorship with nothing more than his journalistic tool – the powerful but peaceful pen. This came at a time when very many of his compatriots chose to give up fighting or decided to join the dictator and his cronies as survival tactics in Jammeh’s Gambia.
By all measure , Deyda was among the very rare species of men – he was a near-perfect- gentleman par-excellence with big heart for all members of human family; paying little or no regard to: class, colour, creed, race, gender or other discriminatory tendencies.
I first met Deyda in late 1999, when I joined his newspaper as a freelance reporter through Pap Saine who had introduced me to him. Then, within two years of working on freelancing basis, I was elevated to the rank of staff reporter along with Ebrima Sawaneh.
It was at Point where I met interesting folks of all sorts from very diverse backgrounds and indeed striking characters of men/women, young and all, rich and poor, etc,etc thanks to the magnetic and brilliant leadership qualities of Deyda.
Deyda was one of the finest gentleman I have ever worked with, a man of all seasons and indeed a very good man.
I saw in him a very selfless man of a cross-breed nature and one of the intergenerational libertarian icon.
Some of my star characters within the Point family in those days included: Pa Dembo, the old man with a bicycle whose job was to guard the office premises and was also a gate keeper. Also Pa Nderr Mbye, the reporter with a good nose for scoop both of them blessed memory. Similarly, folks like the big deal writer, Momodou ( Justice) Darboe, Alhaji Mbye (Pa Nderry’s brother) Jungkunda/ “Junks” Daffe, Kassa Taal, Kebba Suso, Salamaady Kaba (Sierra Leonean), Ousman Kargbo, Theresa Mendy, the cleaner, among host of others.
It was on December 16th 2004, when Deyda met his untimely death as we celebrated Point Newspaper’s 13 year of existence which also by designed happened to be Deyda’s widow, aunty Maria Hydara’s birthday.
As part of activities marking the day, former US ambassador, Joseph D Stafford visited Point and the photo going with this tribute was shot during that visit and that was my last photo with Deyda.
While we were busy celebrating Point success story, Yahya Jammeh and his assassins were also busy hatching their unholy and deadly plans towards ending Deyda’s life and by extension – a well-calculated but futile attempt on the newspaper’s life.
The former American envoy came to give us some sort of solidarity / moral booster and of course a toss in the name and spirit of press freedom and democracy which his government loved to champion globally.
During a short speech, Deyda commended the US diplomat for taking time off his busy schedules by visiting the newspaper. He also sparingly praised the American government for the support given to the media and democracy. When the ambassador and entourage left Deyda, dressed in a neatly ironed suit with a neck tie quickly dashed off to his office to complete his daily tasks of taking a final look at the next edition of Point as well as his popular columns: “Good Morning Mr President” and “The Bite.”
Late evening around 18.00pm, Deyda threw a party for Point’s workers, family members and some friends. There and then, young reporters and Point boys led by Justice Darboe, Alhagie Mbye and other music lovers organized some sort of sound system to add more flavour and joy to the celebrations.
That evening turned out to be very lively and entertaining in a newspaper house that was only known for pumping out information and not soundbites of music. But alas, as minutes ticked into hours with darkness succeeding the brightness of day light, more and more people flocked into Point premises. The newspaper widely opened its doors, with the gate keeper less busy that evening as celebrations continued.
Little did we know then that was an opportunity for intruders and those with nefarious plans to embark on spying mission to effect their evil deeds.
By 21.00pm, I took leave of Deyda and headed home as I was not in a good mood/ normal blood; why that, I did not understand then myself.
He called me into his office to ask if I had been served with food and drinks. I answered, “yes”. Then he pulled out a parcel containing pieces of chicken parts, vegetables and canned drinks. Like somewhat of a farewell, Deyda said to me: ML, take that home. Little did I know that was going to be the very last time I would set my eyes on my former editor.
Then, off I went out of his office and headed home at Latri Kunda German to sleep.
Around 6.00am early hours the next day, I received a phone call from a dear friend who was checking if I was not among those shot at by Jammeh’s killers. So he indirectly broke the news of Deyda’s shooting to me when I protested why that so-early- morning phone call. My friend told me he got reliable information that Point staffers came under attack while marking the paper’s 13- year- anniversary and so wondered if I was not involved in the incident. He thanked God that I was alive and hanged the phone.
My first reaction to the news was a mixture of disbelief and bewilderment. Questions started off flying in my head and mind – Who/why kill Deyda? @ The fine and harmless gentleman.
I had spent five solid years working, learning and exchanging ideas with this fine gentleman with beefy/beaming face that is synonymous with smiles and seriousness. With his support, I conceived and launched human rights column on the pages of Point called- “Rights, Rights,Rights” in which I used to write on: human rights – children’s rights, women’s rights and even animal rights.
Meanwhile, the state of Gambian media/media landscape around this period was a catalogue of problems and woes created and perpetuated by the Jammeh Dictatorship against journalists and their belongings as well as media owners.
To have a feel of the rough life lived by journalists during those dark years of Jammeh era, watch out part two of this piece coming soon which will highlight records of alerts published by a sub-regional media rights watchdog that had systematically documented and published numerous cases of arbitrary arrests/ detentions of journalists, illegal closure of media houses as well as other forms of attacks / crimes against journalists.
By: Momodou L Jaiteh, Founder of Kaba Communications.
Email: [email protected]