By Nelson Manneh
Babucarr Cham, a businessman and victim of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Monday 25th January, 2021, appeared before the Truth Commission (TRRC) and narrated his arrest, detention and subsequent court trial.
Born in Brikama, West Coast Region in 1961, Cham said in 2009 he was arrested by NIA officers at his residence in Brikama and detained at the agency’s headquarters and was subsequently charged and arraigned before the Banjul high court.
Cham said one day he got information that there were people from Guinea Bissau who were dealing with drugs in his compound. He said he reported the matter to the Drug Squad because they were responsible for issues relating to drugs. The witness said he first reported the matter to one Lamin Kabu, living in Brikama. He said knew Kabu at the Drug Squad.
“I also reported the matter to one of Lamin Kabu’s bosses because when I called him, he gave the phone to his boss whom I spoke to and he told me that he will be sending his men,” he said.
Cham said after a few days, the NIA went to his house at night, around 2:30 am and knocked on his gate. He said he woke up and opened the gate to see who was knocking.
“When I opened the gate, I saw one Ousman Sowe, the current Director General of NIA, Lamin Manneh, Dembo Mbye, Lamin Darboe among others and they told me that they came to see me,” he said.
Mr. Cham further testified that the NIA went to his compound with their guns and surrounded it. He said Ousman Sowe and other officers went inside his house and told him that they wanted to conduct a search there.
The witness said during the search, they scattered everything but could not see anything, thus, they told him that they don’t see anything inside his house. However, he said he was asked to go with them to their office. He said when they reached the NIA headquarters in Banjul the officers took him behind one of the buildings and climbed upstairs.
“I met Jim Drammeh, Sukuta Jammeh, Alagie Morr and others in that room,” he said.
Witness Cham said he also met the alleged Bissau Guineans who were suspected of dealing in drugs. The Guineans were beaten and packed like bags of rice, he added. He said Alagie Morr told him to speak the truth else he would be treated like those Guineans.
Cham accused Alagie Morr of torturing and arresting the Bissau Guineans at the time. He said when he entered the room where he was interrogated; he was forced to strip off his clothes and was asked to go to the center.
He said after he was stripped off his clothes, he was there with the NIA officers and one Bissau Guinean, who was tortured and seriously injured on his private part.
“That Guinean was crying and all of them concentrated on him because they realized that he was seriously wounded, then I quickly picked up my clothes and wore them,” he said.
The witness said after a while, the officers packed him together with those Guineans and put them in a small cell within the NIA premises. He said whilst at the NIA, he was asked his reason for reporting the alleged drug issue to the Drug Squad. He told them when he heard the information, he thought it was wise for him to report the matter to the Drug Squad because it was the right institution that deals with issues regarding drugs. He said he was detained with other Bissau Guineans at the NIA headquarters in a small cell for twenty-eight days.
Witness Cham said while he was at the NIA, he was charged with conspiracy. He was not allowed to talk to any lawyer. He said after spending 28 days at the NIA, they were handed over to the police at the Police Headquarters in Banjul. He said the IGP at the time, told the NIA officers that “these people are accused of drugs dealings where are the drugs?”
Cham said he spent three days at the police headquarters before they were arraigned in court. At the Banjul high court, he said they were remanded by the Judge and the case was later transferred to Brikama high court.
“At the Brikama high court, the first day we appeared in court people were many and the Judge decided to transfer the matter back to Banjul High Court where we were granted bail,” he said.
The witness said Lamin Kabu told him that when he (Kabu) was arrested, he was seriously tortured and he (Kabu) escaped from the NIA and ran nakedly to their office. But, he said, the NIA officers did not give up. They went for him and brought him back to the NIA and detained him. He said after they were granted bail, the case continued for two years and the Judge at the end acquitted and discharged them.
“Since I was born, I was never arrested, and I never appeared in court. But this incident gave me a lot difficulties and bad reputation in my community,” he said.
The witness alleged that when he was in detention, the NIA went to his house and stole his generator. He said he also hired three different Lawyers and paid them about one hundred and fifty-five thousand dalasis.
“I also lost one of my compounds at the time. My first wife passed away while I was going to court,” he said.