By Yankuba Jallow
Abdou Karim Jammeh, a victim of April 10 students’ demonstration has blamed Yahya Jammeh for the loss of lives during the violent disturbances in the streets nineteen years ago.
Jammeh, who testified before the Truth Commission, blamed former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh under whose government about 14 students were shot dead by security personnel including the paramilitary and soldiers.
The 40 – year – old said the students went out in the streets on 10th April 2000 demanding for justice for their two colleagues – Ebrima Barry and Binta Manneh.
“I blame Yahya Jammeh for whatever happened to us. Isatou Njie-Saidy was the one who fed Yahya Jammeh with the information about the protest because he was out of the country. Yahya Jammeh gave the order to Isatou Njie-Saidy and she also passed the information to CDS Baboucar Jatta who ordered for the shooting of the students,” the witness said.
He said Isatou Njie-Saidy went on the national television saying the students were shooting at each other.
“She (Isatou Njie-Saidy) made the announcement that the students broke into the armoury and were shooting each other,” the witness said.
He said the former Vice President lied to the Gambians about the fact of the matter surrounding the April 2000 students’ demonstration.
The former Sheikh Mass Kah student was victim of gunshot on his left knee by the paramilitary. The Jinak Kajaka native said at the time of the demonstration, he was in grade 9.
In explaining the event, the witness said he was told by their school head boy on Friday, 9th April 2000, that there would be a demonstration on the following Monday (April 10) which will be organized by students for justice to be done in the case of their colleague students – Ebrima Barry who was tortured resulting to his untimely death and Binta Manneh, who was raped by paramilitary personnel.
“We saw it as a brutal action. These are the men who were supposed to protect the two students, but that did not happen. We went out in the street calling for justice to be done in the case of our two colleagues,” he said.
On April 10
He said on his way to school to sit for his examination paper, at around 9 am, he met students from different schools at Westfield who were running in different directions and they were shouting.
“The students were running from the paramilitary forces. I saw the security personnel holding guns and they were having truncheons that they used to beat people,” Jammeh said, adding “I saw them beating the students with their truncheons and the students were running. I saw them (the paramilitary) shooting at the students.”
The witness said he used the Westfield Jakaranda route to get to his school because he did not want to miss his examination paper.
“On my way, I met with some students running for their life and behind them I saw soldiers shooting at them. The soldiers were firing at the students and I turned and returned to Westfield,” the witness said.
He said when he arrived at Westfield, the students crowd became huge because the two crowds met; adding the crowd that was been chased by the paramilitary and the one that was been chased by the army all met.
He told the TRRC that the he ran using a route and was followed by some students running towards Kanifing South. He said they managed to come towards Ice-Man junction and met a group of paramilitary personnel who also chased them up to the Post Office.
“We were running for our life. We were running in fear. We were running until we became tired,” he said.
He said at the Post Office, he met students destroying properties belonging to the government.
“I saw them destroying the main gate and the door to the Post Office and were bringing out properties,” Jammeh said.
The witness said he was part of those calling on the students to stop damaging properties.
“Do you see students with weapons?” Counsel Horoja Bala Gaye asked.
The witness in his response said the students only had their books and pens in their bag. He said while at the Post Office, a group of security personnel including soldiers and paramilitary officers released gunshots. He added the students ran for their life. He explained that they managed to escape the security officers but still soldiers were running after them.
“They were following us and they were still firing,” the witness said.
He said when they arrived at Dippa Kunda, the soldiers who were chasing them later returned. Jammeh said at Dippa Kunda, he met a huge crowd of students who were being addressed by one of their colleague students who asked them to disperse and go home, adding that their purpose was to go out peacefully but the security forces were after their life.
At this juncture, the witness said Halifa Sallah the National Assembly member for Serrekunda Constituency found them gathered there and addressed them to maintain peace. The witness said Sallah advised them to go home because things were going out of hand.
“Students were appreciative of Sallah’s advice and most of us were clapping,” he said.
He added that when Sallah left, the students were dispersing but when the then Chief of Defense Staff, Baboucar Jatta came there, they regrouped and wanted to assault him for giving orders for the shooting.
He said the students rushed to ‘kill CDS Jatta’ but he was protected by some students including him.
“CDS was asked whether he gave the order for the shooting of students by the soldiers. He (Jatta) told us that he did not give any orders to the soldiers to shoot,” he said.
He said Jatta asked the students to go with him to the paramilitary headquarters to inquire who gave the orders to shoot.
“We all went with CDS Jatta with the intention of going to the PIU headquarters. At Westfield, one student Yankuba Bojang used a stick that he used to hit the Gamtel/Gamcel billboard with the intention of damaging it, but students stopped him from carrying on with his action. Students were even beating Yankuba for hitting the billboard, but some of us rescued him. The students were telling him that they don’t want any problems or destruction,” he said.
He said at just a distance from the paramilitary headquarters, he was shot and he fell in a nearby gutter.
“When I heard the first gunshot, I was running for my life but in that process, I was also shot and I fell in the gutter. The bullet struck on the back of my left leg around my knee and passed through,” he said.
He said after sustaining the gunshot, he was unconscious for some time and when he regained consciousness, he found himself in a dirty gutter.
“My leg was stiffed. I could not move my leg. I saw someone who was passing by and I asked him to help me. When he helped me, he was beaten by two paramilitary officers even though he was telling them that he was a Red Cross volunteer. There were two other paramilitary officers kicking me,” the witness said.
He said one of them asked the two to stop kicking and hitting him. He said there was a man who came with a private vehicle after seeing him lying on the floor and took him to Banjul. He said the paramilitary agent warned Mr. Nyang who was the Red Cross Volunteer and the driver not to take them or else they would be shot dead. He said after some push and pull, Nyang and the driver heeded and carried him to the vehicle and took him to the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH).
“When we arrived, they took me to the theatre first thinking that there was bullet in my leg. When they checked and found out that the bullet has penetrated and passed, they took me to Accident and Emergency Ward,” the witness said.
He said he was with one Sainabou Camara in the same ward who was captured by the paramilitary. He said Camara fell during the confrontation and paramilitary personnel were dancing on her body. According to Jammeh, Sainabou told him that her walkman was seized from her by the paramilitary who used it to play music and dance on her body.
He said there was not much space to admit patients at the RVH because of the number of victims, adding that some of the patients were forcefully discharged.
“On that day, the blood of Gambian students was wasted,” the witness said, adding that the Accident and Emergency Ward was filled to capacity.
He said the nurses at the RVH felt that a photocopy of the document containing the details of the victims of April 2000 would be altered and therefore, provided him with a copy to keep for future reference.
“The list was not given to me, because something happened later. While they were discussing, soldiers came from the State House who rushed in asking the nurses to provide them with the document (list) of the victims. The nurses were somehow reluctant about giving the list to the soldiers, saying they were not ready with the list but the soldiers threatened to shoot at them. The nurses gave them the original copy of the list but a day or two later, the soldiers brought a typed list which was different from the one they took and handed it to the nurses,” the witness said.
He said the former President, Yahya Jammeh, visited them at the hospital but they weren’t appreciative of his visit because it was his government that put them in that condition. He said Fatoumata Jahumpa, the then Press Secretary at the Office of the President brought them some provisions from the State House including food, but her provisions were given to the other patients in the ward.
He said he was discharged from the RVH on the 13th July 2000. The following documents were tendered and admitted into evidence; his discharge from RVH, the Medical Board report dated 6th December 2000, reports of his treatment in Dakar in 2005 and 2014 and a report of his treatment in Germany in 2010.
He said in Germany, he was told that he should undergo two operations. He said he was told that he has done one, but due to financial constraint, he couldn’t still do his second operation.
“I wanted to become a doctor. I love that field but the incident has shattered my hope of becoming a doctor,” he said, adding that the incident has crushed the hope of the victims of April 2000 students’ demonstration of becoming better people in society.
He said the victims still have hopes of fulfilling their dreams.
He said the victims want support in pursuit of their educational dream. He said they want to be provided medical care. He said the victims do not desire being charity receivers. He recommended that there should be security and legislative reform.
“We want treatment. We want education. We want justice and we want it now,” Jammeh concluded.