By Nelson Manneh
Mam Sait Njie, a victim of rights violations has described former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh as a monster and fraudster.
He made this statement while testifying before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) on Wednesday.
Njie appeared before the TRRC on Wednesday in connection with a land transaction he was involved in with SSHFC. He said during the transaction, , Yahya Jammeh demanded 300 plots of land from him with the pretext that he was going to give them to Gambian footballers and APRC party militants. Yahya Jammeh would later compel SSHFC to buy the plots at an amount of D30, 000,000.
The witness testified that after his studies in Dramen Polytechnic in Oslo, Norway, he was opportune to build the biggest hospital in Dramen. In his intention to establish a cement plant in the country, he was asked to get a letter of intent from the government of The Gambia. He said when he met with the Permanent Secretary, Economics and Planning. He said the Permanent Secretar later instructed former Principal Economist, late Alieu Ngum, to prepare the letter of intent.
Mr. Njie recollected that, at that time, The Gambia was importing 50 metric tonnes of cement. After spending three weeks in The Gambia, their mission was completed and he went back to Norway. He said the cement company he worked for in Norway, Norcim, had cement plants in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Togo respectively and this was why he wanted it for his country.
Njie said the project was approved by cabinet, but they ended up killing it. He said that was not the only project he intended for the Gambia but it failed and frustrated him, thereby changing his desire to come back to The Gambia. He added his mother later consoled him.
He recollected that someone working at the International Trade Center in Geneva suggested that the Gambia would be good for flower farms and he suggested for a feasibility study to The Gambia which they did. Njie said the intention was to export the flowers to the British market and he explained to a native of Banjulinding village about their intention. She would take him to Makumbaya for the land which was leased.
“In 1994, when Yahya Jammeh took over power through a coup, all the support staff of the Flower Project were repatriated to their respective countries as a way of protecting them,” he said.
According to him, one of the Agriculture Ministers under Yahya Jammeh asked him whether they were going to sell those materials on that farm, but he told them that they were not for sale, as he intended to produce onions using that irrigation system. However, the witness said they stopped producing flowers because of the coup, but refused to dispose the irrigation equipment as he planned to venture into vegetable gardening, which he said was very successful. He said the investors were constantly arrested and held at the NIA because they wanted to know the lease agreement they had with him.
“The state agents also wanted to know whether it was true that what they said was the sum they were paying me rent,” he said.
Mr. Njie alleged that the NIA kept frustrating them and would sometimes ask them money, but they eventually stopped the contact and left the country.
“Another Project was from Denmark and one Dodou Touray was so happy about it. He even showed us the land to use for cow breeding (Dairy Farms),” he said.
Witness Njie said he discussed a project with SSHFC, and they were interested as they had already did it at the Bakoteh Housing Estate. During the course of reviewing the documents, their attorney at the time, Amie Bensouda, confirmed that all his documents were genuine and the total sum for the project was D470, 000,000. In the agreement, they agreed for SSHFC to have 70% while he received (Witness) 30%.
Based on this agreement, Social Security was supposed to provide all the development on the land, including water and electricity. He said this was where his encounter with the former President started. Correspondence between Social Security and the Office of the President as read out by Lead Counsel shows that the Makumbaya Housing Project was approved. Former President Jammeh asked what his benefit in the project was because he wanted to give the footballers and some party militants 300 plots of land and as a result, he demanded the said plots from his 900 plots.
“Was he asking for a bribe or was he trying to seize part of your land?” asked Counsel Faal. “He was asking for bribe and further suggested for the 300 plots to be sold to Social Security,” the witness responded.
“It was difficult because if you know something about Jammeh, he will either kill you or take you to Mile II and I was lucky to be taken to Mile II, that’s why I am here today explaining,” he said.
However, what is surprising according to the witness was that Yahya Jammeh monetized those 300 plots by instructing SSHFC to buy the plots. The witness said the proceeds from the 300 plots were for Yahya Jammeh and he ordered SSHFC to pay the money into his Trust Bank Account and it was in two installments- D15, 000,000 on each. He said this was collected by General Sulayman Badjie on behalf of Yahya Jammeh. Njie said Yahya Jammeh one day told him that he needed the other D15, 000, 000, urgently as his wife was supposed to travel. As a result of that, he wrote to the bank to help him provide him with the money requested by Jammeh hence there was an agreement for all monies to be paid to the bank by SSHFC.
After Jammeh received the 30 million, he sacked the SSHFC MD and the one he appointed was not keen to start that project. Mr Njie testified that he acquired his lands in 1989, but was forced to appear in a Land Commission that ordered him to return the lands to the villagers.
Notwithstanding, his lawyer appealed to the Appellate Court and in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that his land be returned to him, but indicated that the villagers should have been informed about the change of use.
SSHFC later wrote to him asking him to pay back the D30,000,000 and his lawyer, Antouman Gaye, replied that his client was willing to pay the money, but they had to start from where they started from.
Subsequently, he said he was charged for economic crimes for failing to pay Capital Gain Tax. Prior to that, he was arrested by the Police at Kairaba Police Station, detained for two (2) months and later taken to Mile II.
Consequently, the court convicted and sentenced him to 9 years imprisonment.
Mr. Njie, recollected that after his sentence, he was put in a truck and whisked away to Mile II and upon arrival, they gave him a jumper and took him in a cell.
“Mile II was overcrowded and some inmates were even sleeping in the toilets,” he said.
Mr. Njie alleged that Yahya Jammeh was also interested in his property in Fajara for her mother to stay in.