BREAKING OMERTÀ - PART IV:
In response to Modou Sarho’s (Dumo) Last Balang Baa Article.
By Jainaba Bah (Sweden)
“The police had to see everything, know, understand and have power over everything. The strength and perfection of their machinery appears all the more terrible because of the unsuspected resources they dragged up from the depth of the human soul.
And the provocateurs?
At first sight, they can cause the revolutionary movement terrible losses. But is this really so?
Due to their help, the police can, of course, multiply their arrests and the “liquidation” of groups. In given circumstances, they can counter the most carefully-laid political plans. They can do away with valiant militants. Provocateurs have often been the direct suppliers of the hangman. This is of course all terrible. But it is also the case that provocation can only wipe out individuals or groups and that it is almost impotent against the revolutionary movement as a whole.” Victor Serge (What everyone should know about repression)
My Father never wanted me to attend formal school. He truly and sincerely believed I would grow up a better daughter and a good Muslim if my brain cells were nurtured with writings from the Holy Qur’an and Hadith. He wanted me to read and understand the Divine Scriptures: to strive to excel in the Straight and Narrow direction of Siratul Mustaqim. Attending school he thought would corrupt that dream and transform me to all that is diametrically opposite the compass facing Qibla
My Father hails from Guinea (Conakry), a place called Timbi Madina. A direct descendant of Almamy Timbo (The Imam of Timbo). I started reading the Holy Qur’an before I enrolled in school. Learning the Holy Verses continued until in September of the year I finished high school (1983). My Father was a businessman. He traded in cattle; lots of cattle, herds of cattle. His business took him from Darsilami, Kombo to Ziguinchor in Cassamance. Twice He threatened to get me married to one of his younger business partners, but appeals from my Mother, family and friends rendered the threats futile. Yet my Father loved me dearly. He called me Neneh-galleh and everybody followed suit. Reason: I was named after my Maternal Grandma. In Fula tradition you cannot call your in-laws by their name. Neneh-galleh means “Mother of the compound”; (the guardian of the threshold) a sign of respect.
It was a lot of pressure not to let down my parents. Every progress report in school, every achievement was cause for my Father to call to question how long was I going with “ngol jangu gol?” meaning “this education thing?” The more my efforts were questioned by Him, the higher I raised the bar in moral discipline and peak performance in school. He was respectfully referred to as Modi Sulaymana Bah (Mr. Sulayman Bah)
I took my teaching job at Muslim High School (MHS) very seriously and put my soul in to deliver the best I could to all my students. Even though I was just a few years older than most of them, they showed much respect and were attentive and eager to learn. . I was teaching three form three classes. I remember one of the late Sherriff Mustapha Dibba’s sons was also a student in form three at the time as well as then Minister Omar Jallow’s (OJ) wife’s sister called Matty Saine; a very sweet and hard-working student. Matty was staying with her sister and OJ in Serrekunda. She once invited me to their home to braid my hair. She not only did a great job with my hair but when I was leaving OJ pulled D30:00 (thirty dalasis from his pocket – newly printed notes) and handed them to me. That was a lot of money then. It was not a bribe but a symbol of appreciation for teaching Matty. OJ has always been a generous man, one of the secrets behind his success as a politician.
Teaching is a challenging career, yet a much fulfilling and very respectable job. You have to be on top of your game all the time. You cannot deliver half-baked theories or answers and be taken seriously. For me it meant becoming a student one more time. Doing more research and making sure I had the correct and most logical conclusion to questions. Sometimes you have the Teacher’s Aid to furnish you with the answers at other times you have to work out solutions on your own. I wanted to avoid embarrassing myself in front of my students and surprised myself that I enjoyed every second of my stay at MHS. Mr. Pi was responsible for stationery and Mr. Njie was the Vice Principal. As I noted earlier, this was the era with chronic rice shortages, but as a teacher at MHS I was lucky to have a bag of rice on credit. That brought much joy to my Grandma.
As my time at Muslim drew to an end, Mr. Njie wanted me to extend my contract and continue teaching but I had already written an application letter to The Gambia National Insurance Corporation (GNIC) briefly explaining that I was on temporary employment as a teacher and expressed with sincerity how much I wanted to work for the Company. I pledged that I would do my best if accepted. The application turned successful. This was a job that I got by my own initiative. I was so happy with their reply that I could not write back to the GNIC to retrieve my application letter and accept Mr. Njie’s generous offer. So, as soon as my term ended at Muslim, I visited my parents over a weekend in Farafenni to inform them of changing jobs and on a Monday morning I reported at work and clocked in. They have just introduced the system. The Gambia National Insurance Corporation was situated on Wellington Street, next to Gambia Airways’ head office. These two were handsome buildings. It was with a certain air of status working at GNIC. The guys wore finely ironed shirts and long trousers, a neat tie to match well polished shoes and the ladies with beautiful dresses and conventional Jerry-curl or relaxed hairdos. I had just finished reading “Soledad Brother – The Prison Letters of George Jackson” and glancing through works of Frantz Fanon, his “The Wretched of the Earth” and “Black Skin, White Masks”. The theme of my days and fashion was Black Consciousness. No make-up, no lipstick, no nail-polish. I report to work in high couture “Afro”, à la Angela Davies. My friend, Lauretta Sowe was not impressed. She was like: “Grow up! We have graduated from high school. You are now working as a professional. For Christ sake, get a grip on yourself and behave normal!” She was worried about the ridicule my dress code was creating among the Company staff. Then one day Nana Grey Johnson (one of Gambia’s finest intellectuals) called me to his office. He was next to the Managing Director, Mr Dibba if I assume right. He too was not happy. Nana told me I have to change my ward-robe, especially my shoes. His exact words were: “Jainaba, you cannot report to work wearing beach-slippers. Look at the Company you are working for, look at everybody, look at the ladies around here!” I told him: “I wear what I can afford” and promised to improve. Little of that happened.
I was assigned to the Marine Department. A guy by the name Kawsu was the head. His assistant, Mr. Mballow was the easy-going type. Kawsu, I can recall was very competent and very hardworking. He was also very sociable. Never played boss and treated everyone under him as an equal. I was the only female and three of us worked at the Marine Department. We connected like family. Here I learnt about premiums, bills of laden, Lloyds, Hull, Tonners and Chinamen, Legal definitions of wreckage, F. O. B., (Free on Board) , C. I. F. , (Cost, Insurance and Freight), Barratry, Affreightment, Cesse , Protection and Indemnity Insurance, Warehouse to Warehouse and a lot more on Marine Insurance.
A month later, the GNIC decided they were to introduce Life Insurance into the company. A man from Ghana (Mr. Ofori) was given the job. Ghana has already been light years ahead when it comes to the insurance business. I was to be among the first employees to learn Life Insurance at the GNIC. On a fateful Tuesday morning, I was attending classes at the deserted Gambia Commercial Bank buildings when three men knocked at the classroom door. Our Ghanaian instructor was in the middle of explaining the meaning behind taking a life insurance. Mr. Ofori answered their knock. He came back and told me that the gentlemen were looking for me. I went out and closed the door behind me. I have never before seen these men and I was wondering why would they be asking for me, all three. The men turned out to be Daba Marena, Abou Njie and Secka Bai of the then MOST NOTORIOUS SPECIAL BRANCH (SB) of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Before I could say hi, their spokesman, Daba Marena told me I was under arrest and that I should follow them to the police station. I asked what for and he replied I’ll get the details at the police station. I asked if they could show me their IDs and an arrest warrant/order. That did not please Daba Marena. Putting on a stern face he told me I would be able to see those at the police station. When I asked if I could go in and get my bag, books and files he refused at first but immediately changed his mind, ordering me to do that quick. I was standing with my back to the door of the classroom facing them. I turned around, got hold of the door knob and walked straight to my place, packed all my stuff, excused myself and walked back through the door closing it behind me. Daba Marena was in front followed by Abou Njie. I walked after the latter and Secka Bai came after me. We walked in single file. They had a Land Rover packed just at the entrance. Inside sat the driver Sowe whom I later learnt was living at Busungbala. He too was a stranger to me at the time. When we reached the car Daba Marena sat in front with the driver. I was made to sit in the middle flanked by Abou Njie on my left and Secka Bai on my right. We left the Commercial Bank’s grounds on Leman Street opposite Deloitte & Touche Accountants’ office and headed towards Cameroon Street. We turned right and branched off on Hagan. I was thinking: isn’t the police station at Buckle Street and we should be turning left? But I was quiet. We drove through Independence Drive, passed Gambia High School and the car took off speed. We sped through Saaro, Denton Bridge, the two Jeshuwangs, Churchill’s Town, Latrikunda Saabiji, Tabokoto and I thought they were taking me to the Yundum Police Station. We passed St Peter’s High School and I saw no slowing down of the vehicle, instead it raced full speed past the Yundum Police barracks without the usual stop. Daba Marena just waved at the officer on duty. No one has uttered a single word since we left my class. Then I thought ok, they are taking me to the Brikama Police Station.
At Nyambai Forest, Abu Njie broke the silence. He said in Mandinka: “Jainaba, nlafitalé yeng samba aliyaa” - “Jainaba, we want you to take us to your home”. I was quiet. Then when we arrived at the Gambia College he said “Can you instruct him (pointing to Sowe) as to how to get to your compound”. I asked Sowe if he is familiar with Brikama. He said he is. So I told him to drive towards the Salanding’o to (at the little bridge). He did. The thought of what I have done that warrants four police officers to come pick me up needed less math. But how did they know I was working at the GNIC, how did they know I was attending classes, how did they know I lived in Brikama??? Later I understood it was their duty to know; that too by any means necessary. The questions were many rushing through my head. It was like I slipped through their hands at Dumo’s house, now is my time to face the music for whatever I was involved in. The day of reckoning is here!
We reached my Grandma’s place but no one was home. My Grandma has gone to the market. I was told to open the door, which I did as the key was placed on a palm rod under the verandah. We entered the house and they requested seeing my room. The house had three bedrooms with one very long living room. Each room has its own backyard with a bathroom separated by corrugated fencing. I showed them my bedroom which was in the middle. As I stood with my back resting on the wall, they started opening drawers, looking under the bed, taking out the bed sheets, turning the madras upside down. A suitcase with my clothes was flung on the floor and all the contents emptied. The whole room was made such a mess of. I was quiet but very upset. Truly, as Victor Serge posited in the opening lines of this article, the Police must know everything. I mean how can supposedly trained professionals behave in such repressive and threatening manner? They did not care for my integrity nor did they show any sign of respect. All these law enforcement officers wanted was to come to my premises and display their real arrogant and repressive nature. I could see images of Dumo Sarho’s repeated arrests over the years unfolding right there in front of my eyes. He must have been subjected to the same humiliation, the same callousness, the same arrogance.
My room was clean and neatly in order. It was my refuge, my sanctuary. There was nothing more relaxing than coming home after working hours, eating a well-cooked lunch and lying down on my bed with a book in my hand to read eventually falling asleep; my evening siesta, as I had to rise very early in the mornings to make it to work on time. I kept looking on at the intruders and at one point became a detached spectator. They took a look at my collection of “Mills & Boons”, “James Hadley Chase”, Reader’s Digest booklets (stuff that was there serving more as decoration than a library) and a bundle of “The Nation” Newspaper by Mr. Dixon Colley, the Dean of Gambian Journalism at its FINEST!!!!.
There was nothing of interest for them. I was confident this was going to lead no where. I was at ease. But then Daba Marena asked who lived in the bedroom to the left, I answered: “My Grandmother”. Daba, the man with the twisted hands and beefy face with a dropping lower lip and an involuntary evil smile, walked past me and went to the bedroom, followed by Abu Njie; a tiny and brutal man with the cat’s eye scar and on his heels Secka Bai, who has always been a lackey and a very untrustworthy character. Sowe did not leave the car packed at the gate. Before I could bat an eye they were all over my Grandma’s room, emptying everything that was in suitcases and boxes. Her bed was also turned upside down. This was entering the room of a person who was not present without any legal authority. There was no search warrant, no court order. Simply put, it was just crude violation. I started getting upset and could feel the anger rise. But I contained my fury. They continued their search and all of a sudden Daba Marena gave a shrill shout. I can still remember that shout. He had laid hands on a copy of the ORS (Organ of the Revolutionary Students). Inside were a couple of edited manuscripts with my handwritten commentary. Daba flashed the paper in front of my eyes and asked: “Whose copy is this?”To which I answered: “I have no idea!”
The Organ of the Revolutionary Students (ORS) had gone to print over a time by now and it was distributed in all the major secondary and high schools. Its impact was like a tsunami in the body polity of the Gambian educational system. Before, we used to have “Sunu Kibaaro” from Saint Augustine’s High School (SAHS) with the head boy Karamo Sonko as editor in chief and later Henry Paul Batchi Baldeh. This was a school bulletin that updates events in SAHS, sports events (The Principal: Father Gough Championed Sports) and academic excellence. It had very good reportage and a simple layout. The language was exemplary as both Karamo and Batchi were distinction students and head boys.
But the ORS was a complete new journal. It was striving to be the mouth piece of all Gambian students. Addressing pertinent questions as to wither our educational system? The rains have failed. Drought has become a normal phenomenon. The government has shifted priority to the tourism industry. We posed a question to the Gambian Government and specifically the Ministry of Education as to how they could justify hotel rooms having two beds for a single tourist whereas parents had to buy tables and chairs for their children and carry the furniture to and from school Monday – Friday?
Can one person sleep on two beds at the same time? What were they thinking? Where was our development heading? Articles were coming from all over the country as to what conditions prevail in different schools. That info was compiled, edited and published, with a most fitting editorial for each publication.
“I have no idea” was not a good enough answer. I was arrested and the copy of the ORS was taken as evidence found at my residence. We drove back to Banjul and straight to Buckle Street Police Station, leaving the rooms in Mob-invasion scenario. At the Police Station, I was taken to the CID-Special Branch office which was on the ground flour of a two-storey building and placed in custody at a corner incommunicado. At that time Sidney Riley was the head of the Special Branch (SB) and Samba Bah was boss to Marena and his colleagues. Samba wanted answers, and he wanted them quick. He was a tall and skinny man; a very cold and calculating character. Samba Bah was the one pulling the strings with a large team of errand hounds. I was not collaborating. I was taken upstairs, past Riley’s office to the SB office where Daba Marena and company have their quarters. Here the interrogation was about the ORS: articles, editing, typing, printing and distribution network. They wanted to know everything. Who is who in the ORS, who does what, you name it! Again I answered as innocently as I could, that I have no idea what they were talking about. I was later taken downstairs to the CID office and “booked” according to Police terminology: my name, the date and time was entered in a file. Here, I was kept in custody at a corner on a long bench with the Instruction: Incommunicado!!!. In the meanwhile, the same officers returned to Brikama and arrested my Grandma. Took her to the Brikama Police station and interrogated her as to my activities: who were my friends, who visits me and if she is aware I had documents hidden in her suitcase; seditious material that was going to land me in big trouble if she does not collaborate and tell them all she knows about my subversive life. A tearful Grandma told them she knows nothing about me getting involved in State matters. That what they are telling her is news. That all I do is report to work in Banjul and come straight home. That they should not hurt me! They took her back and learnt my cousin attending St Peter’s High School was also domicile in the same house. They arrested him but after a couple of questions, he too was released. He was never tortured as he later claimed. They were never after him.
By afternoon word has gone around like wild fire that I have been arrested by the police but nobody knew where I was and on what grounds. My Aunt who was an auxiliary nurse at the Brikama Health Centre placed a call to the Farafenni Post Office and requested to talk to my Parents. We did not have a phone at my home. One of the Dibba brothers working at the Post sensed the distress in my Aunt’s voice cycled to our compound. My Mom came to answer and like any parent the news shocked the day-lights out of her. She left Farafenni the next morning, on Wednesday. She later told me that was the longest night in Her life. She arrived in Brikama greeted by tears and wailings. A group of seven people including my Grandma and Mom rented a van looking for me starting at the Brikama Police Station. I was not there. Next: Yundum Police Station. I was not there. Serrekunda Police Station: I was not there. At Serrekunda they reasoned whether to drive to Bakau or just straight to Banjul. They decided Banjul dreading the gravity of my supposed crime and drove to Buckle Street. Here, at the counter they were told yes I was there but as if that was not bad enough news, they were informed I am not allowed visitors. They broke into tears again. And let me tell you this: it may now after the event and many years on seem funny and as a reader you may even laugh, but as an expression of distress, sorrow or pain, Pulo Futas (Peul Futas) sing whilst crying. They would wail questioning what wrath had befallen the family; their daughter and grand-daughter. Where are you Neneh-galleh? Calling on ALLAH to be with Galleh Bah and protect her wherever she threads, wherever she is! It must have been the most bizarre display of emotional grief to the station officers. My folks were refused entrance to see me. They had brought me food and fruits. Those were accepted by the officers on duty and later given to me. I had not eaten a morsel of food since my arrest. Not because I was not offered some, but because I did not feel like I was hungry. When the basket arrived I was told it was from my family. I offered the CID officers. They took some fruit. I ate a little, I was still not feeling any hunger. Extended family members and some friends in Banjul were contacted and the news broken to them. Ndura Njie, my friend at Dobson took upon herself to bring me food everyday from that moment: Lunch, Dinner and Breakfast. Remember her eldest brother is Police Inspector Wally Njie. But Ndura was like oblivious of the implications of her actions. She displayed Character and Integrity. Those were the days! She too was not allowed to see me but the delicious dishes always reached me and later even the CID officers guarding me would be looking forward to them. From saucy yoxos, mburro akara, mburo liver, benachin, domoda, supa kanja, you name it! I am forever grateful to Her!
The CID office is inside the Police Barracks, behind the main Station. I spent my days sitting at the corner. At night fall under the escort of a female officer, I take a shower under a tap in the yard and I sleep on the long bench in the CID office. I really missed my bed. A few mosquitoes feasted and early in the mornings by 5:30 am, I wake up, escorted by a female officer, again I take a shower under the same tap in the yard. Ndura has already bought me some Lifebuoy soap, tooth paste/brush & some sanitary articles (female hygiene) to change and saved me much embarrassment since I had no money on me when we left Brikama. I was not allowed to take anything, not even my handbag. It was during those days the idea of providing female prisoners with a kit of basic necessities on a monthly basis came to me. I am grateful to have lived and honoured that pledge on a small scale, made during a very desperate period of my life. Here and now, I would like to seize the occasion to appeal to all and sundry to assist convicts especially female prisoners with basic stuff that would make their lives a little bit dignified under the dehumanization of custody/prison existence. Being a woman is the personification of biological drama – we are unique specie!
Held incommunicado continued as well as the daily interrogations of the same questions. “Who writes for the ORS, who types the manuscripts, where is it printed, who are the members?”
“I have no idea” has become a slogan for jokes by now. For as Daba Marena poses the questions, Abou Njie would answer on my behalf: “I have no idea”. I would be quiet. Then Early on Friday morning one of the guards told me Sajo Jallow of ActionAid and Modou Mbaye Jabang a former classmate from Saint Augustine’s High School living with Sajo in Latrikunda German have also been arrested returning from an up-country trek, that they were placed in two separate cells at the same Buckle Street Police Station.
With that news a different attitude evolved from my interrogators. They became hostile and aggressive. Their questionnaire changed wording. Now it was no longer about the ORS. My crime has escalated overnight to being a MOJA-G member. All they wanted to know was about Sajo Jallow and they would let me go, yes, furnish them the guy’s activities and they’ll simply let me walk. The answer to that was: “I have no clue – you are questioning the wrong person”. This continued the whole Friday and I was really exhausted. It seemed their patience was growing thinner. On Saturday morning I was escorted by a female constable from my corner in the office to the Land Rover, parking this time inside the barracks. Sowe was sitting at his usual driver’s seat and Marena was next to him on the front seat. I was asked to board the car. I did and from no where came Secka Bai and Abu Njie from both sides of the rear and took their seats next to me. This time they were in much friendly mood, cracking jokes. Abu Njie exclaimed: “Jainaba says she knows nothing, has no clue, so what can we do?” Secka Bai laughed. Marena in sneering attitude replied: “She has left us no option but to take her to school” – That was it. In my mind, I was wondering what that statement meant. Take me to school? I have already graduated from school, so what was that coded statement?
With all that had come to pass, it would have been interesting to have met Daba Marena face to face and for a moment exchange some words with him on post July 22 nd Coup d´êtat issues, but this is the Daba Marena the entire country; Gambia is busy inquiring about. His whereabouts are still a mystery. I do not speak evil of people, and with all due respect, not the dead. No one has confirmed without a shadow of doubt Daba Marena’s demise. No medical record, not news from his family or from his colleagues. Was this the route Daba Marena wanted for himself after violating young ones in defense of a regime he claimed he believed in only to suddenly change allegiance in the next breath? The vindictive would have said Daba Marena had a dose of his own medicine! I beg to differ. No human-being deserves such a mysterious state of being under active service. Let us all hope Daba Marena turns up one day or we learn something different bringing his tragedy to closure. Let us also hope those continuing with the same manual left behind by Daba Marena learn a lesson or two when they claim they are carrying out instructions to protect the State from subversion!
We drove from Banjul, past Saaro. Two hundred meters from Denton Bridge, the road branches off to laterite on the right. We drove about one hundred and fifty meters towards the Atlantic Ocean. The car made a U-Turn and came to a halt. There was complete silence except for the song of the waves from the sea rushing to the shore and back. A couple of minutes passed and Daba Marena in a very threatening voice said they are asking me one more time to tell all I know about the ORS and about MOJA-G. That they were going to forget every charge they were to make against me but they wanted Sajo Jallow’s head on a plate and that I should be thankful to supply them that information. They told me that they had earlier before me arrested Pa Ousman Marong (who was our typist, we used to call him Palmer) and that he has supplied them all the information they needed. That they know everything, they just wanted me to confirm and corroborate Pa Ousman’s story so that they can charge Sajo Jallow because they know he is the big fish they were after. Again I answered I did not know anything about Sajo Jallow’s involvement in MOJA-G. To that Daba Marena said I’ve left them no option. He took out something like a toolbox. It had wires and batteries attached to it. I was sitting in the same position as when I was arrested. Daba Marena took out the strings and extended them to Secka Bai and Abu Njie. They tied the strings around my thumbs. Then he started to wind the handle of the box as if using a hand sewing machine sending electric shock waves through my body. I screamed….It was the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life. It felt like I was having a cardiac arrest. It felt like the blood running through my veins was boiling leaving wounds and somebody is pouring Sulphuric Acid on the new wounds. That was how it felt and even worse. The electric shocks were given at short intervals with heavy interrogation of shouting from all three. Sowe sat in his driver’s seat with his eyes to the road and his back facing us. To each question I screamed back the same answer that I did not know what Sajo Jallow’s role was in neither MOJA-G nor his activities or plans to usurp State power. After a while my thumbs were smoking and one could smell burnt flesh. Later I did not answer the questions, I just cried as I received my expertly administered doses of pain. Visualize a Quentin Tarantino torture scene minus the splatter of blood! At one point I thought: This is it, I am going to die here and am going to die now…the pain was simply unbearable. For the duration the torture lasted I wished I had followed my Father’s Dreams for me….!
So before proceeding kindly allow me to share with you a few lines from
Victor Serge’s (What everyone should know about repression)
IV. Among comrades
V. In the event of arrest
To be continued………
© Balang Baa Publications 2013
"I AM A HO$TAGE OF MY CON$CIENCE!
THERE I$ NO RAN$OM THAT
CAN EVER $ET ME FREE!" (Jainaba Bah)