Ex-Defense Ministry PS Says July 94 Coup Possible Because of Massive Intel Failure
Former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defense, Sulayman Alieu Jack said the 22nd July 1994 military coup was possible because of massive intelligence failure.
Testifying before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission Monday, he said the Intel reports available to the PPP government before the coup indicated only external threat and no internal.
“I would say there was massive intelligence failure and as far as the military intelligence is concerned, they had very small outfit and I think they had only one or two officers and the National Security Council which was chaired by the president, but never held a meeting. The focus of the intelligence was only on the activities of Kukoi Samba Sanyang (the leader of the 1981 rebellion) and little or no attention was placed on the internal security,” he testified.
Jack, a former Secretary General and Head of Civil Service, is currently the Gambia’s Ambassador to the African Union. At the time of the 1994 coup, he was working under Saikou Sabally, the Vice President and Minister of Defense as deputy.
He told the TRRC that the oversight bodies responsible for checking the activities of the military were not functional and thus paved the way for a successful 1994 coup. He also said there was no parliamentary body established to oversee the functions of the military, nor did the Ministry of Defense has the requisite expertise to oversee the army.
He argued that though the National Security Council was not functional, the intelligence director, the Chief of Staff of the army, and the police Inspector General all had direct access to President Sir Dawda Jawara and they could have briefed him about any imminent coup.
Jack told the commission that he knew about the coup when he went to office on that fateful Friday when he was informed that soldiers were breaking into the armory at the Yundum Barracks and maybe possibly heading to Banjul towards the statehouse. He said he informed the former vice president about the act of the soldiers immediately he arrived for work.
“I told the Vice President, Saikou Sabally that I received very disturbing information from Yundum that some officers have broken into the armory and armed themselves with heavy weapons. I also informed the Vice President about the presence of the Americans whom he asked me to escort to his office.”
He told the commission that Sabally was not telling the truth when he told the American Ambassador that morning that then president Jawara requested that he and his family be evacuated to the US naval vessel. Arguing that had never requested anything from the Americans at that time, Jack repeatedly accused Sabally of lying.
Jack also told the commission that Jawara’s desire to step down as president during the PPP national congress in Mansakonko triggered uncertainty and infighting within the rank and files of the party, leading to the creation of factions within the party.
“There were different factions within the PPP. There were those I didn’t know much about, but I was aware of the Bakary Bunja Darboe faction and that of Saikou Sabally which came to being shortly after his appointment as Vice President and Minister of Defense, responsible for women’s affairs. This new portfolio gave Sabally the authority and zeal to consolidate his political base and probably to stand as a president when the need arised,” Jack testified.
He described Sabally, now a businessman based in Dakar, as the de-factor Prime Minister responsible for the day to day running of the state.
“Within the army, I don’t think he was popular with the officer corps all because of the allegations leveled against him, and there were rumors circulating at the time about his behavior and records but still he was made the Vice President and Minister of Defense.”
Jack also spoke about the general dissatisfaction in the army over the lack of facilities, amenities and accommodation. According to him, the looming dissatisfaction affected the issue of regimentation among others that may have led some members of the armed forces to resort to coup.
“There were lots of soldiers who were living outside the barracks and renting in private homes. This also created some problems in terms of their movements from office to office and from barracks to home. Many of them could be seen begging for lift (free vehicle ride).”
On the presence of Nigerian soldiers in the country, he said officers of the Gambia National Army were not happy with the new roles given to the Nigerians which they viewed as a denial of their rightful duty. “Many are of the viewed that Gambian officers should lead the army and for Nigerians to give command to them was not appealing to Gambian soldiers,” Jack told the commission.