I Could Have Died – How Barrow is Accused of Betraying Victims of April 14th
April has set itself as the darkest month of Gambia’s historical calendar. From the year 2000 students killing and maiming to the brutal torture and killing of peaceful demonstrators including Ebrima Solo Sandeng and others sixteen years later, and further to the clamp down on United Democratic Party (UDP) leadership including secretary general Ousainou Darboe.
The Gambia’s governance system under ex-ruler Yahya Jammeh was characterised by dictatorship where peaceful demonstration has been responded with mass-killing and torture, freedom of expression was severely curtailed and political freedom was next to non-existence. Evidently, the collection of these tragedies and oppression are what put to an end to the seemingly unending 22-year rule.
Four years ago, April 14th 2016 to be precise, Ebrima Solo Sandeng led a team of protesters demanding electoral reforms as the December 2016 election was fast approaching. To them, there was no level playing field and Jammeh was simply going on to win the vote to further unleash hardship on people. Among his team were Fatoumatta Jawara and Nogoi Njie, the Chair and deputy Chair of the UDP’s women wing at the time, Lang Marong, Ebrima Janko Solo Ceesay and many others.
At Westfield where they protested by displaying the banners, they got arrested by the police and taken away. While others were lifted into police trucks, Sandeng was whisked away in a taxi, according to eyewitnesses. Two days later, his death was confirmed by the party leader Ousainou Darboe while others were reportedly tortured severely. In the words of the party leader, Jawara for instance ‘was between life and death.’ ‘She was in comma.’
“Today reminds me of a day that was so painful. But I thank God for sustaining my life to this day,” Nogoi Njie, who is currently receiving treatment from Ankara, Turkey tells The Chronicle.
“I should have died that day when I was surrounded by more than 20 security officers beating up me with chains randomly all over my body. I have all that pain on my body – inside and outside.”
Darboe and almost half of his executive members and other party sympathisers were also arrested on April 16th for conducting a procession to demand for the release of Solo either dead or alive without a permit. They were rounded up along Kairaba Avenue by paramilitaries.
While the trial of Solo’s team was done in Mansakonko in the Lower River Region and detained at Jangjangbureh prisons, Darboe and co were prosecuted at Banjul high court and were held at Mile II prisons. The courts convicted both the two groups and sentenced them to 3 years. However, they served for a few years jail term and then released in December following the election which saw Jammeh defeated by Adama Barrow.
Nogoi Njie continues to experience health complications even after her release, alongside Fatoumatta Jawara, Fatou Camara and others while Lang Marong and Ebrima Janko Solo Ceesay succumbed to death later.
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), a transitional justice mechanism probing the atrocities of the ex-leader, has facilitated the overseas treatment for some victims including Nogoi.
“We have been receiving treatment since we came. And I must tell you that I have registered a significant improvement on my health. How some pains are treated within a span of time remains a miracle for me.”
Before Nogoi’s departure for Turkey, she was battling with a pain under her arm which she sustained during her incommunicado detention at the NIA, allegedly as a result of torture. According to her, the Cuban doctor who she complained to at the main referral hospital in Banjul examined her but couldn’t spot the pain that appeared like a dried-blood-clot under her arm.
“That thing under my arm was extremely painful. This happened as a result of torture because I remember I used to raise that part of my body to cover my delicate areas.
“I have been living with that pain since. When I came here, doctors treated it and I was left surprised at the way they treated that. It’s miraculous. They put a screen before me and I could see the blood blackish-clots moving inside my body. The doctors later dissolved it inside my body and the blood started oozing out. From that day, I never feel the pain again,” she tells The Chronicle about the state of her treatment.
She’s now waiting for a two-month appointment for further treatment. According to her, some parts of her body no longer needs surgery, as being told by her doctors, including her leg, which seriously affected her after her release.
“The doctors told me that there are blood clots inside my eyes and my cheeks and they will remove those things and my sight will become normal without surgery.”
‘A betrayer president’
The Gambian president, Adama Barrow was a member of the UDP and who supported him to win the Coalition 2016 ticket to stand the election. With support from eight political establishments in the country, he surprisingly emerged victorious against Jammeh.
But Nogoi believes that Barrow has betrayed the party and people who made him president. She said the fight against Jammeh was premised on liberation.
“Unfortunately, we ended up having a leader who does not know yesterday and likes throwing shades. The people who we fought so that the country can be liberated are those who turned against us today.”
“He brought in people that were part of the former system that was misappropriating national coffers and made them ministers. All those who fought so hard were left out. He wasn’t there when the fight was so difficult and unbearable.
“I can still remember the day they were torturing Solo Sandeng until he was killed. I was lying facing them. I remember the difficulties encountered by Lang Marong, Kafu Bayo, Modou Jabang, Modou Ngum and I see that these people are sitting without being compensated even with a cup of rice. This is really hard to understand,” she tells The Chronicle as she accused President Barrow of betrayal.
Downplaying the gravity of her health
Nogoi claims that the president treated her like a high blood patient, refusing to accept that her health complication mainly has to do with her brutal treatment under the former leader.
“This government did not do anything for me because he has the worst doctor who told him I was not suffering from anything except high blood.
“We know that he should have treated us a long time ago. If he had acted timely, other deaths could have been avoided. The likes of Janko Solo and Lang Marong could have avoided death.”
She refuses to credit the Barrow government for facilitating her overseas treatment, but gives all due to the TRRC, Gambia Ports Authority, Papa Njie of Unique Solutions, Victim Centre and the diaspora.
“We won’t blame him because it only took him three months to become president and that’s why he has no idea what to do.”
Meanwhile, Nogoi added her voice to call on the government to dedicate the Westfield Youth Monument to the victims as a way of remembering the past experiences.
Ignoring Sandeng family’s plights
Muhammed Sandeng, son of slain political activist, Ebrima Solo Sandeng said justice for his father is beyond a legal proceeding to put people behind bars, rather, the government should be sensitive in its approach to matters of this kind.
“I think they should consider making this a reality rather than a facade. I mean to cut the insensitivity and become humane for once and address the most important and inevitable needs of the family.”
Muhamemed expressed displeasure at the manner the government of President Barrow decided to abandon the children and family of his father, especially in the area of education where they had to sit at home for five years after the killing of Solo, who sacrificed himself for the state.
“This sadly is the case with us, the government failed to put it place any plan to get me and any of my siblings back to normal life by way of education or anything.
“Not a single dialogue between our family and the government which I believe should’ve been one of the first steps towards honouring Solo sandeng’s legacy for he left behind a family that had needs which he had to cut sort to usher in democratic governance and the latter cannot be realised without social justice.
“For me and any other well-meaning Gambian, each day that my siblings and myself go about life or school without the support of this government, that is social injustice at its worse!,” he tells The Chronicle on the day of 4th anniversary of the brutal killing of his father in the hands of a state’s sanctioned murder.
Jammeh had since granted an interview to say that “only one dog was killed and they asked me to interview.’ He further repeated this statement at the rally in Tallinding.
“We do not demand to be fed by the government even though that would’ve been the case in other civilised nations, all we ask is to be educated! We will be able feed ourselves when we’re sufficiently empowered and we’ll do a lot more than anyone institution can do for us but it seems the government has a deliberate intention to ignore and stagnate the life of our family by depriving us from the least we’re entitled to, the reason of which I believe is best known to it.”
The TRRC is currently investigating the atrocities of Jammeh including the case of Muhammed’s father. The reparations are expected to be made to the victims and their families. But this doesn’t make any sense to Muhammed “if children of a man that paid the price of liberating a whole country by his life are denied education and are made to be recipients of petty handouts from people that claim to act under directives of the president and also government commissioned institutions where millions of dalasi are spent.”
The blatant wickedness is beginning to get to our nerves and make us feel the sacrifice of our father is disregarded and disrespected by the Gambian state, he says.
Muhammed pointed out that the family is aware of many possible alternatives that are available to hold the state accountable for the murder of their father.
“All that we ask is fair treatment and that cannot happen if we continue to massage this impotent transitional justice mechanism of the government. It has to make at least a little sense at least.”