TRRC – Bo Baaji: “I Escaped Two Execution Attempts”
The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) was synonymous to hell in The Gambia. The institution was turned into the hub for several documented human rights abuses in various forms – torture, illegal detentions and killings. The atrocities committed at the place did not even spare its own officials, with Bo Baaji the former director general telling the TRRC that he was strangulated, beaten and cigarettes put off on his body.
Bo Badjie was a military intelligence officer, serving the Gambia Armed Forces prior to his NIA appointment as director general. But even before his appointment, Baaji admitted to the cruelty of the institution when one of his officials was taken there and beaten, leaving blood stains all over his body.
In his words, he had a mission to change the NIA from the course of brutality. Upon his first engagement at the NIA, he recalled calling a meeting where he stressed his plans to ensure NIA is no longer used to perpetrate crimes and right violations against people. However, he admitted, illegal detention and torture continued in spite of his efforts.
As per the TRRC’s investigations, at least fifty people were illegally detained at the NIA during Baaji’s stewardship. But he denied the knowledge of that, insisting that he relied on the people upon whom he delegated responsibility to ensure such things never happened.
“During my time, anything that’s about operation, I delegated that responsibility to Momodou Hydara because he was a long serving member of NIA and he knows NIA better than I do. As the head, I have a responsibility for administration. If we are to advance as an institution, we have to delegate responsibility and he too can delegate responsibility to another person,” he told the TRRC public hearing on Thursday.
Even though he agreed that delegation of responsibility to junior staff does not absolve him as the head for any illegal conduct might have occurred, he categorically disagreed that he is responsible for the illegal detention of 50 Gambians.
In his further justification, Baaji said: “Because Hydara was appointed just like I was and he was appointed to assist me. So, if I am engaged somewhere, he should discharge the responsibility somewhere. If I want to take charge of both the administration and operation duty at the same time, that will cause failure of the institution and I will not do that because it’s not the right way.”
Baaji fails to admit that he has a supervisory responsibility for criminal conducts against detainees. At the NIA, there’s a detention registry book where all the information about the incoming and outgoing detainees are recorded. He was confronted by the Lead Counsel Essa Faal with the register only to respond that he does not look at that book. Instead he said, they used to give him daily reports about such information, claiming that the issue of extended illegal detention was never brought to his attention in those daily briefings by his staff.
“I am surprised. I do not open the book but I have a daily report that would tell me who is detained. And I always told them I do not want any person to be detained for a certain period. Therefore, if I come to learn that some people have spent beyond that time, then I would be surprised. But I do not dispute the record.”
In the said record book, Rohiatou Fadiya, Ebrima Marong, Yusupha Corr were all confirmed to have been detained for weeks and months contrary to the Constitution’s required detention period of 72 hours. These cases were between August and January during his directorship. “I was not aware of that.” He refused to accept even a collective responsibility as the head of the institution.
“It was not my responsibility to check the books, some people were responsible for it. It’s the duty of those people to tell me how long people have been detained. If I had known they have been there for more than 72 hours I would have told them to take them to court directly. I have other functions to do.”
The torture case he fails to investigate
When Baaji was the director of NIA, a member of Gambia Drug Law Enforcement – The Gambia (DLEA-G), Lamin Kabou was taken to NIA and was severely tortured. He was accused of obstructing the NIA operatives. Kabou himself earlier testified at the TRRC to the extent of his torture, indicating that he ran out of NIA headquarters nakedly to his office in Buckle street.
“When that happened, I called my deputy [Hyadara, director of operations at NIA at the time] to call all staff of the NIA headquarters to come down immediately. I told them that what I saw today, has never happened during my time. I told them I would not take it from anyone. Because if what happened to this person happened to any of our family members, they wouldn’t like it. This is not something I will entertain and I will make sure that any person who does this will not stay here. I also made them aware that this is the first incident since my appointment and it should be the last.”
He said he wanted to investigate the case but that he got no approval to do so by the former president Yahya Jammeh, under whose office NIA was answerable to. “I was prepared to make a follow-up but they did not give me the time.”
Kabou was illegally detained at NIA
While Kabou’s TRRC’s testimony indicated that Baaji knew he was there, and that he (Kabou) saw Baaji and told him he was wrongfully detained, Badjie denied that. He said he had no knowledge that Kabou was suffering unlawful detention at the NIA he was heading. Kabou was detained for weeks at the NIA cells. According to Baaji, when Kabou ran out of NIA, he arranged for his return to the NIA to face interrogation over his alleged obstruction. He said he handed Kabou to his deputy to lead the process. This led to Kabou’s extended illegal detention which Baaji claims he had no knowledge about.
The beginning of his own suffering
Major Baaji was redeployed to Gambia Armed Forces as director of military intelligence in August 2009. He was shortly arrested and accused of concealing and planning a coup along with Lang Tombong Tamba. His arrest came around 1am when his door was broken by military and NIA officials in Tallinding. He was detained for more than two weeks before being taken to the NIA.
At the NIA, Baaji faced a panel consist of Numo Kujabie the [then] DG of NIA, Solo Bojang – GAF, Bora Colley, State Guard [jungular], JPB Gomez – GAF, Alagie Camara – GAF, Alagie Ceesay – GAF, Yankuba Badjie [later DG] NIA, Lamin Cham, Police, L.S [Lamin Sanyang], late Sukuta Jammeh of NIA, Luoise Gomez, NIA, Alagie Morr, NIA and Saihou Jallow.
“While I was there, they asked me about the 2006 Coup. They asked if I didn’t know that Lang Tombong Tamba was part of the 2006 coup. I told them no. They told me it’s not true. I told them that’s the truth. I was not aware that he was part of it. They asked if M.A Bah did not tell me that Tamba was part of it. I told them it’s not true…Solo rose and slapped me.”
According to him, the late Sukuta Jammeh tried to convince him that he should accept to implicate Lang Tombong Tamba as a participant in the 2006 coup and regain his freedom but, Baaji said refused.
He was tortured at night. “They took me upstairs to the conference room. When I entered the conference room, they switched off the light. I heard someone say sit on the floor. I saw someone brought a plastic bag and placed it over my head. They told me if I don’t speak the truth I will be killed. They strangle my neck. Someone put out a cigarette on my body. It was so painful. They beat me seriously,” the witness told the commission.
Due to his face being covered with a plastic bag, he couldn’t recognize those who beat him which he said lasted for more than 20 minutes. He sustained bruises and injuries on his back, as per his testimony. Throughout the beating, Baaji said he was being forced to implicate Lang Tombong in both 2006 and 2009 coups.
On a different day, he said he was again told that he and Lang Tombong and others were planning a coup, because they have trained some people in Guinea Bissau. He disagreed.
He was later taken to the Attorney General’s office to meet the Director of Public Prosecution who also tried to convince him to implicate Tamba just to buy his freedom. But he said he refused again. He said the DPP threatened him that the state had already secured evidence of weapons, boat and container against them. But he refused to agree.
“In the second torture, I was at the NIA until it was late. They took me upstairs to beat me. They handcuffed me from behind. The light was switched off. My face was not covered this time. They beat me. It was painful. I was screaming because it was painful.”
First execution attempt
“There was another day they came for me. That day they didn’t want to torture me. They wanted to kill me. They took me from prison and as I was about to get into the vehicle, someone grabbed my neck and tied my face. I was not knowing where I was going. That night, they took me from one car to another. I didn’t know where I was being taken to.”
Baaji recently knew from an informant that it was the day he was supposed to be
executed along Lang Tombong Tamba. According to him, the person who informed him about their possible killing said the orders were given by Solo Bojang and they were contemplating where they should be buried. He said the informant told him that he was able to convince the team leader of the execution squad not to proceed.
“While in the vehicle, I could feel the breeze of the beaches. I suspected that I was going to be killed because the operation was different from others. I felt that something was going to happen.” He said his informant was later able to confirm that such an order was not from Jammeh and therefore it failed to be carried out.
Escaping the 2009 execution list
Baaji produced a list to the Commission which included himself as among those to be executed in 2009. However, he said the intervention of his lawyer who asked for a stay of execution because they did not complete their right of appeals saved his life.
Lang Tombong Tamba, Modou Gaye, Brigadier Mbaye, Kawsu Camara were all condemned to death by the high court. The Supreme Court seven-member judges managed to overturn their death conviction to life sentence. They were eventually granted a presidential pardon in 2015. Baaji fled to Senegal until his return in 2017 after the change of government.