Lawyer Mai Ahmed Fatty was in the middle of a consultation meeting with a client in his Law Associates Chambers on Satellite House, Banjul, when his cellphone began to vibrate.
Looking at the caller ID flashing on the phone, “Sorry I have to take this call,” he apologised to his client.
“Honourable”, he said as he flipped open his red Sony Ericsson phone. “How are you today?”
“I’m not fine,” the caller with a very deep voice answered. “I have just been picked up and is currently at the police headquarters.”
The caller was Baba Jobe, majority leader of the Gambia’s National Assembly and close associate of President Yahya Jammeh.
Laughing off the remark, the young lawyer who was personally recruited by Mr Jobe to serve as his legal rep several months ago replied: “Honourable, can you please stop joking. I’m in the middle of a meeting with a client.”
” Wallahi, I swear to Allah. I’m serious,” Mr Jobe said before the phone went dead.
For a couple of minutes, Mr. Fatty sat motionlessly on his seat and starred at his phone before apologising to his client and exited his office.
It was Thursday, November 13, 2003, and as the young lawyer made his way to the police headquarters in Banjul with small beads of sweat forming around his forehead despite the cold Harmattan wind, he bagan to wonder whether the whole thing was a windup. As Baba Jobe’s lawyer, he knew the man who was regarded by many as a vile monster with a permanent frown on his has also got a dark sense of humour.
Like many thousands of other Gambians, the young had never thought that the most popular figure in Gambian politics would ever be arrested let alone sit in a police cell. How can the president’s right hand man be arrested? How can the most feared Baba Jobe, who gets away with everything; even murder be detained by the police?
Well it was not a joke, but a true story that shall be told for many more years to come. Baba Jobe was indeed arrested by State Guard soldiers on the orders of President Jammeh. He was arrested for issuing a cheque to the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA), which was dishonoured by Trust Bank Ltd.
After writing series of letters to Baba Jobe and YDE demanding the full payment of D26, 193, 241.13 for their imports, GPA completed a blank cheque YDE had left with its Finance Department as collateral and tried to cash it. As there was not sufficient funds in the account, the cheque was not honoured and returned to the GPA official.
Prior to issuing the cheque, Baba Kanteh, YDE’s managing director was reported to have made it clear to GPA that the cheque cannot be cashed as there was no money in their account.
And although both GPA and Customs have denied reporting Baba Jobe to the police or filing any case against him, he was detained with Baba Kanteh by the police, who said they were investigating reports of non-payment of ports and custom tariffs by YDE.
As news of his arrest began to make waves, National Assembly Members of his APRC party gathered at the police headquarters to demand answers and to try to resolve the matter.
While Baba Jobe was held at the Fraud Squad where he spent the night, the Inspector General of Police, Landing 13 Badjie gave strict orders that he should not be allowed to talk to anyone.
Due to the love they had for their majority leader, some National Assembly Members like Ramzia Diab [Nominated] and Nyimansata Sanneh-Bojang [Nominated] spent the night in the Law Associates’ Chamber where Mai Fatty spent hours on the phone and prepared his bail application. The following morning, Baba Jobe was arraigned before Justice Madabuchi Abuchi Paul together with Baba Kanteh and the YDE on six counts of economic crimes. A not guilty plea was entered and a bail application was made by Mr. Fatty. However, something dramatic happened.
When the Director of Public Prosecution, Chief Akomaye Agim, (who later became high court judge and Chief Justice of the Gambia) rose to object to the bail application, an NIA officer sitting behind him pulled his robe and handed him a note. After reading the note, the DPP told the court that the state will not object to the bail application. The said note was said to have been from the Secretary General. Apparently, Abdoulie Kujabi, (then NIA director general and a friend of Baba Jobe), who was at the time in the UK had managed to persuade President Jammeh not to have Baba Jobe remanded at Mile Two Prisons. Kujabi was said to have expressed concerns about the rift the case would bring within the APRC and the threats it may cause on national security.
The trial began a few days later and Mai Fatty recruited some senior lawyers to help with the case including Ousman Sillah as head, Lamin Jobarteh, Lamin Camara and Lamin K Mboge. Edward Gomez who was legal rep for YDE also joined the team which punch holes in the case and tore the prosecution witnesses apart. Ousman Sillah in particular, who was lead counsel employed a hard cross-examination technique which made state witnesses tremble in the witness-box.
Meanwhile, following his return to the country, Abdoulie Kujabi was said to have tried to broker a behind the scene deal between the state and Baba Jobe, which would have included YDE paying the full amount it owed to GPA and Customs with interest and the state dropping the charges.
However, this did not go down well with Edward Singhateh and other original members of the revolution who had for many years lived under the shadow of Baba Jobe. Determined to get their enemy out-of-the-way, a close associate of Baba Jobe was bankrolled to provide information on the activities of the majority leader.
On December 20, 2003, while still on court bail, Baba Jobe had a meeting with some of his close associates at his residence in Manjai Kunda during which some issues threatening to national security were alleged to have been discussed.
Determined to get Baba Jobe sent down, a plot was hatched up to kill Lawyer Ousman Sillah, who was seen as an obstacle to their scheme of seeing Baba Jobe sink. So some members of President Jammeh’s hit squad, The Jungulars, were instructed to kill him.
It was not clear whether Jammeh was aware of the plot but on 25th December 2003 while returning from a wedding, Lawyer Sillah was ambushed outside his home. Recounting the incident, he said: “When I arrived at the gate of my compound, I waited for my watchman to open the gate for me. It was then that I saw two figures coming from a pick-up vehicle just behind my car. The pick-up did not have a number plate and was of the type used by the Gambia National Army. I have seen pick-ups of this type being driven towards State House in Banjul. While I was still in my car calling on my watchman to open the gate, I saw the figures moving closer to the tail end of my car. Just two meters away.
“They came closer to me, while I was still sitting in the car, and I clearly saw them holding guns. The two men each had a gun. One figure was fairly tall, and the other was much shorter in stature. I turned my head to them, and saw the tall man raise his gun and direct it at me. I never came out of my car. And then the first shot came, and I felt an explosion in my head.
“Having been shot once, I fell in the car seat towards the gear lever, and as I tried to sit upright, another shot was fired at me. That shot blew up the right side of my face below the eye. I recall putting my hand to that side of my face to check what had happened. I remained slumped in the front of the car and I kept motionless. I was not aware of other shots being fired at me, but I did become aware that my two assailants had returned to their own vehicle and driven off. Being aware that my assailants had left the scene, I then struggled to open the car door, and I staggered into my compound. The incident had happened at the gate of my compound, and not inside it. I got to my house, bleeding profusely. I staggered onto the settee in my living room. I told my watchman to fetch my wife and tell her that I had been shot. My wife came into the room and I was rushed to the Ndeban Clinic. At this point, I was still conscious, and I narrated my ordeal to my doctor, Doctor Faal.“
Sillah was later flown to neighbouring Senegal where he went through the knife and made a full recovery.
Shortly after Sillah’s shooting, details of Baba Jobe’s meeting with his associates were sent to President Jammeh. Baba Jobe was blamed for the shooting of his own lawyer and an order for his arrest was issued.
On Saturday, December 27, 2003, while returning from a visit to his native village of Jarra Karantaba, Baba Jobe and several of his colleagues were arrested by police officers at Sibanor before being escorted under tight security to the Police Training School in Yundum, where they were detained.
Lawyer Mai Fatty was also arrested and detained for one night at the NIA headquarters, while Kuru Kongira was detained for many days at the NIA headquarters and was released some weeks later due to ill health. Baba Jobe’s driver, who was believed to have been a member of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), was detained for some weeks before being deported to Liberia.
After several days of detention without charge, a group of lawyers representing Baba Jobe including Lamin Camara filed a case to the high court in Banjul seeking his for his unconditional release. The matter was decided by Justice Wallace Grant who ruled that his arrest and detention was unconstitutional and ordered his immediate and unconditional release.
The order was however ignored by the state and a few days later Justice Grant was promoted to the Court of Appeal. Angered by lack of respect to the court order, Baba Jobe’s lawyers filed a contempt of court case before Justice. When the matter was called, Justice Grant declined to hear it on the grounds that he made the order while he was a high court judge and it would not be proper for him to hear the contempt of court case now that he is a court of appeal judge.
It was not until three months later when all the men except Baba Jobe were released after a similar application was granted by Justice Madabuchi Abuchi Paul. Baba Jobe’s detention was made legal on the basis that he has got enormous political influence and his release would jeopardise with investigations into a case of national security.
As the Gambian and international media were having a feast over Baba Jobe’s arrest and prosecution, President Jammeh launched his Operation No Compromise, which saw the sackings and arrest of many senior government officials. Among them, Abdoulie Kujabi, director general of the National Intelligence Agency, Momodou Clarke Bajo, Lang Conteh, governor general and foreign exchange manager of the Central Bank of the Gambia, respectively and Ousman Mboge, managing director of Customs and Excise among others.
Tarik Mousa of TK Motors, who was dubiously awarded most of the government contracts like printing of number plates and passports, was bundled out of the country in the most bizarre manner. Tarik was given his deportation orders while on board a flight at the Banjul International Airport after been released from detention.
Baba Jobe, Lang Conteh, Momodou Clarke Bajo and some share holders of Whechit Faling Bureau de Change, were in January 2004 charged on five counts of economic crimes. They were said to have conspired and used their Whechit Faling Bureau de Change to embezzle millions of Dalasis from the Central Bank of the Gambia. However, the men never stood before any judge to answer to the charges. The state according to the Director of Public Prosecution, Akomaye Agim, decided to withdraw the case after the accused persons paid all the money due to the state with interest.
Lang Conteh was later charged separately on some counts of economic crimes. He made a plea bargain with the prosecution and was fined and jailed for six months in prisons.
To be continue