Former army captain, Mamat O. Cham, has said he was betrayed and humiliated by leaders of AFPRC after he helped setup the junta government.
He told the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) on Wednesday that he was arrested and jailed shortly after he had done the hard work of setting up the junta government and consolidating their grip on power.
Cham, who was made the minister of information and tourism, lasted for three days in his cabinet post before being fired and jailed at the Security Wing of Mile Two Prison.
He alleged that he was subjected to torture and a mock execution by Edward Singhateh and his fellow junta leaders. He recalled seeing Edward’s younger brother, Peter Singhateh, Yankuba Touray, the late Sadibou Hydara, Sanna Sabally and their drivers.
He said Edward and his team dragged him from his cell in handcuffs and took him to the courtyards of the prison.
“Edward hit me with his gun butt on my head and nose. I was bleeding excessively. He put his gun in my mouth and started playing with the safety lock. I’d not have been here if he had touched the trigger. He’d have blown my head off.”
Cham said Edward was intoxicated as he could smell alcohol in his breath. He added that Edward shot his gun in the air in a mock execution. He said that must have been terrifying for the other detainees in his wing who would have assumed that he might have been executed. He said the beating and humiliation continued until Sabally took pity on him. He was moved to another security wing of the prison. His colleagues RSM Abubacarr Jeng (who had neck brace) and Ebrima Chongan were also tortured.
When Counsel Faal asked whether Edward was playing Russia roulette with his life.
He replied: “It was worse than Russian roulette. If he had touched the trigger I’d have been dead because the safety catch was off. I felt humiliated.”
Cham said he was disappointed with Edward and his brother, Peter, because he recruited them when he was an Adjutant at the Yundum barracks despite them turning late to the recruitment office.
On the day of the coup
Cham said the refusal of senior officers of the Nigerian contingent in the country to intervene during the coup created a command vacuum. They viewed the mutiny as an internal matter which Gambian officers should have to address on their own.
He disclosed that his commander at the time, a Nigerian officer called Lt Colonel Salick, told him “this is a critical moment in the destiny of your nation. You go and take care of the situation.”
Cham said he and Captain Baboucarr Jatta volunteered to be involved in dealing with the coup. He said Captain Kambi and Captain Wilson excused themselves citing personal reasons for the decisions not to be involved. They asked Captain Kambi to drive them to Banjul. He said there was a traffic jam and they decided to drive on the side of the road. He said a group of soldiers stopped them 200 meters away from Denton Bridge and told them to report to Yundum Barracks.
“There was commotion and panic. The soldiers were battle ready and well armed. Their postures were very aggressive. “
He further said they went to Fajara Barracks instead of Yundum to locate and mobilised loyalist forces to resist the coup but found that the soldiers there had joined the mutiny.
He said in the afternoon they were able to convince a tourist taxi driver at Senegambia beach to take them to Banjul. They drove to the Marine Unit where they met navy commander, Major Antouman Saho, who told them that the junta leaders had asked him to join the coup. He added that they drove from the Marine Unit to the State House to meet the junta leaders.
He said at the State House, after introducing themselves to the soldiers at the gate, Edward Singhateh was summoned to speak to them. He pointed out that Edward told him he was looking for him and gave them a dressing down before dismissing Captain Baboucarr Jatta that he was not needed at the State House.
“You captains should have done this (coup) before to liberate the country,” Edward told them.
Cham said the he joined the coup because he believed at that time that joining was what was in the best interest of the country.
“Do we support a process and allow continuity of order or back a government that was no longer in place? As realist, we decided to support the mutineers as they were the de facto government.”
He said he was invited in to meet with the other junta leaders. He disclosed that he met Jammeh who was in “an elated mood with a clear sense of satisfaction on his achievement as the leader of the coup”.
At this juncture Counsel Essa Faal asked “what did they need from you?”
“Practical knowledge on how to create a command structure. Edward said they were looking for me because they wanted my advice and input. They overthrew a government but didn’t know what to do. That’s why they were looking for me,” Cham told the commission.
He said he told the junta leaders that they needed to form a transitional council to fill the political vacuum created after then President Jawara fled to a US warship that was anchored on Gambian territorial waters. He said Lt Yahya Jammeh, Lt Edward Singhateh, Capt Sam Sarr, Capt Suwareh and Capt Momodou Sonko were the officers present at the meeting.
“I coined the acronym : Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) and proposed that the council have representatives from the army, gendermarie and the police. Captain Sam Sarr and I guided the process.”
He said Lt Sana Sabally later joined the meeting and objected to the agreement. He added that Lt Sabally was upset that he was not involved in the meeting.
“Sabally was very angry and emotional and said that he won’t allow ‘monkey to work and baboon to eat.’ Jammeh and Edward took him aside and calmed him down.”
They all returned later and postponed the council composition meeting. He said the junta leaders were worried about reports of Senegalese troops advancing towards the Gambian border and he was asked to speak with the Senegalese ambassador.
He said he told the ambassador that if Senegal invaded The Gambia, they would not guarantee the security of the Senegalese nationals residing in the country. He pointed out that a mutual agreement was reached with President Abdou Diouf and he pledged to remain neutral during the impasse. He added that the pledged of non-interference by Senegal was a lifeline and ensured the survival of the AFPRC.
After that the junta decided to form a cabinet comprising of soldiers and civilians. Cham and Sam Sarr were tasked with screening the civilian candidates. He said prominent Gambians in all walks of life were approached.
He said Ousainou Darboe was the junta’s first pick for Attorney General and Justice Minister, but he refused to see them when they visited his home in Pipeline. They approached Lawyer Fafa M’Bai’s who accepted the offer on the condition that the announcement of his appointment would be delayed until his return from a planned trip to the United Kingdom. .
Cham also offered PDOIS’ Halifa Sallah and Sam Sarr the Youth and Agriculture cabinet posts but they were not keen in taking the offers and asked for time to get back to him. He said Sallah and Sarr were meant to report to the State House the following day at mid-day to accept or reject the offers but arrived two hours late. The junta had already filled the positions.
He said the late Gambian journalist Suwaibou Conteh was also approached but he declined the job offer. He also declined to write a speech for the junta. However during his conversation with Cham and Sarr, Cham took notes which became the speech that Jammeh delivered to the nation.
The former Captain Cham is now General Cham and the head of The Gambia Armed Forces.