Former President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, who ruled from 1996-2017, has been accused of ordering the killing of 59 West African migrants, including nine Nigerians.
According to a statement by Human Rights Watch, testimony before Gambia’s The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) implicated the former president in the killings.
Jammeh, who has lived in exile in Equatorial Guinea since his departure from the Gambia in January 2017, has been accused of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detention.
TRRC was set up by President Adama Barrow, his successor, to investigate the allegations against him.
The group said from February 24 to March 11, 2021, witnesses told the TRRC that migrants bound for Europe from Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo, including their Gambian contact, were held by Jammeh’s top lieutenants in the security services before being murdered by the “Junglers,” a notorious paramilitary unit that took orders directly from the ex-president.
It said witnesses, including the country’s former chief of defence staff and former senior officers of its National Intelligence Agency (NIA) testified that Ousman Sonko, the then former police chief, informed Jammeh during a national ceremony on July 22, 2005 that a large group of migrants had been apprehended on a beach near Barra, across the river from Banjul, the capital.
“One of those men was Paul Enagameh of Nigeria, whose brother, Kehinde Enagameh, was among those killed, according to a Nigerian investigation carried out in 2008,” it said.
After allegedly speaking with Jammeh, Sonko was said to have instructed officers to ferry the migrants, who were suspected of being mercenaries, to the naval headquarters in Banjul.
All the Gambian security chiefs were said to have then converged on the naval headquarters, as did several Junglers, who beat and kicked the migrants and “treated them like animals”.
“Several officers said that it was already clear that the men and two women were migrants and not mercenaries, as they carried no weapons or anything suspicious. The migrants were then allegedly distributed to various detention centers around Banjul,” the rights group added.
“The exposed bodies of the first group of eight migrants were found the next morning, July 23, 2005, near Ghana Town, a settlement of Ghanaian descendants in Brufut, just outside Banjul.
“Amady Jallow, the then-crime management coordinator, testified that the bodies showed signs of bad beatings, their skulls broken in, blood and brains oozing out”.
Jallow reportedly said he was informed years later by another police officer that an additional nine Nigerians had been buried in a mass grave near the place he saw the exposed bodies.
‘ORDER TO EXECUTE WAS FROM JAMMEH’
According to the statement, the TRRC said in July 2019, three former Junglers, all serving members of the Gambian National Army, testified that they and 12 others carried out those killings on Jammeh’s orders.
They also listed a series of assassinations they carried out on Jammeh’s orders and said they “never operated on anything that is their own orders or will, all the orders come from the top (Jammeh)”.
Although the exact number of migrants killed is still unclear, Gibril Secka, director of operations at the NIA, presented a list of 51 migrants the police counted at one station to including nationals of Ghana (39); Sierra Leone (3); Côte d’Ivoire (2); Senegal (2); Togo (2); Liberia (1); Nigeria (1 – John Amase), and Congo (1).
The number omits some migrants who have previously been identified, as well as eight other Nigerians arrested and killed.
JAMMEH’S GOVERNMENT TRIED TO COVER UP CRIMES
The commission alleged that Jammeh tried to cover up his crimes.
“Former chief of defense Staff Assan Sarr said that when a UN/ECOWAS investigation team came in 2008, he was told by then-police chief Ensa Bajie in the presence of the then-crime management coordinator, Yankuba Sonko, not to ‘jeopardize or tarnish the image of this country … and in the event they call us, we should be mindful of what we say or do’,” it said.
A police officer from Barra, Babucarr Bah, reportedly said Sonko told him: “Make sure you don’t say anything to the investigators”, and that on Sonko’s instructions, “we took them to bars, gave them alcohol and women.”
Bah also said around December 2005, Sonko told him to falsify the July 22, 2005 diary entry from the Barra police station where the migrants were initially arrested and that the diary entries were then completely rewritten.
But Sonko was said to have denied the allegation.
The commission is expected to deliver its report in July.