The 11th witness; Dr. Binneh Minteh who resides in the
United Kingdom on Thursday, 24 January, testified before the Truth,
Reconciliation and Reparations Commission that the presence of the Nigerian
Training Team (NATAG) planted the seed of coup d’état into the minds of junior
officers. He stated that July 22nd disobeyed all commands as they arrested most
senior officers after the coup.
He said that there was fraternisation between The Gambia National Army junior officers and the Nigerian team compared to the senior GNA officers.
He mentioned instances where some junior officers like Edward Sighateh was seen with the Nigerians and junior officers indulging in subversive misbehaviour and making subversive comments.
Dr. Binneh Minteh told the Commission that the failure to arrest and detain Yahya Jammeh and his cohorts after the airport incidence by the Nigerian command contributed to the coup.
Dr. Minteh’s testimony also touched on the amalgamation of the gendarmerie, the advent of the British Army Team (BAT) and Nigerian Training Team (NATAG).
He pointed out that the advent of the BAT and NATAG were contributing factors that weakened The Gambia National Security.
He said that there would have been bloodbath if his men had tried to repel the mutineers and stop them from crossing Denton Bridge.
He disclosed that the government forces were not very prepared to repel the mutineers, adding that it would have been a poor leadership if he had tried to repel them using the few handful soldiers of about 45 men as against hundreds of soldiers from the Gambia National Army who were very armed with sophisticated weapons.
He pointed out that the very purpose of withdrawing his men was largely to give him the opportunity to seek alternative solution as he never wanted to sacrifice his men after assessing the preparedness of Yahya Jammeh and his group.
The witness disclosed that the government forces found themselves in a complex situation after his assessment of Edward Sighateh’s group. He inferred that his forces were operating under a disastrous national security.
Dr. Binneh Minteh further disclosed that the government forces were operating under disastrous national security situation and after his assessment, he knew that his men cannot stop the mutineers despite the instruction of Chongan to shoot at them.
The witness told the Commission that in the morning of 22nd July, 1994, after they were assembled at the guard room an emergency call came and were briefed that they were going to be deployed to stop the soldiers at Yundum Barracks who had broken into the armoury and were marching towards Denton Bridge.
The witness further told the Commission that he was under the command of Capt. Amadou Suwareh and they were equipped with AK 47 riffles and magazines and boarded a truck.
He revealed that at Denton Bridge they disembarked from the truck and laid ambush at the Banjul side of the bridge and organised themselves in a defensive position and their recognition team standing around the bridge.
He said when Edward Sighateh’s groups arrived, Capt. Suwareh approached them and suddenly he observed that Capt. Suwareh was behind Yahya Jammeh and Edward Sighateh.
He further said he went to meet Edward Sighateh after he ran out of patience when Capt. Suwareh did not return.
The witness told the Commission the conversation he had with Edward Sighateh and how Sighateh informed him that they have broken the armoury and wanted to cross to Banjul and that nothing can stop them and the threat that they can break the bridge if they try to stop them.
The witness revealed that he replied that he heard him loud and clear, but negotiated with Sighateh to give him time to contact his superior, adding that he noticed that Capt. Suwareh was ceased.
He explained that he left Sighateh to go to his superiors and informed them of their demands, but met Chongan who repeated his order to shoot.
The witness said Chongan came to the bridge twice, the 1st time was when he assisted them in establishing their formation and gave orders not to allow Sighateh’s group to cross the bridge.
He said the 2nd time was when Chongan returned and instructed them not to allow Sighateh’s group to cross the bridge, but to fight and not to give up the bridge.
The witness further said that when he met Chongan for the 2nd time, he did not explain the readiness of Sighateh’s group to him.
Dr. Binneh Minteh disclosed that after Chongan left, his team decided not to fire at Sighateh’s group after using their discretion and he thought there was no way he would sacrifice his men against the marching soldiers who were very armed.
He pointed out that it would have been suicidal if they had resisted the marching soldiers; adding that after realising that Capt. Suwareh was already captured by Sighateh’s group, he left with Lt. Jarju and some elements of his mobile unit to Banjul.
He revealed that he later met the marching soldiers around Gambia High School where they divided themselves into two groups, with some taking Marina Parade and others taking Independence Drive.
The witness told the Commission that when he arrived at the State House he requested to see Lt. L.T. Tamba and tried to diffuse the situation and find a peaceful solution.
At this juncture, lead counsel, Essa M. Faal read paragraph 9 of his statement where he advised Tamba not to resist the marching soldiers, but urged him to open the gate of State House to allow Jammeh and his men access as any attempt to resist them could lead to bloodbath.
The witness revealed that when Jammeh and his men finally entered the State House, there were no resistance and they danced to the ‘bucaraboo songs’.
He further revealed that he attended the Council’s 1st meeting at the State House in the evening of July 22nd where he saw some senior officers.
He told the Commission that the meeting largely was meant to make their position known and Yahya Jammeh was pronounced as the head of the council, followed by Sana Sabally as vice chairman, Edward Sighateh as minister of Defence and Sadibou Hydara as Interior minister.
He revealed that Yahya Jammeh’s speech centered on security and entrenching himself as the leader of the council.
He pointed out that Edward Sighateh commanded positions to the officers and NCOs, adding that Lt. Tamba and himself were assigned the responsibility of taking care of Fajara Barracks.