Prisons director accuses David Colley of tribalism, nepotism

Jun 9, 2020, 11:21 AM | Article By: Pa Modou Cham

Ansumana Manneh, the director general of Gambia Prisons Services yesterday testified before the TRRC and accused former prison director, David Colley, of tribalism and nepotism.

He said Colley was surrounded by his “illiterate relatives” mostly from Kanilai, who used to be “brutal” at the prison department.

Dwelling on the tribalism that used to exist at the Mile 2 Central Prisons, Director Manneh explained that when he was a staff officer at the Interior, there was a problem and he was told to return with one Sambou to Mile 2.

"But when I went to former prisons director, David Colley, he asked which tribe did Sambou belonged to.” According to him, Sambou responded that his surname is Sambou and believed he might be Jola.

“That pained me a lot because that's where the tribalism started. David Colley was a tribalist."

Manneh testified on the condition of the prisons, saying it was used as punishment ground against political opponents, citing some unbearable issues such as the denial of medications to inmates, the tribalism at the prison, poor diet, the conditions of the cells, the torture of inmates, the unlawful discrimination of female inmates and the deaths in the prison from 1994 to 2017.

A native of Kombo Lamin, Manneh joined the prison service in 1988 and he was first stationed at the state central prison (Mile 2) for one year before being moved to Janjanburreh.

Speaking on how people were imprisoned, Director Manneh stated that anyone who was in violation of the law would unfortunately be imprisoned. He added that his understanding about prison “is an institution that can change the inmates by training them with skills.” 

He said many prison officers got problems from the government as a result of helping inmates.

"I used to see politicians, religious leaders, government officials and businessmen at the prison who were just brought in as an executive order. The NIAs used to bring detainees to the prison without paper and Ebrima Ceesay was dismissed for challenging the admission of Lang Tombong Tamba, former army chief."

Manneh said so many illegal things had happened at the prison but at that time, no one spoke because of fear.

He testified that former president Yahya Jammeh used to boast that the prison is his five star hotel and could send anybody there.

Asked whether there were non-convicted prisoners who used to be locked at the security wing, he responded in the affirmative, saying those were soldiers, but was quick to add that it was improper for one to be imprisoned without conviction.

"The condition of the security wing is still the same and it should not be a place where human being should be kept. It has no proper toilet and is a small room. The security wing is still not a healthy place for people to stay."

Regarding efforts used to eliminate prisoners by poisoning them, he told lead Counsel Essa Faal that he only heard about that during Sana Sabally's testimony before the TRRC.

He, however, confirmed to the commission that he witnessed in some cases where some prisoners were denied medical attention. 

"While I was at the Interior Department, I heard that a prisoner was supposed to see a doctor but had eventually die because lack of medical attention. Prisoners dying at the prison was a public knowledge. When I was at the Interior, I received a report that Ebrima Joof was killed by some prison officers, who tortured him to death."

He said the state of the food is still the same since the Jammeh era, saying the prisoners are responsible of preparing their own food but with supervision from the officers. 

"I don’t think the foods were good during Jammeh’s era because there was a sickness called beriberi, which was caused due to poor diet. I cannot say the foods were good at the time because it made some people sick. There was a food called “pap” that was cooked for breakfast but when I became the director general, the prisoners complained to me and I had changed that, saying beriberi could be the result of pap food.

He said that since he stopped the pap food, prisoners stopped contacting beriberi “and their health conditions improved a lot."

Explaining the torture of prisoners at the Mile 2 Central Prison by the NIA officers or prison officers, Manneh indicated that he used to hear from his fellow officers that NIAs used to visit the prison, torture the inmates and take them away. He added that those NIA officers were unknown but only their car number plates would be recorded in the record book.

Asked whether he was aware of a prison officer torturing Ebrima Joof to death, he replied that something like that happened but he not could confirm the name, admitting brutality at the prison was frequent.

Testifying on the discrimination of women in the prison, he told the commission that discrimination occurred against both men and women.

Manneh stated that the level of education for the prison officers is low and that most of the highest educational level is high school.