July 1994 Coup (Part 4): A Frightened Yaya Jammeh Wanted to Run Away But Was Forced on Board

Amid the euphoria in the Yundum camp with soldiers loyal to the plotters brandishing machine guns and other heavy weapons, the mutineers were pep-talked and divided into groups of three.

The first group under company sergeant major Ebrima Bah was to remain at the camp and overseer matters in the case of eventualities. The second group, led by Sana B. Sabally co-supported by Sadibou Hydara, was to attack and capture the Fajara Barrack including cut off communication cables. The third group was headlined by Edward Singhatey and Yaya Jammeh tasked with controlling the Denton Bridge and taking over State House. During preparation of the coup, it was designed that no civilian vehicles were to be used except government transports.

In the interim, soldiers shared jujus as others held sticks in their mouth, in their belief, to ward off gun bullets.

So, rendered immobilized by the sabotage to the barrack transports, the soldiers jumped the camp’s fence onto the main road and commandeered government vehicles.  A white vehicle belonging to a Lebanese farmer was seized as Sana and his troop entered it driving towards Abuko cable and wireless to cut off the communication wires there. On the road to Fajara Baracks, Sana and his troops sighted police recruits and arrested them, forcing them to hoop into the vehicle as their plan B –human seals in case the waging of war on the barracks and the takeover of the State House fails.

After some exchange of fire, Sana and co took over the Fajara Barracks and stationed Sergeant Gibril Bojang and WO1 (Warrant officer) Abdoulie Dot Faal while sending Abdou Bah to check on whether Edward and co have crossed the Denton Bridge. Bah returned to tell the story that they have not crossed and were negotiating with soldiers loyal to the state.

Jammeh had wanted to opt out of the coup  because of fright before Edward held him by the rifle and forcibly placed him in the vehicle with two soldiers sandwiching him so that he won’t be running away.

Edward and co headed to Banjul but disembarked 700 meters from the Bridge and walked tactically to towards it. Jammeh was a senior personnel but not an infantry officer and knew absolute nothing about war drills leaving Edward to do the entire planning and implementation. At the bridge, they met tactical commando groups under the gambit of major Suwareh. Edward and following managed to cross having negotiated successfully. The plotters group was then divided to three assigned with taking over the defence headquarters, along the beach and securing the mangroves area as mutineers were expecting exchange of fire while the third group stayed as reserves.

In the heat of things, a truck showed up and screeched in middle of the road, as commandos emerged out of their hideouts and boarded the truck heading back to Banjul. Edward and co experienced first incident of exchange of fire from the police officers in the junction after Bone Road heading to the Banjul highway. Under minutes, there was return suppressive fire from the headquarter group who were asked to flank by Edward’s runner. Ebrima Chongan is reported to have opened fire at the junta but fled the scene upon realisation that his men are not responding. In the end, agreement was reached and state controlled commandos, stationed at Gambia High School, joined the mutineers but on a condition they lay down their arms and only pick up rifles when a man goes down or is injured.

Photo: Yaya Jammeh wanted to run at one point

Having won over the commandos, Edward further divided the group into smaller contingents through Quadrangle area while he went with the larger troops around the State House’s main gates from the McCharty Square. Slowly the troops moved again to around State House while some of them were positioned in corners acting as cover protecting them from possible fire from within State House.

Edward then shouted to those inside the presidential palace to open the gate threatening to blows the gates with his RPG and machine gun if they fail to cooperate. In no time, Sergeant Bakary Camara came to the gate and was asked about the keys which he responded were with Lang Tomgong Tamba. When he returned with the keys, a shot rang out but Camara quickly took off his beret and waved signaling the shot wasn’t fired in aggression. When the main gate was opened Singhateh ordered Camara to open the back gate for Yaya Jammeh and his men to come in amid jubilation after the successful takeover without resistance.

Sana Sabally later drove in with Sadibou Hydara and Abdou Bah to the palace in a fit of rage threatening to open fire at officers on the pretext he heard a counter coup was being hatched as Jammeh and others restrained him physically. It happened at the time Edward and others have asked senior officers for their cooperation and endorsement.

This Sana’s incident would later influence Edward’s decision for choosing Jammeh to be chairman/president because he felt Sabally was displaying tendencies of erratic behaviour and bad temperament.

Ideas were being thrown on board in disarray fashion at the meeting in the immediate aftermath of the coup without proper structuring. Quickly, Captain Sonko (Kenyeleng Manso) made a first announcement of the coup to the Gambian public but his tone was considered threatening, far from the diction needed to win over hearts immediately. Samsideen Sarr also drafted his own statement and offered it as a suggestion but Jammeh had written out his own which Samsideen requested to see.

“Ndekete Jola muna Binda –so Jolas too can write -,” he said mocking to Yaya who did not take lightly to the comment.

Captain Samsideen Sarr suggested the council members go up and decide who leads and gets what positions. At that particular period, Jammeh, Sabally, Singhatey and Hydara were the sole members there with Yankuba Touray coming a day before having crossed from Farafenni Barracks.

Edward opted for Jammeh to be junta’s chairman because of Sana’s previous “irrational behaviour” of threatening to kill on information that is not verified.

Sana’s countenance is reported to have changed immediately on the basis he felt robbed considering he single-handedly launched the coup and did bulk of the work including capturing the Fajara Barracks in brutal fashion. Then Jammeh suggested Edward be his deputy – a suggestion countered by Sadibou Hydara who said Sana should be vice based on seniority and experience to which Edward agreed.

Hydara headed the Interior as third most important in the hierarchy while Yankuba headed lands and local governments as rest of the cabinet comprised mixture of civilians and army men.

Senior officers from various factions of security who did not consent to the changes were detained at the Mile II Prisons, some for two years without trial.

***Part 5 for more details***

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