The Baba Jobe Conundrum and Its Possible Implications
Friday, November 11, 2011
Barely three weeks to the next presidential election, the death in prison custody of Baba Jobe, who has no doubt been The Gambia’s most colorful and controversial politician, is quite significant in many respects and no doubt has some unpredictable repercussions for this country’s political landscape. Coming barely two weeks after the violent death of his friend and mentor, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, it is indeed a sad situation and also ironic that Baba Jobe, who has by all accounts been one of the architects of the present political dispensation, should die a prisoner of the very system he contributed in creating.
He has not only been one of the bedrocks of the transition process since the military takeover in 1994, but he had also contributed quite significantly towards the consolidation of the AFPRC military junta and its eventual transformation into the present APRC regime.
Therefore, the very fact that Jobe had not only been incarcerated by the same regime he helped to create and nurture, but he even had to die in its custody is certainly a hot potato and it would be quite interesting to see how his former colleagues in the regime would handle it. It would also be interesting to see whether it will have any repercussions for the forthcoming elections, particularly in his home area of Jarra where he was held in high regard.
Baba Jobe was quite controversial in many respects. He was many things to many people. He was a philanthropist who used to dish out money and other gifts. We can all recall the long daily queues that used to form at his ‘Money Shop’ on Kairaba Avenue, virtually all of them waiting for their share of the cake.
However, to many others, Baba Jobe was a bully who had a carte blanche to do anything with impunity. We can all recall how his name was associated with virtually all atrocities alleged to have been committed during the transition period and even beyond.
He was seen as the leader of the notorious July 22 Movement and financier of its thugs who went around the country committing atrocities with impunity.
Indeed, Baba Jobe had so much power and influence in virtually all sectors of the administration, including over the ministers and other heads of departments that he was seen as the second most powerful person after the president.
Indeed, the very fact that even though he had no formal education, he was still appointed Majority Leader of the National Assembly showed the level of his power and influence on all aspects of governance.
It therefore came as a bolt from the blue when he was arrested and detained for a long time before he was charged and eventually convicted of economic crimes.
While we are still waiting to know what he has died of, but certainly, his death in custody has once again rekindled the debate on The Gambia’s prison conditions, which had been the subject of several debates in the recent past.
It came less than two weeks after the death in custody of a Dutch national who was one of the ‘Cocaine 9’ who were recently convicted and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
It also came in the wake of allegations that the inmates at Mile two Central Prisons had gone on hunger strike in protest against their bad and inadequate food rations, which had been denied by the government.
There have also been several complaints of poor conditions in the country’s prisons; including reported deaths in custody. We can also recall the complaints recently made by the former information minister Amadou Scattred Janneh, who has been in detention since June, about his treatment in detention.
It is therefore quite necessary that The Gambian authorities should undertake some urgent reforms of the country’s penal system in order to ward off the bad name it is giving the country.
Therefore, the best way they can do it in order to dispel such rumours of harsh prison conditions and bad food rations is for the government to allow a neutral body like the Red Cross to frequently visit the prisons and make public their findings.
Certainly, ignoring these rumors and complaints will not make them go away and therefore, the only solution is to appropriately address them.
Indeed, all his former colleagues in the regime as well as everyone else have quite a lot of lessons to learn from Baba Jobe’s checkered life history, including the fact that being in a position of power and influence may not be permanent.
Therefore, those in such positions of power and influence today should always bear in mind that they can also end up like Baba Jobe or even worse. Therefore, we all should adhere to the adage that ‘those climbing up should be kind to those they pass on the way because those are the same people they are likely to meet on their way down.’