None of ex-President Yahya Jammeh’s aides, from junior staffers to the most senior official in his office, could muster the courage to advise him against what now appears to be gross financial mismanagement.
Jammeh had given orders that his top aides knew were against financial regulations, giving himself unrestricted access to millions that he withdrew without any questioning.
But who will question the Gambia’s former absolute ruler without risking being sacked or spending time in a notorious jail for months, some without charges?
Out of this fear, all of Jammeh’s aides that have appeared before a commission probing his financial transactions all stressed that they do not question the former leader’s orders.
So far, former Secretary General Momodou Sabally and Abdoulie Sallah, and Former Permanent Secretary Isatou Auber have appeared before the Commission. Ex-Secretary to Cabinet Nuha Touray is also expected to testify and to maintain the same line of explanation that “you cannot say no to Jammeh.”
So what did they do? They resorted to using “subtle nudges” to sometimes convince Mr. Jammeh to change positions on some of his decisions that contravene government’s financial guidelines.
Aides found it easier to convince Jammeh to reverse some decisions when recommendations are made to the government by the World Bank and the IMF.
Jammeh had opened government accounts in commercial banks and even in the country’s Central Bank without following due process. He has withdrawn millions from the account.
He instructed his senior aides like Secretary General, Permanent Secretary, and Secretary to Cabinet to sign checks that saw hundreds of millions taken from the off-book accounts.
Most of his instructions are verbal but in order to keep paper trails, memos are sometimes sent back to him to sign a final approval for payouts.
Former Jammeh aides, who fell out of favor with the iron-fist ruler said one had to be careful advising or working with him. Jammeh’s reception to counsel were unpredictable and decisions largely depended on his mood.
Those that had advised him at the wrong time have seen fallacious charges brought against them, mostly for giving wrong information and economic crimes.
Most of the people that have worked with Jammeh as aides, including his secretary generals, permanent secretaries, and cabinet secretaries have all end up in Mile 2, the prison Jammeh calls his “free hotel.”
The hearings at the Commission show how powerful Jammeh was. Just like many other African states, power is centered in the hands of the president. Gambia is no different with institutions lacking independence.