|GPU VP on the left side, Chief Manneh on the right|
It is five years since journalist Ebrima Chief Manneh disappeared from the midst of his colleagues, family and loved ones.
He was whisked away by plain clothed security officers from his office at The Daily Observer Newspaper on July 7, 2006.
Chief Manneh was working with the pro-government Daily Observer Newspaper and since his arrest in 2006 his whereabouts remains unknown.
The state has disassociated itself from Manneh’s disappearance and told the nation that the missing journalist is not under their custody.
“The state should not waste any more time to investigate the disappearance of Chief Manneh, as there are reports that they vowed to do so along with the assassination of the slain journalist Deyda Hydara,” the first vice president of The Gambia Press Union (GPU), Mr Baboucarr Ceesay told The Daily News in an exclusive interview.
Five years on, Chief Manneh’s disappearance remained an unresolved matter, in spite of the vigorous advocacy for his release by both the Gambian media fraternity and international media organisations around the world. What workable solution do you think should be the next step to journalist Manneh’s long disappearance?
It is rather unfortunate to have a journalist gone missing in a country where his umbilical cord is buried from birth. The state should not waste any more time to investigate the disappearance of Chief, as there are reports that they vowed to do so along with the assassination of the slain journalist Deyda Hydara. And if he is under the custody of the state they should release him immediately and compensate him as ordered by the ECOWAS Court.
I also subscribe to the idea of a former GPU president who said at the congress that we can use investigative journalism to probe into the matter of the disappearance of our colleague. That does not mean that the state should not do their part. The investigation of journalist Manneh’s matter should be a must for the state. Chief came from a family with aging parents who like any other parent love to see the progress of their beloved child contributing his quota to the development of his family and the nation. His parents are desperate, not knowing his whereabouts for five solid years. His family, colleagues, friends and loved ones are still in a dilemma.
What is your reaction to the statement that Chief Ebrima may have gone through the back way to Europe for greener pasture?
What an unthinkable statement! How can someone who has not successfully investigated the matter claim that the missing journalist have gone through such perilous journey to Europe. The protection and the welfare of all Gambian citizens and all those resident in The Gambia is constitutionally the business of the state. The statement against him is definitely very unfair when he need the intervention of the state through investigation and bringing the culprits to justice accordingly.
The ECOWAS Court in Abuja, Nigeria has ruled in favour of Chief Ebrima and ordered for his immediate release and compensation with US$100,000, but yet to be heeded to by the state. Won’t this attitude of the state not create doubts whether Manneh is still alive?
That is the million dollar question. It is only the state that can clearly explain why they have not done anything about his compensation and immediate release. Though the lack of thorough investigation has bred clouds of doubts, but there is still no reliable report on his death. It is rational to perceive that he is still alive in the absence of an outcome of successful investigations to prove claims of his death. The case of Chief Ebrima Manneh, like the killing of Deyda Hydara cannot be forgotten. It will remain an ever pursued matter until justice is done. There is no ulterior motive, but to ensure that all and sundry live in a just society free from intimidation, arbitrary arrests, detentions without trial, killings and disappearances.
You are now the 1st vice president of GPU, what effort is the Union making to create a conducive media environment for journalists operating in the country so that there will be assurance that no ‘Chief Manneh’ or ‘Deyda Hydara’ scenario will reoccur in The Gambia?
That is a task that the Union cannot do in a vacuum or alone. We can only do that in collaboration with the government. This is why the government should wholeheartedly consider us as partners and not foes. The media is a very important instrument in development. This is clear to every leader and government. Problems always arise when the media wants to execute their constitutional mandate of holding the leadership accountable. In creating a conducive media environment, both the media and government are stakeholders, hence the need for greater partnership, instead of working in solitude and suspicion. The media is really ready to partner with the government for the progress of this country. A case in point is the meeting between the media chiefs and the head of state at State House. The media barons spoke out their minds. One of them reminded the state of the importance of section 207 of the Constitution of The Gambia that outlined the role of the media and another made a recommendation of the reviewing and repealing of the laws of sedition, defamation and libel which are media offences decriminalized by many democracies in the world today.
Is the media a threat to the state?
Absolutely no. The state should not have any phobia towards the media. The media has been universally recognised as the ‘Forth Estate’, it is next to the three arms of government – the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. This is an indication that the media is generally recognised as a partner to the state. If the primary drafter of the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson can write that he would prefer newspapers without a government than a government without newspapers in 1787, then why should a 21st century man hesitate to appreciate, tolerate and empower the media.
Some people are with the belief that journalists are also the creator of the environment in which they operate. What is your opinion about that?
Journalists are members of society existing as social beings like any other person. We have social responsibilities as well. What should be accepted here is that Gambian journalists are doing very well. Regardless of the unfriendly environment we operate, more young people are inspired to take up journalism as a career. I also believe that there is no irresponsible journalism in this country that can lead to anything like the Rwandan genocide. Because many people use Rwandan genocide as an epitome of what bad journalism can give rise to. Such situations should be used to gag freedom of expression and that of the press in another country. To stick to the ethics of journalism as our guiding principle is the daily singsong at the GPU and in all independent media houses in the country. I worked for five media houses in this country. There is no media house that works with a detrimental agenda.
Thank you for sparing your valuable time for the interview.
It’s a pleasure. Thank you for the engagement.