By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
After filing a complaint to the Police about four members of the victim community, former Chairperson Mr Sheriff Mohammed Kijera confirmed that he withdrew his complaint on Monday, 7th August 2023. The U-turn comes only five days after Mr Kijera filed a complaint at the Police Headquarters against some of his former colleagues on 2nd August 2023.
Last week Gainako published an article highlighting that the former Chairperson of the Victims Center for Human Rights Violations in The Gambia (Victim Center), Mr Sheriff Mohammed Kijera, had lodged a Police complaint against Ms Ayesha Jammeh, Ms Zainab Lowe Baldeh, Ms Priscilla Yagu Ciesay and Mr Baba Galleh Jallow. According to the complaint, the four persons had allegedly defrauded the Victim Center a total of “USD 20,000 without notifying the board until of recent when the board realized this dubious act”.
After numerous attempts, Mr Kijera finally accepted our request for an interview over the phone. According to Sheriff, The Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (TANGO) convened a meeting to resolve the matter last Thursday, where it was decided to withdraw the Police complaint.
2018 Audit Silent on Alleged Fraud
When questioned about the Victim Center’s 2018 Audit Report being silent on his allegations, he recanted that he was “not saying the USD 20,000 is missing, nobody is saying USD 20,000 is missing. The USD 20,000 is with regards to the account in question that was opened”. Mr Kijera insisted that his complaint is against the “illegality of opening up an account without the approval of the Board because they don’t have the mandate to do that. This is illegal it is a criminal act and it’s fraud”.
Accused Persons Counter Mr Kijera’s Police Complaint
Our reporter questioned Mr Kijera about an email shared by one of the accused, Ms Priscilla Ciesay, highlighting that the Board was aware of the account from the beginning and numerous other instances he was copied in emails relating to the project. The email trail states that “there was no provision in the Bylaws that required the Board’s authorisation prior to opening of any Bank account”. It adds that “the bank account that was opened for the [project] followed the same due process that had been used to open all other bank accounts relating to the Victims Center’s affairs”.
Our reporter highlighted to Mr Kijera that the meeting minutes and the email trail presented by those he accused highlight that he has been notified of the process from the beginning. One meeting minutes dated 19th May 2018 indicate that Mr Kijera was present at the meeting where the project was discussed. The minutes also include a notification that the project has been approved and that “the funds were supposed to hit our account now but it [is] delay due to few error”.
When confronted with this information Mr Kijera rebuffed that the email and attachments have “nothing to do with the account, this thing has been ongoing, in fact, the Secretariat brought this thing to our attention. When they were opening the account by then we did not have a national coordinator”. Mr Kijera was asked to explain when he was first aware of the alleged malpractice. In response he said it “was discussed on our 4th of March 2023 Board Meeting. It was also raised there; we wrote a letter to the Bank on the 14th of April 2023 requesting for the package that they used to open the accounts”.
The Timing of the Complaint
Mr Kijera’s term as Chairperson of the Victim Center ended on Saturday 5th August 2023 after the 2023 AGM. According to one of the accused, Ms Ayesha Jammeh, Mr Kijera started circulating the allegations after they raised concerns with the board changing the by-laws and holding an AGM. In between the commotion caused by the Police complaint, the AGM has now been concluded, however, concerns remain that the timing of Mr Kijera’s complaint was engineered to eliminate some members from contesting.
Our reporter questioned Mr Kijera if he did not see the timing of his Police complaint as vindictive and if he had any intention to disqualify some of the accused from contesting in the Victim Center election which took place on 5th August 2023. To this, he said, “well anyone can conclude judgement on that, people have a right to their opinion on that but we thought it was necessary and most of the Board agreed”. Our reporter interjected to ask “are you saying the [Board] agreed for you to file a Police complaint a week before going to the elections”. Mr Kijera claims that “we got the documents from the Bank a week before the AGM”. According to the former Victim Center Chair, they wrote to the Bank on the 14th of April 2023 and the Bank has been delaying to provide the documents until after he threatened to take the matter to the Police when they eventually provided the Bank statements.
Missing Board Resolution
According to our previous report on the issue, after Mr Kijera reported the complaint, he was asked to bring a Board resolution instructing him to lodge a Police complaint. Our reporter questioned Mr Kijera to explain if he provided the Board resolution to the Police. He was reluctant to respond but our reporter queried if he engaged the Board before taking the matter to the Police. In response, he said, “the rest of the board knows about it; they have copies of these documents”. He claimed that barring one of the board members who was not interested in pursuing the matter, the rest of the Board are aware of this. Asked if he has any Board resolution or meeting minutes proving his claims and he responded in the negative.
The former Secretary General of the Victim Center, Mr Muhammed Sandeng who is now the Vice Chair of the Victim Center also granted Gainako an interview to shed more light on the Board’s proceedings. According to Mr Sandeng, the former Victim Center Chair started highlighting the allegations “right after March 2023 when there was a proposal to amend the constitution in order to enable [him] and the other people whose terms would have expired in the last AGM to stay”. According to Mr Sandeng the proposal “was vehemently blocked by myself and others. Then the following board meeting Sheriff came with a document, that is a statement of accounts, back from 2018 and with that, he also asserted some of the claims that were taken to the Police station as in the illegality of their conduct”.
After raising the allegations and sharing bank statements Mr Sandeng says “there wasn’t any evidence [to substantiate his claims] and also the board did not administratively look at the claim it was just verbal claims while he served us statements of accounts and that was it. So, the board never made a decision on this issue as far as I was concerned”. The former Victim Center Secretary says the Chair’s claims “was just superficially done to show papers but that did not show anything because there wasn’t any evidence and no explanation. So, this was the only time, right after March after the proposed amendments meeting”.
According to Mr Sandeng who says he started working with the Board from 2021 to date, “I will categorically say that is false there has not been any resolution of the Board with regards to this particular issue. Because before going to the Police station you need to have substantial evidence to do that, so we were not presented with any substantial evidence. The only document we were presented with was the statement of accounts and that did not conclusively say anything. We could not prove any of his assertions”.
Mr Kijera also sent our reporter numerous bank statements; however, it was not clear what these documents proved. After questioning him about the documents he did not explain if they actually prove his claims.
Former Chair’s Allegations Were Malicious and Frivolous
Speaking to one of the accused our reporter asked for their reaction to Mr Kijera withdrawing his case against them. According to Ms Ciesay, “the initial allegation was malicious, frivolous and without merit, mindful that Sheriff was fully aware from the start, of the falsehood of the issues he accused us with. The information of his withdrawal of the case is, in my opinion, the right course of action since there was no merit to his accusation in the first place. See, at the time of him making the allegations, Sheriff was in possession of the evidentiary documents shared with the Board and with him in copy via email on 7 September 2018”.
She added that “he was thus fully aware that the account opening followed due process, and subsequently through various financial and narrative reports submitted to the donor and the organisation, that all funds were duly allocated and accounted for. Furthermore, the Audit reports for that period (2018-2019) showed no financial malpractice – be it with the account opening or management of the said funds”.
Asked if they will be taking any further action and if they have received an apology. Ms Ciesay believes “an apology is warranted. He owes us this much and I believe he should do the decent thing and apologise to us. At this point, I am not able to say what my next course of action would be”.
Below is the link to the first article on the Police complaint.