How Gambia bade farewell to ‘UDP’s Lion’

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By Sanna Camara

Thousands of supporters and sympathizers turned out Sunday evening in Nyassi Kunda, Brikama Daru Hairu, to mourn and pay their last respects to opposition strongman, and UDP’s Organising Secretary, Momodou Lamin Shyngle Nyassi.

Fondly called Shyngle Nyassi, he passed away in New York last Monday. His body arrived in Banjul the Sunday afternoon for onward burial at his resident town of Brikama. His neigbours, relatives, sypathisers from around the country and party supporters of the Gambia’s main opposition United Democratic Party, among others converged on his compound since morning.

By 4:45pm, a convoy of cars arrived at the Nyassi Kunda house, escorting the body into the home. After disembarking the coffin, an informal procession walked into the compound with the coffin.  This was led by opposition leaders Omar Jallow of the PPP, Ouainou Darboe of the UDP, among other top executive UDP members, and the delegation from New York that accompanied the corpse to Banjul.

Coffin draped in a red-white-blue-white-green

The two wives of Mr. Nyassi and some women party supporters closely followed behind the coffin, which was draped in a red-white-blue-white-green flag of The Gambia. The coffin was carried on the shoulders of ten youths – four on each side, one in front and another behind. My Nyassi’s second and younger wife was seen being carried into the compound by two other women as she collapsed.

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Despite attempts made by members of the crowd who rushed to touch the coffin, it was heavily guarded by UDP civilian security men into the late Mr. Nyassi’s room. “The body is here just for his family’s prayers and blessings,” a tall dark-skinned man announced to the crowd, craving their indulgence: “It will be soon carried away to the mosque for the usual ceremony,” he added.

Crowds filled the compound, street

People lined the street as far away as thirty meters away from both sides of Nyassi’s home. Inside the compound was equally crowded with both men and women. Sermons were being delivered through a public address system, mixed with cries from the women’s end.

A large crowd of men was seated under a mango tree, among them clerics and oustasses who gave sermons from the Qur’an, and teachings of Prophet Muhammad. This mainly focused on the need to take heart in the face of such loss. Notwithstanding these and other consolations, uncontrollable tears continue to flow on the cheeks of women mainly, many of whom had stopped crying just a while ago before the arrival of the corpse.

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Nyassi’s last moments

Imam Muhammad Lamin Sillah who headed the delegation from the US, told the gathering that prayers have been done for the deceased in New York on Friday. Imam Sillah went on to explain the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Nyassi, claiming that it was very sudden.

“Shortly before his death, he and his hosts were chatting between 4:30 American time to the time of his death around 5:30. During this chat, he requested to be excused as he went inside to rest. While he was resting in his room, a 3-year-old daughter of his host, Tijan, was keeping him company… until she was taken away to let Mr. Nyassi rest on the fateful Monday. This was his last known activity before he was discovered dead on the bed minutes later,” Imam Sillah explained.

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Nyassi as a devoted Muslim

He pointed out that Mr. Nyassi, although a politician, lived his life as a devoted Muslim – a view his community in Brikama also acknowledged. “Worshippers from my mosque in New York remember him as such. He has been a keen supporter of Islamic values such as unity and virtuousness. His discussions with my followers in New York were mainly centered on these,” said Sillah.

He continued:” Nyassi prayed two Friday, congregational prayers which I led in my mosque. I can attest to this. If he was a politician, then he is also a Muslim. Five imams participated in the necessary preparations of the corpse. It was the same for the prayers conducted in New York for him.”

Turning to Omar Jallow (alia OJ) and Ousainou Darboe, he told them: “Your corpse is here. Alhamdu Lillahi Rabil Al’amin (Arabic, meaning “Give thanks and Praise to Allah, Lord of the world).”

A true humanitarian who loves his family’

Meanwhile, opposition leaders Sedia Jatta of the PDOIS/NADD, Dullo Bah of the NRP; National Assembly member of Kombo Central Buba Ayi Sanneh, among a host of others were in attendance.

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Musa Nyassi, Alkalo of Bwiam, who is a brother of the deceased, described Mr. Nyassi as a true humanitarian who loves and seeks out every family member.

“He learned the Qur’an under my father. Even though I was young at the time, I remember him as someone who took good care of sisters, nieces, aunties and mothers of the Nyassi family. Whenever things get tough in the family, everyone turns to Shyngle. He shares whatever he has with everyone. He will be greatly missed for this standing in the family,” the young Alkali said as he turned to tears.

Fillijeh Nyassi, senior brother of the Nyassi clan in Bwiam, thanked everyone for their support and sympathy. He explained in detail, the financial and other support received from the UDP leader ever since the death was announced. He said all costs and many more were incurred by the party leader Ousainou Darboe. He expressed the same to the US delegation that made sure the body returned home to the family.

Among the many speakers included the chief Imam of Brikama, Sankung Touray, Alkalo of Daru Hairu Lie Jarjue, Oustass Nyassi, family Imam of the Nyassi family, among others. The whole ceremony took over one and a half hours. Deputy mam had to intervene and asked that burial time risked being compromised if all had to say something.

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Coffin carried on shoulders for almost 2 kilometers

The body was carried from the Daru Hairu mosque in Brikama to the New Town cemetery – a distance of about 2 kilometers. Despite this distance and the number of cars present, the youths insisted on carrying the coffin to the cemetery.

Mr. Nyassi was laid to rest some few minutes after 6pm under a big cotton tree in the said cemetery.

Close to ten thousand mourners turned out for the funeral. Party supporters of the UDP wore T-shirts with his face on the front and “…UDP’s Lion” on the back.

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