In 1990, when the Jamaat al Muslimeen
first terrorised the population with an attempted coup, people called
one another on the phone to find out the news. There was one television
station where journalists were held hostage. That went blank. A sole
government-run station, NBS Radio 610, on St Vincent Street, was the
only source of news. We barricaded the doors, just in time against the
insurgents, ate stale pizza, some slept at the station, others came and
went under police escort, crawling in commando style as bullets whizzed
between the insurgent group and the army.
Dennis McComie held the fort and
challenged Imam Abu Bakr on NBS Radio 610 and the rest of us reporters,
did telephone interviews to keep the communication alive. The DJs filled
up the blank spaces. But we kept the station 24 hours a day to a nation
starved for news.
I went on the roof and gave an interview
to the BBC where as a rookie reporter I gave an eyewitness account.
Nothing went viral. The hostages suffered from posttraumatic stress
disorder, coped as they could and were never recompensed by the State
for their ruined mental health. The insurgents were free, stood behind
us in groceries, generally walked free.
Now, terror is spread by Whatsapp and
Facebook across 50 radio stations and half a dozen TV stations. Sampson
Nanton, executive producer of Guardian Media’s CNC3 news, who works
downtown, said on the Friday of the jailbreak, and last Wednesday after
the leaked memo from the head of special branch police, that
Port-of-Spain was a ghost town, with businesses shutting early and
people scuttling out of Port-of-Spain.
Nanton said “it feels like a nervous
country...as if there is gas in the air, if a match is lit everything
will explode.” Terror by text—everyone has a cell phone—is immediate and
widespread. How did we come to this?
The terror of the Muslimeen never went
away because there were more guns in the country, 114 people got away
with murder and became a group that was growing more powerful by the
year with new young recruits. I remember the first time I held a gun in
my hand. How even in a tame place like the range, a gunshot gives you a
surge of power, even if you are against its use.
Successive governments have provided the
Jamaat with a steady supply of illiterate, poor, neglected young men.
Successive governments failed to use resources to educate our young men
or give them hope with jobs. Instead, ‘community leaders’ were wooed and
watered and fed through make-work programmes, which fed the gangs who
killed one another and terrorised the rest of us. Young boys and men
skated in and out of gangs instead of schools and universities.
Some young men joined local gangs.
Others joined the Jamaat who were undoubtedly recruiting in the prisons,
recruiting in the depressed areas, recruiting in the mosques. These
neglected, undereducated boys not recognising they were pawns to
cult-like control got the rush of being part of a big powerful movement
that could shake up governments.
Citizens are paying taxes towards
dependency programmes, feeding helplessness that can only be countered
with the use of a gun. We can’t be beating our breasts now about how
there is wickedness in the land, and devil got in the boys. We don’t
empower them with care and education. So big fish empower them with
When I read Imam Yasin Abu Bakr’s
response to police leak of a report of threats against the prime
minister, which said “there appears to be persons spreading rumors with
a view to causing mischief to destabilise our country.” I felt a chill.
That’s exactly what’s happening.
Prisoners had access to wifi, phones, Facebook accounts, guns, and a
grenade. The prisons officers. Who are they? Are they part of the
protective services or the gangs? That policeman who leaked the
confidential memo from the police’s special branch: Whose side is he on?
Is he police or gangster?
The memo leaked on Whatsapp initially
stated that the Jamaat is “said to be moving arms and ammunition to the
North and San Fernando.”
“...planning to target the Prime
Minister’s private residence (sic) Phillippine and Siparia.” Planning a
series of co-ordinating attack (sic) and will “attempt to free the
eleven persons charged with the murder of Senior Council, Dana Seetahal
and those charged in the Vindra Naipaul Coleman case.”
“Additionally, they will target Police
Stations that have been carrying out operations against (sic).
Furthermore “these activities are likely to commence immediately.” The
memo required the recipients (all field stations) to “determine the
veracity of this information and report your findings instantly.”
Sampson asked, as we all did— why would
a policeman leak something like that unless it was to deliberately
create panic and destabilise the country? The police cleared some fog.
The memo was authentic. The police were asked to substantiate rumours
that they haven’t yet. In other words, there is no need for panic. Yet.
Nanton told me the best thing to come out of all of this is that now
it’s out in the open and politicians will have to address the issue of
corrupt prisons officers and policemen.
We both agreed the
worst thing to come out of this is that now that the Jamaat is making
news again, nobody will bother to address the most important needs of
citizens, food, and shelter issues—the skidding price of oil, the
problem of finding another way to deal with the dependent population,
education, health, housing, jobs. This void will be filled with more
boys and men with guns. A fog where all lines are blurred, between law
and lawlessness, and the corrupt and the powerful will rule without