Columnist Earl Best refuses to shoulder arms as he revisits one of the most controversial periods in Trinidad and Tobago’s history
History is replete—littered is more appropriate since the dung heap of history is where we find them—with characters who make no distinction between fame and notoriety. Adolf Hitler, Jack the Ripper and John Wilkes Booth come immediately to mind on the foreign front while Dole Chadee, Mano Benjamin and Boysie Singh are easily accessed local examples.
Now add to that list Yasin Abu Bakr.
The 24th anniversary of the 27 July 1990 coup has come and gone without incident. But it is really alarming how, more than two decades after he had his men storm into the Red House and hold the country’s political leadership hostage, Bakr can still threaten us all with impunity. Or think that he can.
Last week, 24 years after the real thing, the imam sent his lawyer son to the parliament building to rain blows on effigies of the (female!) prime minister and the opposition leader. And to make a few noises about how conditions in T&T were coming more and more to resemble those existing in the nation just prior to the 1990 aborted coup but highly successful cock-up.
Not satisfied with that, Bakr senior got on TV to tell the three men directly in charge of the national security forces that he would take “appropriate action” if they continued to detain Jamaat members without just cause. And to declare to the Express that, unsummoned by any of them, he was himself going to see all three gentlemen on the next day.
In July 1990, those responsible took all of six days to break the stand-off and get their hands on the insurgents. One brave move came from NAR Attorney General Anthony Smart, who had the presence of mind to put on a dress and walk—or was it RAN?—out of the building with the cleaning ladies.
What does it tell us about the then AG, I have often wondered, that nobody noticed him?
True bravery was displayed by Prime Minister Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson who, despite finding himself unarmed, tied up like a pig in an abattoir and in hostile hands, could come up with “Attack with full force.” A real man, not so, Mister Smart?
Anyway, today, 24 years later in 2014, things are different, very different.
For one thing, the high-profile Smart is Colonel Rodney Smart, the man at the helm of the country’s army. So, should the big-talking Imam—or anyone else for that matter—try anything like that, his attempt would last no longer than the Red House fire. According to Minister of National Security Gary “Motor Mouth” Griffith (GMMG), in 24 hours, things would be back to normal.
What Motor Mouth was thinking but did not say is that part of the Jamaat might be in Carapo and another part in Mucurapo—not 114 divided into two contingents of 72 and 42 but 114 blown apart into little pieces.
Griffith, mind you, is now an ex-captain whose promotion to the rank, if we are to judge by his pronouncements on military matters over the last few months, might well have raised as many eyebrows as another ex-captain Darren Sammy’s. He genuinely believes that he is God’s gift to the local military.
This man, whose utterances are a challenge for even the best editors to punctuate sensibly, had the effrontery to tell Ralph Brown that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.
Talk about pitch calling ashes black. Sammy questioning Clive Lloyd’s credentials?
Anyway, listening to GG shoot off his motor mouth, I got to thinking first about Earl Lovelace’s latest novel Is Just a Movie and then about some significant numbers associated with that black day in 1990.
So here goes…
72: The number of insurgents deployed to storm and commandeer TTT.
It is also the number of virgins the insurgents were told they would each have to themselves in Paradise if they happened to give their life for the cause.
45: The number of years ago that Abu Bakr claims to have formed the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen.
42: The contingent of insurgents deployed to storm and commandeer the Red House and hold the duly appointed government of the nation to ransom literally at the point of a gun.
40: The minimum length (in metres!) of the pole GMMG (not to be confused with the movie studio MGM) would need to have a chance of touching Major General Ralph Brown or Brigadier Joe Theodore as a military brain. Remember the Major General’s testimony to the CoE in which, with a GMMG statement about 500,000 rounds of ammunition having been used in July 1990 in mind, he spoke these words: “This is not a comic book… This is not a movie. This is serious stuff.”
32: The amount of money (in millions of dollars) the courts have decided the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen owes the GORTT for the destruction of the Police Headquarters on St Vincent Street, which was the first act in Abu Bakr’s megalomaniacal play for the political leadership of the country.
30: The number of people, according to the Express, who were on the night shift at the Red House on Coup Day; two of them did not see the morrow but the records mention nothing about virgins.
24: The total number of people who lost their lives in the attempted coup as well as the number of years that have now passed since that day.
21: The number of years that elapsed between the end of the coup attempt and the start of the official enquiry into the events of that day.
14: (Plus 100): The number of Jamaat-al-Muslimeeen members who were charged but then foolishly acquitted by Justice Clebert Brooks, bereft of the independence and the imagination to come up with the necessary jurisprudence.
11: The number of Jamaat properties the PP Government, indulging in window-dressing that fooled no one, put up for auction to recover monies the Court determined was owed to them.
7: The time (pm) at which Abu Bakr announced on national television that “At 6pm this afternoon, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago was overthrown.”
6: The number of days it took for it to be “all over.”
5: The number of major installations Abu Bakr will have to storm and commandeer if he hopes to succeed the next time around. The optional two are The Teteron and Camp Ogden Barracks but that would involve a level of military sophistication and planning not to mention resources that the amateurism of 1990 says clearly the Jamaat did not have at its disposal. And there is Wallerfield and Cumuto. (See THREE)
It is also time (pm) around which Police Headquarters went boom and burst into flames
4: The Report of the CoE singles out FOUR people as being the target of more punishment and brutality than all the others. Their names are Robinson, Selwyn Richardson, Selby Wilson and Winston Dookeran.
3: The least number of additional installations the insurgents needed to storm and commandeer Piarco Airport, TTEC and 610 radio along with the Red House, TT and Radio Trinidad. But megalomania often adorns one with blinkers so instead of opting to lead the troops down at Abercromby Street where the NAR leadership was and call the shots from there, Bakr chose to be at the television station. (See SEVEN)
2: The number of prime ministers who were MPs on that date but curiously were not in the parliamentary chamber when the insurgents burst in. One was said to have been seen talking to a group of Jamaat members mere minutes before the action started; the other one was not sick but lay a-bed with two pillows at his head that evening.
“Wake me when it’s all over,” he is reported to have told his wife.
TWO is also the number of females, Mrs. Jennifer Johnson and Mrs. Gloria Henry,among the Red House hostages and the number of the 114 Jamaat members, Jamaal Shabazz and Kala Akii-Bua, who have so far offered a public apology for their actions.
1: The number of people who had the cojones to openly defy (“Attack with full force!”) the “ruffians, murderers and torturers” in the Red House. And the time in hours GMMG says would be needed to quell any coup attempt if it occurred today.
ONE is also the amount of courage, (in ounces), it would have taken for Clebert Brooks to do what any sensible, unbiased citizen would have done and declare the amnesty invalid as the Privy Council eventually did.
Finally, ONE is also the number of people in Trinidad and Tobago who believe anything that MGGM says!
And I want to end with an appeal to Lovelace who told us long ago that The Dragon Can’t Dance.
Please, tell the Dragon. Please. Before 24 more—plus another 114!—have to die…
Besides, 114 multiplied by 72 is 8208. That is plenty virgins to find at short notice—one hour.
Even in Paradise.
And you can also click HERE for the Mighty Sparrow’s “Abu Bakr.”