Term-limit should be your government’s priority not age-limit

Mr. President, it is one work to build a democratic system of government but another work to consolidate that very system. The sovereign men and women of our great nation decided to wage a constitutional jihad on December 1 which culminated in the attainment of a democratic victory, as one of Africa’s strongest dictators in decades was shown the exit door from presidency. This victory belongs to none but the Gambian people who decided from that day to take the destiny of their country into their hands.

Fulfilling campaign promises suppose to be the strength of a government in power. Mr. President, the introduction of term limit (two five-year terms) formed part of your campaign promises to Gambians and the fulfillment of that promise should be your government’s priority and not age limit. The Gambia’s failure to be recognized as a full-fledge democracy has its blame on both the first and second governments as both failed to introduce term limit that will at least pave way for ‘two- turn-over’ of government to occur in fulfilling the criteria set by Political Scientist, Samuel P. Huntington, which is a necessary condition for the building and consolidation of a robust democracy in Africa. Both governments entrenched themselves in power and maintained a multi but dominant party system amid widespread monopolization of state power/resources, which made it politically thorny for the opposition to rise to power.

Mr. President, the Gambia was indeed recognized to have enjoyed one of the longest-serving multi-party democracies (political pluralism) in Africa when many of the continent’s post-colonial/independence leaders were busy building and consolidating One-party states (oppositions not allowed) in the names of ‘national unity’ and ‘economic development’ as witnessed in Ghana under Nkrumah, Tanzania under Mwalimu Nyerere, Zambia under Kenneth Kaunda and the list goes on. However, the weakness of the Gambia’s multi-party democracy at the time was the absence of term limit. The PPP’s self-entrenchment in power with no signs of giving Gambians an alternative civilian government through constitutional and democratic means accompanied by widespread corruption, the country’s political system later came to be hijacked by a group of young junta with virtually no proper education, low-levels of political maturity and administrative efficiency to run a country that was expected to strengthen its democratic system. Abdoulie Saine, in his widely read book, ‘The Paradox of Third-Wave Democratization in Africa’: The Gambia Under AFPRC/APRC From 1994 to 2008, argued that, the military overthrow that brought an end to Jawara’s thirty-year rule in 1994 also brought an end to one of Africa’s longest-surviving democracies. The causes he further argued could be traced to societal, environmental, as well as organizational military factors that worked in tandem to undermine Jawara’s rule. Factionalism within the PPP according to him, perceptions of corruption, Jawara’s long tenure and internal rifts between a predominantly Nigerian officer class and junior Gambia officers combined to undermine Jawara and the PPP’s legitimacy. This military hijacking of the political system is referred to by some scholars as a ‘U-TURN’ in Gambian politics.

Records have it that, Jammeh equally promised to introduce term limit when he newly took over in 1994. ‘Soldiers with a difference’, ‘we will introduce term limit. We will make sure that no one rules for more than ten years. In fact, ten years is too much for a third-world country like the Gambia’ were his words. But to add insult to injury, a dictatorship eventually emerged which lasted for 22 years, making things worse for the ‘improbable’ nation. When a civilian and a democratically elected government failed to introduce term limit, one should not be hopeful that a military-style dictatorship will do so. It is therefore no surprise that Jammeh and the AFPRC/APRC have failed to introduce term limit for more than two decades in power. Apart from human rights abuses, corruption, and the politics of hatred introduced by his government coupled with other issues, Jammeh’s long stay in power also contributed to his shocking electoral defeat on December 1 as the wind of change was manifested throughout the political landscape. The slogan ‘No Condition is Permanent’ clamored by Nigerians during the reign of dictator Sani Abacha, equally came to cost Jammeh his presidency as 22 years was considered too much in 21st century governance.

Mr. President, I must say that the most urgent constitutional amendment that the Gambia needs is the introduction of term limit and not age limit. But it seems there is a motive behind the move by your government to increase the age limit from 65 years for both presidency and vice presidency. Certainly, the issue of Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang cannot be ignored in this regard. Since your appointment of Madam Tambajang as Vice President which later received wide criticisms from conscious Gambians both within and without regarding her age, you decided to hold on her swearing-in. This however, did not stop her from travelling to Ethiopia to attend the African Union Summit in her capacity as ‘Vice President’ earlier this year without her taking the prescribed oath. You further went on to appoint her as Minister of Women’s Affairs, but at the same time overseer of the Office of the Vice President which culminated into questions been raised as to whether a minister can oversee the office of Vice President. Well, that is another kettle of fish. Mr. President, as of now, the Gambia is without a substantive Vice President, reasons best known to you and your government. Remember, this has implications regarding constitutional order of succession once the president is incapacitated. In addition, one may argue that increasing the age limit is also geared towards catering for some of the old politicians to have the opportunity to run for president in the next presidential election. Some argued that the age limit of 65 years is discriminatory to those above the age. If that is anything to go by, then the minimum age requirement of 30 years is equally discriminatory to those below and any maximum age requirement will be discriminatory to those above. No wonder that a constitutional error occurred when the bill was tabled by the Minister of the Interior, contradicting section 226 (2)(a), which requires a bill to be published in at least two issues of the gazette before the first reading with the latest publication being not less than three months after the first……….

However, for the purpose of clarity, I am not in any way opposed to the age limit amendment but I am of the view that it should not be the priority for now. Instead, the introduction of term limit (either two four-year terms or two five-year terms) should be the first constitutional amendment priority of your government. I urge your government to treat it as a matter of urgency with minimum delay, follow the right procedures and processes to get it done.

Mr. President, as the world and Africa in particular is slowly but surely and progressively getting rid of dictatorship, the Gambia with her teenage democracy cannot under any given circumstance allow the restoration of another dictatorship. For our democracy to earn that deserved respect and recognition, we must endeavour to establish a truly new political system anchored on the values of ‘people power’ where the sovereign citizens take charge of their destiny for the restoration of their liberty, prosperity and dignity as a people. This cannot be attained under the ‘politics of one-man-show’, and one key way to avoid another dictatorship is to introduce term limit that will ensure that sovereignty and power truly resides in the people as encapsulated in section 1(2) of our constitution (our Quran and Bible).

I hope term limit will be introduced as a matter of urgency.
Yours in the service of the nation
Essa Njie
A sovereign and a concern Gambian citizen

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