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A Litmus test of the Rule of Law by Gambia Supreme Court

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By Momodou Lamin Yaffa

Breaking news on social media platforms about the verdict delivered yesterday, 28 January 2020, by the Supreme Court of The Gambia instantly reverberated along the length and breadth of The Gambia. The sentence was read out by no one else other than the Chief Justice himself as if to give the event the solemnity it deserves. It came as a surprise to many observers given the disappointment that ensued after an earlier ruling by the same court on an injunction to prevent the person nominated by the president from replacing Ya Kumba Jaiteh, the embattled nominated National Assembly member, who was unceremoniously removed by Adama Barrow through an executive order.

The ruling came as a pleasant surprise to many observers and pundits. Yes pleasant indeed because the court decision is a landmark decision that will be registered in the annals of The Gambia’s judicial history as a peremptory assertion of the Rule of Law. The decision has proven to any sceptic in the independence and impartiality of the judicial arm of government that the Rule of Law has passed its litmus test and has been revived after a painful and acrimonious interval of twenty-two plus years of misrule and arbitrariness.
The president’s dismissal of a National Assembly member, albeit nominated by the former, was unprecedented in the history of The Gambia’s legislature. Dragging the president’s decision to court by the aggrieved person was equally unprecedented. Consequently, the Supreme Court’s ruling was awaited with unparalleled keenness by Gambians of all walks of life. When the news broke on social media, it was received with jubilation by those who yearn for the Rule of Law to take firm root in our country but received with despondency by people of the president’s camp who believe that might is always right.

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The positive side of such a historic court decision is that it has heralded the demise of the APRC’s erstwhile systematic and systemic disregard for the Rule of Law and good governance. It has also nipped in the bud the government’s eventual proclivity toward judicial and political waywardness. With this ruling of moment, the average Gambian will now realise that power lies with the people through the proper functioning of government institutions, particularly the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. The prevalent belief among most Gambians that the government is invincible (mansamangkekelenyooti) is no longer tenable.

With this watershed court ruling, we should from now on hold our government accountable for whatever it does on our behalf. We should perfectly play our incumbent role of gatekeepers and watchdogs through our vectors of
institutional democracy such as the media, civil society organizations, political parties, religious institutions, etc.

We hope that this seismic event would serve as a wake-up-call for President Adama Barrow, who, until now, has surrounded himself with sycophants, self- seekers and mercenaries. Little wonder he runs his administration in such an amateurish manner. He belongs to the generation that did not experience how the Jawara administration used steer the affairs of state. He was a school-going lad during those years of pervasive professionalism in the civil service. Days during which ministries were under the direction of permanent secretaries and not ministers. Permanent secretaries were appointed by the secretary general based on merit and professionalism and not at the whimsical behest of a minister. Governors, ambassadors and deputy ambassadors were not appointed on political grounds.

Jawara’s advisers were his ministers, the secretary general and permanent secretaries instead of individuals politically appointed for dubious reasons and whose competence is profoundly questionable.

Adama’s unpardonable mistake was when he decided to turn his back on the parties of the Coalition, particularly the United Democratic Party. As he himself used to utter at political rallies the Mandinka proverbial refrain translated as follows “a son may be helpless at his father’s deathbed but shall be considered reckless if he stands idly by while his father’s home is in shambles”.

We fervently hope that Adama Barrow would heed the edifying message embedded in the Supreme Court’s ruling and that Gambians would feel empowered to hold their leaders to account whenever they notice a modicum of propensity toward despotism in the former’s demeanour.

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