By Pata J Saidykhan
On Thursday, January 8, 2015, I received a call from the Omaha FBI field office and a lady asked that I stopped by for they have a few questions to ask me. This was around 2.30pm. I told her I was working at 6pm, so I would not be able to make it. We made an arrangement that we meet somewhere that evening. We settled for my job. They visited at 7pm, I went, sat with them in their vehicle in the parking lot. Guess what the questions where about? December 30 attack at the State House that 3 of our freedom fighters lost their lives. They asked if I know Lamin Sanneh and Njaga Jagne, and/or if I know anything about the event. It was about 25 minutes invite, and I told them I knew Sanneh, knew nothing about the attack but I understood why, and I supported it. They went their way, I went back to work.
The reason I am bringing this up is to put my argument in context. Everywhere in the world, in mature democracies or dictatorships, Law Enforcement Officers have the duty of Crime Prevention and Protection of people and communities. They interrogate, arrest, prosecute. Only because the Gambia came out of a brutal dictatorship, these functions of law enforcement, DO NOT change.
I just read the ‘Resolutions of the Civil Society Emergency Meeting on the Arbitrary and Unlawful Arrest and Detention of Dr. Ismaila Ceesay held on 1st February 2018 at TANGO Head Office, Fajara’. Like most Gambians, I am in agreement that the police cannot just go about inviting any Gambian who had said something about the country, govt or presidency, which they consider to be unfavorable. That will be silly. And if I were the IGP, I’d put resources into something more urgent that what Dr. Ceesay had said in that paper.
BUT that is not to say the law enforcement seeing it otherwise cannot invite the Dr., to talk about it. The Civil Society ‘noted’ a few things, which many people shared, but they are out of bound with their fourth ‘demand that the IGP offer a public apology to Dr. Ceesay’, for what the Police believed was a probable cause. That was not only audacious but a transgression by a group of citizens from civil unions. And to call it ‘Arbitrary’ was wrong, for the release from both the office of IGP and Ministry of Information, advanced a reason for the invitation, after which he refused self-bail without apology. THAT disqualified it to be a detention.
As silly as it was, even where the police had not dropped charges against Ismaila, I thought they would have found it hard to get a conviction for the gentleman. That would have been an embarrassment for them, not to mention the dent it would have had on the Govt that is selling the world that they are premised on unrestricted freedoms and respect for human rights.
The question is, how and when does an institution tasked to prevent crime, serve and protect, do their job they are established to do if each time a citizen gets visits from law enforcement officer is seen to be arbitrary and a threat to our democracy? We have been seeing similar outrage in cases involving politicians and now ‘professors’. What do we have the courts for, when they are to be the arbitrator between the state and her citizens? I am asking these things because contrary to the public position that we hold about what and how things are done in Gambia, Police arrests in every democracy and the courts settle the matters. The Gambia cannot be an exception only because of a recent history.
I would want to remind the IGP and his people that the thin line between freedom and (in)security needs to be identified, observed and respected. They cannot cheapen their offices and duties with unnecessary questions and arrests that would have them take their eyes off the rail, giving room for real criminals and crimes slip through their fingers. BUT they must not budge to the protests and worries of citizens and get paralyzed to a point of not doing their job. The task is to enforce laws and not transgress. DO THAT JOB without any undue influence from ‘the top’ or public.
The IGP does NOT owe Dr. Ceesay an apology and the CSOs are blowing things out of proportion! It was an invitation over what I personally believed was silly and unnecessary, but I am NOT the police. Pata Saidykhan, his father Fanding Saidykhan, UDP leader Ousainou Darboe, Political Science lecturer Ismaila Ceesay ARE NOT above any Gambian laws to be treated any different. If the police have a probable cause, they must act to ascertain facts and prevent crimes. If the citizens get aggrieved, we have the courts. That is why I am OK with the CSO’s intention to sue the IGP on what they believe to be an infringement.