In an exclusive interview with The Standard newspaper in the wake of the recently held biennial Mansa Bengo in Jarra Soma, he stated: “The institution of chieftaincy which has, as part of its appendage, the Mansa Bengo, has been in The Gambia for long. The institution did provide the required services then because chiefs made laws which ensured that peace and harmony existed in their districts.
With the advent of colonial rule, chiefs were used in the indirect rule systems as representatives of the government in the various districts .They were authorised and still authorised to implement certain laws of the country. In some areas it was, in the main, hereditary so that you do not have the situation where a nobody will just come up and become chief. In those days even a chief’s senior badge messenger was as authoritative as the chief. It really was serving as an administrative tool until we achieved independence and some chiefs were removed because they were thought not to be sympathetic to the ruling party. Some prominent chiefs in the Jarras, Kiangs, Baddibus and even the Kombos were removed.
“The issue of ascendancy to the chieftaincy then changed from being hereditary to being elective [in the first republic]. This, in my view started the politicisation of the institution. Now it has lost its value. I would have thought that the institution of chieftaincy will be completely isolated from partisan politics. Every chief has a right to support a political party but I don’t think it is right for any chief to hold themselves out as the campaign managers of the ruling party. You see the paramount chief organising other chiefs and members of local authorities to give their full support to the ruling party.
“At the recent Mansa Bengo, they were urged to be supporting the APRC. Secretary General Momodou Sabally was there urging them to support the ruling party which I think is really unfortunate. As administrators, they are supposed to ensure that government policies as it affects their various districts are implemented but they should not put on the hats of politicians. They should be politically neutral because when they perform their role as judicial officers, they arbitrate between people of different persuasions. I have seen tribunal members and even the paramount chief donning Yahya Jammeh’s ashobee and he was there sitting as a judicial officer.
“A UDP government will ensure that chiefs will confine themselves to administration and district tribunal judges will be completely divorced from the executive .They will be completely part of the judiciary and their appointment and removal will be governed by the judicial service commission. In 1984 legal year celebrations I presented a paper on the district tribunals and one of the things I advocated was that district tribunals should be hived off from the chieftaincy and presided over by people appointed by the judicial service and they will be considered as part of the judiciary and not chiefs who double as administrators and judicial officers. That was my position and one of the prominent chiefs then Seyfo Abu Khan felt that we were undermining their authority and power and protested and it remained like that since then.”
By Sainey Darboe]]>