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City of Banjul
Friday, December 8, 2023

Demba Sabally, Minister of Agriculture and deputy national president of National Peoples Party

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By Lamin Cham

What is your understanding of President Barrow’s recent statements which sparked controversy?

Sabally:  First of all, I want to react to the statements by the NHRC and the Bar Association. The president was addressing a very important thing in this country and that is verbal abuse against not only him alone but almost everybody in the political arena has been subjected to verbal abuse, their parents and even their children and this is not sustainable as a society. It is equally not acceptable as a society and for that reason the president said he is going to stop the abuse of people because he is the one with the primary responsibility to safeguard the constitution and also protect people’s lives and properties. He said if protecting and safeguarding the right of the people mean calling the IGP and get such offenders arrested so be it because where your right stops is where somebody’s right starts.

Nobody has licence to verbally abuse people. So, for individuals and organisations coming out and condemning the president is really uncalled for, unnecessary and unhelpful. Where was the NHRC when people were being abused? Why didn’t they write a statement or condemn those that were abusing the people?

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But the NHRC has been flagging such hate statements in the past

When did they do that? They should have shared that with media houses, political parties and key stakeholders to prove that they are condemning verbal abuse of even the president on social media. Now there are people in the Gambia, not even in the diaspora who are verbally abusing the president, the ministers, clergy people and even the judiciary. This is not sustainable and so we stand by the president’s statement and we want him to implement it to the letter. Those abusing people must be stopped.

What about concerns that he is interfering in the work of the police and judiciary?

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When the president said he will call the IGP for people who abuse others, it shows his democratic credentials. He is not ordering the arrest of anyone but simply doing what any other citizen will do by going to a police station if you are offended. When you or those people have problems in their households, they go to the IGP by going to the Bakau police station or Wellingara police station and in so doing, they are going to the IGP. So, if the president says I will go to the IGP, he is doing exactly what any other Gambian is doing.

Only that in his case, the IGP is answerable to him and can do his bidding even if it is illegal

So where do you want him to go? You want him to form junglers like the UDP which has civilian junglers during the registration of voters? Or do you want him to have junglers like a dictator? He only said that he will go to the police and not going after political opponents. He made it very clear that there is no exception in this drive to stop abuses whether one is NPP, UDP, PDOIS or any political party. He is not equally saying he was going to form a militia group to go after people just like others would have done if they come to power. The president has just proven his democratic credential by telling the whole country that the abuse must stop.

The Human Rights Commission and Bar Association are also concerned by his statement that he will come after people even if they are bailed by judges

Look, President Barrow is the biggest defender of the judiciary and therefore will not interfere in their job. Under his watch we have an all-Gambian judiciary, from the Chief Justice to all the judges of the high court for the first time in 50 years.

He recently introduced a bill in the National Assembly for a better remuneration of judges which was unfortunately rejected by the National Assembly which also shows our democracy.

 You are also aware that there have been many judicial rulings against the president and he accepted it as somebody who believes in democracy. So, what he means by that statement is that at no stone will be left unturned in stopping these abuses which have turned be a national security issue. I want to assure every Gambian that the president is the greatest believer in democracy and he is the greatest guardian of the independence of the judiciary. What he means is to emphasise in the strongest possible terms that if you go out there abusing people the system will go after you.

The likes of the NHRC, Bar Association and GPU are going around defending the abusers, that is the way we see it. They should have come out in the same vein and condemn the people who are doing the abuse. You listen to radios like Mengbekering in Brikama. They do phone-in programs unrestricted, unreserved and undelayed. That is not the kind of licences they hold. People will be calling and abusing you and nothing comes out of it. Is that the type of radios that should be existing?

But there are regulators for that other than the president picking up a personal quarrel with the media

No, the president is not dealing with it directly, otherwise he would have just called for their closure and he has not closed any station. He has not intimidated anybody. He just said the relevant authorities must now do what is necessary by law to stop it and make sure abuse through radio stations stops.

He also said the UDP is the biggest threat to national security and they are saying that is an ugly statement to come from a president

The president’s statement on that matter is very appropriate and very timely. The security of this country is paramount and for him to say the UDP is the biggest threat to national security is just saying what is common knowledge to every Gambian. The president just stated the obvious. What he said is what I have believed in during my political career and it is what Gambians believe. The leader of the UDP said on a video that he will make this country ungovernable. How much of a threat is that? They are not principled. They criticised the IEC when they lost elections and criticised the courts when they lost cases. And they are the only party that will bring thousands of people to their court hearings to distrupt traffic and everybody else. That is unacceptable. Recently, executive members of the UDP have been forwarding and publishing images indicating pleasure with the murder of the police officers.

There are suggestions for an end to the necessary tension in the country. Are you open to dialogue?

The NPP as a party and our party leader is the most peaceful party. We welcome the existence of political parties but we cannot allow a political party that has been defeated for the past 27 years to think they must come to power by force. It is not going to happen on our watch. They must believe in elections. They must believe in results and they must believe in processes. They must stop making statements and actions that are contrary to peace by hiding behind a political platform.

He also criticised the media directly which can incite his supporters to attack those media houses

No, he is just trying to emphasise the fact that because there is democracy that is why certain media houses exist. He is not implying that they should not exist. They are unreasonably critical of his government.

We don’t have hooligans in the NPP. 

Did you see them personally attacking media houses or journalists? They have the right to disagree with the media houses.

We are not saying no to criticisms, but criticise with facts and criticise constructively. What is not acceptable is to verbally abuse the president, his family, his parents or verbally abuse NPP people or government officials because they are working with the president. That is exactly what we don’t accept.

Final message?

It is the only Gambia we have and that is designed by the Almighty. Let us understand that we are one nation, one people and let nobody drag us into tribal politics or regional politics. Our nation is founded on strong pillars of peace. At our end in the NPP, we will continue what we are doing, getting ready for 2026 and defeat the UDP and Barrow will be our candidate.

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