By Musa Bah
Up until now, I have not said much about the much publicized (and politicized) #OccupyWestfield. This is a very crucial issue which should be looked at critically and with open minds. My issue is not even whether NAWEC are/are not doing a good job. Whether the electricity and water supply is adequate or not is something that is in the open. As such, whoever is trying to convince Gambians that NAWEC are not doing a satisfactory job would be preaching to a choir. So, that is not the issue here.
The real issue here is the constitutional right of citizens to exercise their right to protest and manifest a divergent view. This is an immutable right which is guaranteed in the constitution of the Gambia – for that matter, government does not only have the responsibility to allow people to protest and express a dissenting view, but they have the responsibility to protect the people who intend to go through such an exercise. That is where the issue of permit comes in the equation.
The application for a permit to protest should actually be simply for informing the government through the police that one wants to conduct an exercise of protesting on a given day and date; and where the event is to be held. It is essential to inform the government because they are duty bound to give full protection to the people who want to protest. It is not about seeking permission because the permission has already been given by the constitution.
Man being the selfish animal he is, some unscrupulous people would seek every opportunity to exploit any loophole to further their cause; it has been known to happen in the past that the previous government abused this law and made it look like one needs a permit to protest. The truth is that that permission had already been granted by the constitution of the country. Every law has letter and spirit. Politicians use these as ambiguities to deceive the ordinary folks like me and make them fall in the quagmire of seeing it as legal and illegal activities.
The right to protest has been given in the constitution and should be applied and exercised by citizens at any given time that they wish. The giving and revoking of permit to the youth of the country is unfortunate. Please let us allow democracy to survive. The excuse and argument that our democracy is not yet on a firm footing, therefore we should allow it to stand firm before starting these protests and demonstrations does not hold water. For, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. We must plunge in this democracy and adjust as we go till such a time that we will become fully and completely democratic.
I call on you therefore to instruct the relevant authorities not only to give permit to the youth to protest, but give them the security they need and require as well.
Have A good day Mr President.