I spent long years studying history, ancient and contemporary, and politics, a discipline Cicero, the Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar and philosopher fondly refers to as “history on the wings”.
Going by recent events, I’m troubled for my country with its labyrinthine administrative system and non-transparent management of public affairs. The allegation that a group of armed forces personnel attempted the gravest political offence against the Gambia quickly left an underwhelmed nation skeptical about the veracity of the government claim.
Right on the hills of this mere assertion of a major national security threat came the arrest of Momodou Sabally (Sabally), the recently elected Campaign Manager of the United Democratic Party on suspicion of having committed the grave offence of treason.
In this affair, I proffer no commentary, just the legal framework for every educated person to traverse and reach an independent judgment.
Section 19 of the Constitution reads:
(1) Every person shall have the right to liberty and security of right to person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary, arrest or Personal liberty detention. No one shall be deprived of his or her liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law. (2) Any person who is arrested or detained shall be informed as soon as is reasonably practicable and in any case within three hours, in a language that he or she can understands, of the reasons for his or her arrest or detention and of his or her right to consult a legal practitioner. (3) Any person who is arrested or detained- (a) for the purpose of bringing him or her before a court in execution of the order of a court, or (b) upon reasonable suspicion of his or her having committed, or being about to commit, a criminal offence under the Laws of The Gambia, and who is not released, shall be brought without undue delay before a court and, in any event, within seventy-two hours (4) Where any person is brought before a court in execution of the order of a court in any proceedings or upon suspicions of his or her having committed or being about to commit an offence, he or she shall not thereafter be further held in custody in connection with those proceedings or that offence save upon the order of a court. (5) If any person arrested or detained as mentioned in subsection (3)(b) is not tried within a reasonable time, then without prejudice to any further proceedings which may be brought against him or her, he or she shall be released either unconditionally or upon reasonable conditions, including, in particular, such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he or she appears at a later date for trial or proceedings preliminary to trial.
On a Summons Ex-Parte, the central plank of the State’s application was that Sabally “… currently being held on suspicion of having committed grave offences of treason be held in detention pending the conclusion of investigations in this case”.
Sabally’s case is on all fours with The Attorney General AND Lt General Sulayman Badjie, Major Landing Tamba, and WO1 Musa Badjie, MISC APP NO: HC009/22/MF/003/F1. In that case as well, the State by a Summons on Notice “… seeks an order that the respondents currently being held on suspicion of having committed grave offences be held in detention at the Mile 2 Central Prisons for a period of 90 days to permit and facilitate further investigations pending the preferring of formal charges …”
In a Ruling dated 07 February 2022, the Honourable Justice Zainab Jawara Alami, Judge, stated: “I am of the considered view that this is a case where the applicant has put nothing before the Court, such as formal charges, to accept its position, that it is necessary to deprive the respondents of their liberty. It is apparent that any decision beyond the 72 hours time limit is unlawful and constitutes a gross violation of fundamental human rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, 1997. This is a court of equity and will accord the respondents the due regard of the law which in this case is clear and need no further construction”
The State is aware of this outcome and should not have placed another such application before the same Court within the short span of 10 months.
With no charge, this was a gamble in pure bad faith.
I marvel at the short-termism of Gambian public life from the very onset of the sovereign era. In Julius Caesar, Britain’s preeminent contribution to the aesthetics of the English word, to the dissemination of the thought and civilization of the realm, spoke thus of the tragic hero: “But yesterday the word of Caesar might have stood against the world: now lies he there and none so poor to do him reverence”.
How this exquisite counsel for restraint in the affairs of transient humanity was lost on the custodians of public power in countries like The Gambia is a matter of great puzzlement! I urge that national security never be gambled on the mundane fronts of partisan politics, and that process never be sacrificed at the altar of temporal expediency.
That human life is finite is not a contentious postulation. It is enunciated not only in the Abrahamic scriptures, but in cultures across the world. Death will come to every living being. And so it never ceases to amaze how a person, or persons, possessed of public power, either by force, or via communal consensus, can act as though they inhabit a firmament of their own, complete with eternal life and privileges. Why are the teachings of human transiency, ancient and modern, of no consequence in the hubristic and misguided calculations of lawless rulers and their opportunistic and shortsighted hordes of largely timid and or ill-informed technocrats!
For those lucky, or unlucky, as the case may be, to occupy the preeminent position in the governance of any community, a nation state no less, the word is legacy, legacy that offers a fighting chance of inhabiting the same abode with that of the timeless sages, humanity’s conduits of wisdom and knowledge across the ages. It means recognizing ones ultimate subjection to the same vulnerabilities as everyone else, no matter the positioning of fate and circumstance in our transient home that is earthly life.
I call for Sabally’s unconditional release in accordance with the crystal clear provisions of section 19 of the Constitution.