By Madi Jobarteh
The news of the death of Uncle Femi Peters truly pains and angers me beyond measure. Femi should not have died now if there was no draconian Public Order Act and if both the former and current leaders had demonstrated the necessary responsibility and compassion.
Femi Peters was the first politician to be sent to jail for one year in 2010 charged under the Public Order Act for holding a political rally in Banjul without a permit to use a public address system. In the trial his defense lawyer Ousainou Darboe, head of UDP compared Femi to Nelson Mandela and condemned the Public Order Act as unconstitutional and colonial. Yet the court went ahead to incarcerate such a fine senior citizen to one year in Mile 2 prison, Africa’s Hell on Earth.
UDP did not just stop at that trial but they went further to challenge the constitutionality of the Public Order Act in the Supreme Court.
Fast forward to April 2016 when Femi and UDP leaders marched to demand the body of another martyr of the Public Order Act Solo Sandeng. Not only was Femi and fellow leaders physically assaulted by the paramilitary forces but he was further dumped in jail for many months while being subjected to a kangaroo trial. In July 2016 the court once again sent him to jail for 3 years for unlawful assembly.
Since January 2017, after many months in jail Femi and scores of Gambians were released along with Ousainou Darboe, we have been counting the number of deaths so far. From Solo Koroma to Lang Marong to Ebrima Ceesay and now Femi Peters!!! How many more will have to die before the Barrow Administration realizes that there is an urgent need for a major government health intervention program to subject all victims of torture to medial attention of the highest quality?
Over the past months I have personally met numerous Gambians who were arrested with Lawyer Darboe and Femi Peters yet they are still languishing in pain and misery with only little to no medical attention from the Government which is even selectively provided. Barrow himself was only able to meet victims of human rights violations on the very day the German president visited the Gambia in December 2017.
Clearly Femi’s life and the lives of many others could have been saved if the Government has seen the urgency of their situation and provided them with excellent medical attention simply because they were victims of torture perpetrated by the Government of the Gambia at one point.
Not only is the Government failing to take up the matter of victims more seriously, but even in this New Gambia with a new Supreme Court headed by Gambians of repute, it is utterly disappointing to have them go further to certify that colonial, obnoxious and draconian Public Order Act as constitutional. Even the UDP that took the matter to the court has remained mute over the issue as if they do not care.
Barrow had said in his Manifesto that within six months of taking power he would repeal all laws that infringe on human rights, democracy and popular participation. Yet here is the Public Order Act, which they listed in their Coalition MoU and Manifesto as one of the laws to be repealed still remains alive and kicking in our books. Indeed this is an insult and disrespect to Femi Peters, Lang Marong, Solo Koroma, Ebrima Ceesay, Solo Sandeng and many others.
To add insult to injury, Barrow has refused to even review and restructure the Police Intervention Unit or the paramilitary force that has been one of the foremost weapons of oppression against Gambians for the past 22 years. It was the paramilitary forces that shot dead 16 schoolchildren in 2000. One of the triggers of that event was because some paramilitary personnel raped a schoolgirl at the stadium. Yet Barrow decides to leave that institution intact and continue to be manned by the same personnel as before.
But not only did Barrow leave the PIU intact, but he also has left the NIA and Mile 2 prison among other terror institutions to operate as usual when it was in these institutions that these martyrs faced torture and all sorts of inhuman and degrading treatment. This is indeed an insult and a drawback on what Gambians decided on 1st December 2016.
Therefore it is with huge sadness, anger and disappointment at the Gambia Government of today that Femi Peters died. Many will die because until today this Government has not taken up the responsibility with urgency to address the plight of victims of human rights violations.
It will be shame indeed for the Gambia Government to mourn Femi Peters.
For the Gambia, Our Homeland!