My one Butut on #OccupyWestfield
You may disagree with the whole idea or rationale behind #OccupyWestfield. You may shout from the rooftop “Down with OccupyWestfield”. It is your right. It is to dissent, to disagree. But you cannot insist the organiser(s) cannot shout #OccupyWestfield or even go to occupy Westfield. That would be a violation of their right. To deny them that right is to force them to accept that your position is right. That, in my humble view, would be dictatorship. Organise a counter #UpWithNAWEC” campaign if you wish. That would still be your right.
And No, one does not have to exhaust “all local remedies” before one can protest or show one’s frustration with the workings or acts of commission/omission of the Government. What about spontaneous protests? What if one feels, right or wrong, that the agency is not doing good enough- your best may be my average.
And yes, rural Gambia was in the dark for a long while. So? Are you celebrating a denial of a right.
The lack of electricity in rural Gambia was injustice, a discriminatory approach of a Government which took services only to its supporters. If those people never protested it may be because they were afraid of the State, didn’t know how, weren’t organised or were forced to be stoic. It was not because they never wanted electricity or portable water. No part of the Gambia should go without the basics which make life worthy and dignified. If rural Gambia is “enjoying” electricity now and Greater Banjul isn’t, we should still ask why and protest if need be. It should not be the case of or support in favour of reverse discrimination.
We should protect the right to protest and insist the State respects and fulfils it. It would be a right we would come to enjoy unencumbered, when we have a cause to protest. The denial of this right and its violent and needless suppression in the past remain a dark chapter in our chequered political history. It gave us freedom nonetheless. Remember when these patriotic citizens marched for freedom and dignity, at their peril, some of our people derided and scorned them. What was seen as an individual fight against one of the most ferocious and deadliest Governments gave birth ultimately to freedom now being enjoyed by all. It was a fight for a right just as #OccupyWestfield is, fight for a right. I don’t think we should pooh-pooh it as a sanctimonious irrelevance.
Gambia, when a person believes a certain social condition needs redeeming or a right needs respect, protection or fulfillment by the primary duty bearer, we should support at most or not hinder at least. Imagine if most of us had joined the late Solo Sandeng and co on that fateful day or Darboe on long march or with Baboucarr Ceesay and Saidykhan when they wanted to protest against the execution. Imagine what a movement and a message we would have sent and the ground swell we would have created. Nothing can stop People Power in the long run. But some of us were condescending and patronising. It was “their” fight. “Not in my name” we shouted with glee. Who now is not enjoying the fruits of these sacrifices? These and #OccupyWestfield are about rights, even if different rights.
And yes, even if it is just one person out of our 2.8 million people who feels dissatisfied with NAWEC, the 2.8 million do not have rights greater than that of the one person and vice versa nor can one silence the other.
Judicial officials are not above the law
If the police routinely take bribes and court officials are for sale to the highest bidder, then justice is put beyond the reach of ordinary people and it becomes impossible to trust the law. The breakdown of the rule of law is a recipe for anarchy and disorder. Democracy does not mean disorder or the absence of the law, or indeed a disregard of the law. Democracy does not give you a leeway to make you a folly before the state.
The difference between democracy and dictatorship is not the relaxing of the rule of law in the former. The difference between defamation and freedom of expression is not that one is denied such a right in the former but not in the latter. Freedom of expression and assembly are not absolute; in fact, the law protects you more from being turned into a slave than it does from the words you speak.
The rule of law is often difficult to define; however, I am certain that it requires that everyone be subject to the same law. It demands the independence of the judiciary, and it calls for all those accused to be brought before an impartial and independent tribunal and court system. It says that the state provides the mechanism of settling disputes through the court system. The rule of law calls for the maintenance of public order and security. It espouses the concept of the separation of powers and respect for the law itself.
People often experience a double-whammy: very long cases and, at the end of the long process, a wrong decision. Due process, which used to be defined as a day in court, has become a decade in court.
Justice is denied either through lengthy delays or through the outright sale of decisions. Because of this, the law is no longer seen as a majestic tool for justice, but as a deplorable tool for the powerful to abuse the powerless. The once honorable profession of law now functions as a bottom-line business, driven by greed and the pursuit of power and wealth, even shaping the laws and public policy of the government outside of the elected representatives. Ever heard the old lawyer’s joke? “A good lawyer knows the law. A better lawyer knows the judge.”
The judiciary is a sacred institution that should not be desecrated by any person; however, there is no sacredness in the corruption and abuse of office. Judges and lawyers must always be treated with the decency and respect befitting of their office. But corrupt judges and lawyers should be identified and treated like any other criminals in our society. The Gambia is blessed with some of the best judicial brains anywhere in the world, but the nefarious activities of the bad eggs on the bar and bench should never be tolerated under any guise. The reform of the justice system is urgently needed, as it is infected by corruption, fraud, perjury and dishonesty by judges and lawyers who abuse their power. Together, we must restore the faith of our people in our justice system and the rule of law, and our judicial officials should shun the temptations of money and power and instead help address the long delays in the resolution of cases.
Always remember that the end does not justify the means. Just be faithful to the lawyer’s oath. Do no falsehood, do not promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, nor delay any man for money or malice many Gambians have become victims of lengthy cases, only to receive an erroneous decision.
Alagi Yorro Jallow
New York City