The actions of the police to disperse protesters on Monday December 26 was unlawful. The citizens of The Gambia have a guaranteed constitutional right to protest against any matter concerning the Government. In that regard the police have a duty to protect them in their protest.
I do not know how anyone can make the IGP and the police in general understand and accept that they have a duty to protect all the rights of all citizens. This includes the right to freedom of assembly.
The IGP must not seek to involve himself in the issues that the citizens are protesting about. Rather his job is to ensure that protesters do their protest and those who are not part of the protest to also go about their business – all in peace and order.
The citizens who were protesting for justice for Momodou Sabally have a right to do so. What was expected of the police is to protect the area to ensure that peace prevailed. The police have no power to forcefully disperse them so long as the protesters were not riotous, rowdy and violent. The physical assault and the use of tear gas unleashed on the few dozen protesters were utterly unnecessary and unlawful. By all accounts the protesters were not violent, rowdy or riotous.
Therefore we need to alert the IGP to limit the police within the functions of law enforcement. The IGP and his officers must remember that their decisions and actions are being documented for posterity. A day will come when these documented evidence will be used against individual officers who abuse human rights. They will be held accountable.
Protest is not a criminal activity. Protesters are not criminals. Rather protest and protesters contribute immensely in strengthening democracy and good governance, promoting peace building and encouraging accountability. Protest gives opportunity to citizens to release their grievances without taking the law into their own hands. Hence protest and protesters are good for society.
It is when protest is criminalized and protesters are brutalized that citizens begin to resort to violent rebellion. Therefore let us tell IGP Abdoulie Sanyang to respect and uphold the Constitution and allow citizens to protest in peace and calm. Let him not engender a situation in which citizens will have no choice but to undertake undemocratic means of expressing themselves in addressing their issues.
Dilemma of a police officer
I was on my way home when I heard my phone ringing. It was my colleague calling. I decided to ignore the call. I was almost home and in a hurry to go and pray. I didn’t want to be delayed by any phone conversations. Then my phone rang again. And then I saw a text come in. Before I could input my password to unlock the phone and read the text, my phone rang again. I decided to answer.
“You have to come back to the office right now. The boss has been calling you but he couldn’t get to you. He is not very happy right now.” Inspector Passdi Order told me.
I immediately asked the taxi driver to let me off by Senegambia. I hailed another taxi and headed right back to Banjul. I had no idea why I was asked to immediately return to headquarters. By the time I arrived, everyone had already been briefed on what to do. I was told I needed to call Kenbugul and invite him to Nyodormoh Police Station. The plan was once he gets there, he would immediately be transferred to Banjunu.
Other officers were deployed to search Kenbugul’s home and look for anything that can incriminate him in any crime. A panel was selected to interrogate him on anything to see if he could be charged with any crime.
I asked Gissuma my colleague and he told me that Commissioner Palassrek said he received orders from the top to arrest Kenbugul and charge him with something. Commissioner Palassrek was stressed out because he thinks he might lose his job if he can’t find something to charge Kenbugul with. He insisted that we must find something. And if we can’t find something, plant something!
Gissuma said the whole case bothers him. That Kenbugul hasn’t committed any crime. And that he doesn’t want to be part of it. I asked him if everyone feels the same way and he said he hasn’t spoken to anyone else about how they felt. He said by observing other officers, it didn’t seem as if any of them were happy to be arresting someone and then looking for something to charge them with.
I was not the least pleased either. I swore to carry out my duties in a fair and professional manner. What they want to do to Kenbugul is simply wrong. No citizen should be abused by the very system set up to protect them. I decided to call one of my supervisors Chief Superintendent Nsikehdi.
Me: Sir, I don’t feel comfortable taking part in this operation.
Nsikehdi: You think any of us is comfortable with this operation? We have no choice. These are orders from the top. We have to abide by them.
Me: But we all know that what we are doing is unlawful. It is an abuse of authority.
Nsikehdi: Listen, if you refuse to be part of the operation, you will get fired from the force. And the very people you are fighting for will be the ones calling you a fool. Just do your job and go home. Remember you have a family to feed and if you get dismissed here, who will take care of that family for you?
Me: Well, I am sure Allah will find a way for me. I remember when Mustapha Ceesay disobeyed the orders of IGP Badgie during the witch hunt exercise, things got tough on him but he is all right now.
Nsikehdi: And you think you are Mustapha Ceesay? Do you think the luck he had is guaranteed to you? Do you think I want to be part of this operation? I don’t. But how can I refuse? We say security sector reform but have you seen any reform here? This is a dilemma for us too. We have families to feed. We are in a predicament. I wish we had some real reforms but we don’t. Do what they ask of you and bide your time until you can leave the force.
Me: Thank you, sir. I will do what is required of me. But I hate it
Nsikehdi: I do too.