By Madi Jobarteh
The Gambian people have been severely betrayed and harmed by a president who had all the legal, political and moral obligations to safeguard the supreme interest of the nation. This is what is contained in the oath of office of the president and all public servants. But not only had Yahya Jammeh betrayed the public trust and confidence that goes with the Office of the President, but he was consciously and knowingly aided and abetted by fellow Gambians and other human beings who equally know that they had sacred obligations to protect the public good.
Now that the Janneh Commission has set itself to unearth the how and why Yahya Jammeh and his accomplices betrayed the people of the Gambia, some of them have now asked that their testimonies be made in camera expressing security fears. It must not happen!
The idea of having testimonies in camera conforms to what is called witness protection in justice delivery system. Witness protection was first conceived in the United States in the 1960s in criminal investigations and prosecutions involving organised crimes in the drugs trade in particular among others. It is intended to allow a criminal to willingly testify against fellow criminals in order to save oneself from either prosecution or having a lighter sentence among others. Indeed witness protection has been effectively utilized by the justice delivery system in both criminal and civil cases. Thus on the surface of it, the request by Njogu Bah and Muhammed Bazzi appears to be sensible and necessary to grant them such protection.
However, I strongly oppose this request in the sense that it does not serve both the case of justice and the greater public good that this commission is providing right now. Njogu Bah and Bazzi like all others invited to the commission are required by law to provide the truth and nothing but the truth. Hence these folks must tell the commission the truth otherwise they will be in contempt of the commission that carries severe penalties on its own. Therefore Bah and Bazzi cannot deny this commission any information. For that matter, what this commission could do is to ensure that they are provided the necessary security based on an assessment to determine if in fact they faced a security threat in the first place.
Bah and Bazzi like the rest knew that what they were doing was wrong yet they reneged on their legal and moral obligations to stand tall and refuse Yahya Jammeh to use them as tools against the supreme interests of the people of The Gambia. The harm they committed against the Gambian people is far greater than the harm they fear could reach them if they continue to testify in public.
By allowing Yahya Jammeh to plunder public wealth means Njogu and Co have denied our hospitals, schools and workers the necessary resources that would have saved lives, provided meaningful opportunities and ensure decent and highest standard of living to the masses. Thus by their actions, Bah and Bazzi like the rest have directly and practically killed Gambian lives in our hospitals and denied Gambian children durable opportunities and a promising future. How therefore could Bazzi and Bah only consider their selfish interests today when they had damaged the sacred interests of a whole nation yesterday?
It is necessary that all testimonies be made in public because this commission is not only a fact-finding mission, but it is also a lesson from which all Gambians must learn.
By hearing from the horse’s mouth, Gambians should now see how dictatorship is made. By now Gambians must realise that leadership is not about Allah, rather it is Gambians who make or break leaders. When Yahya Jammeh was shouting ‘Allah’s Bank’ and proclaiming Allah’s name every minute it is now clear that there was nothing godly about this man but who embodies only evil and criminality! He was merely using the name of Allah and Islam to loot, rape and kill!
From this commission we can now see that everything that Yahya Jammeh did were done by himself and supported by fellow Gambians. In their evil minds they connived with each other to loot the Gambia by misusing and abusing the laws and institutions that we entrust to them to perform their functions in serving the country. These men and women were public officers who derive their legitimacy from the people. The people placed their trust and confidence in them so that they will serve and protect the public good. Yet they did not only fail in their duties but went further to subvert the law and transform our institutions into weapons of mass destruction against our people.
For that matter, the commission is a learning exercise to make Gambians understand that unless we realise that the people are the owners of the Gambia, then any president could come around only to plunder and pillage as he or she wishes. The commission should teach us that power resides only in the people but only if those people are aware of it and take charge of their own destiny. We need to hear these testimonies to realise that a president is good or bad depending on how the people relate to him or her. We need to hear these testimonies so we see what stuff we are made of as Gambians. Do we truly belief in God and the good cultural values we proclaim or do we merely pay lip service to God and our good cultural values? These are the fundamental lessons of this commission for which the testimonies must be made public.
The safety and security of Njogu Bah or Muhammed Bazzi must not overshadow the legitimate interest of the people of The Gambia. If this request is granted there is a high risk that the commission itself might be compromised. Gambians will not eventually get the full and undiluted truth hence the lessons to learn will not materialise. Instead we might end up not having justice delivered while criminals and plunderers of public wealth continue to walk scot-free and even serve in The Gambia Government again! In that case this commission could become another painful betrayal of the people.
I therefore call on Justice Janneh not to grant any request that seeks to hear some testimonies in camera. We need all testimonies in the public so that the lessons we will learn will serve as building blocks for a new democratic, transparent and accountable Gambia. These lessons will teach all public servants to realise that their allegiance must always be to The Gambia and not to a president. It will also teach our president that he must serve only the public interest and not to circumvent our laws and subvert our institutions for his or her selfish interest. God bless The Gambia.
Madi Jobarteh is the deputy executive director at The Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, Tango.