It counts with almost relevance that a public official not only presents a reputable character but equally, but be a person who cherishes probity, dignity and integrity and must ascribe onto him or herself principles that would continuously, guide and shape his/her character and daily interactions with ordinary people and in his/her professional engagements.
This is a frequent deficiency in many Gambians, more than ever with public officials are.
The Press Statement by the IGP, dated 29th July 2019,regarding the OccupyBAC protest is revealing, as it depicts nothing but shame, unprofessionalism, and entire failure at the side of the police command.
It must be the understanding and appreciation of all public officials, that “Government” is not a “kaffoo” or a “family matter” and therefore, must not be administered as such.
The “Government” as the central State machinery is too multifaceted to be degenerated to the level of a “family”.
Therefore, all occupants of public offices must, at all instances draw it before their faculties that they are dealing with and in a complex system.
The office of the IGP, like other institutions of the State is not up to this reality.
The exercise of freedom of assembly or self-expression through whatever means, is one of the fundamental elements of a democracy.
Its absence is a potential vacuum prone to exploitation, for the establishment of impunity. It is evident the world over (the Gambian case still afresh), how few crackdowns on protesters will later totally result to the convulsion of the citizens’ right to peaceful assembly and other fundamental right for that matter.
This is why today; no vigilant Gambian is ready to plunge into another slumber that would consequently lead us to the ugly past.
Primarily, when the office of the IGP did its Social Media intelligence gathering of a “planned protest”, its first concerns were “the images depicting the poor conditions of the market”, clearly not about the protest, which every reasonable person would have expected them to focus on and be concern about.
What followed was a need for the office of the IGP to ascribe onto itself the responsibility of mapping out strategies for “the cleansing exercise scheduled for Saturday 13th July 2019”.
The grammar in the release won’t even tell, if the cleansing exercise was scheduled prior to the decision to call for a meeting with the Vice President or during the security briefing? Nothing was still right.
The invitation of stakeholders to a meeting aimed at strategizing for a cleaning exercise was not the concern of the youths, who wanted to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo of their Area Council.
The latter was what brought them together.
Attempting to give them the status of “stakeholder”, in a bid to muffle and technically stop them from protesting will not later materialize because they (the youths) were conscious enough to detect the ploy from the side of Government.
The message was clear, and the desire to express their grievances or dissatisfaction as a collective, was going to be through the streets!
When applications for “permits” are made, what is expected of the office of the IGP is to examine whether or not the protest, assembly or “procession is not likely to cause a breach of the peace” under the circumstances, dates, venue etc, the protest is planned to take place.
Anything could be protested against, including the existence of Mr Jobe as the IGP. So, the reasons for protest should not be confused with the right to protest. Thus, when OccupyBAC so wishes to demand for the resignation of the entire Executive of BAC, it should not have been treated as “new revelations”, whatever it means. Equally, it should not be the business of the IGP to prescribe to OCcupyBAC as to how they should hold the authorities under question accountable.
The most ignoble will be revealed when the IGP insinuated that OccupyBAC is illegal because, as he suggested, it is required by law for an “association” such as OccupyBAC (if it is one) to register with the authorities.
This suggestion is false. Under the entrenched fundamental rights of chapter four (4) of the1997 Constitution of The Gambia, section 25 (e) provides for “freedom of association, which shall include freedom to form and join associations and unions, including political parties and trade unions”.
It is worth noting, that the exercises of the entire rights under section 25 are not absolute with the exception of the right of return by citizens under 25(3).
The limitations placed on the exercise of these rights under 25(4), through other Acts of Assembly should be such, that they are “required in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of The Gambia, national security, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court” and nothing less. Section 63 of the Criminal Code of The Gambia equally offers some explanations regarding what constitutes an unlawful association or society, unlawful assembly, riot, and other offences.
Section 63 (2) provides that “A society is an unlawful society if formed for any of the following purposes:
“(a) Levying war or encouraging or assisting any person to levy war on the Government or the inhabitants of any part of The Gambia; or
(b) Killing or injuring or inciting to the killing or injuring of any person; or
(c) Destroying or injuring or inciting to the destruction or injuring of any property; or
(d) Subverting or promoting the subversion of the Government or of its officials; or
(e) Committing or inciting to acts of violence or intimidation; or
(f) Interfering with, or resisting, or inciting to interference with or resistance to the administration of the law; or
(g) Disturbing or inciting to the disturbance of peace and order
Evidently, OCcupyBAC was not formed, by all mean and indications for any of the aforementioned purposes.
Therefore, a mere formation of a group to express grievances, with no intention to rebel against the government, or cause public disorder etc cannot attract any genuine restrictions on the exercise of the fundamental right to form an “association” or a ‘temporary’ movement such as OccupyBAC who are immediately drawn by the collective desire to see change in their society.
Again, one doesn’t need to belong to a registered Association to protest or organize a protest!!!
In fact, even if the claim, that there was a counter protest group were true, the police should be professional enough to issue them permits to protest at different times and venue or at the same venue at different times with the necessary protection for both! Nevertheless, this is merely yet another official fabrication!
It is equally paradoxical for the IGP to lament that peaceful protests are allowed, when less than a dozen unarmed youths but for their t-shirts in the early morning of Wednesday 24th of July were not allowed to march peacefully, to express their grievances. Nothing disrupts peace and poses insecurity than the unprofessional manner in which the IGP handled the entire BAC protest saga.
The IGP and the government of The Gambia is advised; that most effect means of ensuring security is by giving to the people what fundamentally belongs to them.
The culture of denying permit to people who seek to hold public officials accountable has far-reaching consequences.
Though politically appointed, the IGP must equally be professional in his service to the people.
He must ascribe onto himself principles, and refuse to be used in the political game.
The decision to issue permits or not must not continue to be decided from the TOP.
The Gambian youth are counseled and encouraged to remain vigilant, to take to the streets to demand for better service, for a better future!!!