By Musa Bah
The announcement by the Gambia Police Force (GPF) of dropping all charges brought against Mr Madi Jobarteh, a human rights defender, seeks to entrench and promote what I call a Stockholm syndrome type of governance. This is a when governments violate the rights of their citizen(s) and then after harassing them for a while, they stop suddenly without offering any apology. They then expect the said citizen(s) to be grateful and thankful to them.
Here, one is reminded of the Yahya Jammeh days when a government official would be sacked without reason or rhyme and yet s/he would be expected to write a long and glowing letter (to be read on national television) thanking him (Jammeh) for having appointed him in the first place. Watching those letters read over GRTS always left me nauseous.
How can one dismiss you without due process or without any basis and yet you feel the need to write and praise said individual on national television for everyone to see and hear? Was it true gratitude that was expressed; or, was it out of sincerity that those letters were written? Certainly not. The only reason was to avoid prosecution and subsequent going to jail; for, it was an open secret that in those days, when one was sacked and not imprisoned then one had to thank one’s lucky stars! This was the norm! How pathetic we had become! It turned almost all citizens into praise singers.
Coming to the case of Madi Jobarteh, he merely expressed an opinion. According to the Constitution of the country every citizen has the right to express an opinion provided that that opinion does not incite violence or infringe on the rights of another or others. It is very clear that Madi’s statement didn’t do either, and the government knew that very well.
Thus, his arrest and subsequent charging were in effect, a violation of his fundamental rights. He spent a lot of time and resources going and coming to police stations. In addition, it must have caused him a lot of emotional distress that in the 21st Century, he could be put through such harassment for merely proffering an opinion. What distress and trauma must his family have gone through during those uncertain times when they would have been worried that the same treatments as were wont in Jammeh’s time awaited him?
Thus, dropping all charges against Madi is not a favour. It is not something done out of the kindness of the heart of the IGP or the president. It was simply the right thing to do. In fact, the need should have been there in the first place. So, GPF should expect no gratitude from Madi, his family or any Gambian for this gesture! The state is the primary duty bearer to protect the rights of citizens in a democracy.
The almost unanimous stance taken by ordinary Gambians in solidarity with Mr Jobarteh was a welcome sight. All rights activists, rights defenders, advocates of good governance and the ordinary man and woman in the street stood by Madi. The media also took a stance and speaking with one loud voice sent a message that the time of intimidating citizens is over. This is good for the nascent democracy we are trying to nurture. From this angle, at least, it is victory for democracy.
The National Human Rights Commission is also to be commended for reaching out and engaging the authorities to ensure that the rights of Mr Jobarteh are not further violated. The NHRC played an important role in letting the State drop the frivolous charges against the Human Rights defender. It is very necessary to have people of Madi’s stature to speak for the voiceless so that their rights can also be guaranteed and protected.
On another development, the presidency bowed to pressure and sacked Mr Alpha Robinson, Managing Director of the National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC). Mr Robinson had spent only one year before he was given his marching orders. Earlier, rumors had been circulating on the internet that some insiders had launched a kind of a vicious campaign against Mr Robinson.
It was reported that Mr Robinson was working very hard to restructure the company and seal off all avenues used by some unscrupulous staff to embezzle and steal money. When they saw that, they began to spread rumors about him until the presidency succumbed and gave him the boot. Mr Robinson is now said to be redeployed to the foreign services (the de facto dumbing ground of President Barrow).
The sacking of, and redeployment of Mr Robinson is reminiscent of the case of Mr Muhammadou Manjang formerly of the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC). Readers will remember that he (Manjang) was redeployed to the Senegalo-Gambian Secretariat which he declined.
These hirings and firings point to a lack of structure and good planning on the part of the Government of President Adama Barrow. For, any reasonable person will know that for someone to succeed in an institution like NAWEC or Social Security, one needs to spend some reasonably long time. If an individual is appointed to a position like that, it would certainly take some time before he familiarizes himself with the whole institution and the problems that might be facing it especial with the poor culture of record keeping which hinders institutional memory. Then the person would now begin to put plans in place to address the challenges.
If therefore the person is sacked within one year and another brought in, and such an individual will also take similar time to adjust to the new realities, but would also be sacked within the year it will take eternity for any progress to be registered in such an institution. If this be the case then when will we, as a country, progress and begin having adequate service delivery?
It seems that the playbook left by Yahya Jammeh at State House is being utilized to the fullest by President Adama Barrow. With one complaint, an official is sacked without any investigation or due process. This creates retardation and along the way, a lot of bad blood between and among citizens. This is not the way to go. There must be strong institutions and not just individuals. Someone once famously said that Africa needs strong institutions and not strong individuals. The Barrow administration has spoken so loudly and loftily about strong institutions but we see them undermine these very institutions through arbitrary interference in them all the time.
This is not the change we were expecting.