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Friday, September 22, 2023

Weaponizing laws and institutions to scare and silence citizens. 2023 call to action: Stand up to defend the Constitution and the Republic

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By Madi Jobarteh

The illegal arrest and detention of Momodou Sabally is one too many that we have continuously witnessed in this country since 2017. We have had several individuals who would be called to come to a police station to clarify some issues or questions and as soon as they enter the station, they get detained! This happened to Dr. Ismaila Ceesay in 2018 and to my humble self in 2020. This attitude of the police can only be described as kidnapping since both Ismaila and myself as well as Sabally were never told that we were going to be arrested and detained. Yet while we were detained the police insisted that we were not under arrest!

Therefore, the time has come for citizens to put a stop to this grossly unethical and illegal conduct of the police. Such malpractices reflect a police state attitude that is totally inimical to democracy and human rights. The police cannot merely claim that they have the right and power to call in anyone for questioning just like that. The power of the police to question anyone is not absolute, as that power is guided by laws and norms. The police are not above the law and do not have the unfettered and unlimited power to question anyone about anything, anywhere, anytime.

This blatant malpractice continues to remain in this country simply and squarely because of the unwillingness of the political leadership to bring about system change from dictatorship to democracy. This is because the prevailing political leadership only intends to remain in power for as long as they live. For that reason, we are once again witnessing the same old scenario where national laws and public institutions are weaponized against citizens to prevent them from expressing divergent and dissenting opinions, and holding the political leadership accountable.

The 2016 Coalition was formed with the intention to not only remove the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh but also to end self-perpetuation in power. This was the reason for the three-year transition program that Barrow came to reject. In his 2016 manifesto, Barrow vowed to change all laws that infringe on human rights and democracy within six months of taking office. It is now six years gone by yet Barrow has refused to reform any human rights related laws nor reform any security sector institutions. Rather what we have seen is how Barrow now relies on these same old draconian laws, institutions and malpractices to clampdown on citizens.

Thus, the illegal detention of Sabally just like Dr. Ceesay and myself among many others has only one objective which is to inject fear in citizens in order to prevent them from holding the President and public officials accountable. Once again, the police and the NIA have become the tools for this diabolical purpose. And with the court decision to illegally prolong the detention of Sabally, it means the Ministry of Justice as well as the Judiciary are now also playing the same old roles they used to do for Jammeh.

As citizens, we must therefore demand that Pres. Barrow govern this country according to the Constitution and democratic and good governance norms and practices. He must abandon the objective of perpetuating himself in power, and focus on governing this country along democratic norms and the rule of law. This means he must respond to and fulfill the social and economic rights and needs of the people while protecting fundamental civil and political rights of citizens at all times. This requires that he ensures efficiency, transparency and accountability in public institutions which must perform and deliver according to law and their terms of reference.

The President and these public officials must have the courage to respond to the questions, issues, concerns, criticisms and grievances of citizens through democratic means only. It is dishonest, cowardly and shameless for the President and public officials to hide behind and use laws and institutions as weapons to arrest, detain and jail citizens for speaking their opinions. This means the President is running away from public scrutiny and protected by the NIA, Police, Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary. Those public officials who carry out these unconstitutional, undemocratic and unethical acts do not deserve to hold public office.

The Gambia is a multiparty democracy hence all citizens have a right to join a political party or any other kind of organization. Political parties, civil society organizations and any other kind of organizations have a right to organize events and recruit members throughout the Gambia. Politicians and all citizens have a right to criticize and condemn the Government. Just as the President and his NPP party are organizing, recruiting, criticizing opponents and promoting their party agenda across the country, so also do each and every other political party and politician have a right to do the same and more. This was what Sabally was doing and it was his right to do so.

Therefore, what Gambians must recognize is that this Government led by Adama Barrow has now prepared itself to hide behind the laws and institutions to use them as weapons against citizens in order to silence citizens. In seeking this objective, the President has found unconscionable public officials within the Ministry of Justice, the Gambia Police Force and the National Intelligence Agency to do his bidding as it used to happen under Jammeh. These three institutions, MOJ, GPF and NIA have now become his rapid reaction forces against Gambians in shielding the President and his political team from public scrutiny.

Therefore, let us put it to the Minister of Justice Dawda Jallow, the DG NIA Ousman Sowe and IGP Abdoulie Sanyang and indeed all judges and public officials everywhere that they are well educated and they know the law. They are Gambians who have taken an oath to defend the Constitution to protect the rights of their people and defend the best interest of the Gambia and uphold the law. They can decide to be dishonest and perpetuate the selfish interests of politicians, but they shall fail and will be disgraced sooner or later. The day of reckoning shall come as we have witnessed at the TRRC. 

My New Year’s call to action for all citizens therefore is that ‘Stand up to defend the Constitution and the Republic’. Never again should we allow our elected and appointed Mbindaan to subvert our will and power and turn our laws and institutions into weapons against us. Section 1 subsection 2 of the Constitution states that power resides in the people and the Government derives its authority and power from the people and perform their functions on behalf of, and for the welfare of the people. Therefore, let us not allow any public official or mbindaan to misuse and abuse our power to destroy our rights, dignity and future. Never Again.

Wishing all a better, healthier, safer, freer, and a more dignified, prosperous and just 2023.  

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