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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Who is a patriot? The constitutional perspective

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By Simon Sabally

One of the most frequently bandied words on social media is “patriotism”. Its meaning kept on shifting after every major event or happening, such as after December 30th attack on the State House, the protest of Solo Sandeng and the subsequent arrest and imprisonment of the UDP executive, Halifa Sallah’s work in The Gambia, Chongan’s actions on 22 July 1994 at the Denton Bridge and recently Omar Jallow’s testimony at the TRRC, just to name a few.

It appears there is no agreement on what constitutes patriotism. I wish to forward the following propositions on what constitute ‘patriotic’ and ‘patriotism’ from perspective of the constitution of The Gambia 1997.
The preamble tells us one cardinal role of a patriotic citizen which is to ensure “for all time respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to ethnic considerations, gender, language or religion.” It means a patriotic person must not be tribal and perpetrator of human rights (also see s. 17(1) and s. 33).
Section 5(1) tells us who a patriot is and what duty to perform. A patriotic person is one who takes step to enforce any allegation of breach of the provisions of the constitution. He or she will never be indifferent to violations of the constitution. Similarly, s. 6 enjoins the patriot the right and duty at all times to defend the constitution. In fact it allowed a patriot to “resist, to the extent reasonably justifiable in the circumstances, any person or group of persons seeking or attempting by any violent or unlawful means to suspend, overthrew or abrogate this constitution or any part of it.”

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A patriot is a person who shall never subject another person to torture or inhuman degrading punishment or other treatment (s. 21); force another person into servitude and slavery(s. 20(1)); subject another person to arbitrary arrest and detention or deprivation of liberty (s. 19(1)); unlawful deprivation of life (s. 18); invasion into privacy of another person (s. 23(1)); and respect the principle of equality before the law. Consequently, a patriotic person is one who will facilitate an application to the high court to enforce the protection and enforcement of protective provisions in Chapter IV. This patriot can a lawyer on pro bono service or any other person to finance the application.
A patriotic Gambian must undertake certain duties in The Gambia. Section 220(1) laid down the following duties to be performed by every citizen:
1. Promote the prestige and good reputation of The Gambia and respect the symbols of The Gambia;
2. uphold and defend the Constitution;
3. foster national unity and live harmoniously with others;
4. respect the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of others and refrain from acting in a manner detrimental to the welfare of other persons;
5. serve The Gambia by working conscientiously in his or her chosen occupation;
6. protect and preserve public property and expose and combat the misuse and waste of public funds and property;
7. contribute to the well being of the community in which the citizen lives;
8. be loyal to The Gambia and contribute to its defence when necessary;
9. co-operate with the appropriate agencies in the maintenance of law and order, and
10.protect and conserve the environment of The Gambia.
Therefore, performance of the above-mentioned duties by a citizen defined his or her patriotism.
Section 222 has further defined a patriot, especially within the context of public service. A patriotic public servant must exhibit respect for the law, promote confidence in the integrity of public office, devote adequate time to his or her duties, be punctual at work and expeditious in bringing to a conclusion any matter under his or her attention, not to do any prejudicial action to the rights of any other person, avoid nepotism and favoritism, avoid conflict of interest, declare any gift received, among others. I believe that the character of a patriotic public servant must encompassed the acts expected of him or her that are highlighted above.
In our attempt to determine persons as patriotic citizens, please let us make reference to the Constitution of The Gambia 1997 which had imbued citizens with duties and responsibilities to the Gambia and her people. A person, to my mind, is a patriot when he upholds the principles of our constitution, as well as performs the duties highlighted above.

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