The euphoria about the presidential pardon continues to excite Gambians of all walks of life. Indeed the individuals who are released and their families will particularly rejoice at the freedom and the reunion for obvious reasons. They are the direct beneficiaries. But we the people or the Nation-State is indeed the primary concern given that what is happening is taking place within a particular political entity with a particular system of governance.
Thus while the president provides pardon it must be clear to all and sundry that this is not a personal whim of Yaya Jammeh. The constitution provides that the president has the authority to pardon prisoners based on a set of rules to guide the decision. Section 82 empowers the president to cause the release of any prisoner on a set of terms for his or her freedom. But to do that the president has to establish a committee as per Section 82(2):
“There shall be a Committee on the exercise of the prerogative of mercy consisting of the Attorney General and three other persons appointed by the president subject to confirmation by the National Assembly.”
In this case, a committee has not been set up. Thus it is necessary that we become utterly concerned and interested that the rule of law be followed to give legal basis to the pardon. Otherwise the pardon is illegal, inherently. Therefore, more importantly, this means that we have allowed once again our president to flout the rule of law and thereby further entrenching misrule and bad governance in the country. By his actions and if we allow him to go scot-free, it means the president can decide the next day that in fact all those released must be captured again and returned to the prison. There is already a precedent on this as had happened in this Koriteh with the release of 85 people.
Thus we the people must demand that our Opposition, if they do not see this abuse of the law and power by Yaya Jammeh to alert them to it so that they ensure that the pardon is done according to constitutional provisions. Otherwise, this is not a pardon. It is once again a case of a tyrant who chooses to play with the lives of citizens as a means to mystify and entrench himself in power. Secondly many of the prisoners released raise more concern given the nature of their crimes, while many others are merely individuals who were in prison because President Yaya Jammeh wanted to put them in prison. These are political prisoners. This is matter that must concern us as a nation.
Secondly, it is clear that Yaya Jammeh did not release these prisoners – common criminals and political prisoners – out of any goodwill. Rather he is visibly under duress which can be noticed in his voice and body language at the July 22 ceremony. He is responding to some other forces both from within and outside the Gambia to do the right thing. But he is reluctant to do the right thing hence his decision to pardon without regard to the law and in the manner that suits him. He chose who to release and how they should behave and who not to release. This is bad faith.
Given that he is under duress, it means he is quite aware that he faces risks if he continues on the path of misrule that he is accustomed to thanks to the Gambian Opposition and the people in general who allowed him. Therefore now is the time when the Opposition must begin to realise their role as true alternatives to the current government and take practical steps to address the anomaly that engulfs this tiny nation at the moment.
Our Opposition must therefore identify the urgent needs of the country so as to set demands and seek all means to ensure that Yaya Jammeh fulfils those demands. We must not be overwhelmed with the euphoria of the pardon and forget fundamental issues. As we speak, already many Gambians have been abducted, tortured, forced disappeared and killed by Yaya Jammeh. A complete culture of impunity prevails perpetrated y none other than Yaya Jammeh. He has disempowered the nation and the state by law and practice and created a system that places the lives of Gambians right in the middle of his palm. This is a direct threat to national security that must be addressed.
We must therefore call on the Opposition to unite and we help them to place these set of demands before Yaya Jammeh and the international community. By these, yet inexhaustive list of demands, Yaya Jammeh is hereby personally and officially called to ensure their fulfilment by 31st December 2015:
- Refuse to sign into law the recent changes to the electoral law because the bill is unconstitutional and violates the Elections Act, and in its place allow the IEC to level the playing field with necessary and democratic reforms;
- Introduce presidential terms limits with immediate effect;
- Step down as President of the Gambia of state at the end of his current term;
- Investigate all cases of enforced disappearance and bring to justice all perpetrators;
- Investigate all murder and arson attacks on Gambians and bring all perpetrators to justice;
- Disband Operation Bulldozer security unit;
- Disband ‘Black Black’, Junglers, Rangers, Green Boys and Green Girls and all other clandestine militias;
- Review and restructure the National Intelligence Agency to make the agency answerable to the National Assembly;
- Depoliticise the military and police and allow professionalism and merit to guide them;
- Release all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners with immediate effect;
- Compensate and apologize to all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners;
- Conduct a general constitutional, legal and institutional review and restructuring to ensure that the country is being run on proper democratic values and standards.
Gambians have to realise that Yaya Jammeh as a person is not the issue. The issue is the system that is in place through which he wields power and exerts control. That is the system that must be addressed because that system which he has corrupted and abused is being used by him to damage our nation and lives. As long as that system is in place, regardless of who sits at the top as head of state, the country will be misruled at our detriment. We must bear in mind that it is this abused system that can allow him to release people from prison today, while the next day he is putting many more in prison only to release them the day after, only for us to continue to applaud him for the ‘good gesture’. With this system in place, one can see that he has been able to harm people with impunity because he has subverted our sovereignty, personalised the State and flouts the rule of law. The lawmakers continue to empower him with more laws, while the courts decide as he wished in the cases in which he has interest. Where the lawmakers and judges cannot give him what he wants, he uses the armed and society services to do his bidding. Thus this system of personalising State institutions and processes must stop. This is why fundamentally Yaya Jammeh must step down because he lacks the capacity to abide by democratic principles in a civilized society. More evidently, he is a direct architect and beneficiary of this corrupted system.
Yaya Jammeh is now cornered which can be seen by his own decisions and actions as manifesting in this pardon. This can only serve to strengthen the Opposition, but provided they are united and steadfast. The Opposition must therefore identify a set of demands and approach Yaya Jammeh for dialogue. He cannot refuse and if he does this can only further embolden the Opposition. They can now effectively expose the apparent weaknesses and insincerity of Yaya Jammeh to the masses. The Opposition must also engage with the local actors such as the civil society, religious leaders, and business people and of course with our regional and international partners. Thus we expect to see an Opposition delegation to Pres. Macky Sall, to President Muhammadou Buhari, to ECOWAS, to the AU and to the UN at its regional and international offices. The Opposition must open to the media to share with the public what is being done. Yaya Jammeh must be pushed to the corner. He lacks support. He is isolated. He is scared. The Opposition must take the full blow. Now.