Njundu Drammeh

(JollofNews) – Between a Government or the State and citizens, however rebellious, I will side with the citizens. The State is made for the citizens, to fulfil their rights, to ensure the maximum happiness of all.

When we, in our enthusiasm to see law and order established or for our support to a Government, insist that a Government uses every possible force to bring its adversaries or non-supporters on the line, we would be putting too much power in the hands of that Government or State. We would be shooting ourselves in the head. Because a Government, however benevolent it might look, often wants to be “big”, to be in total control of the lives of its citizens, and when given the carte blanche to deal with its members, however arrant, it usually employs all its instruments of torture and oppression against them, against the very laws it is imposing. Then from one “minor” suppression of dissent to another, it becomes an albatross. Our Frankenstein monster.

Thus, we should not egg on our new Government, democratically elected and showing all the signs of being democratic and accountable to the people, to use force, of whatever kind and degree, against a microscopic minority when other more potent and effective means might be available.

Nothing is more effective than the use of the law, rightly and diligently used through the due process. The police have the powers to arrest and prosecute anyone who violates the law, obstructs the due administration and enforcement of the law or for whatever act of omission or commission out of sync with the law. Now that power must be used, uncompromisingly, impartially and within the bounds of the law. The courts then becomes the grounds to contest the charges.

The new Government followed the due process of the law to temporarily freeze the assets and other properties of Yaya. It didn’t fight with anyone. No one took up arms against it for that action. If Yaya or any of his supporters wants to contest the claims, well, he or they can go to court which is now as open as Serre Kunda Market. I expect the use of such legal means in every matter affecting the State.

People have a right to peacefully protest even though we never enjoyed it under the Yaya reign of terror. Under the new dispensation we are and cannot be denied or given to a selected or chosen community or party or people. Countless demonstrations we have seen since January 19th. But as citizens we must know that rights are not empty claims; we have them because we are citizens and must therefore enjoy and exercise them in a way which benefits ourselves and society. We have no right to against the public welfare or good, to demonstrate or protest violently or destructively. That would be a violation and the full force of the law must descend on the violators. No one should have qualms about that.

Regarding the presence of ECOMIG on our soil, to explain it away as surrender of our sovereignty would be naive or at best a political claptrap. We lost our sovereignty on 22 July 1994 when Yaya deposed a democratically elected government, an illegal action most of us celebrated as “patriotic”. Except for a few shrill voices of disapproval, most of us walked about as nothing significant happened. Then the cycle of murders and disappearances and grave human rights violations took place right under our noses.

The obnoxious and ubiquitous NIA and Junglars wreak a reign of terror and made life brutish, short and nasty for other people. We looked askance because we weren’t affected. Some of us justified the pillage and the tyranny. Some of us gleefully participated in the wanton destruction of lives and day light robberies. What was disheartening, and repugnant to the mind, was the fact that the men and women who were armed to protect the citizens, their lives, properties, human rights and human dignity, became their torturers and violators or simply looked away when their protection was needed the most. The highest betrayal of a mandate. The fence ate up the crops it vowed to protect. So for 22 years we gave up our sovereignty; we surrendered it to one man at whose feet we laid down our liberties and rights.

Then came 1st December 2016, our watershed. Yaya conceded defeat at the polls, changed him mind about a week later and plunged the nation into mayhem. We witnessed the largest internal displacement and refugee crisis ever in our history. Even during that period, when the nation was on an egg and held hostage by one megalomaniac, our protectors, our armed and security men and women, were quiet, apathetic and ambivalent. There were no visible signs that they were with the people. They left us to the wolf, at the mercies of his Junglars.

There was no guarantee that there were ready to protect. In fact what emerged was that they were effectively disarmed by Jammeh. So who was going to protect us against the inferno Yaya was ready to lit? Not us or our soldiers… Even towards the Ides of March or the DDay of 19th January, our soldiers were ambivalent. And there cannot be gainsaying the fact that Yaya was forced into exile by the threat of force from Ecowas, by the presence of marching boots at our borders and not by any internal pressure. But the situation precedent to the Ecowas intervention gave us what we got, the presence of ECOMIG on our soil:

In one of his seminal posts on how and why we got the ECOMIG forces, the prolific Eden Sharp wrote: “For all the so-called Gambian nationalists clamoring for the removal of ECOMIG (specifically Senegalese) forces, I wonder where was your nationalism when these soldiers came to free The Gambia? Do you seriously think that Yaya would have left The Gambia without Force? You welcomed ECOMIG because you could not fight your own fight and now you have the nerves to tell us they should leave!………. Gambians and Gambian Soldiers stood by and watched Yaya refuse to leave. You wouldn’t have done a damned thing if ECOMIG hadn’t deployed their forces. You would have accepted it as the will of God and continued living your life as you’ve been doing in the past!…..”

ECOMIC presence could have been avoided. But that is now academic although many lessons to learn from. It is here, at least for the foreseeable future. It is the necessary evil. And we would send them packing when our men and women in uniform are ready to defend us, to stand by us when another dictator rears its ugly head, to swear true allegiance to The Gambia, to be the people’s army and police.

The Kanilia incident of yesterday is unfortunate. Two messages, I think, should be sent out: that we have the right to peacefully protest and responsibly (and will be held accountable for any negative fall out); that ECOMIG or our own forces have the mandate to protect lives and properties and it is in the public welfare or good that citizens respect this mandate (no force or individual has the right to take life). The protesting group in Kanilia, or any other aggrieved party, must know that a court order or an international agreement cannot be flouted with impunity. There are consequences to face and pay for. And knowing how manipulative some of our leaders can be, we must tell those who are fanning the flame to stop.

We had missed opportunities. We failed to take our destiny in our own hands. Those with the highest levels of responsibility betrayed the mandate of the people and their own vows to protect. We failed to hold each other accountable. We sacrificed truth for positions, for hand-outs from Yaya. We knew the “emperor had no clothes on” but we plucked out the eyes of those who dared do say so. We betrayed each other. We castigated our liberators. We unconscionably laid out the building blocks of the tyranny we had.

Oh the APRC thuggery, being acted out by a selfish remnant, will run out of energy eventually. It is a flicker of a dying ember. They will DECIDE. Time is the healer. If the trouncing at the polls is anything to go by, then we are seeing the end. I know dangerous elements of it are still with us but if we refuse to give them a listening ear and space to us, they will turn away too. Like truth, change is the most difficult to accept.

First we deny it, then we fight it and then we come to accept that it is here to stay. We adjust to the reality. We are still in the morning of New Gambia. By the evening, another story will be told. Meanwhile the onus is on the Barrow Government to make everyone feel that this is a Gambia in which everyone has a stake, a Gambia which will protect the rights of minorities at all cost, political, religious and tribal minorities. That assurance has been made; it must be reiterated all the time and seen to be acted upon. The political minority must submit itself to the will of the political majority.

We must band around truth, transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights. And be willing and ready to ostracize anyone who depart from these values…..