Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: This is a sad story of stagnating good governance and advocates of good governance, particularly for the Gambia people, in general. Honorable Halifa Sallah, National Assembly member for Serekunda respectively, moved a far-sighted motion on the floor of the National Assembly to resuscitate the stalled process of the Draft constitution infamously rejected by a majority of parliamentarians leaning towards President Adama Barrow only to have the motion shut down by the Deputy Speaker, Honorable Momodou Sanneh, a reactionary and self-seeking colleague overturned the move of Halifa Sallah’s attempt of the constitution building process and engaged the National Assembly’s role in facilitating a speedy and favorable outcome of the Draft constitution on 15 December 2020.
Fatoumatta: Halifa Sallah’s motion aimed to rescind the National Assembly’s majority decision to reject the Draft constitution and begin a consultation constitutional process to bring back the Draft constitution alive. The Gambia’s ongoing transition involves drafting a new constitution to usher a third republic that has to be passed by the National Assembly before being submitted to a national referendum.
Instead, the Gambian authorities invited former Nigerian President Dr. GoodLuck Jonathan “as the eminent person to facilitate the dialogue process because of his neutrality and proven record in democratic and constitutional reforms.”
“Dr. Jonathan is being supported by the leaders of the intergovernmental International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) who have been designated by the Gambian authorities to provide secretarial and logistics assistance to Dr. Joanathan in the course of the mission. The parley is meant to garner the necessary support for a Draft constitution reviewed by the National Assembly.
According to a statement, the invitation of Dr. Jonathan to The Gambia came as a result of “broad consultations among different stakeholders in the country.”
During his visit last December, he was said to have made reasonable progress in his bid to get the political parties to reconcile their differences and give the Draft constitution a fresh chance of being passed by the National Assembly.
Fatoumatta: Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dawda Jallow’s tenure will ultimately turn out to be the most consequential, dwarfing the tenures of most of his predecessors. Well, we do not expect him to act as fiercely as he speaks. There would be lots of fireworks if he did. He needs to perform a tenth as boldly as he threatens to. Most of his work is to risk. Furthermore, he does it very well.
You see, leadership is about brinkmanship. Like America that keeps a stockpile of missiles enough to blow up the world, to scare away any would-be detractors, hoping (or knowing) they will never get to use the rockets. However, that is the point. Sometimes we do not need a dog that bites. We need a dog that barks so well it does not need to grind.
Fatoumatta: This is pure nonsense, and the Attorney General knows it! The Attorney General in the Executive Branch. The doctrine of Separation of Powers does not allow the Legislative arm of government to issue direct instructions to officials serving in the Executive Branch; more so, officials are accountable to the President. How will the National Assembly take it if the President queries, sacks, or disciplines the Clerk to the National Assembly? Its members will be the first to kick against this constitutional violation.
Instead of engaging in an act that could reasonably be interpreted as an ego-trip to Nigeria for constitutional talks, the National Assembly should address direct concern issues to the Gambian public. Looking itself in the mirror will be the first place to start. The National Assembly should ask whether the image staring back in the mirror is the one that the Gambian public trusts. If it sees what it honestly believes the public distrusts, it, or the forward-looking members of the National Assembly, should move quickly to take appropriate corrective actions. In the meantime, the National Assembly should perish this touch of entertaining direct foreign intervention on what to wear.
Fatoumatta: I am glad that Gambians do not buy into the laughable idea of crediting the Nigeria Constitutional talks with former President Goodluck Jonathan and a group of politicians and so-called civil society activists with sovereign powers. I do not understand those grousing to support without questioning the legitimacy of past (and by implication, the present) constitution-making efforts of the Gambian parliamentarian in favor of a foreign globetrotting foreign consultant in our sovereign power.
I am one of those who argued that the claim/assumption that the Gambia people met and gave themselves a constitution and any foreign intervention process to resuscitate the Draft constitution is fraudulent. Any document authored by a group of politicians, globetrotting consultants, civil servants, or a committee of unequally well-informed (I hate to say, equally ignorant) individuals hardly qualifies as a People’s constitution. Be that as it may, be that it is impossible to subject every recommendation/resolution of the Goodluck Jonathan Draft constitution mediation, or even highly educated citizens would be hard put to make informed decisions on the Goodluck Jonathan final report’s wide-ranging subjects.
However, unless the fundamental constitutional issues are separated from the others, the chance is right that, based on the Goodluck Jonathan mediation report, we would end up with yet another expert-authored constitution, rather than a constitution that we, the people of the Gambia, can rightly call ours. Furthermore, unless the Gambian people input how we will be governed, our constitution’s controversy has not ended. It has only just begun.
Fatoumatta: I agree that no constitution is perfect. Nevertheless, some constitutions are more credible than others. I did compare two constitution-making experiences. The first is the US experience, which has proved resilient over centuries and has made it possible for governance institutions to take root and evolve sufficiently to bring America to its current super-power position. The other experience is Haiti, which produced a succession of “strong men” instead of enduring institutions or sustainable development.
I fail to see the need for another “committee of experts.” We do not need a mediation committee to advise President Adama Barrow and Speaker of the National Assembly on the way forward, least of all, on matters to classify as “constitutional,” “legal,” or “administrative.” It is up to the entire executive or legislature to sort the constitutional consultation from the non-constitutional issues and forcefully recommend that the former be resolved in the National Assembly. After over fifty-six years of spoon-feeding, the Gambia People should now be credited with the ability to shape their destiny.
The Gambia is a small country with a population of 2 million with an abundance of human and natural resources. However, it is about the only nation where her human and the natural endowment has not been translated into prompt and cost-effective delivery of public services or improved citizens’ quality of life. The country needs transformational leadership to change all that. When open competition replaces selection by an oligarchy, an oligarchy meeting in conclaves, merit will displace patronage, integrity will isolate corruption, excellence will banish mediocrity, and quality service will replace public services’ shoddy delivery. The Gambia deserves a leader who envisages a country in which things work. It, however, does not equate wishes with horses. To acknowledges that the way we recruit top-level personnel for government and top public service positions must change before our condition changes for the better.
Fatoumatta: If we think what it takes anything away from us—say, the power to pick anyone we like for public office—we should sit back and think of when we would have no opportunity to decide anything or exercise any authority. We have a chance today to shape our future and the future of Gambians yet to be born. Let us not throw that chance away.
By rejecting a progressive motion, the executive and the National Assembly members have chosen to throw away the chance to be on the people’s side, and with that, their own and their children’s future.
Fatoumatta: The question is what we, the Gambia people, plan to do to take back what is rightly ours. Are we going to sit back and watch these self-seeking leaders expropriate our rights? Furthermore, where is political leadership when you need it most?
Alagi Yorro Jallow