By Lamin J. Darbo
As argued elsewhere, Gambia’s 01 December 2016 presidential election was a referendum on governance, governance as goes to liberty and dignity of the person under the rule of law. The seven-party Coalition ‘movement’, supported by an electorate dehumanised and enervated by state lawlessness and brutality, and yearning earnestly to be free, delivered a resounding ‘revolution’ that rivaled any in terms of its legitimacy.
When the announcement finally came that the Coalition’s Adama Barrow was elected president, the immediate general perception, and understandably, was that he was headed for his official residence at No.1 Marina Parade no later than next week. The message is unmistakable that Gambians conclusively rejected the endemic state lawlessness that was the order of the day leading to and beyond 01 December 2016. What shock to be told the president-elect must wait an interminable sixty days to relocate to his three-year presidential abode as the number one occupant of the State House in Banjul!
Is there a legitimate basis for this reported sixty-day wait to assume office?
Section 63(2) of the 1997 Constitution of The Republic of The Gambia (the Constitution) states: “The person elected President shall assume office sixty days following the day of his or her election, and in any case where the candidature of a person contesting the election is unopposed, such candidate shall be declared unopposed and elected to the office of the President on the day following the making of such declaration”.
This provision was part of a huge number of illiberal, repressive, and personal amendments to the Constitution via Act No. 6 of 2001 without a commensurate democratic mechanism to implement it notwithstanding its inbuilt national security and other concerns. Its only purpose, now as in 2001, was to hijack the will of the people by a calculating president. True to form, the rubber-stamped National Assembly endorsed and enacted a dangerous measure without a word of debate, a measure that now poses a clear threat to national security.
The failure to put a transitional mechanism in place was deliberate and what the country is confronted with is nothing short of an imminent national security crisis. Babil Mansa’s propensity for systemic mis-governance is legendary with the inevitable consequence that fear continues to pervade the public space of The Gambia. That fear is still somewhat present, and understandably so. The incoming government must be protected, its public mandate safeguarded, but it has a commensurate responsibility to reassure Gambians regarding issues of liberty and personal security, and that reassurance would ring hollow unless it acts decisively in nipping the emerging threats from a defeated government.
In the circumstances, and considering Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babil Mansa, comprehensively and decisively lost the mandate to govern, he must vacate power immediately notwithstanding section 63(2) of a Constitution he flouts with routine disdain.
Now that this absolute dictatorship has spectacularly collapsed in broad daylight, no citizen or resident of The Gambia should suffer unlawful arrest, detention, abduction, torture, threats, forceful disappearance, or extra-judicial execution. It is not enough to say that the government is defanged and that there is no legitimate basis to fear anything. I repeat the general and public demand that on national security considerations, Babil Mansa must vacate power immediately notwithstanding section 63(2) of the Constitution!
Indeed there is every legitimate basis for fear given the long interlude between 01 December and 31 January. With the police power still in the hands of Babil Mansa, it would be suicidal for an antidemocratic measure that was merely inserted, nay, sneaked into law without debate to thwart even the unequivocally expressed wish of the people.
Standing alone without any implementing legislation, and given the significant nature of what the amendment, i.e., the sixty-day transition provision must achieve, it has no capacity to assist in furthering accountable government within the rule of law. Due to Babil Mansa’s perpetual self-succession agenda, there was no informed opinion from his constitutional minions to put in place such a vital legislation.
Instead, the Gambian people were made to believe that Babil Mansa is a ruler for eternity and no elections could see him packing, a delusional rendition that comprehensively succumbed to the overriding will of the people. In the circumstances, this hollow provision must be honoured in the breach by Babil Mansa stepping aside by Friday next at the very latest.
In line with democratic convention and principles, the incoming Coalition government, having lawfully obtained the legal authority through the electoral mandate to wield the executive power, must be fully engaged with the business of running the state. What truncated version of the civil service there is should have the capacity to assist the incoming executive authority in implementing a credible transition process.
The Coalition’s Transition Team must begin to act as a Government, having been given the full constitutional mandate by the electorate. Should Babil Mansa stay at all – and the people vehemently reject this – he may only do so in a caretaker capacity with all major decision making in the hands of, and exercised by, the president-elect and his team.
Further, the incoming government must have the inherent executive authority to consult any government entity for information, and this extends to all ministries, parastatals, the revenue authority and the Central Bank. It must act to preserve the reserves if any!
More significantly, this cannot be done from home, be it that of the President-elect, or any of the Coalition leaders’. The incoming government must have a fully-equipped office staffed by appropriate personnel and fully paid for from the public treasury.
In line with the thinking of the electorate, there is a moral imperative for Babil Mansa to surrender office within the coming week consistent with his promise to cooperate with incoming administration by showing good faith and relinquishing power as an inevitable consequence of the withdrawal of the consent of the people, a consent that was consistently subverted through endless tinkering with the Constitution with a complicit National Assembly which acted as a mere an extension of the Executive.
Babil Mansa’s government was conclusively rejected and no one should entertain the suicidal foolishness that the will of the people can be thwarted by the barrel of the gun. For the Gambian people there is no turning back.
An utterly lawless era is over and any attempt to resuscitate it will fail dismally, and with heavy consequences for those bent on subverting the popular mandate so compellingly articulated on 01 December 2016. The Gambia and the world are watching!