16/Jan/2017 // 1322 Viewers
It is three days to curtains call for Yahya Jammeh’s tenure as president of The Gambia, but he just doesn’t get the message his time is up. Seven weeks after he was defeated at the poll by opposition challenger, Adama Barrow, this title-tripping ruler insists on tossing off the electoral verdict, thumbs his nose at international opinion and digs his heels deeper into power. But his legitimacy is invariably terminating.
By this week-out, he would have fully mitosised from the chief law-keeper of The Gambia to the chief outlaw. Unfortunately, his illicit and desperate hold on the levers of power would continue to stash up casualties.
For the length of time that Jammeh manages to hold out in his political brigandage beyond the January 19 expiration of his tenure, The Gambia would inevitably be on the boil. Besides, his example is bad news for the culture of democracy – particularly in the West African sub-region, but also in all of Africa. He has to be kicked out soonest.
It is a shame that Mr. Jammeh can’t muster sufficient literacy of mind to read the writing on the wall. Every straw he is clutching unto to justify his coup against electoral democracy isn’t serving his purpose. For instance, Jammeh said his country’s constitutional order is that only the Supreme Court could validly pronounce on who should be president, and he would thus not let go on power until such a pronouncement is made. Fact-check his assertion and you would find there is neither a constituted Supreme Court presently in The Gambia to render the important service Mr. Jammeh craves, nor is there any particular provision in the country’s Constitution to sustain his thesis.
The Gambia’s Supreme Court that was billed to hear the petition brought by the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) against the outcome of the December 1 election, in which Barrow triumphed, could not sit as scheduled on January 10 because there were no justices. The country relies on foreign judges to staff its Supreme Court owing to lack of local skill, and Jammeh’s election challenge was slated to be heard by five judges, among them Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle who is a Nigerian. But the judges drawn from Nigeria and Sierra Leone were absent last Tuesday. Fagbenle told Jammeh’s lawyers who were in court that he needed a full panel to hear the petition, and that the outsourced judges were unlikely to be available until either May or November. Put in other words, the awaited decision on the election challenge is effectively down in the long grass.
Following that judicial false start, Jammeh returned to his country’s airwaves, requesting Gambians to await the Supreme Court verdict pending which he would not step down. Even though the Chief Justice had openly advised that mediation is the best way forward, he said his cabinet and the National Assembly would remain in place until the court decides on his petition so to ensure that the rule of law is upheld. “(Under the Constitution), only the Supreme Court can review our challenge, and only the Supreme Court can declare anyone president,” he added.
I bothered to check The Gambia’s 1997 Constitution, and it is unclear with what specific provision Mr. Jammeh was making his case. Section 63 of that law stipulates the terms for an elected president’s tenure, including that the electee must assume office for five years after taking prescribed oaths. Sub-section 2 of the section states inter alia: “The person elected President shall assume office sixty days following the day of his or her election.” This, obviously, is the clause that confers Barrow with legitimacy as president from January 19.
The constitutional provision for possible extension of a president’s tenure (in the present case, that of Jammeh) is in sub-section 6, which states: “Where the life of the National Assembly is extended for any period in accordance with section 99 (2), the term of office of the President shall be extended for the same period.” The referenced section 99 (2) stipulates: “At any time when The Gambia is at war or a state of emergency is declared, the National Assembly may, by resolution supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the members, extend the life of the National Assembly for not more than three months at a time, but the life of the National Assembly shall not be extended under this subsection for more than a total period of one year.”
But The Gambia could not be said to be at war or in emergency in the present case. In any event, the country’s National Assembly has made no resolution to such effect. And so, Jammeh’s appropriation of the National Assembly’s tenure along with his own in awaiting the Supreme Court verdict seems an untidy bid to invoke the stated clause. However, election petitions are private processes on which the country’s Constitution has not made presidential tenure contingent.
Added to his judicial adventure, Mr. Jammeh has been railing at the international community for what he considered foreign interference in his country’s domestic affairs. Against the backdrop of a threat by sub-regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to deploy troops for his ouster that has been endorsed by the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU), the embattled ruler last week pilloried the world bodies for their “hasty resolutions,” which he said were at variance with the “peaceful nature” of the election dispute so far. “Our review and investigation have revealed an unprecedented level of foreign interference in our elections and internal affairs. And also, a sustained smear campaign, propaganda and misinformation,” he said, vowing The Gambia would not allow any organisation, treaty or law to supersede its Constitution.
It is uncertain though how much longer Jammeh’s illusion of “peaceful nature” of The Gambia’s election crisis would be sustained. Adama Barrow has vowed to take oath as president come Thursday, and indications are the new president would brave the odds to assume legitimacy on January 19, while Jammeh would go all out to stop him. That isn’t a scenario that portends much peace for the country, or indeed for the entire sub-region. More important, someone needs to tell Jammeh that elections have gone from being private affairs of individual countries to an internationally benchmarked universal project. That is why foreign observers are always on hand in all countries where elections hold, added to domestic ones. Otherwise, despots would freely deploy the charade of elections to legitimize their perpetuity in office before the world.
It is time for Jammeh to go. President Muhammadu Buhari led ECOWAS mediators on another mission to Banjul at the weekend, but it seems not much headway was made with negotiating the man out of power. Meanwhile, The Gambia has been on steady descent into chaos. Since Jammeh’s volte-face on the December 1 poll, Gambians have mounted civil actions to force his exit. A string of high profile defections from the tiny country hallmarks a bourgeoning refugee crisis.
Envoys of The Gambia have spoken up from their duty stations and were summarily fired, and by implication exiled, by Jammeh. On Monday, last week, Jammeh’s Communication Minister Sheriff Bojang stepped down and fled the country; so also has Alieu Momarr Njai, chairman of the country’s Independent Electoral Commission, who has fled to Senegal. Private radio stations sympathetic to Barrow’s narrative have been shut down, while local new sites said agents of government have arrested people wearing t-shirts bearing the inscription ‘Gambia Has Decided,’ which is a known slogan of Barrow supporters.
ECOWAS has signified it would deploy multinational forces against Jammeh if he can’t be persuaded to honour electoral verdict within his country’s constitutional framework. Now is the time to act, as further delay portends bigger crises. Kick Jammeh out now!
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