By: Madi Jobarteh
Today, 2nd August I received a letter from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) conveying to me guarantees from the Gambia Government that they would protect “my fundamental human rights at all times in accordance with the Constitution and other regional and international human rights instruments ratified by the State.”
The Government’s response is in response to the complaint I lodged with the NHRC on May 4 when two days earlier, on Koriteh Day, Pres. Adama Barrow on his own volition, unleashed unprovoked verbal threats and defamatory remarks against my person and dignity in total violation of his oath of office and the Constitution of the Gambia and all regional and international human rights instruments ratified by the State.
I wish to therefore thank the NHRC for pursuing my complaint in protection of my right by engaging the Government and to put it to them that the State has a duty to protect my rights like any other citizen.
While appreciating the NHRC for dutifully performing their task, no one needs to remind the Government that it must be seen performing its duty to respect, protect and fulfill all the rights of all citizens as stipulated in the Constitution. This means the Government should, at the minimum, be seen refraining from engaging in any act that undermines, damages, or takes away the rights of citizens.
Hence the verbal assault meted out on me by the President is a gross violation of both his oath of office and the Constitution that must be addressed. No citizen is above or below the law hence all citizens in the Gambia are bound to respect and abide by the law. The President and all public officials must be told that they have no power or authority in any form or shape to break the law and they should be held accountable if they do so.
This country is a Republic governed according to the Constitution which has created a democratic dispensation in which power rests with the people where elected and appointed public officials are public servants. The one and only obligation conferred on public officials is to respect, protect and fulfill the sovereign rights espoused in the Constitution, at all times. The Gambia is not governed according to the whims and caprices of the President or any other public official for that matter.
As citizens the Constitution imposes on us the right and the duty to abide by the law, respect human rights and hold the State accountable. This is what and how a citizen defends the Constitution and the Republic. There are multiple provisions in the Constitution that imposes these rights and duties on citizens.
Therefore, I wish to put it to Pres. Adama Barrow that as a conscious and sovereign citizen armed with the Constitution, I shall not refrain from exercising my rights in holding him and his Government accountable at all times. I did not ask him to seek public office hence if he chose to occupy public office then he shall receive the opinions – pleasant or unpleasant – of citizens including Madi Jobarteh. He has a choice to vacate public office if he cannot handle that.
I do not owe him and his Government any gratitude whatsoever nor do I seek any charity from him. Rather he has a duty to serve and protect me and all citizens of the Gambia for which he is handsomely paid a whopping D331,500 untaxed, every month! Anyone who receives this kind of money from the people should be ready and willing to listen and accept the opinions of citizens no matter whether he or she agrees or disagrees with that citizen.
Coming out of a brutal autocratic rule, all Gambians must be seriously interested in and concerned at the words, attitudes, decisions, and actions of elected and appointed public officials. It is when we allow public officials to violate the law, abuse their powers and disregard human rights and the rule of law that dictatorship and impunity prevails in society. No one needs to remind Gambians what it means to have public officials deliberately flout the law and their powers. We have all witnessed in this country not long ago how uncountable lives were lost, and properties damaged, and futures killed because of unchecked power and arrogance of public officials.
Public office is the property of the people, and it is an honour for a citizen to occupy that office, which is meant to only serve the people. Hence public officials must always exhibit humility, respect, and honesty when they deal with citizens. Just as they appreciate when citizens praise and commend them for their work, so also must public officials be willing to receive criticisms from citizens about their work. Therefore, if a public official should attack citizens on account of divergent and dissenting opinions then the Republic is under threat and all citizens must be alert!
For that matter, I do not need mere words from the State House to tell me that my rights are protected. The Constitution has done that already. What I demand is an apology from Pres. Adama Barrow and a retraction of his defamatory and unfounded claim that I wish to burn down the Gambia. He has not only violated the Constitution and his official oath, but he has also directly defamed and insulted my character and dignity without any provocation from me.
Until then I reserve the right to take legal action against him at the right time.