By: Madi Jobarteh
As OJ leaves us, we are bound to show him gratitude for his stand against Dictatorship since the overthrow of his PPP Government by rogue soldiers in 1994 who came to unleash untold suffering and humiliation on Gambians. Many in the overthrown PPP Government decided to join the AFPRC/APRC regime, and many more even went silent ever since while others fled the country. But one person did not only speak up against the Jammeh Tyranny, but he also remained inside the Gambia and missed no opportunity to expose and condemn the excesses of the despotism in the country. That man was OJ Jallow.
Even when DK Jawara who was the head of the PPP party and Government eventually mended fences with the Tinpot Dictator, OJ remained consistent and constant in his opposition to Yaya Jammeh and his tyrannical regime. The passing of OJ today therefore marks him as the last man standing of the PPP old guard – with pride and dignity. He deserves commendation for that.
OJ’s stance against dictatorship and his yearning for democracy and human rights in the Gambia was second to none. I recall the many forums that TANGO and GPU would convene to mark Deyda Hydara Day or World Press Freedom Day in the Gambia at which OJ was always present. Not only did he sit at the front row, but also OJ was more than eager to grab the mike to release marathon speeches in exposing the litany of abuses of the regime and calling for justice and accountability. Here he is in 2011 in the TANGO Hall marking Deyda Hydara Day. Even at an advanced age and having endured uncountable arrests, detentions and torture and the risks of which remained present, OJ was never deterred from expressing himself as he liked.
As we mourn OJ, and pay glowing tributes to the man, rightfully, there is also lot of lessons that as a society we could learn from him – his life and work as an elected and appointed public official. More so, our political leaders and the young budding politicians should see the political life of OJ as a guide. There is need to study deeply and critically the life of OJ to draw lessons. From his time as a young PPP politician in the First Republic to his role in the fight against Dictatorship to the part he played in creating the new Barrow Government until his retirement from politics and final demise.
A national conversation is necessary to subject the lives and work of our leaders to open, honest and blunt conversation so as to enable our society to learn from them and guide ourselves better. We must therefore not only pay glowing tributes, but we must also evaluate and analyze their decisions and actions as well as their successes and failures to better understand our leaders in order to improve our society. OJ’s life is rich in this regard for his life spans the three epochs of post independent Gambia, comprising three governments and three presidents which are so different yet also similar in many ways.
I hope our media, beginning with GRTS and the independent media will open talk shows where various experts, officials, politicians, critics, friends, family, and observers from all sides will sit to critique and showcase the life and work of OJ. Indeed, a man who lived and work for so long in his society has a lot to give back to his people even in death. Therefore, let us make the life and work of OJ a school and a classroom to learn in order to improve.
I have lost a friend, who I called Dad, Comrade, and Mentor and he used to refer to me as the ‘most troublesome Gambian’, with love. OJ was a humble man, approachable and absolutely humorous such that his presence always brings life and energy to the situation.
May Allah grant his gentle soul eternal peaceful rest in Janatul Firdawsi.