Legalized tyranny

It is a misnomer to assume that just because a country has good sounding laws on the books, it therefore is a democracy or that the leader of such a country is a democrat. In fact, President Adama Barrow’s current supporters claim he is a democrat by citing the fact that Gambians have the space to freely express themselves as compared to the days when Jammeh reigned with an iron fist, muzzling the press, and disappearing or murdering journalists.

What such dimwits fail to understand is that such freedoms are inalienable, meaning they cannot be granted or taken away without some for of resistance. Barrow did not grant such freedoms, rather Gambians fought for them, and he would have to fight to take them away. It seems he has taken the first steps to do just that.

Tyranny does not mean that the country in which it exists does not have any laws, it simply means that the tyrant (leader) is not restrained by law and if the people are not willing to stand up to him in defense of their rights in instances where the law gets violated, then the laws become meaningless, and the whims and caprices of the tyrant becomes the law of the land.

Through the investigations and testimonies uncovered by the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), the spotlight was shed on how tyranny creeped up on us and was enabled and sustained through state institutions and public servants caving to the whims of one man and shunning the existing laws of the land to a point when the only thing that mattered was self-preservation because everyone knew that there was no protection from the wrath of the tyrant should he choose to make you a target. All that, because laws were disregarded, and self-serving interests were made a priority until the beast was fed beyond taming.

We learnt how the National Assembly was on hand to repel and roll back progressive laws, replacing them with ones that served the tyrants interests for a meager reward. The police were then deployed to abuse citizens hiding behind such laws. When the judiciary, the last bastion of hope for an oppressed citizenry was approached for redress, the mercenary judges that filled the courts would side with the tyrant because their jobs depended on appeasing him.

The Gambia was the proverbial wild west of shoot first and ask questions later. Citizens would get arrested and while in custody, the tyrant’s agents through his National Intelligence Agency (NIA) collaborate to cook up charges that would stick and thus began the persecution of citizens. First victims were easy pickings, people he knew were polarizing or not very well liked, and then gradually turned on people he did not trust who were once very close allies.

That same tactic is what we are seeing unfold before our eyes, thanks in no small measure to Adama Barrow retaining and solely relying on the advice of the same people that the tyrant relied on to entrench himself in power. The result is the beginning phases of the soon to be widespread abuse of citizens.

The laws that guarantee our freedoms, such as of speech and assembly, will remain on the books, but a compromised judiciary is all a tyrant needs to legalize his tyranny. We saw this at play in the very recent case of Momodou Sabally when the state, through the Inspector General of Police Abdoulie Sanyang, requested the indulgence of the judiciary in violating the rights of a citizen without any basis in law.

The law is clear on the provision that no one should be held in detention beyond 72 hours without being charged, the state recognized that fact and clearly stated it in their application to the judge that without a judge signing off on it, it will be a violation of the law and the rights of Momodou Sabally. Ngui Mboob, a Supreme Court justice granted such a request not basing her judgment on any constitutional provisions or precedent. No questions were asked as to why the state needed more than 72 hours to investigate their alleged crime. No evidence was asked to be tendered in court connecting the accused to an alleged crime. The judge just went along and sided with the state without relying on any provision or precedent and in the process making the courts an accessory to illegality. With her decision, Ngui Mboob has shaken confidence in the impartiality of the courts.

The Inspector General of police, the enforcer of the law, sworn to defend the constitution signed off an arrest without any evidence of a crime, just an overly excited bid to stifle dissent and appease his master at “the top”.

Even for a layman, the claims issued by the state were unconvincing in every aspect resulting in widespread condemnation.

But as has always been true, tyrants find enablers within segments of society willing to encourage tyranny even where such blatant abuse is glaring. Instead of focusing on the fact that the government was violating the constitution and the rights of a citizen, the argument was formulated around who that citizen was and if he was deserving of having his rights violated or not.

We seem to have an unsolvable problem of separating our personal feelings from actual issues when it matters. Because one does not like, or even hates a particular individual, does not make them a candidate for abuse. The sooner we can embrace that ideology, the better for our society. Thankfully, there are vocal citizens who are committed to principles, even where they had publicly disagreed vehemently with the victim in this case, they were vocal in their condemnation of the state’s overreach.

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