The arbitrary obstruction of a convoy of the Gambia’s main opposition political party, United Democratic Party (UDP) and its leader at Fass Njagga Choi, by Gambian Security forces, which had extended to more than 72hrs on Sunday, April 19, has once again evince a clear manifestation of the Gambian Dictator’s wanton disregard of the country’s constitution and rights of political parties and citizens.
The Gambian constitution does not require a bona fide registered political party to obtain police permission to tour or hold political rallies, unless where a public address system is to be used. The UDP had requested a permit to use a public addressing system (i.e. loud speakers) at their rallies during their intended 10 days countrywide sensitisation tour. The Gambia Police Force refused that request, but what was not and could not be refused by that police refusal, is their constitutional right to tour or hold rallies in the country without police permits, so long as they do not intend to use a PA system.
For some reasons, it seems the unlettered Gambian Police Force and their Commander in Chief, Dictator Jammeh, always misapprehend such requests for permits, as a permission to hold rallies with or without PA systems. Acting under that delusion, the Gambian Dictator and his Police chiefs have for long viewed their refusals of such permits, as refusal to hold any other rally by the affected political party period.
From that deduction, one could be forgiven to conclude that this was the reason why the Police barricaded the UDP convoy, since they had not given them the permit to hold PA system rallies. This might hold some water, if the Gambia government had been devoid of an Attorney General, but that is not the case. The Gambia government indeed has a legal advocate, who is acquainted with the constitutional provisions and obliged to advise the government and government bodies, such as the Police Force, about such constitutional provisions.
However, the fact that the impasse had outlived 48 hours, before a senior officer of the country’s Police Force, purporting to be an emissary of his chief IGP, came to meet with the opposition convoy on Saturday, April 18, confirming that his bosses’ had rescinded their initial refusal decision and promised to reissue a new permit for the convoy to proceed by Monday, April 20; without realising or acknowledging that their continuous barricading of the convey is unconstitutional, begs believe.
This is because, as explained above, there is no prerequisite requirement for the party to have a police permit, before they can tour the country or hold rallies that they have no intention of using PA systems. This is the case at hand, as the convoy has no PA system. It therefore plunges one into difficulty in comprehending the reasons, why the police are still barricading the convoy 72 hours on, on Sunday, April 19. The convoy should have been allowed to continue on their tour, by now, and any permit granted on Monday would have simply been a bonus to allow them to use a PA system at their intended rallies from Monday.
The fact that the authorities are still wanting on that willingness to respect the constitutional rights of the convoy, shows the wantonness and arbitrary nature of their decisions to refuse the permits and the ensuing blockage.
It further remains to be seen whether the same authorities will honour their promise on Monday or renege. As it is often said, one big problem with Dictators is there unpredictability. And if anything to gauge that truth, one need to only look at Jammeh’s own history and character, as depicted by people, who knew him best.
The litmus test however, is not whether Jammeh will issue the permit or not, but what the opposition will learn from the impasse. Indeed if Jammeh issues the permit, which he should have done from the onset, as he has no reason to refuse it, except out of his sheer arrogance and abuse of authority; then the lesson to be learnt by the opposition is that of defiance. Defiance ought to be the new mantra, from hence, to instil courage into the feeble minds and hearts of the Gambians.
If Jammeh reneges on his promise to issue the permit by Monday, the mantra should still remain defiance. And if the route ahead is barricaded from Fass Njagga Choi, then the UDP convoy should not make it as a plan B to remain at the same Fass Njagga Choi. Since the question that will attract, is for how long will they have to remain there? Secondly, is that particular location their vantage position? These are significant questions that require their contemplation.
It was speculated and later corroborated, that the authorities chose Fass Njagga Choi deliberately, simply because of its remoteness and less population to execute their arbitrary blockage. It therefore serves and suits their purpose for the convoy to remain intercepted at that remote and less densely populated village forever. However, it would not suit their purpose and comfort, if the convoy take a detour at present and re-route their tour to continue at the Kombos, where they can attract more support and create all sorts of problems for the authorities. Then their defiance will yield even more results.
This is something that should be contemplated by the opposition convoy, as a plan. It does not necessarily have to be plan B, but just a plan. There is an ancient adage that says: ‘the running backward of a Ram is not a sign it’s fleeing, but it’s quest for more power and energy to attack’. Therefore, a return to Banjul and the Kombos, should not be excluded as a sign of weakness, but a strategy to hit the tyrant, where it hurts most.
Furthermore, although the impasse had prolonged, but it must be borne in mind that every minute of it, is a victory for the convoy, as the Dictator never contemplated it to last this long. They thought the opposition would have melted away by now. Therefore, the enduring of the defiance itself reinforces the dogma that the defiance that started on 16 April, must continue against Jammeh’s wanton disregard of rights in the country.
The litmus test, therefore, is whether the opposition parties will subscribe to that dogma or revert back to the same old tactics of the past 20 years, which had proven to be very ineffective.