Editorial Human Rights News Opinion

NAMs, Gambians say NO to the ‘Former Presidents Bill 2023’

Luxurious benefits for who? Accommodation, gratuity, yearly vacations and vehicles for who? What for? Former President ‘ Yahya Jammeh for one does not deserve a dime to be spent on him from Gambian tax payers money, noting that these benefits will be borne by the taxpayers. ‘The evil that men do lives after them’ most especially when we can simply quantify their good deeds on the fingers of our left hand only.

Why should we give a life time support to any ‘Former President’ that had pillaged, plundered, raped and looted our resources? Why should we give a comfortable life time support to a ‘Former President’ that had killed Gambian citizens with impunity? When have we started thinking of giving a lifetime support to A former President that had ordered the shooting and killing of school children on April 10- 11, 2000 and some of the students maimed for life? Why should we give a life time support to a former President who had personally directed over the torture of our citizens and gallant servicemen through his gang of murderers resulting in the loss of life for many servicemen and citizens some of whom are still uncounted for? Why do we need to give such luxurious benefits to a Former President that has been accused of rape? Why should we give dividends to a former president who has been labelled as the ‘greatest abuser of freedom of expression and media freedom? A ‘Former President’ under whose watch three Gambian journalist s, namely Omar Barrow, Deyda Hydara and Chief Ebrima Manneh were specifically targeted for murdered and brutally silenced with impunity in relation to their work? What happened to those people still waiting for justice at the Victims Centre? Where is Justice and its legal paraphernalia and its representatives? Where is moral integrity, human dignity, respect and hope? I hope that they are still with us.

The so-called ‘Former Presidents Bill 2023’ has thoroughly failed in its entirety for not providing a defined criteria for the types of ‘Former Presidents’ and Presidents to come that we are talking about. Rewards are not given out of nothing. They must be based on concrete achievements that have made a meaningful change in the lives of the citizenry. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for example celebrates ‘exceptional African Leaders who under challenging circumstances have developed their countries and strengthened democracy and human rights paving the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity’. Put this on the table as a criteria and both Jammeh and Barrow will fail woefully and seriously fall short of any consideration.

One specific criteria that comes to mind momentarily is that only presidents who have served two terms of five years and voluntarily leave office after their second term in office should be qualified for consideration. This is a crucial factor in terms of the present realities in Africa, which Barrow himself does not even support and thus in my view he should not be a recipient of such state benefits. Secondly we should not forget that Jammeh did not retire, but was forced out of office by the ECOWAS military intervention force. Why should you give lifetime benefits to a former president that was disgracefully forced out of office? What new chapter are we trying to add to the democracy handbook?

Sincerely, some of the provisions in the ‘Former President Bill 2023’ are sickening and disgusting to say the least. At most they are criminal in intent as they ‘automatically qualify Yahya Jammeh as a beneficiary’. In addition, Jammeh with all the crimes he has committed against Gambians is the only ‘Former President’ so far qualified for these outrageous benefits. Thus, this Bill should only be seen as another calculated attempt to exonerate Jammeh. It is indeed the Yahya Jammeh Beneficiary Bill 2023. This is unacceptable. Some of the provisions of the Bill, including accommodation, gratuity, vehicles, vacation and the establishment of an ‘Office’ for former presidents must be investigated. The Jammeh cabal in government has consistently been trying to orchestrate strategies that will vilify Jammeh or shed a shining light upon him for Gambians to reaccept him. The Jammeh cabal in government must be thoroughly dismantled in order for Jammeh to be brought to Justice.

It was Indira Ghandi who once said ‘Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave’. I am also aware that forgiveness is a healing virtue and has the capacity to free individuals from a troubled heart and can open doors for reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation. However, no matter how hard you try you can never put the cart before the horse and work out a solution. As Gambians we forget too easily- Fe fateh heagu ju fee as my brother Joe Sambou will put it. Jammeh cannot be exonerated by treacherous mechanisms and manipulations from within the state. These acts of treachery must be nipped in the bud and Jammeh must be condemned to his fate. This has nothing to do with forgiveness and being godly. Jammeh committed grievous crimes against the citizens of the Gambia and beyond and does not deserve any form of pardon or benefits for life. Our focus as a nation should only be centred on how to bring Jammeh to Justice and nothing less. If not, the NEVER AGAIN national slogan will only be a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attain.

Least you accuse me of being heartless, unforgiving or even ungodly, please be assured that I am indeed aware that the God that we all serve as Gambians is a God of compassion and mercy. But please remember that the first attempted coup in the world happened in Heaven when Lucifer together with other angels ‘rebelled against God’ and attempted to overthrow HIM. The Angels of the Lord fought against Lucifer and his angels and they were thrown out of Heaven and they never had access to the holy place anymore. Yet still, God in his infinite wisdom, has never forgiven Satan and has continued to wage a relentless battle against Satan and his cohorts here on earth and it will continue until they are finally bound and thrown into the Lake of Fire. Where is mercy and forgiveness? Simply put, you cannot eat your cake and still have it in your hands. Justice for all.

We cannot fool ourselves. The writings on the wall are very clear. The greatest threat to our democracy today is no longer the security issue but corruption. The Barrow Government has failed to stamp its feet on the face of corruption by pursuing shadows instead of substance. Corruption is strategically being institutionalised and will have a devastating consequence with regards to our development objectives. The ‘Former President Bill 2023’ is corrupt in its entirety. A comatose economy like that of the Gambia cannot afford to build houses for former presidents, nor ‘provide two cooks, four housekeepers and two gardeners to serve a former president in his or her residence and such persons shall be selected by the former president. Automatically we are talking about a mansion. What for? Instead, Revive the education system and give Gambian children a better key to life so that the ‘Backway syndrome’ will be a thing of the past; capacitated the consulting clinics that we called hospitals; salvage NAWEC from the coma that he and his grandparents GUC it has fallen into since 1977; strengthen mechanised agriculture and give farmers greater incentives and encourage them to feed the nation rather than stealing from them by paying them low prices for their products; stamp out corruption; strengthen democratic institutions and guarantee freedom of expression and media freedom.

The truth be told, sick initiatives like this outrageous Bill will be a heavy burden on the Gambian economy. We cannot afford these luxuries, I wonder if the United States provides such beneficiaries for its former presidents even if they can afford it. If you look at the other side of the coin, our presidents become millionaires whilst in office. Both Jammeh and Barrow built mansions while in office. While for Jammeh the Kanilai dream became a reality after almost a decade, the MankamanKunda dream became a reality in seven years. So why do we need to waste state resources in building and furnishing houses for former presidents? NO, not in my name.

I am calling on all National Assembly Members, in particular my representative at the National Assembly, Honourable Touma Ousainou Njie and the citizens of the Gambia in general to give a drastic surgery to this sick Bill and condemn it to the gutters of fire. The Bill represents corruption and Godfatherism. Former Presidents must develop their own initiatives and completely stay out of politics most especially when they have failed the nation during their tenure. They must be allowed to live a quiet life and guaranteed security were possible.

‘ For the Gambia our Homeland’.

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