October 1, 2022

Whatever It Takes To Get A New Constitution

D A Jawo

By D. A. Jawo

The hottest topic in this country today is no doubt the ongoing efforts to resuscitate the 2020 Draft Constitution, which failed in September 2020 to garner the two-thirds majority it needed to pass in the second reading in the National Assembly.

We can all recall that, apart from the APRC members wanting to preserve their Supreme Leader’s constitution, the others who voted to kill the draft were supporters and sympathizers of President Adama Barrow and their main objection to the draft was its retro-active nature, which sought to deny him the opportunity to seek a third term in 2026 if ever he wins his re-election bid later this year. We all saw how everyone in the Barrow camp, both in and outside the National Assembly, were jubilating when the draft was thrown out. It was therefore quite clear to everyone that the whole scheme was hatched and executed at the State House.

Of course, most Gambians and indeed friends of the Gambia were quite disappointed by the failure of the draft constitution to get enacted, especially considering the fact that it was not only a byproduct of an extensive public consultation, but it also cost the Gambian tax payers more than D100 million to produce the draft. It is still quite hard for any reasonable person to see the rationale of throwing away such an expensive document simply because President Barrow wants to be given the opportunity to cling on to power for at least 15 years.

It is even harder to understand when at the very onset; President Barrow himself gave an undertaking that he was only going to serve three years as a transitional president. Therefore, if he later changed his mind, apparently after getting intoxicated by the trappings of power, and decided to serve the full five-year term allowed by the 1997 Constitution, everyone would have expected him to be grateful for being given the opportunity to go for a second five-year term. Why would he therefore clamour for more to the extent that he would even incite his sympathizers in the National Assembly to kill the document at the second reading, thus denying even the Gambian public the opportunity to have their say over it?

It now appears that, apparently as a result of the pressure being applied on his government by donor partners, President Barrow has regretted his mishandling of the process and he is now eager to get the draft re-introduced and passed. However, he still seems to insist on his ‘Pound of Flesh’, which is to be given the opportunity to rule this country for at least 15 years instead of the maximum ten years everyone had been advocating for the New Gambia.

The question that everyone seems to ask however is whether it was really necessary to invite President Goodluck Jonathan to come all the way from Nigeria to mediate in the process of re-introducing the draft constitution to the National Assembly when all that President Barrow could have done was to invite the various stakeholders to discuss the matter and come to a consensus. Therefore, many people feel that it was a waste of time and resources to invite an outsider to help us do that, as the draft is a Gambian document, drafted by Gambians and there was absolutely no need to involve anyone else in the process.

Indeed, if the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly had not turned down the motion moved by Halifa Sallah, Member for Serekunda, to rescind the decision of the National Assembly to vote against the draft at the second reading, there may not have been any need for the process led by President Jonathan.

Therefore, the proposal by Halifa Sallah would have been the easiest way forward as it would have given opportunity to everyone to partake in the process until a consensus is obtained, of course with far less cost than bringing in “experts” from Nigeria.

Recently, for instance, we have seen how some people were outraged when some of our political leaders travelled to Nigeria at the invitation of President Jonathan in order to discuss the process. However, now that the Jonathan process has been initiated and no doubt, some resources have been committed to it, then the stakeholders should as well give it a chance. The Gambian public should also give our political leaders the chance to reach a consensus in the process.

Therefore, the trip to Nigeria should not have been seen as an unnecessary venture but as a genuine attempt by those concerned to arrive at a consensus, which would eventually give us the Constitution that we all aspire for. Indeed, even if it means allowing President Barrow to have his wish to be given the opportunity to go for a third term would get us the constitution that we all clamour for, then so be it. We should not underrate the ability of the Gambian public to make their ultimate choice as to whom they want to rule over them. Even if President Barrow wants to be in office for a “billion years”, the people still have the final say as they had shown to Babili Mansa in 2016.

There are however, those who suspect that President Barrow and his enablers are playing some delaying tactics in order to ensure that the 1997 Constitution is the one to be used for the 2021 presidential elections, They seem to have the hope that he has a much better chance to finish ahead of his challengers as that constitution only requires a first pass the post. Whatever the case however, it is incumbent on all Gambians, including members of the opposition, to do whatever necessary to help in the process to resuscitate the 2020 Draft Constitution.

Of course, time is fast running out for the possibility of saving the draft before the next presidential elections scheduled for December 4, 2021, as the process should pass through the National Assembly and then approved in a referendum before it is enacted into law. However, as a last resort, in the event that a new constitution fails to get enacted before the elections, if indeed President Barrow and his government are quite sincere to ensure free and fair elections, then they should at least make some amendments to certain provisions of the 1997 Constitution in order to make it a little bit more acceptable to the people.

For instance, we can recall that Section 48 of the 1997 Constitution before it was amended by the Jammeh regime required a candidate to obtain 50 per cent plus before one is elected as president in the first round. Therefore, why not re-amend that section as well as institute a two-term limit? As those sections are not entrenched, it would be quite simple for the National Assembly to carry out such amendments before the elections.

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