The hottest topic of discussions these past few days had been the reaction to statements attributed to President Adama Barrow during his current tour of the countryside. He had been quoted using all sorts of invectives against the leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), Ousainou Darboe, even to the extent of describing the UDP as a threat to national security.
At the beginning, President Barrow was seen as a humble person who did not talk much, let alone try to use his position to castigate anyone. However, it is now becoming apparent that as he gets more intoxicated with the trappings of power, he has become quite a changed man who not only indulges in self-aggrandizement as the sole liberator of Gambians from the clutches of the Jammeh dictatorship, but he also does not hesitate to show anyone that he is the head of state who has a lot of executive power that he is ready to use.
It now appears that President Barrow is assuming much more power than he actually has. Does he really believe that he has the power to instruct the police to re-arrest anyone granted bail by the courts? Probably he does not know the limits of his powers and it is therefore incumbent on the Attorney General and Minister of Justice as chief legal adviser to the government to tell him what he can or should do and cannot or should not do. Lest he does not know the limits of his power, the AG should make it quite clear to him that he does not have the power to instruct the police to re-arrest anyone granted bail by the courts as that can lead to serious constitutional crises. He should also be told that being head of state and head of the executive arm of government does not give him the power and authority to interfere with the work of the judiciary. While as head of the executive, he appoints the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and other senior police officials, but that still does not give him the authority to use them as tools to do his political bidding.
Let us therefore hope that the IGP and other members of the police hierarchy would not allow themselves to be used by President Barrow to fight his political battles against the UDP. That was exactly what happened during the Yahya Jammeh era when the police and other state institutions allowed themselves to be used by former President Jammeh as his tools to oppress the opposition and his other perceived enemies, and we have seen how most of those willing tools of oppression were humiliated at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) and the Janneh Commission. We should therefore hope that such public humiliation should be enough lesson to the IGP and other heads of state institutions and that they would never again allow themselves to be used as tools of oppression against the people.
Of course, as leader of the National People’s Party (NPP), President Barrow has the right to respond to anything said against him and his party by Darboe and his UDP, but he needs to distinguish when and where to make such comments. He certainly should not use his position and privilege as head of state, using state resources and facilities to make such political comments against his opponents. Presently we have seen that just like during the Jammeh era, there is hardly any distinction between state functions and functions of the NPP. He had been using state vehicles, fuel and other state resources to go about inaugurating his party’s political bureaus and other political activities. In addition, he has also been using the facilities of the state broadcaster, the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) which belongs to all Gambians to release all sorts of innuendos against his perceived opponents while those people are never given the right of reply, which is certainly unethical and unfair. This is quite reminiscent of how former President Jammeh had been mis-using the public media to his political advantage.
Most of the time when President Barrow makes statements on whatever platform, most Gambians see him as President of the Republic instead of as NPP leader and as such, he needs to be quite measured in his statements. He certainly should not use such platforms to make statements that have the potential to incite his supporters against the opposition. Telling his NPP militants to stand their ground against criticisms from the opposition as well as calling on the police to re-arrest people granted bail by the courts certainly not only have serious ramifications for the respect for the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, but a prescription for chaos in this country, and President Barrow should be the last person we should expect to promote such.
We have also heard him make some veiled threats against some media houses that he perceived to be sympathetic to the UDP. We all know that some of those media houses played quite a crucial role in his victory against Yahya Jammeh in the 2016 presidential elections, and it is therefore unfortunate that he would now turn around against those same media houses.
We have all been quite impressed by his government’s record in the last media freedom index, but with such unprovoked attacks on the media, it would not be surprising to see a drop in the country’s ratings in the next index. He certainly cannot eat his cake and have it.