By Baboucarr Ceesay
A courageous and vocal politician, former Minister of Agriculture of The Gambia under Dawda Jawara’s PPP led first republic, has said that people’s loss of confidence in the due process of democracy is a recipe for instability.
Omar Jallow better known as OJ spoke to Gambia Watchdog in an interview at his Pipeline residence about his politics, revitalisation plan of PPP, opposition coalition among other burning issues.
Jallow who is credited for being the most outspoken Gambia-based PPP minister since the 1994 coup d’état that ended their regime challenged the ruling APRC for their nineteen-year frown-worthy political, economic and human rights reputation.
OJ said the Diaspora-Gambians invited them on their own cost in a bid to have a strategy for successful campaign in order to make the peaceful and democratic change that the Gambia needs.
He said his party agreed to the decisions so that people can have their aspirations achieved to see Gambia once more join civilise nations, where democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law prevails.
He said Gambians in the Diaspora who organised the Raleigh conference for the Gambian opposition parties are committed and dedicated citizens who feel that the country deserves a better government, better leadership, better political and economic system for a better democratic dispensation.
He added that the Raleigh agreement gave birth to decisions geared towards setting up a steering committee comprising of Gambians in the diaspora and those on the ground.
He revealed that there are also plans to work in parallel to revitalize PPP and possibly early in the next New Year. “We will call an emergency congress to formalize, select a new leadership and put life in all the organs of the PPP,”
Where there is life there is hope
Despite the failure of the 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011 opposition coalition, OJ is still optimistic about any future successful coalition against APRC.
He said: “I am an optimist, because where there is life there is hope, and with the development that are taking place, I think now those of us in position leadership should learn from our mistakes we made in 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2011 presidential election and stop disappointing the people.”
With the strong believes that there is no individual opposition party that can remove the APRC from power, he said, “It is only through our collective endeavours that can do it.”
He said in 2001 when they wanted to form an alliance, some parties did not join but they had a limited alliance with the PPP, GPP and UDP in which Ousainou Darboe of UDP was put up as presidential candidate and polled nearly 150,000 votes.
He said if Ousainou’s votes were summed up with that of Sheriff Dibba of NCP, Sidia Jatta of PDOIS and Hamat Bah of NRP, the collective votes of the opposition in 2001 will account for 217,000 votes against 240,000 votes of the Yahya Jammeh the APRC leader.
“Therefore Yahya Jammeh became president under 25 000 votes. If we were united and go into the parliamentary united we would have get at least forty percent of the seats and impunity would have stopped,” analysed OJ.
He said in 2006 they established the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD. Whilst NADD existed there were six bye-elections and NADD won all four seats, the two that were won by the APRC were won at a very small margin.
He added that they (the opposition) made the same mistake in 2011 again, not being able to unite. “That is why I went public and apologised to the Gambian people. We owed it to them, because they look up to us not only for leadership but for responsible and mature leadership and we have failed to do so,” he admitted.
He is with the hope that the Raleigh meeting will enable them learn from their experience, mistakes and lessons and come together long before the 2016 presidential election so that it will be a day of reckoning, salvation and freedom.
On self-criticism with in the opposition circle, he they have been self-critical, but think the unfortunate thing is the failure to identify the bigger picture that is Gambia.
He noted that Gambia is more important than all the political parties and all their leaders put together, explaining that the lack of that recognition is why there had been failures.
OJ wants the members of the opposition to do away with their personal, ideological and party differences for the achievement of their common.
He cited examples of political coalitions: “I told them in North Carolina that we should learn from what happened in Kenya. Everybody knows that Mwai Kibaki and Raila Amollo Odinga were political rivals, but when they saw that Arap Moi, if allowed to continue will destroy Kenya, they buried all their difference and get together and safe the nation.”
In Senegal, he said all the other parties that were bigger and their leaders were well known in politics longer than Macky Sall buried their differences and supported Macky Sall to achieve their objectives. And the most important example, he said is the Second World War. “We all know that Capitalism and Communism were arch enemies, that Franklin D. Roosevelt the American president and Winston Churchill the British prime minister at the time buried their differences; ideologically and economically to join USSR’s Stalin in Russia to defeat the threat against Europe, which is Nazism.”
He said if these people can do that, we the opposition in The Gambia should know that what unites us is more important than what divides us.
The opposition has been singing the mantra for electoral reform and with the numerical strength of the APRC in The National Assembly the success of affecting any reform if channeled through the House for amendment remains a dilemma, but OJ said both the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) itself and the APRC party agreed that there should be a lot of amendments and reforms.
He said these affects the electoral laws and electoral process including the IEC as an electoral body.
He also said the meeting they had with the IEC was not only for opposition parties but for all the parties and the IEC and even their representatives there agreed to the points raised and the electoral body promised that during the 2011 presidential election changes will be done.
According to the vocal opposition leader, when they see that those changes were not done they petitioned the IEC and told them that they need those changes to be done as all of them agreed to it.
Jallow disclosed that the electoral body promised but they never did so.
On the lack of their participation in the National Assembly election and local government elections, he said they did not boycott, “we were kicked out of the process by the IEC’s reluctance to make sure that they make these electoral reforms.”
He proposed that the opposition should now collectively as a group not only localise their issues, but to internationalize them.
“It is high time that the opposition stop localizing the issues and speak collectively with one voice and start challenging the IEC and the government so that the reforms needed be effective for free, transparent and democratic elections.”
In his general analysis of the political situation in The Gambia, he said things are getting from bad to worse. Politically, he said, there is no tolerance and people are being detained without the due process of the law.
He said people are being detained beyond the 72 hours limit which is against the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. He lamented over the skyrocketing of the prices of basic commodities which is beyond the means over sixty-five percent of the country’s population.
He pointed out that there is more starvation and poverty in the country now than before 1994. “But we can still see how affluent and extravagant the leadership is.”
According to the former PPP minister, when he was Minister of Agriculture, Gambia bought far more than 100 000 tons of groundnuts from farmers every year. Now for the past four years, he said Gambia cannot even buy 30 000 tons of groundnuts.
OJ said ranked on top of his priorities will be agriculture if he finds himself in any government, if there is change.
“My biggest priority is agriculture, because eighty percent of the population of the country depends on agriculture,” stated.
He said this is the area that real development should be based and these were the things started by the PPP government but stopped by the APRC government.
His second priority being health, he said, just building buildings and call them hospitals is not what makes them hospitals, but the personnel, equipment and medications provided by these institutions that make them to be called hospitals.
For education, he said significant preference should be given to qualitative education and not quantitative education.
Talking on employment, he said there is so much youth unemployment in this country, despite all the clarion calls and statements that ‘the sky is the limit for young people’ by the APRC.
“I always challenge the APRC to show me any institution established since 1994 where 300 Gambia youths are being employed. It is non-existent. These should be the priorities.”
The veteran politician called for a Constitutional Review Commission to be in place so as to look into the aspects of liberty; civil liberty, press freedom, all to be entrenched clauses in the Constitution.
He said term limit for the presidency should be introduced in entrenched clauses as well and gender proportion in parliament should be enshrined in the constitution.
“If I am a member of any government in the Gambia these will be my priorities.”
Advice to President Jammeh
In his advice to the current president of The Gambia Yahya Jammeh and the general public, he said the president should learn from the mistakes of others and amend their ways of treating Gambians and subscribe to the oath of office that the he had taken to uphold and defend the constitution of The Gambia.
“But since 1994, nineteen years now, sackings, terminations, arrests have continued unabated. This has never happened anywhere at any time. It is as if the coup d’état happened just yesterday. Something has happened somewhere,” he said.
OJ who described Gambians as peace loving and forgiving people wants President Yahya Jammeh and his cabinet to step back and rethink of what Gambia should be. There is too much of violation of people’s rights and that should stop.
Concluding, Omar Jallow reiterated by reminding the leadership: “The moment people lose confidence in the due process it is a recipe for instability.”