(JollofNews) –The responsibility of determining how long a leader stays in power is only in the hands of God and not the people, Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh has claimed.
Mr Jammeh, who recently vetoed plans by the regional block, Ecowas, to restrict West African presidents to two terms in office, said people are not responsible for determining the length of office of a leader.
In an interview with the London-based New African magazine Mr Jammeh added: “How long can one stay in power? It is only God who determines how long you can stay in power. It is not a human being who is responsible for making sure you stay in power.”
Ironically, Mr Jammeh who came to power in a military coup two decades ago and loves drawing international condemnation by lashing out at gays and lesbians and subjecting political opponents to torture and forcing them to confess to sedition on television, said he was never interested in power and had only overthrown an undemocratic government to fix corruption.
He said: “We called ourselves the Provisional Ruling Council when we took over on 22 July 1994. It was never my intention or our intention to run the country. It actually took us one week before we agreed on who was to be the leader of the Provisional Ruling Council. So, yes, I wanted a civilian to run the country during the transition, fix corruption once and for all, set up a solid base and put up a foundation that meant whoever comes after us would be obliged by the constitution to fight corruption and to make sure that when he rules the country, he becomes a servant of the people. That was our intention. No, I did not impose myself on the people.
“If we had wanted to stay in power, we could have kept quiet and the transition would have continued for a long time. But we asked the Gambian people through a referendum, how long they wanted the transition to continue. Most of the people said eight years, ten years. Some even said, but Jawara [the ex-president he overthrew] stayed for 30 years doing nothing, so you shall stay for 50 years.
“We asked for a four-year transition that was the only other thing we wanted. We felt that within those four years, we would be able to at least set up systems and structures that nobody could destroy. However, we settled for a two-year transition period. We have all these on record. Every decision made was recorded for posterity. It is all there.”
Change of heart
Mr Jammeh added that his main aim after the transition in 1996 was to return to his village, Kanilai and take up farming
He said: “As 1996 approached, I had already made up my mind that I was going back to the farm. I am a farmer and all I wanted was to be a big farmer. Also, I was young, I wanted to enjoy my own life freely, and also thought if a university was built in this country, I would go back to school. Then as the end of the transition period was drawing closer, people began approaching me, saying, you are already doing so much, and asking me to continue. I said no on so many occasions. A delegate was even sent to speak to my mum to ask her to convince me. I still told them and, my mum I would think about it.
“I prayed for my mum to say no, he cannot be president. But when we had a discussion about it, she sat me down and said, “I am your mum but at the end of the day you are a Gambian and you belong to the Gambian people. I am your mother and if you are listening to me, my wish is that the people are more important than you, serving them is like serving God, you cannot say no to all these people that are coming to you”. I tried to explain to her why I was hesitant. I told her that I was young and needed a life and my intention was to go back to studies, She said, “If you wanted to go to school, why didn’t you go to school before you joined the army?”
“I cannot say no to my mum. She’s the only person who can come to my house and pull my ear and there’s nothing I can do about it. Oh, my mum is always mum and I love her so; I don’t want anything to offend her. Sometimes, she makes me to do things; things I am not ready to forgive, you know. She comes and sits down, and says yes, even God forgives, but you are not God.”
As leader of 21 century Gambia, Mr Jammeh 50, who is governing the Gambia with an iron fist and is accused of committing serious rights abuses including arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance, said he wants to leave a lasting legacy that would be remembered for hundred of years.
“I think equitable distribution of the national cake will be one,” he said.
“I want to make sure everyone gets to have share. To achieve that, education and employment must play a major part. I want to make sure Gambians have access to both, not just on merit but because they have the right as the citizens, and not because they know someone in the echelons of power. Nothing apart from outer space should be the limit for us in terms of education and equal opportunities for all.
“We have achieved a lot in just 20 years and I know we will excel and achieve even more in years to come. I will also make sure that five years from now; it is westerners who will be cleaning our streets. I want whoever lives in this country in 1000 years time, to remember my name for the good we have done. For now we already have a million reasons to celebrate our revolution.”