(JollofNews) – The decision to close the Daily Observer by the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) for failing to pay outstanding tax arrears of more than D17 million accumulated since 2004 bears all the hallmarks of the methods used by Yaya Jammeh to shut down the operations of the late Baboucar Gaye’s Citizen FM radio and newspaper

Twenty years ago, tax on the registration of independent radio stations was more than doubled, prompting protest from the opposition and the media houses of censorship. There was international outcry that the government of Yaya Jammeh was trying to muzzle the press by targeting certain media outlets that were critical of his government.

One of those was the Citizen FM radio which was the main independent radio station broadcasting from its location at Kanifing. Following the increase on tax for the registration of independent radio stations, the Citizen FM was ordered to close down. Shortly afterwards its proprietor, the late Baboucarr Gaye, was arrested along with one of his radio journalist who is now heading the GRTS. Gaye was accused of not paying his taxes. Both his radio and newspaper cease operation.

Then followed a series of prolonged legal process launched by Mr. Gaye against the government of Yaya Jammeh appealing against the order of the Courts in the closure of his radio station and the New Citizen newspaper. In July 2000, the High Court reversed the original judgement and ordered the government of Jammeh to return the seized apparatus of Citizen FM to Gaye.

His paper and radio were reopened before finally closing permanently in 2001.Up to the time of his untimely demise in October 2007, the equipment for the Citizen FM radio and the newspaper were never released to him. Baboucarr died of a sudden heart attack following a brief illness at the age of 56 years. His untimely death has been attributed to the many years of hardships and psychological trauma that he was continuously subjected to under the autocratic rule of Jammeh.

With an agenda to stifle free press, the ex-dictator decided to buy the Daily Observer through his close associate Amadou Samba in May 1999. It has been reported by one of the former MD of the paper that Amadou was acting as ‘proprietor’ for Jammeh. Soon after the takeover of the popular independent paper, its news editor at the time, Mr. Demba Jawo, now the Minister responsible for Information and Communication Infrastructure, and other journalists associated with the continuous criticisms of Jammeh’s government were removed.

Barely two months after the takeover of the Independent newspaper, another privately owned newspaper which had been recently launched, was ordered to suspend publication because of alleged irregularities in its registration. It is not disingenuous to say that deposed president had an agenda to dismantle the independent press through the alleged non-payment of taxes and registration fees.

With the Citizen FM radio and newspaper closed, the Independent newspaper suspended, the Daily Observer now under the proprietorship of Jammeh’s close associate, press freedom in the Gambia was effectively suppressed and the growth of the media in the country severely curtailed. The remaining independent papers such as the Point and Foroyaa had been coy as to whether they too will be ordered to halt operation following series of arrests and intimidation against the owners.

Today, the outcry over the Daily Observer closure amid unpaid taxes in excess of D17 million outstanding since 2004, has brought back memories of the egregious injustices suffered by the courageous and honest Baboucar Gaye, a mentor and brother, who had contributed enormously towards the media growth and press freedom in the country.

Why the Daily Observer did not lodge a complaint with the Tax Tribunal for redress remained the million dollar question. The paradox of our time in this short history of the new Barrow government is that we have more experts with less sense; more journalists with less knowledge about the profession. The condemnation of the closure of the Observer paper especially coming from a former proprietor of a paper that was closed during Jammeh’s rein, is downright hypocritical. There should be no excuse for not paying tax.

We talk too much, seldom remember the real heroes who put their lives on the line defending freedom of the press and liberty. If it was not because of the tyrannical and brutal nature of Jammeh’s regime, perhaps today we will be having the likes of Baboucar Gaye and Deyda Hydara in our midst. Those who filling the online media condemning the closure of Jammeh’s paper seem to have forgotten the ordeal of those who suffered immensely under dictatorship.

The use of tax and other registration laws to shut down media houses highly critical to government is unconscionable. The right to speak your mind freely on important issues in our society is guaranteed by the constitution. The independent press plays a vital role in accessing information and hold the powers that be to account. This is crucial in our democracy and it is undoubtedly the very reason why people like Baboucar Gaye and Deyda Hydara put their lives on the line refusing to disguise the truth to suit a dictator.

Ever since Gambia became independent in 1965, government had always have its own newspaper. Before its name was changed to Gambia Daily, the Gambia News Bulletin have been in existing since the 1960s. It is the authentic governed –owned paper run by dedicated team of highly trained journalists leaving many to wonder why Jammeh never appointed the experienced staff of the Gambia Daily to manage his fraudulent Observer paper instead of hiring novices totally new in the field of journalism to head the paper.

The hard truth is that all those people who were appointed by Jammeh to head the Observer have no journalistic background or training. Take the likes Rambo Jatta (politician), Fatou Jobe(civil servant), Pa Suareh Faye(no idea about his trade) and the current MD Mbowe will these people ever be given to run a daily tabloid without any formalized training in journalism? Jammeh was ready to destroy the independent media to continue brainwashing the people.

Today, both Baboucar and Deyda described by many as ‘the titans of the Gambia media’ will be smiling in their graves now as the GRA officials with personnel of the Gambia Police ordered the closure of the propaganda newspaper of Yaya Jammeh for failure to pay taxes since 2004. The duo and Mr. Pap Saine established a newspaper in the 1980s called the Senegambia Sun, and subsequently the Point which Baboucar later resigned and created his own paper and radio station, Citizen FM, which were closed in 2001. In addition to his commitment in journalism, the late Mr. Gaye was also a renowned farmer and would always take immense pride in faring his sheep during the Tobaski period.

For those condemning the closure, there is no moral justification to complain about the closure when Jammeh is being made to taste the bitterness of his own medicine. The best option for the observer is to take its complaint to the tax tribunal for redress. There is no excuse for not paying tax.

By MBO Gaye