Sanna Badjie

(JollofNews) – The Gambian police must understand their role in a democracy if our young and fragile democratic dispensation is to be protected and consolidated.

The police and other state institutions such as the judiciary and the military must maintain their neutral stands in the discharge of their functions to compel the political executive to device and formulate polices and programmes that represent the wishes of sovereign people and be accountable.

The police in a democratic state should be essentially concerned with protecting and upholding the rule of law; protect the citizens and their fundamental democratic and constitution rights. They (the police) must not have a wider political function in a democracy.

However, the police power should not be harnessed to the need of the government to facilitate their self-perpetuation at the expense of the tax payers and sovereign citizen otherwise the democracy will change to autocracy or amounts to self-perpetuating governance.

A clear indication of these facts happened during the former President Yahya Jammeh, where the police power and other state forces of intimidation aided him to prolong his regime for 22 years even though he lost his legitimacy as a president at some point.

The lack of independence of state institutions denied Gambians until December 2016 a democratic transfer of governmental power from one government to another since the attainment of right to self-determination in February 1965.

It is an open secret that the police were unconstitutionally used in Jammeh’s regime to quell down anti-government protesters/demonstrators with the aid of the Public Order Act, which is use injudiciously to deter citizens from publicly airing their grievances. The sad events of 14th April 2016 demonstration, which resulted in the mysterious death of Solo Sandeng is a testimony.

The right to protest or peaceful assemble is critical in a functioning democracy. The police must understand that government can violate that rights of the citizens by criminalizing protest or peaceful assemble in the name of national security and other means  to deter public expression, especially if it threatens their legitimacy.

The denial of permit to the #Occupywestfield by the police in the name of nation security and criminalizing it with the aid of the public order act is unacceptable and not good for our democracy. This inconsistence by the police is against accountability, neutrality transparency, and an insult to the citizens of the Gambia who are the depositories of sovereignty and to who the police drove their sovereignty from.

Finally, the police should reconsider their decision and grant the permit to the organisers  of #Occupywesfield and facilitate their right to peaceful assemble and protect their democratic and constitutional demands.

Sanna Badjie

University of the Gambia