By Amadou Dibba, Birmingham, UK
Where does one even begin to try to make sense of one of the current subjects of wide discussion among Gambians – the supposed (I would emphasise this) planned return of the exiled former Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh? How is it that a former leader accused of committing and overseeing the commission of so many gut-wrenching crimes has even the thought of wanting to return to the country where the possibility of his facing swift justice [should] exist? When and how did talk of securing Jammeh’s extradition to face charges for alleged human rights abuses, misappropriation of state resources, to mention but just two, morph into the current narrative of whether or not he has the right to return or should be allowed to return? Of course he has every right to return as a citizen of the country! What happens after he returns is more what matters than his return in and of itself!
Few days ago I listened to the leaked conversation between Yahya and the person I later came to know is the interim leader of APRC, Ousman Rambo Jatta. A conversation that consists mainly of Yahya giving his views about the current state of the country, giving advice to his supporters as to how he wishes them to conduct themselves during a planned demonstration/protest, with the occasional ‘yes sir,’ ‘no sir’ and some obsequious comment or the other of his evidently oily interlocutor punctuating the chit-chat. I cursed under my breath at the show of temerity of these two individuals trying to take the majority of Gambians for a ride. I use the phrase ‘show of temerity’ and not ‘temerity’ because I do not believe that Yahya Jammeh has half the guts to actively seek to return to The Gambia had our government been playing their card half smartly. But then again that is if there is no credence to some people’s contention that it is all part of a conspiracy and subtle machinations fuelled by President Adama Barrow’s hunger for allies at a time he has decided to run for re-election at the end of the five-year term that now seems to be on the cards (as opposed to the three-year transition period the coalition is said to have agreed on).
Then this morning I saw in a BBC newsfeed the story captioned “Yahya Jammeh warned not to return to The Gambia.” Really, so the Gambia government has become so spineless and ambivalent over bringing Yahya Jammeh before justice that countless victims of his misrule have been crying for that all they now say is that they cannot guarantee his security should he return without their permission. Unless I am missing something that has not been stated in the BBC news story, I am inclined to believe that the current stance of the Gambia government over the Yahya Jammeh return issue would be ridiculous if it were not so tragic. Reading the government spokesperson, Mr Ebrima Sankareh, feigning ignorance of an agreement brokered by ECOWAS told me everything I needed to know about Gambia government’s cop out.
No wonder the interim leader could utter such inflammatory rubbish as saying that nobody dares arrest Yahya Jammeh for crimes he is alleged to have committed, even going so far as saying that any such attempt would result in bloodshed. Wow, how impudent, brusque and lack of class! One would have thought that an interim leader worth his/her salt would have said that his party would do everything possible to bring their fugitive leader back and are ready to contest any charges that may be brought against him. Failure to put it in this or similar terms only shows how hopeless the interim leader and Jammeh’s staunchest supporters are of his chances of being able to successfully stand trial if state prosecution do their job right. So I consider it mere bluster, bravado and hot air for him to say that Yahya Jammeh cannot be arrested and should be allowed to simply swagger into the country and be allowed to live in peace after the turbulence he presided over for two decades. What wishful thinking!
However, I will suggest that that matters have degenerated to the level where Yahya Jammeh and his party’s top brass now pretend to be less apprehensive of his return is an indictment of the Barrow government’s handling of the matter. In the absence of an extradition treaty between The Gambia and Equatorial Guinea or whatever obstacle his refugee status precludes the Gambia government from seeking to bring him to justice, what would have been wrong with Gambia government’s provision of security for Jammeh on his return, if such security protocol is meant to prevent individuals from attempting to maul Jammeh or beat the stuffing out of him and allow the law to take its cause once enough evidence is available to take him before the courts? It maybe my ignorance but I can’t say there is anything wrong, especially as I presume that the ECOWAS agreement Jammeh and his party seem to be invoking would not stipulate that he should be immune from prosecution on his return. Nor should Jammeh be in any position to demand any further conditions for his return (after all the country is much better off without his repulsive presence), other than the security of his person from assault of individuals or groups of individuals from the public, which should be standard procedure for a person with his kind of baggage. In fact it is in the state’s interest to provide him the best possible security pending his trial. Unless I am missing something, I fail to see how this would be interpreted as immunity from prosecution.
In the light of this, the Barrow government’s oft-repeated excuse of not guaranteeing Jammeh’s security is both unconscionable and suspect, smacking of tactics to delay justice and treading as carefully as possible so as not to antagonise a possible ally, while at the same time pandering to the unfounded fear of some Gambians by preventing Jammeh from returning to the country. By the way it is my hunch that in his heart of hearts Jammeh himself does not want to return because he knows he would be kidding himself that he would be allowed to live in The Gambia till his death without facing justice and the frightening prospect of being a guest in his own former hotel (Mile 2), except in the extremely unlikely event he becomes a major player or the major player in the Gambian political terrain. I hope I am wrong in this speculation but little else seems to make sense in this whole sordid saga.
So my advice to the Barrow government is that it should as a matter of urgency stop all this nonsense, by committing to provide the chap the security of his person on his return. Nothing more nothing less. I say dare the chap to return and I dare say he will have a rethink faster than you can say Jack Robinson, or Yahya Jammeh for that matter!