By Abdoulie Fatty
By all accounts, Yayha Jammeh was a dictator. He did not have respect for democracy. He seriously undermined important state institutions. The National Assembly, the citadel of law making, was at his mercy. The Judiciary was an unwitting accomplice. When Gambians voted to remove Jammeh from power two years ago, it was unprecedented. Gambians simply wanted change. Therefore, it is callous and an attempt to roll back the political gains we made in December 2016, when the President, Adama Barrow, ill-advised or acting without legal and political advice, attempted to remove Hon. Ya Kumba Jaiteh, a nominated member, from the National Assembly.
This is relevant to our political discourse because it happened at a time when the we are trying to consolidate our young democracy. If we therefore, allow the President to violate provisions of the Constitution, or act outside the limits of his executive powers, then we will be setting a very dangerous precedent, the reversal of which may become insurmountable if the President becomes too emboldened. The more reason why it is important to restrain him now before it becomes too late to do so.
Many others and I ardently believe that the attempted removal of Ya Kumba Jaiteh by the President is unconstitutional and therefore ultra vires, outside the scope of his powers. However, some legal commentators on the other hand argue that his action is lawful. I wish to add to the debate and perhaps enrich the discourse and narrative regarding the issue of constitutionality, supremacy of the Constitution, sovereignty of Parliament and the separation of powers.
I shall argue that the attempted removal of a nominated NAM is not only legally and politically wrong, it is politically naïve considering our recent past. Firstly, I admit, I only recently found out that the Speaker of the Assembly is derived from the cohort of NAMs nominated by the President and not those elected by the people. This is a fundamental anomaly. Secondly, the idea that the President as the Head of the Executive, should personally choose the Speaker and ultimately determine who the Head of the Legislative branch should be, as well as believing that he has the legal power and political authority to nominate and remove a nominated member even after confirmation is patently absurd. It erodes and undermines the fundamental doctrine of the separation of powers.
What is a Constitution? Professor Finer, in Five Constitutions (1979), defines it as:
“codes of rules which aspire to regulate the allocation of functions, powers and duties among the various agencies and officers of government, and define the relationships between them and the public.”
Professor King defines writes that “A constitution is the set of the most important rules that regulate the relations among the different parts of the government of a given country and also the relations between the different parts of the government and the people of the country.”
With the exception of the United Kingdom, all other jurisdictions, like The Gambia, have these rules reduced in writing and codified into a single document. South Africa’s 1996 Constitution is hailed as one of the most progressive constitutions of the modern era.
The constitution is superior to Acts of Parliament or any other statutory or delegated legislation. Section 4 of the Constitution of The Gambia 1997 (Chapter II) explicitly provides that it is the “supreme law ….. and other law found to be inconsistent with any provision of this constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, to be void.” This is not unusual in other constitutions. Section 2 of the 1996 South Africa Constitution states that “This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic; law conduct inconsistent with it is invalid, and the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled.”
Section 91 of the 1997 constitution deals with the tenure of members of the Assembly. Section 91 (1) states that “A member of the National Assembly shall vacate his or her seat in the National Assembly –
- On the dissolution of the National Assembly;
- Subject to subsection (2), if any circumstances arises which, if he or she were not a member, would cause him or her to be disqualified for election as a member or nomination as a member;
- If he or she resigns his or her office as a member;
- If he or she ceases to be a member of the political party of which he or she was a member at the time of his or her election;
Provided that nothing in this paragraph shall apply on a merger of political parties at the national level where such merger is authorised by the constitution of the parties concerned;
- If, having been elected a member as an independent candidate, he or she join s political party;
Section 92 provides that “An Act of National Assembly may make provision for the recall of an elected member of the National Assembly …….”
It follows therefore that this provision does not even explicitly state how a NAM may be removed from the Assembly through the recall mechanism. It simply bestows on the Assembly power to do so, however, in ways and manner that the Assembly shall deem proper. The provision did not prescribe exactly how the Assembly should do this other than by means of recall supported by at least one-third of registered constituents. In addition, section 92 states that the National Assembly “may make provision for recall,” which clearly means that the power to legislate in respect of the removal of an NAM through recall lies within the purview of the NA. That means, it is the National Assembly, in the exercise of its unfettered powers in respect of enacting laws, specifically deriving its powers from section 92(a)(b), that is tasked with prescribing the exact grounds for recall and powers and procedures that stem from a petition for recall. Section 92 does not say the National Assembly shall make provision for recall which would have been a mandatory and compulsory imposition on the NA to enact such law. The constitution thus, either deliberately or by default, but I lean towards a deliberate and intentional aspiration of the constitution that only the National Assembly should address the issue of recall and in ways and manner that it deems appropriate other than by petition by constituents. I contend that the constitution implicitly recognises its own limitations in governing everything and therefore, allows the NA, in the spirit of sovereignty of Parliament, to be the master of its own destiny as the Chamber representing the people through democratic and parliamentary representation. This is because the constitution is acutely conscious of the importance of sovereignty of Parliament in a pluralist democracy and why it should be sacrosanct to preserve the integrity of Parliament and thus, interference with its members by means of removal unless in exceptional circumstances. It will be egregious to suggest that the constitution contemplated vesting such power as removing an MP in the President. It defeats the concept of the separation of powers and parliamentary sovereignty. Article 104(1) of the Kenyan Constitution 2010, this provision almost identical to ours, states that the electorate under Articles 97 and 98 have the right to recall their MPs, however, Article 104(2) states that it is Parliament that shall enact legislation to provide for the grounds on which a member may be recalled and the procedure to be followed. This is another manifestation of Parliament’s inherent power regarding the issue of the removal of MPs from the House.
Separation of powers
Greek philosopher Aristotle, in his work Politics, stated “There are three elements in each constitution in respect of which every serious law giver must look for what is advantageous to it; if these are well arranged, the constitution is bound to be well arranged, and the differences in constitutions are bound to correspond to the differences between each of these three elements. The three are, first the deliberative, which discusses everything of common importance; second, the officials ……; and third, the judicial element.”
The great French legal philosopher Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws remarked “When legislative power is united with executive power in a single person or in a single body of the magistracy, there is no liberty, because one can fear that the same monarch or senate that makes tyrannical laws will execute them tyrannically.”
“Nor is there liberty if the power of judging is not separate from legislative power and from executive power. If it were joined to legislative power, the power over the life and liberty of the citizen would be arbitrary, for the judge would be the legislator. If it were joined to executive powers, the judge could have the force of an oppressor.”
“All would be lost if the same man or the same body of principal men, either of nobles, or of the people, exercised these three powers: that of making the laws, that of executing public resolutions, and that of judging the crimes or the disputes of individuals.”
The rationale for this well-established principle of the separation of powers is to safeguard and prevent abuse of power. This takes us back to the issue of the head of the executive branch being vested the power to determine the head of the legislative branch. Theoretically, the idea of the President nominating five individuals to the Assembly makes a certain sense. Our NA, like any other Parliament, is partisan and MPs, for the most part, toe the party line or face the wrath of their party whips. The rationale of the President being given the power to nominate five individuals to the Assembly, is to curb that tribal politics in Parliament and at the same time enhance the expertise of the House. The rationale is not for the President to nominate those he believes will further his personal or executive agenda, but qualified and capable Gambians who will serve the interests of the country and its people. Such individuals may be retired IGP, retired CDS, retired Archbishop or retired Iman Ratib, successful businessman, retired doctor, retired Headmaster or deliberately, to allocate all the five seats to women or youth as an affirmative action to increase their representation at the top of the pyramid of law making process. The idea is thus to maintain some form of equilibrium in the Assembly. They are expected to be independent and neutral and their overriding agenda is to serve the best interests of our country and nothing else. That is the idea and rationality of vesting in the President the power to nominate. Article 97(1)(c) of the Constitution of Kenya also provides for nominated members; twelve members nominated by the parliamentary political parties according to their proportion of members in the House. This provision of the Kenyan Constitution expressly states that nomination is to represent special interests including persons with disabilities and workers.
Section 112(b) of the constitution, on the responsibilities of the members of the National Assembly stipulates that:
“all members shall regard themselves as servants of the people of The Gambia, desist from any conduct by which they seek improperly to enrich themselves or alienate themselves from the people, and shall discharge their duties and functions in the interest of the nation as a whole and in doing so shall be influenced by the dictates of the conscience and the national interest.”
Practically, in the Gambian context, largely because of the lack of political maturity and our culturally subservient nature to officialdom, and unfortunately the mediocrity of the types of Assembly we have (I wish to say here that the current House has some really impressive members and who are well intentioned), our own circumstances and context differ and the purpose of nomination by the President is nothing but self-serving and completely needless. In our context, simply because the President nominates someone into the House, the subconscious conclusion is that the primary allegiance is to the President and not the Gambian people. I hope therefore, in light of the recent debate and taking into account the conflicting interests of nominated members if we take into account the history of members nominated by Jammeh, the people in their consultations with the CRC, will express their disapproval and have this provision excused from our supreme law.
It is not in dispute that section 92 does not expressly articulate the removal of nominated members from the House. Was this omission by design or default? Can it be argued that constitution did not contemplate the removal of nominated members, save for the usual justifications such as bringing the Assembly into disrepute, criminal or moral culpability to the extent that it is reasonable to adjudge that a certain MP no longer has the moral authority or standing to continue to occupy a seat in the Assembly of the “Nobles”? If that were the case, I cannot think of anything more legal and lawful than the Assembly itself, passing a statute to determine how a nominated member may lose his or her seat in the House and the procedural requirements of any such law. This will be akin to the power vested in the Assembly under section 92 in relation to the recall of elected members. Perhaps, it may be that, derived from the rationality of the purpose of having nominated members, the constitution did not envisage the removal of nominated members because they represent not individual constituencies but the entire nation as their constituency. Even if we suppose that just like their elected cohort, nominated members may also be removed from the Assembly, nonetheless, in the absence of any express constitutional provision authorising such an action, then only the Assembly can pass laws governing this and how it will operate procedurally. Then the Supreme Court to have the power to determine its constitutionality. Certainly, it is not and should not be the concern of the President how any MP is to be removed from the House. The fact that the President believes that simply because he nominated, he has the legal authority to remove a person be nominated, reveals the fundamental flaws in the whole exercise. The President erroneously believes that as the nominating authority, in the absence of definite constitutional guidance on the subject, he has the legal authority to remove a nominated member from the Assembly.
In the absence of any express constitutional provision vesting in the President the power to remove, his power is limited to nomination and not more. Once a nominated candidate takes an Oath of office, he or she becomes a bona fide member of the Assembly and anything to do with his or her removal should then become an issue for determination by the Assembly itself and not the President. If the President were to be legally able to yield such power, it will not be far-fetched and irrational to foresee a situation where in every Parliamentary term, the President can nominate and dismiss as many NAMs as he pleases if the nominated members vote against his bills or become mavericks in the House. Can you imagine such a situation? That will not only be politically damaging and disruptive, it will undermine and weaken the very foundations and principles of the separation of powers and parliament’s sovereignty, never mind our democracy.
The sovereignty of Parliament is common in most common law jurisdictions and beyond. Section 63(3) of the Constitution states that “A person elected as President may at any time during his term of office be removed from office if a no confidence motion is passed in the National Assembly supported by two thirds of the members of the National Assembly.” This is not unique. Article 95(5)(a) and (b) of the Kenyan Constitution gives the Kenya National Assembly power to review the conduct in office of the President, Deputy-President and other State officers and also the power to initiate the process of removing them from office; as well as the exercise of oversight of state organs. All over the world, it is generally the House that prescribes the grounds and process of removing members and such a power is not vested in the President.
The Speaker of the House is a nominated member just like Ya Kumba Jaiteh. Section 93(3)(b) of the Constitution provides that the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker shall vacate their respective offices “if he or she is removed from that office by a resolution of the National Assembly supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the members of the National Assembly.” I argue that in the absence of an express constitutional provision regarding the vacation of the other nominated members, it is reasonable and logical to take a cue from this section’s procedure and conclude that the vacation of all nominated members should be initiated and determined by the House and not at the temperament of the President. There certainly has to be a strong safeguard against executive encroachment on the Parliamentary terrain.
According to section 76(2), “In addition to the powers conferred on him or her by this Constitution, the President shall have such powers and responsibilities as may be conferred on him or her by or under an Act of the National Assembly.”
Section 77(2), regarding the executive power and the National Assembly, provides that “The National Assembly may request the President to attend a sitting of the National Assembly for the discussion of a matter of national importance”.
Section 77(4) states “The Vice-President shall answer in the National Assembly for matters affecting the President, and the President shall be entitled to send a message to the National Assembly to be read on his or her behalf by the Vice-President.”
By section 63(3), the National Assembly has the constitutional power to remove a President at any time by two thirds majority vote in the House. The fact that the constitution gives this power to the National Assembly reinforces the supremacy or at least the sovereignty of the House in our political matters. There is nothing, anywhere in the constitution that gives the President any power to remove an MP, be it elected or nominated. It is also clear from section 76(2) that apart from the Constitution, Parliament is the source of the President’s powers and responsibilities through laws that it may pass relating to executive powers. The President’s powers are either derived explicitly or to a lesser extent implied from the Constitution, and Acts of Parliament. It will be self-defeating and contradictory for the President to be given the power to nominate and remove MPs from the same Parliament that the President derives his powers. Similarly, section 77(2) also gives the Assembly power to request the President to attend proceedings in the House in any deliberations of national importance. This provision states that the Assembly may, at its own discretion, invite the President if it deems it necessary. This lends to the argument that the constitution gives Parliament powers to exercise an oversight role over the Executive. There is no provision anywhere giving the President power to invite MPs to answer questions. That role is only limited to Parliament. The Assembly may summon the President, through the Vice-President, to answer questions before the House under section 74(4) and there is a mandatory and not discretionary duty on the Vice-President to answer any such questions or issues raised on matters relating to the President. This is the role of Parliament in the exercise of its political and legal accountability of the executive. All things being equal and for all intents and purposes, the constitution did not envisage the executive, the President for that matter, to have legal power and control over the Assembly because that will be a very dangerous precedent. To argue therefore that the President has the power to remove an MP from the House lacks any serious legal and political reasoning and judgment. That will be inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the constitution.
The executive is central within the constitution. The fundamental role of the executive is making and implementing policy and that is important. Notwithstanding, the executive must be accountable insofar as the the exercise of its powers. This brings us back to the separation of powers. Conventionally, government, i.e the executive, is generally held accountable by legal means through the courts and political means by Parliament. The courts rely on well-developed principles of law to ensure good governance within the ambit of the law, e.g affected individuals may file claims against government for declarations or seek certiorari, mandamus, habeas corpus or judicial review proceedings etc. Parliament on the other hand, in carrying out political accountability, may require Ministers and senior government officials to appear before the House and justify their actions. This mechanism, although a clear paradox, raise the issue of the relationship and power dynamics between legal and political interpretations of constitutionalism.
This allows the separation of powers to function without concentrating so much power in the hands of one organ of government. If there were only legal accountability, the Judiciary will be entrusted with unequal power and it may therefore abuse its power. That is the reason why Parliament is entrusted with power to hold the executive politically accountable. It will be irrational and illogical to conclude therefore that the President has both the legal and political power to remove a nominated member from the House. I am not naïve. I admit there is no absolute separation of powers in any democratic system. However, in the Gambian context, much like elsewhere, if the President were to have powers to remove MPs, that will be giving the executive unparalleled power. English Philosopher John Locke warned “it may be too great temptation to human frailty …. for the same person to have power of making laws, to have also in their hands the power to execute them, whereby they may exempt themselves from obedience to the laws they make, suit the law both in its making and execution, to make their own private advantage.” The concept of responsible government means powers of government are scrutinised by a mixture of forty-eight democratically elected and five constitutionally nominated Parliament to whom every member of government, including the President, is individually and collectively responsible.
Some legal commentators argue that section 231 of the constitution gives the President power to revoke nomination. Section 231(1) provides:
“Where any power is conferred by this constitution to make any proclamation, order, regulation, rule or pass any resolution or give any direction or make any declaration or designation, it shall be deemed to include the power, exercisable in like manner and subject to like condition, if any, to amend or revoke the same.” ………
Section 231(2): “Where any power is conferred by this constitution on any person or authority to do so or enforce the doing of any act of thing, all such ….
Section 231(5): “Without prejudice to the provisions of section 167, but subject to the other provisions of this constitution, the power to make any appointments to a public office includes the power to dismiss any person so appointed.”
Section 231(5) is primarily concerned with the appointment and dismissal of public officials. It will be useful to know what section 167(a) states and it is as follows:
“power to appoint any person to hold or act in any office in the Public Service shall include the power to confirm appointments, to exercise disciplinary control over and to remove persons holding or acting in such offices and to re-appoint or reinstate any person appointed in exercise of the power in question unless such power is expressly or by necessary implication vested in some other person or authority;
Section 167(b) provides that “power to remove an officer in the public service shall include power to require such officer to retire from the Public Service.” Effectively, both section 231(5) and section 167(a) and (b) are specifically limited to the appointment and removal of public officials, those who work in the Public Service. The next logical issue to address is whether NAMs are public officials and work in the Public Service.
Chapter XI of the constitution deals solely with the Public Service: Officers in the Public Service and section 166(1) in respect of Public Service states:
“Subject to an Act of the National Assembly, the Public Service of The Gambia shall comprise the civil service as established immediately before this Constitution comes into force and the offices declared elsewhere in this Constitution to be offices in the Public Service.”
Section 166(3) states: “For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that an office in the public service includes the office of judge of a superior court, and of any other court the emoluments of which are payable out of the public fund of The Gambia, and the office of a principal representative of The Gambia abroad”
Section 166(4): “In this Constitution, an office in the public service does not include-
- The offices of the President, Vice-President, Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Secretary of State or a member of the National Assembly.”
It is as clear as blue skies that for the purposes of section 231(5) and section 167(a) and (b), a member of the National Assembly is not one who works for the Public Service or considered to be an official of the Public Service. Therefore, the appointment of any individual in the Public Service or the exercise of disciplinary control over such persons and to remove officials holding or acting in the Public Service does not affect NAMs in any way because they are not categorised to be working in the Public Service or considered Public Service officials. Consequently, NAMs are not caught by sections 231 and 167. Further, if NAMs were considered to be officials under the Public Service, this would have been expressly stated in section 166(3) but the fact that it is explicitly spelt out in section 166(4)(a) means that the constitution does not even remotely suggest for a moment that NAMs may be nominated and dismissed at the whims and caprices of the President.
Section 80 states that “Subject to this Constitution and any Act of the National Assembly the President may constitute any public office for The Gambia and make appointments to such office and terminate such appointments.” The caveat here is firstly, provided he acts within and as prescribed by the Constitution; and secondly, any statute passed by the National Assembly giving the President necessary power, may hire and fire officials deemed to be public officials and working in the Public Service pursuant to sections 231(5), 167(a) and (b). The Constitution is very clear on those deemed to be occupying public office. I would also like to point out that appointment is different from nomination. Generally, the appointing authority retains a residue of power to terminate appointment of the appointee. This is because appointment is concerned with giving; appointment into a political office or senior government position. Nomination concerns naming a person for a vacant post or office. It presupposes that once the nominee has been confirmed, the nominating authority no longer possesses any power to circumvent the post-confirmation process. This is the reason why the forty-eight elected and five nominated members must take their Oaths before the Speaker before formally assuming their seats and tenure as MPs as required by section 88(2) of the constitution.
What is the role of the Supreme Court in this constitutional and political conundrum? It appears, from the face of it, that there is an impasse. This is the more reason why this is a test case to an extent and the outcome will have serious ramifications on the trajectory of our democracy or the lack of it. The Supreme Court has serious questions to ask and the answers are not only found in the constitution but in political conventions and normative practices elsewhere. If the Supreme Court were to hold that the attempted removal of Ya Kumba Jaiteh is unconstitutional, this will send a clear message to the President that he may not act as he wishes and that there are proper structures to check and balance the exercise of his executive powers. The outcome will be far reaching. On the other hand, should the Supreme Court decide that the attempted removal is constitutional, which I doubt in my own opinion, then the next logical consideration is whether it is politically expedient for the President to remove a nominated MP at his own behest without Parliament’s involvement? So the considerations here should touch on the issue of legality and legitimacy. In this context, legality is concerned with the lawfulness of the attempted removal within the scope of the law. Legitimacy, which I believe trump legality, is concerned with the moral rights and political authority, in the spheres of our political dispensation so far as the exercise of executive power. I still believe that the main issues here are both legal and political and both are mutually interlinked and indivisible. If the Supreme Court were to hold that the attempted removal, and it is not a revocation of the nomination as that ship has sailed, the nomination stage lapsed immediately after she took her Oath before the Speaker in the House, is valid, the message to the President will be that he has a wide margin in terms of pushing the limits of his powers. This is dangerous. Power corrupts and uncontrolled or absolute power is a danger to any democracy and rule of law, most especially our democracy at its infant stage, having snatched ourselves from the wicked jaws of a brutal dictator just over two years ago.
On the issue of legality and legitimacy, I shall argue why I believe that legitimacy overrides legality. As controversial as it may sound, I still maintain that the attack on State House on December 30th 2014 to remove Yahya Jammeh was legitimate for the following reasons. Yes, the Jammeh government was clothed with legality because there were elections which he won, the fairness of which is another debate. However, the sovereignty of a nation lies in its people. There is an obligation on the state to respect the human rights of people within its borders. If a government then abuses the rights of its people systematically, then its loses its sovereignty and legitimacy to govern and therefore any attempt to remove its political leadership by coerce means is legitimate even if it is illegal. This is a new doctrine that Kofi Annan advocated. In 1999, during the Balkan crisis, while the Serbs were committing ethnic cleansing against the Kosovars, China and Russia in the Security Council vetoed the authorisation of the use of force under Article 42 (Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter). NATO, led by the U.S and U.K, intervened to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
There was no dispute that the NATO intervention without express Security Council approval was illegal under international law. However, instead of wide condemnation, the intervention was hailed as legitimate by international lawyers and academics because the purpose of the intervention was to stop ethnic cleansing and thus, morality (legitimacy) overrode legality especially if legality was used as a pretext under the guise of territorial sovereignty under international law to commit crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing of Kosovars. Therefore, since the Jammeh regime was brutal and destroyed all institutions of the state and abused the human rights of the citizens at a massive scale, his government lost all legitimacy and it was morally acceptable to remove him by use of force to restore human rights. The analogy is, legitimacy can prevail over legality.
Similarly, authority, I argue, is intrinsically associated with respect, which in turn creates legitimacy that results in power. It means therefore, that authority leads to respect which leads to legitimacy and that ultimately leads to power. Government must possess authority derived from the people in order for it to govern legitimately. In contrast, power is the capacity to do things that one wants and for people to do those things even if they disagree or don’t want to. So while the President may use his power(s) to do what he wants, even if these are against the interests of the people, Parliament has the authority, derived from the sovereign will of the people who elected them, to resist the abuse of power through its oversight and political accountability roles. And the courts through legal accountability. It is therefore important to ask if the actions of the President are legitimate. Should the President be allowed to remove a NAM simply because he or she criticises or insults the President? There is nothing wrong with insulting the President. He or she is our servant. Once he or she decides to put himself/herself forward for election, by his/her own choice, then we the electorate should have every right to criticise without boundary. It is nonsense to put our political leaders on pedestals, like they are “Gods” or sacred supernatural beings. For far too long, as a child, I used to hear that you don’t insult “mansa.” Actually, the real “mansa” is us who vote them in, the power resides in us the “people”. It is complete rubbish how we worship our elected officials in this country. I don’t know whether these are some of the colonial traits that we inherited but it needs to stop. If the President were to have the power to sack a nominated NAM on basis that he or she criticised, insulted or is a thorn to the President, then are we saying that once you are nominated, you are deprived of the right to critique the President or vote against his bills in the House? Ya Kumba Jaiteh is one of the most hard working and useful MPs. She is one of those MPs that puts the nation’s interest first in the House, hence the more astonishing why the President should even contemplate removing her. Perhaps she is just a ‘casualty’ in a bigger cold war at the helm. May be the President is sending a coded message, and one which is less to do with Ya Kumba but more to do with the fractured relationship between the one-time novice and his political mentor.
Section 5(1)(a) of the Supreme Court Act gives the latter exclusive original jurisdiction for the interpretation or enforcement of any provision of the Constitution with the exceptions of sections 18-33 or 36(5) which relate to fundamental human rights and freedoms of which the High Court has original jurisdiction.
Section 5(1)(c) of the Supreme Court Act gives the Court the power to determine whether an MP was validly elected to or vacated his or her seat in the National Assembly.
In Sallah v Clerk of the National Assembly (2002-2008) GLR Vol. 1, the Supreme Court stated:
“Every court, including this Supreme Court, is accountable to the people of the country for whom it provides services and on whose behalf the courts exist and operate. We administer justice to ensure the realization of the aspirations of the people…..”.
This assertion by the Supreme Court is in tandem with section 1(2) of the Constitution which states that “The sovereignty of The Gambia resides in the people of The Gambia from whom all organs of government derive their authority and in whose name and for whose welfare and prosperity the powers of government are to be exercised in accordance with this Constitution.” It means therefore that all the three organs of government “borrow” their power from the people and on whose behalf they exercise those powers. While the Constitution is supreme in terms of laws that govern us as enshrined in section 4, Parliament is sovereign because NAMs are representative of the people and the sovereignty of our country resides in the people.
The Supreme Court has a momentous task. They have to decide, in dutifully fulfilling the ideals and aspirations of the people, whether it is justice that the President should have the power to remove a nominated member from the House. I would have thought that wise counsel would have seen the President seek clarification on the issue from the Supreme Court first before attempting to remove a nominated member from the House. It shows bullishness and a lack of respect for both the House and the Supreme Court. The fact that the letter to Ya Kumba Jaiteh was not even on an official O.P letterhead implies how the President and his counsel of “wise men” judged the attempted removal as nothing more than trivial. Who dares question the President’s order? This is not a trivial issue and it should not be treated as such.
Had the President notified the Speaker or the Clerk of the National Assembly of his lack of faith in a nominated member, and for any attempted removal to emanate from the House itself through notification by means of a petition by the MPs themselves, one could perhaps forgive him for at least allowing the House to decide the issue openly in the House. Again, the President, despite strong public criticisms regarding the appointment of the former Vice-President Fatoumata Jallow Tambajang about her age, paid no attention almost as if he was oblivious to peoples’ discontent. The President thus has propensity to defy the people and the constitution. As far as I can remember, that issue was not brought before the Courts. May be this added another ‘feather to his bow.’ It reveals why we were complicit then and if we allow the same thing to happen again, we as a people, will let ourselves down and expedite the creation of another autocratic leadership. Did the Gambian people aspire that the President should have such powers in the absence of an express provision in the constitution in section 92?
There are serious political issues to consider and the decision will either shape the longevity of our democracy or accelerate its slow death. It also means that the primary duty of the Court will be justice as per the aspirations of the people. Justice is not an abstract concept. It’s relative and ought to be tangible. I hope the Supreme Court will not just gloss over the issue superficially but engage with the tough and difficult issues substantively and address them accordingly. The Court has the power to rein in on the executive and they should not hesitate to do so should they come to a conclusion that the actions of the President were ultra vires. Yahya Jammeh sent the Judiciary into abyss because it did not do enough to sufficiently insulate itself from his excursions. It should never allow that to happen again. Like the saying goes, the courts are the last bastion of democracy and hope. That trust in the Judiciary and the Supreme Court should not be lost on them.
Abdoulie Fatty is a lawyer at A. Fatty & Co. He previously served as Magistrate in Banjul. He studied in the U.K and was Called to the Bar of England and Wales. He has LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice. He has strong interests in democratization, transitional justice, international law and human rights.