About a month ago it was the Honourable Chief Justice who reportedly suffered the ignominy of being declared persona non grata and given 72 hours to leave our shores. In a similar development, and for the second time in as many years, Mr Tajudeen Hussein, of Tajco, had until 30 May to leave The Gambia “or face deportation”. He too was given a mere 72 hours under conditions that did not remotely approximate an emergency for national security reasons. In either case, no reason was advanced and that inevitably creates fundamental disquiet in the opinion of the watching public, citizen, and resident alike.
Why was Mr Hussein – with investments in the tens, if not hundreds of millions of dalasis, and employing, directly, or indirectly, some 900 people in the country – declared persona non grata, and given 72 hours to leave The Gambia?
According to the press release from the Office of The President, Mr Hussein’s expulsion was “due to unacceptable business practices that are detrimental to The Gambian economy”. On the face of it, this is quite a serious allegation, but undoubtedly a mere assertion that must be treated with utmost caution. It is a prejudicial allegation that feeds into the long standing public distrust of foreign business personalities, including Gambian nationals with ethnic origins in the Levant. It must be highlighted that the phraseology “detrimental to The Gambian economy” is frequently used in “economic crime” allegations. In the circumstances, it is reasonable to expect that Mr Hussein, and Tajco, would be given the opportunity to vindicate their rights within the dignified and calmer environs of an impartial judicial forum.
According to the press statement from the Presidency, “The general public is hereby informed that Mr. Tajudeen Hussein (Tajco) has been declared persona-non-grata and given 72 hours to leave The Gambia or face deportation at the lapse of the 72 hours. Mr. Hussein, his family and all his business associates are banned from doing business in The Gambia due to unacceptable business practices that are detrimental to The Gambian economy and must therefore leave the country. Mr Tajudeen Hussein is given thirty days (30 days) to close all his business within The Gambia”.
On any analysis, the press statement amounts to a criminal allegation against Mr Hussein, and Tajco, acknowledged major players in the economy, and the public is therefore clearly entitled to far more information than a six-line prejudicial assertion from the presidency. Under Gambian law, and universal principles of due process, Mr Hussein, and Tajco, must be given the opportunity to defend reputation and brand which are now submerged in very muddy waters by the mighty state with its huge megaphones. At the minimum, they must be accorded a hearing! Anything less amounts to extra-judicial punishment and taking of private property, naked contraventions of law that cannot be in the interest of any person, no matter how currently situated within the structure of Gambian society.
To state that “Mr. Hussein, his family and all his business associates are banned from doing business … and must therefore leave the country” is one thing, but quite another to give a mere “thirty days (30 days) to close all his business within The Gambia”. According to Foroyaa (29 May 2015), “Mr. Tajuddeen, in addition to being a major importer of rice, flour, sugar and other food commodities, is also the owner of Kairaba shopping centre among other business operations”. In its 04 June online edition, Foroyaa reports that Tajco “engages more than 200 drivers, who transport
the containers and other goods, and about 700 other workers in the
different areas such as offices, supermarkets, etc”. If only because Tajco is a huge business concern with numerous ongoing legal obligations, it cannot be reasonably expected to meet this condition without suffering major losses. This clearly amounts to a taking of property outside the ambit of the due process of law.
And what evidence is there to support that contention?
The “protection from deprivation of property” is part of the Chapter IV rights regarded as “fundamental rights” by the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia (the Constitution). At section 22, the Constitution states:-
No property of any description shall be taken possession of compulsorily, and no right over or interest in any such property shall be acquired compulsorily in any part of The Gambia, except where the following conditions are satisfied:-
The taking of possession or acquisition is necessary in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning, or the development or utilisation of any property in such manner as to promote the public benefit; and
The necessity therefor is such as to afford reasonable justification of the causing of any hardship that may result to any person having any interest in or right over the property; and
Provision is made by law applicable to that taking of possession or acquisition:-
For the prompt payment of adequate compensation; and
Securing to any person having an interest in or right over the property, a right of access to a court or other impartial and independent authority for the determination of his or her interest or right, the legality of the taking of possession or acquisition of the property, interest or right, and the amount of any to which he or she is entitled, and for the purpose of obtaining prompt payment of that compensation.
That Mr Hussein, and Tajco are allegedly non-nationals is immaterial. The Fundamental Rights and Freedoms enshrined in the Constitution are for the benefit of everyone in the country and it places a positive protective obligation on the state. At section 17, it states:-
The fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in this Chapter shall be respected and upheld by all organs of the Executive and its agencies, the Legislature and, where applicable to them, by all natural and legal persons in The Gambia, and shall be enforceable by the Courts in accordance with this Constitution.
Every person in The Gambia, whatever his or her race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or status, shall be entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual contained in this Chapter, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest.
The state is free to think Gambians are too mentally fragile to be informed about the earthshaking criminality implicitly alleged against Mr Hussein, and Tajco, but no sane person should support capricious public action regardless of who it may be directed against. If individual businesses, and business personalities, can be targeted and destroyed through the fiat of public authority, with no explanation, independently appreciable reason, and outside the contours of transparent rule of law, that must be a concern to all if only because it sends out a very wrong message, and corrodes the very foundations of integrity in public life. The business community, particularly the purportedly foreign component, may, rightly or wrongly, surmise that its only concern must answer the critical question of how to accurately gauge the mood of the ultimate decision maker. This is an improper, uncertain, and unpredictable method of managing any public space and can have far reaching detrimental consequences for national security if only because it unquestionably fosters a climate that institutes and nurtures corruption, and cements disregard for legality.
As in the case of the higher judiciary, Mr Hussein, and Tajco are likely to simply pack up and go. Again, I ask why set up a business in The Gambia if you cannot even narrate your side of the story in the event of a justiciable dispute that, as far as is objectively discernible, is baselessly triggered by the state. I don’t know of any rational Gambian who buys into the government’s unsupported assertion that Mr Hussein, and Tajco, are being expelled “due to unacceptable business practices that are detrimental to The Gambian economy”.
In the face of another major incident of public lawlessness, life goes on, and Mr Hussein, and Tajco, found themselves stranded and isolated in a suddenly hostile environment. This is a sad state of affairs and a clear lesson for all, nationals and residents alike, that none should partake in the baseless public vilification and punishment of another unless sanction by law after a rigorous and fair scrutiny by an independent judicial tribunal. Whatever perceptions there are about Mr Hussein, and Tajco, the baseline concern of any fair-minded person must address the lack of procedural fairness in the decision making that sanctions their expulsion.
In our current public environment, no one is immune from the capricious application of state power, and for those who consider themselves exempt because of where they stand today, I remind you of the lethal consequences of ignoring the naked policy of baselessly isolating and persecuting individuals, as brilliantly counselled by someone who knows.
In the timeless words of Martin Niemoeller, a pastor of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Nazi era:
In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I did not speak up, because
I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up, because
I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak up, because
I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak up, because
I was not a Catholic. Then they came for me … and by that time, there was no one to speak up for anyone.
In the above is embedded the proven methodology of creating conglomerations of power, whether of empires, or totalitarian national spaces. Mr Hussein, and Tajco, must be reprieved unless there is a compelling reason for their expulsion after an objectively fair and independent judicial process.
Lamin J Darbo