Alieu Momar Njie, a former stalwart of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) has been appointed as the new Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Njie’s appointment was confirmed by the Commission’s Spokesperson Joseph Colley. Mr. Colley however declined to comment on the reasons that have led to the removal of Alhagie Mustapha Carayol who was maintained in the position despite exhausting his two seven-year terms in office.
The IEC Spokesperson’s refusal to comment on the twist was premised on the excuse that “I am working on the press release.”
The move comes on the heels of increased pressure mounted by opposition parties who continue to demand sweeping changes in the electoral law to facilitate ‘free and fair election’.
Gambian constitution clearly states that “members of the Commission shall be appointed for a period of seven years and may be appointed for one further term.” Mr. Carayol has been working with the IEC since its creation in 1997.
The firing of Mr. Carayol gave room for the appointment of Mr. Njie. Concerns have been raised about the impartiality of Alieu Momar Njie. The suspicion lies in his past record as a stalwart of a party whose leader has turned The Gambia into a self-style dictatorship.
But not everyone is suspicious of Mr. Njie. One of them is the leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party (NRP). Hamat Bah has welcomed the appointment of Mr. Njie. “We all know that former IEC Chairman served more than two seven year terms. So, the appointment of a new Chair is a good move,” Mr. Bah told this reporter.
Asked whether he saw Mr. Njie’s affiliation with the APRC as a handicap, Hamat Bah said sounded flexible. “I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt. What about ruling party members or supporters who defected to the opposition? I don’t think his political past should be a justified reason to exclude him from being the Electoral Commission Chair.”
But The Gambia’s former Foreign Affairs Minister remains doubtful about Mr. Njie’s fair arbitration. Sidi Sanneh questioned Alieu Momar Njie’s integrity. “Can an ex-APRC Deputy Mayor be an independent arbiter?” Mr. Sanneh wrote in his blog.
“While we still try to piece together the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Mustapha Carayol, we wish to draw attention to Gambians to the fact that Alieu Momar Njie is a card-carrying member of the ruling APRC of Yahya Jammeh,” Sanneh said.
An Attempt To Overshadow April 10/11?
Activists have called the timing of the decision as “irresponsible” and accused Gambia govt of trying to overshadow activities marking the commemoration April 10/11 students massacre that has left fourteen peaceful demonstrators dead.
“The government responded to our concerns not with reciprocal words but with frontline weapons manned by trigger-happy chaps who had no idea what a life bullet could do to a teenager. The heavy-handed response sent most of us to oblivion, a handful of us are confined to wheelchair mobility and crutches,” said Yusupha Mbye, a survivor of April 10/11 students massacre who is bound to a wheelchair.
A 16-year quest for justice intensifies as repeated calls are being made for govt to repeal a law giving blanket amnesty to security personnel suspected of gunning down students involved in the demonstration.
“It is indeed hard for anyone to imagine that a government which makes so much noise about its concern for the welfare of its people would allow those who have committed such heinous crimes against the children of this country to not only continue to roam the streets with impunity, but for some of them to still continue to occupy important
public offices and being paid from the public coffers,” said veteran Gambian journalist Demba Ali Jawo.
The tiny West African nation is ruled with an iron fist by President Yahya Jammeh who seized power in a military coup. His 21-year rule has been described by activists as being marked by gross human rights