By Musa Camara
It’s refreshing to have read an opinion piece with the above caption by Mr. Sheriff Kora deriding Mr. Halifa Sallah for his “fracas” with the Speaker, Ms. Marian Denton-Jack and the Minister of Finance, Mr. Amadou Sanneh in the National Assembly few weeks ago. Mr. Kora is an old friend we call by the nickname Doctor—he once told me he’s a namesake of Doctor Sheriff Ceesay of Kololi Clinic. In normal circumstances, as it’s been on many occasions in the past, I would not have responded to him. But I was one of his colleagues from The Gambia High School with whom he had spent his “past times” at the National Assembly “shortly after the elections in 1996” and had been present at the event he recounted in his article. And given the malicious allegations, dishonest fabrications, and willful deceptions he made in his article, I feel compelled to set the record straight. Even though ‘friendship’ is important to preserve—and I hope we continue to be friends after this aberration—any other action, short of responding in writing, would tantamount to dereliction of duty and a disservice to our beloved country on my part. The country and the future of its two million inhabitants, I believe, are more important than any single individual or individual relationships.
Gambians hopes to create a dispensation where all will be able to freely and responsibly express their views on any national matter to facilitate the building of a democracy where we may all agree to disagree without being needlessly disagreeable. To nurture that culture, we should value the truth as we know and concede it to whoever—friend or foe—if we are to create a more just and fairer society. Mr. Sheriff Kora’s take on the “fracas” that took place in the National Assembly failed in establishing the simple truth, but went even further to confound it with malicious allegations and blatant lies. I would endeavor to set that record straight in this piece hoping to contribute to a political culture in The Gambia where we can at least not tolerate distortion of our history for we owe it to our posterity to tell them the truth about our entire history. It’s only when the full account of our history is related to our children, with as much objectivity as possible, that they would build on our successes and achievements but also learn from our failures to make their own destinies. It’s in the pursuit of writing that objective history for our people in mind that I write to dispel the latest fabrications Mr. Kora is peddling to recreate our history.
Mr. Kora stated without any doubt that he had “a vivid recollection of that January evening in 1997 when Mr. Halifa Sallah declined to take oath until after the President declared the house open,” which he added “created a heated banter to the point of Sallah being escorted out of that August Assembly.” For the record, Mr. Sallah was not elected to the National Assembly in 1997 and as a private citizen, he could not possibly have been required to be on the floor of the National Assembly to take the prescribed oaths. Contrary to Mr. Kora’s claim, Mr. Sallah never engaged in any banter with the former speaker Mr. Mustapha B. Wadda to have been escorted out of the National Assembly on that day. Since Mr. Kora said he had “vivid recollection of the January evening in 1997,” the readers can draw the conclusion that he fabricated this story out of thin air. The encounter that Mr. Kora distorted, in a way no one but only he could, occurred between Mr. Sidia Jatta who was elected by the people of Wuli constituency and the late Justice Omaru Algali, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of The Gambia. Mr. Jatta and Mr. Sallah are distinctively two different people whom Mr. Kora would not have confused because one of these two gentlemen was supposedly Mr. Kora’s “hero.” No one confuses one’s hero with someone else’s—not even a five-year old.
The constitution requires that members elected to the National Assembly be sworn in by taking the prescribed oaths before assuming their responsibilities. This is stipulated in Section 88 (2) which reads: “Before taking his or her seat in the National Assembly, a member shall take the prescribed oaths before the Speaker.” That gathering was called for the newly elected members to select a speaker, deputy speaker, and swear into office. Mr. Jatta argued that it was unconstitutional for the newly elected members to the National Assembly to take the prescribed oaths at the time before the president was sworn into office to bring in operations the voters’ approved 1997 Constitution. Mr. Jatta had written to the authorities when the event and venue for the swearing in ceremony of the newly elected members was announced to the public. He based his argument on Schedule 2, Subsection 2 of the 1997 Constitution that reads:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, the person duly elected President of The Gambia in accordance with the Elections Decree, 1996 shall be the first President of the Second Republic of The Gambia and shall assume office as President on the date he or she is sworn in. The first President shall hold the office of President in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution. This constitution shall come into effect upon the swearing in of the first President.
According to Mr. Jatta, the constitution requires members of the National Assembly to take the prescribed oaths before assuming their duties but at the time of swearing them to the oaths, the constitution that required elected members to take the prescribed oaths was not in force. He contended that it could only take effect when the president was sworn in first there and then members of the National Assembly could be sworn in under the constitution. His argument was that one cannot follow provisions of a constitution when that document had not taken effect. That constitutional debate occurred between Justice Algali who was the Chief Justice at the time and Mr. Sidia Jatta who was elected to the National Assembly by the people of Wuli Constituency in 1997, but was not between Mr. Sallah and Mr. Wadda as Mr. Kora maliciously distorted. It may have been “rigidity in following the proper procedures and rules of the House” for Mr. Kora, but for the rest of the world, it was a simple common sense established in the constitution to herald a new democratic dispensation. It’s a simple logic that the baby must be birthed before one organizes the naming ceremony. As readers could see Mr. Sallah was in the gallery as a spectator and an eyewitness to history just like Mr. Kora, foreign diplomats, other Gambian citizens and my humble self. In fact, the incident did not occur in the evening as Mr. Kora falsely claimed but it was around late morning to midday.
When Justice Algali insisted that the members will be sworn in regardless, all those members of the National Assembly who were present—including newly elected members of the United Democratic Party (UDP) led by Mr. Kemeseng Jammeh, and the National Reconciliation Party (NRP) led by Mr. Hamat Bah—took the prescribed oaths at that gathering. Mr. Sidia Jatta was the last member called to be sworn in because the clerk called names by the geographical order of the constituencies. When came Mr. Jatta’s turn to be sworn in, he told Justice Algali and the world that he would not take the prescribed oaths until the president was sworn into office. He added that he wanted his statement and refusal be entered in the records to which Justice Algali concurred and had no objection. Mr. Jatta was not escorted out of the National Assembly but the gathering was dismissed as scheduled for a jamboree in the evening where the then president-elect Jammeh was sworn in properly. Mr. Jatta, as expected, did not bother to attend that circus of the evening. That was the day the UDP and NRP midwifed Yahya Jammeh’s ‘unconstitutional rule’ as they gave him a National Assembly that was not lawfully constituted in accordance with the supreme law of the land. They strangulated the new constitution with its own umbilical cord as it was being birthed into existence only to arrive a comatose republic. It set the precedence for Jammeh to govern the country without respecting all of its provisions. Mr. Jatta took the prescribed oaths on the first deliberation of the new National Assembly administered by the new clerk and speaker of the First National Assembly of the Second Republic.
To this day, I continued to hold the view that all the laws passed by that legislative body in the first five years from 1997 to 2002 were unconstitutional because the members — with the exception of Mr. Jatta, and I believe but not sure, Mr. Abdoulie Kanaji Jawla who did not attend the first gathering but took the oaths on the same day as Mr. Jatta — did not take the prescribed oaths after the constitution came into force. Readers who are familiar with this history of our country and can validate my account may draw the conclusion that Mr. Kora’s account on the matter is either a figment of his imagination or delusionary hallucination he casts as reality and history. In fact, Mr. Kora thought Mr. Jatta was wrong otherwise members of the UDP, in a party led by a prominent lawyer—Mr. Ousainou Darboe, would have sided with him. He was further impressed and persuaded by Justice Algali whom he thought was an eminent jurist and a distinguished judge who had made his name in the commission of enquiry that investigated former government officials. Mr. Jatta did not content that he’d not take the prescribed oaths “until after the President declared the house open” as Mr. Kora falsely claimed. All he demanded was that the president-elect take the prescribed oath, witnessed and published in the records for the general public, and cared less whether he took it at the State House or in the National Assembly building but must be done before the newly elected members of the National Assembly can be sworn into office. President-elect Jammeh had organized a wasteful swearing-in ceremony at the independence stadium after he won the presidential elections but quickly realized that he could not be a constitutional president until National Assembly elections were conducted and the members were seated to legislate. While Mr. Ousainou Darboe and Mr. Hamat Bah attended that pointless jamboree, the PDOIS leaders boycotted the event.
Talking about the event at the National Assembly, Mr. Kora went back to history but as readers would by now know, he’s not a good historian. Again, his accounts are not based on facts and empirical evidence but relied principally on fuzzy and distorted memories without verifying their validities. He intimated that “the events that transpired between Mr. Halifa Sallah and Speaker Denton a few days ago, certainly evoked memories of the good old days when I sang his glory in the National Assembly” but now “unlike the past, I am less sympathetic to the cause and conduct of honorable Sallah.” The Mr. Sheriff Kora I know, contrary to his claims, has never “sang the glory” of Mr. Sallah in the National Assembly nor has he been ever “sympathetic to the cause and conduct of honorable Sallah.” Mr. Kora had to hide behind the naivety of a “young mind” to present himself in the only condition he could have shown “solidarity with Halifa’s plight.” He can’t be an adult and a wiser individual, and capable of choosing his “battles well” to have considered Mr. Sallah who was “sticking to his convictions and standing up for what’s right against the APRC bigwigs” his “hero.” In doing so, Mr. Kora would have committed heresy, social deviancy, juvenile delinquency and perhaps political blasphemy in the eyes of his folks. It was a calculated statement to buffer his credibility for strategic posturing to attack Mr. Sallah. It’s also designed to provide a cover for himself within the circles of the UDP especially with those who may not know that Mr. Kora has always been a UDP supporters since the founding of that party in 1996. Nevertheless, the “bigwigs” within that party know he’s a political hitman with a job to do and therefore any amount of deception or even outright lie would be accepted to accomplish the mission.
The problem, however, is that the incident never occurred and Mr. Sallah could not have been any “hero” for Mr. Kora to sing his glory or show any solidarity. I believe on that day in January 1997, Mr. Kora thought he was intellectually fully developed and knew more than Mr. Sallah to have been a hero for him. By the time he left Armitage High School for Sixth Forms in The Gambia High School in 1996, Mr. Kora had already discovered his real heroes from among the Bansang elites—a class he was born into and has defended through his formative years to date—whom he considers the nemeses of Mr. Sallah. Mr. Sallah serving as a “hero” to him would have been the world’s most kept secret to even Mr. Kora himself. I can say categorically that he has never publicly supported Mr. Sallah for one second in his adult life, and arguably through his existence on this earth, as he has been an ardent supporter of the United Democratic Party (UDP) ever since. To project himself as someone who had looked up to Mr. Sallah as his role model and hero, but has now fully matured enough to see the hero’s flaws to abandon him, Mr. Kora attempted to cast supporters of Mr. Sallah and PDOIS as naïve children who have not grown up yet, will never grow up to maturity, not truly educated, or are completely ignorant people. Knowing the truth about Mr. Kora’s political leaning, it revealed to me a certain desperation and disgusting dishonesty I never would have imagined from him.
The truth is that Mr. Kora emigrated to the United States in around 2000 where he has been resident since and could never have been singing Mr. Sallah’s glory in the National Assembly who was first elected to that body in 2002. The Mr. Kora I know is vehemently anti-PDOIS Party and almost at the verge of being violently anti-Halifa Sallah that the readers could see as he was “torn between disbelief and utter rage” by Mr. Sallah’s “fracas” with the Speaker. All I and most readers would have expected from Mr. Kora is to tell the simple truth, proceed with his argument, and leave the readers to gauge his conscious biases and draw their own conclusions. Simply calling Mr. Sallah and Mr. Jatta as “shining stars” juxtaposed by “the late Edrisa Samba Sallah of Sami”— Mr. Edrisa Samba Sallah I understand is not deceased and Mr. Kora has retracted that false statement and apologized to him — exposes one of his unconscious biases as he had always thought of the leaders of the PDOIS as crazies and lunatics. I, for one, would not expressed a modicum of surprise if someone alleges Mr. Kora claimed to have more knowledge, level headedness and wisdom than Mr. Halifa Sallah, Mr. Sidia Jatta, and the entire members of the PDOIS party and all their supporters combined. The last time I heard him talking on the Facebook Live Show hosted by our mutual friend — Mr. Lamin Conateh — few weeks ago, he was still ranting against and bashing Mr. Sallah, without mentioning his name directly, for not joining the ‘Coalition Government’ where he said everyone is invited, unless one excluded oneself. If Mr. Kora ever agreed with Mr. Sallah on anything, it would be because PDOIS is collaborating with the UDP which he would see as they have capitulated and fallen in line behind his preferred political party; or that Mr. Sallah was eviscerating Yahya Jammeh and the “APRC bigwig” whom Mr. Kora considered their common enemies. We all know the old adage that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. I encourage the readers to scan through his writings as they would see that he labors in extraneous torture to avoid mentioning the word PDOIS and its leaders even where required for factual reference.
On the event on that day of infamy at the National Assembly, Mr. Kora argued that “it is the duty of the minister to give a detailed cost–benefit analysis of the loan agreement for the members of the parliament to understand and to probe him for more information where necessary. His role is to inform them, get their buy in in order to minimize resistance to support the loan agreement.” The truth is that, Mr. Amadou Sanneh, the Minister of Finance, was not giving any detailed cost-benefit analysis but deriding members of the National Assembly for rejecting his general framework for the loan agreement with the People’s Republic of China. Members of the National Assembly wanted details on, according to sources, the ¥500 million (Chinese Yuan) which according to some estimates to approximately $83 million. In fact, the members insisted the amount of the loan be stated in dollars or dalasis which approximates to D 4 billion in our local currency. Separation of powers also means that leaders in the executive branch of government respect the independence of the other two branches and therefore they do not berate or insult them—not especially when they are playing host to them in the legislature or in the Judiciary. Mr. Sanneh could have gone to his ministry or the State House, call a press conference to inform the Gambian people of their position. He did not, but instead stood in the National Assembly as a rowdy and unruly guest to lambast the legislators for doing the responsible thing one would expect be done by any independent legislature. Mr. Sanneh’s statement was a flagrant violation of Section 36 (4), of the Standing Orders which states that “It shall be out of Order to use offensive, insulting, accusation about members of the National Assembly.” The speaker, Ms. Mariam Denton-Jack, let him get away with it but even after Mr. Sallah raised an objection, she swiveled into an open denial in a broad daylight.
To be continued