JOTNA and a Nolle that Scandalised Legality and Abused the Due Process of Law
The idea, vigorously contested, emerged as sections of the political community were becoming increasingly energised by what they considered to be incompetence and betrayal by the Government of His Excellency President Adama Barrow (President Barrow). It is rooted in the uncontested reality that short of a coalition of parties and other political forces, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of consigning Professor Jammeh’s all-powerful APRC Government to history given the prevalent public climate to 01 December 2016.
A coalition of political parties and other entities was ultimately concluded, and a campaign like no other in Gambian history launched. In the exuberance of the period, Candidate Barrow promised to serve three years and graduate to elder statesmanship.
It was an undertaking that failed to adequately reckon with the grandeur and majestic trappings of the presidency for those with nothing to return to after the temporal sojourn at a No. 1 Marina next to the blue Atlantic waters, the golden sands, and the soothing breezes that descend on the presidential abode.
And so a campaign like no other in the political history of The Gambia in terms of numbers, and diversity going to ethnicity, gender, age, profession ensued. Some referred to the Coalition’s phenomenal appeal and public support as a ‘revolution’. Others called it a ‘movement’. Whatever the nomenclature, it was incontestable that seismic political events were unfolding in the run-up to the presidential polls.
After the last coalition rally at Bakau on 29 November 2016, I wrote:-
“It would be extraordinary if the 01 December presidential election does not usher in a change of government in The Gambia. No independent observer can be in any doubt that the smell and shape of change has commandeered the public space of homeland dearest. The people are emboldened and the overwhelming logic of numbers compellingly drives the narrative. I subscribed to the contention that a new government will begin to take shape in Banjul at the tail end of the next sixty hours.
In conversation after conversation, it is settled that the 01 December presidential election decides the straightforward questions of liberty and dignity within the rule of law. In short, governance over a generation is the single issue up for appraisal by the ruled of the rulers. Or more accurately, the ruled of the Ruler”
About the Bakau rally, I wrote:
“The carnival atmosphere as expressed in jubilation, the dancing, and sloganeering are unprecedented. A young lady remarked as she passed to the meeting ground in Bakau that Jammeh came to power on Friday and he will vacate on Friday. As they walked home from the Bakau Primary School, a group of young ladies in their late teens to early twenties joyfully stated that they must now walk home to London Corner. A restaurant cook who was heading to work told me he walked from Buffer Zone to Bakau this evening, and I travelled back with him to his place of employment on Kairaba Avenue”.
The energy was phenomenal.
A suffering nation placed its hopes on Candidate Barrow and a memorable victory turning the coalition’s man to President-elect on 02 December 2016.
Over time, a multitude of factors and soured relationships over governance and betrayal triggered 3 Years Jotna (Jotna), an organisation committed to President Barrow’s exit after three years. He invoked his mandate to serve for five years pursuant to 63(1) of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia and the stage set for inevitable showdown.
It came in January 2020 when a second Jotna demonstration demanding President Barrow’s resignation on the basis of his own undertaking led to the arrest and prosecution of nine of its members. For over a year, the Jotna trial was before the Courts and it encountered a dramatic development on 10 February 2021 when the State filed a nolle prosequi before his Lordship Honourable Mr Justice B A Bakre of the High Court.
Upon discharge by the Court, the waiting police immediately rearrested the Jotna accused as they stepped outside thepremises. On the particular facts, re-arresting Jotna constitutes an abuse of process in that the State is aware its case has effectively collapsed.
I was in Court some two years ago when the NIA 8 benefitted from a nolle and they were never rearrested. They remain free! As usual, misplaced priorities considering the antecedents of that group and the gravity of the allegations levelled against them.
On the other hand, the seventh accused in the Jotna line-up organised, and, or, and attended, countless demonstrations under London and other European skies against this country’s immediate past political dispensation and President Barrow is the greatest beneficiary of that fight to uproot lawlessness in The Gambia.
That the post-dictatorship dispensation will be noisy was certain, but noise and national security are worlds apart. The views for and against the Jotna question are exhaustively ventilated in the public space and the events leading to the arrest and prosecution of its leadership are familiar if factually heavily contested.
In effect, those factual questions appear to absolve Jotna. In the circumstances, it is troubling that the police power was utilised in the perverse manner this nolle was calculated to achieve. The State effectively lost its case but instead of accept defeat in good faith as a minister of justice, it acted in a manner calculated to undermine public confidence in the legal system.
However viewed, that is disgraceful!
In its current posture, this is a petty dispute with absolutely no national security implications. The State’s case cannot sustain the judicial searchlights and President Barrow is urged to act the statesman and allow the Jotna accused to walk away. The presidency is no arena to wage petty vendettas against fellow citizens no matter how ardently disagreeable the disagreement.
Within the law he is vested with extraordinary powers to punish, truncate punishment, and forgive. The journey to that rarefied status was long and arduous, and its paths, across continents, under varied climates, were strewn with the blood, tears, and resources of ordinary citizens, including members of Jotna. President Barrow himself named some who parted with their resources for his political project, and if confessed murderers are let go, and known crooks including those who demonstrated against him in foreign cities like New York are employed in presidential advisory roles, surely his benefactor Karim Touray deserves more. And Yanks Dabo, an indefatigable fighter for a new Gambia deserves even more.
In an eloquent case for mercy, Portia, in The Merchant of Venice states:
The quality of mercy is not straind.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice
A week today, this country commemorates 18 February, a good occasion for soul searching. I urge President Barrow to gift his Jotna opponents a proper nolle and liberate his advisers from the shame that comes with rebelling against conscience.
Lamin J. Darbo