14 April 2023
Statement on the tenure of the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, Alieu Momarr Njai
The R2K and partners have written to the IEC in the past. The first of which was on 17th October 2016, and subsequently on other occasions: 16 September 2019, requesting that IEC normalize the issue of Diaspora voting, and respect the rights of the Diaspora to participate in the electoral processes; another letter was sent to them on 3 April, 2022, inquiring as to why the IEC was allowing the National People’s Party (NPP), to continue violating the Elections Act, precisely because it had not held a congress, as dictated to by IEC’s own rules; on 6 April, 2021, we also wrote to request for information on the registration process and the baseline used to determine the projected figures for estimated voters; and again on 29 October 2021, asking for assurances that the laws and regulations guiding the existence of political parties is respected. We are again placing it on record that we have never received a response to any of our letters.
Nevertheless, we will continue putting our concerns on paper and publishing these issues for posterity. We believe that in time, and in the future, our observations may be a lesson for all and sundry as to how we (mis) managed our march on the path to democracy, and respect for the rule of law and upholding of political rights. Hence this public statement on the tenure of the Chairperson of the IEC.
We have raised the matter of the legality of Mr Njai’s occupancy of the highest office at the Elections Regulator (IEC) on many occasions as far back as 2018. We did this precisely because we have a constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, and no one is above it. This sacred document, although as flawed as it is, must be our guiding path to respecting the rule of law, sound democratic practice, the functionality of institutions and rights-based approach to democracy by dialogue in demanding that citizens be governed well, through the elevation of public accountability and transparent and open government. Sadly, however, we are witnessing a plethora of transgressions and violations of this very document meant to guide our actions for a stable, peaceful and prosperous Gambia. The constitution is also the only document we have that prescribes order, dispensation of respective mandates of the three arms of government, the security sector, SOEs, the Public Service Commission, Civil Service and the IEC. The sections of the constitution are clear on these areas and we are obligated to abide by the letter and spirit of each of the sections therein. In the case of the IEC, Section 42 (4), states that:
‘Subject to the provision of this section, the members of the [Independent Electoral] Commission shall be appointed for a period of seven  years and may be reappointed for one further term:
‘Provided that three of the first members (who shall be chosen by lot) shall be appointed for lesser periods than seven years in order to provide for continuity within the Commission.’
We have irrefutable evidence that Mr Njai was first appointed in 2006, as a Commissioner. He resigned in 2007, and went into politics, as acting Mayor of KMC. He was reappointed in 2011, and it is unclear whether that appointment was even legal, hence it may have violated section 42 (5) (c):
‘A person shall not be qualified for appointment as a member of the commission if-
‘He or she is, or has at any time during such a period of two years been, the holder of any office in any organisation that sponsors, or otherwise supports, or has at any time sponsored or otherwise supported, a candidate for election as a member of the National Assembly or of any local government authority or he or she has identified himself or herself with any such organisation.’
That same year (2007), Mr Njai left that post under a cloud and stood trial for alleged embezzlement of funds amounting to four million Dalasi, property of Gambia Boy Scouts Association, of which he was the Chief Scout Commissioner. It is unclear whether the case was dropped.
But true to form, he was reappointed in 2011 and rose to the apex of the Commission as Chairperson on 7 April 2016. However, the tenure system cannot be seen in the number of years alone, but the fact that the tenure system speaks to two terms, which starts from the first appointment in 2006. Had he stayed on, that term would have lapsed in 2013. His second stint at the IEC was a second tenure, which commenced in 2011 and should have lapsed in 2018. We raised the matter at the material time in 2018. We were ignored. However, in August 2020, Mr Njai revealed to the nation that his tenure would now end in 2023. A few days ago, Mr Njai, shocked the nation when he made an outlandish and dishonest proclamation that his term will now apparently end in 2025. It is unclear what sparked this gross miscalculation of dates and numbers. Although Mr Njai was quoted in the media of, having made a ‘mistake’ when he mounted his ferocious defence of term elongation in August 2020. And even at that if one calculates the total number of years that Mr Njai would want to impose himself at the IEC, one would sum up that he would have been at the IEC for at least 15 years, or he would have done three terms instead of the prescribed two.
Nevertheless, it is now crystal clear that the Barrow administration, including the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, are also complicit in this gross abuse of office, and are constitutional delinquents, a practice that has now become common and systemic in the Adama Barrow era. The same acts of impunity and arbitrariness, practised by Jammeh- hollowing out our institutions, particularly one as sacred as the IEC- is now in full deployment under Adama Barrow.
Mr Njai’s tenure is over, he should either step down or be shown the door, as prescribed by the constitution. He is in fact illegally occupying that seat as chairperson and he cannot preside over the local government elections in his illegal capacity. And if he does, then this will grossly undermine the credibility of the institution of the Elections Regulator and will further create lingering doubts in the minds of the public and the electorate, on the credibility of the April 2023 Local government polls currently underway.
We implore all stakeholders to resist this imposition by the Barrow administration and by extension Mr Njai himself. It sets a terrible and dangerous precedent, whereby serial violators of the constitution are allowed to continue with their machinations of abuse of office, attendant law-breaking, and continuous undermining of the culture of sound democratic practice and good governance while sabotaging our fragile institutions. Jammeh did it for decades. And Barrow should not be allowed to continue with this dictatorial and corrupt strategy. It’s bad for democracy and a threat to peace and stability.
R2K Gambia is a grouping of individuals with professional backgrounds ranging from geology, demographics, economics, international relations and law, communications, and academia. All members are human rights activists. We are located in the US, UK, West and Southern Africa. We are a non-partisan entity that focuses on rule of law and democracy, good governance, human rights, transparency, and the principles of access to information.
The Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA)- is an umbrella movement to unite Gambians in North America (US and Canada), Europe and Africa, mobilizing citizens to achieve the goal of a sustainable democracy in The Gambia.