By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan left the Gambia earlier this week after his second round of Constitution talks with Gambian Political Stakeholders. This prompted a media briefing spearheaded by Professor Adebayo, the Head of International IDEA Africa, on the Constitution talks. Citizens Alliance (CA), one of the parties which participated in the talks, also held a media briefing where their party leader, Dr Ismaila Ceesay highlighted the importance of consensus on the Constitution saying “when there is no consensus, what will happen is there will be no Constitution until [after the] elections and perhaps the next Government that will come will work on a new Constitution.” According to the newly formed party, they are willing to compromise on the retroactivity of the two-term limit if a new Constitution will come into in effect before the next elections among other conditions.
Two Parties OK No Retroactivity
Professor Adebayo’s media briefing on 12th January 2021 gave a rare glimpse into the operations of International IDEA. According to him, their engagements have been based on “MOUs which [they] have with the TRRC, with the defunct Constitutional Review Commission and on the basis of an active cooperative pact with the National Assembly”.
On the dialogue that took place in December and January, he highlighted that “bilateral meetings were held with a lot of the political leaders. One on one with President Jonathan. Plenary meetings were held with them also bringing everybody together under the same roof. Sessions were held with Civil Society.”
Responding to journalists questions on the retroactivity of the two-term limit Professor Adebayo told the media that the engagements allowed for “Political Party leaders and the Civil Society Leaders” to compromise and this was exemplified when “Political Party leaders who got up and said for the greater interest of the Gambia, they are prepared to let this issue of retroactivity rest. At least two of them.”
He noted that the number of issues to address in the Constitution has increased from six to 22 and five out of six Political Parties with National Assembly members have fully engaged in the process. Another ten Political Parties without National Assembly members also fully engaged in the process. CA is one of the parties without National Assembly members that engaged in the process.
CA Optimistic on Goodluck Constitution Talks
Two days after the International IDEA media briefing [14th January 2021], CA held a press conference at their headquarters in Kanifing Estate. This presented an opportunity for an update on the party’s position on the recently concluded Goodluck Constitution talks.
Yusef Taylor: “On the recently concluded Goodluck Constitution talks. Two rounds of consultations have now been concluded. What’s CA’s takeaway from these engagements? Are we close to getting a new Constitution?”
Dr Ismaila Ceesay: “I will be pleased to inform you that CA was invited to this dialogue or mediation as they call it. I know you are aware that an international organisation, International IDEA is engaged to lead the process together with an eminent person in the name of [Former Nigerian President] Goodluck Jonathan.”
“We took part in both rounds of discussions. The idea was to have a dialogue and find a common ground and negotiate to ensure that we take the Constitution back to Parliament and get it passed. So, before that happens consensus is needed among the Political parties especially those with seats in Parliament.”
“I can inform you that the negotiations went well. The goodwill is there, especially from the Opposition Political parties. I am very optimistic about the outcome because I have seen during the dialogue even parties that found themselves in two different poles during the debate in the Assembly, I have seen that they are ready to compromise and have common ground.”
“I cannot go into the details of exactly what are the agreements am not sure if I am the authority to do so. What I can tell you is that I am optimistic. There is some kind of consensus. At least we are very close to a consensus and we hope that very soon those with the right authority to give the information will come out and tell the Gambian people exactly what has happened and what is the way forward.”
CA outlines Conditions for No Retroactivity
Face to face with one of the Political Leaders who participated in the Goodluck Constitution talks, it was imperative to get an answer on CA’s position on the retroactivity of the two-term limit.
Yusef Taylor: “The one that is causing so much headache and a lot of people have tunnel vision on it is the term limits. Is CA willing to allow the retroactivity of the two-term limit to pass by so that the Constitution will go to a referendum?”
Dr Ismaila Ceesay: “Before I answer this question, I want us to look at the different scenarios at play. That is how I operate. One scenario is that there is a stalemate and parties put themselves into two poles. Very rigid poles. One party saying it must be removed, the retroactivity and the other party saying it must be there. Flexibility will be lost. What will happen is there will be no Constitution perhaps. You need consensus. Consensus building is a very complex process. You need consensus.”
“So, when there is no consensus, what will happen is there will be no Constitution until [after the] elections and perhaps the next Government that will come will work on a new Constitution. It means that the current sitting President this term will be free for him and even the next term.”
Yusef Taylor: “So, what is CA’s position. Are you willing to Compromise the retroactivity so that we get a Constitution?”
Dr Ismaila Ceesay: “We made it very clear that if that is what is going to bring consensus and a new Constitution before with a Condition it must be passed before elections and the next elections will be based on the new Constitution, we are willing to negotiate based on this. But other than that, it’s a no-go area. But if that will bring us a new Constitution before the elections.”
“In fact, that is our sticking point. Our condition is that if it is going to ensure we have a new Constitution before the next elections. So that term limit counts before the next elections, diaspora votes in the next elections and also 50 plus one per cent is in the next elections we are willing to compromise and have consensus but other than that we will not be part of that.”