Sunday, February 5, 2023

Health Officials Deny Sering Ndigal Followers New Birth Certificate

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A residence of one of the Ndigal Followers

By Nelson Manneh

The followers of Sering Ndigal in Kerr Mot Hali Village who are currently in exile in Senegal continue to face discrimination as they allege being denied the new digital birth and insurance certificate.

The Gambia began the new electronic health insurance and biometric birth certificate in August 2022. Like other citizens, the followers of Sering Ndigal went to apply for the new documents, but officials declined to consider their claim.

State Sanctioned Target?

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The discrimination they face are contrary to the requirements of the Gambian Constitution and other international laws, including Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Section 25 of the 1997 Constitution of the Gambia provides that every person shall have the right to freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice.

The Gambia Government is effectively denying them these two important national documents. Also, the police recently gave them permit to hold their annual gathering in Farafenni only to retake the permit three days before the event. The police asked them to reapply, which they did and still the police failed to give them permit. This and other problems are what the Ndigal followers are subjected to by the State.

When the Police PRO was contacted she admitted that the police did issue and withdrew the permit they issued as explained above. The reason for this, she explained, is because some members of the sect who have been accused of arson by the police are also participants………

The followers of Sering Ndigal were sent to exile by the former regime because of their brand of Islam. Late Sering Ndigal was arrested on two occasions by former regime and was detained at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). The current Government continued with the practice of the former regime by now denying the Ndigal followers from coming to the Gambia. Some of the followers who attempted coming to the Gambia were either harassed or arrested and detained.

A farmland in Kerr Mot Hali

The Gambia Government has been found wanting by the high court and the defunct Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) for violating their fundamental rights and freedoms. The Gambia Government used its coercive force (paramilitary personnel) in January 2009, two years after the demise of late Muhamdoul Basiru Secka renowned Sering Ndigal, to send the followers into exile. Some of the followers were arrested and detained. The Banjul High Court in October 2017 declared that the followers of Sering Ndigal are Gambians.

Since October 2017, the Judgment of the high court has not been enforced. The judgment was not also appealed. The Sheriff Division attempted to enforce the judgment, but the Ministry of Justice wrote to the Inspector General of Police instructing him not to provide security escort for the execution of the judgment. This practice by the Ministry of Justice is contrary to the expressed provision of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia. Section 120 subsection (4) provides that the Gambia Government and all departments and agencies of the Government shall accord such assistance to the courts as the courts may reasonably require to protect their independence, dignity and effectiveness. This section put the police and Ministry of Justice under obligation to always support the courts in the enforcement of judgments. It equally robs them the right to stop the enforcement of court judgments and orders.

Instead of providing security escort to the Sheriff Division, the police set up a permanent police checkpoint at Kerr Mot Hali to stop Ndigal followers from coming to The Gambia. Now the check point is being used to prevent them from entering the village where they hail from. Even though they are now allowed to enter their own country, there have been incidents when they have been harassed and discriminated while local government officials watched or gave their blessing. For example,……………   

Coming back to the new birth registration scheme, the Ndigal followers have problems of getting attestation from the Alkalo of Kerr Mot Hali on the Gambian side. They needed the attestation of the Alkalo to affirm their citizenship but since the police do deny them entry they could not reach the Alkalo to request for attestation.

Kerr Mot Hali is in Upper Saloum District, Central River Region of the Gambia, a village believed to be founded in the year 1777 by one Marabout named Mot Hali. This issue that resulted in their exile was because of the renovation of a mosque after the death of the village religious leader, when the indigenes clashed with his family members from Senegal and the police joined in, causing them to flee because of fear of arrest.

Court Action

After the change of Government in 2017, the Ndigal Followers brought the action before the Banjul High court seeking for a declaration that they are all citizens of the Gambia who have right over their properties and have a right to return to the country because they have been deprived of their right over their properties in the village.

They sought a declaration that they own and have legal title over the land meaning they have entitlement to possession of their respective properties. They sought for an order of injunction to restrain the Respondents (Attorney General, Inspector General of Police and Governor of CRR among others) from interfering with the properties of the Applicants (Ndigal Followers) which are all situated in the village.

They sought for an order of perpetual injunction to restrain the Respondents from preventing them from taking possession and occupying their respective properties which are all situated in the village of Kerr Mot Hali among others.

Justice Aminata Ceesay-Saho, of the Banjul High Court who presided over the matter delivered judgment in favour of the Sering Ndigal followers and granted all the declarations sought.

The Court declared that the plaintiffs (Sering Ndigal followers) and each of them are Gambians and have a right to return to Gambia. The court also declared that each of them at all material times, are the owners and are entitled to possession of their properties situated at Kerr Mot Hali and also it is their right to take their properties at the village that were taken from them compulsorily. The Court issued an injunction restraining the Respondents (Attorney General, Inspector General of Police and Governor of CRR), from interfering with the properties of Ndigal followers situated at Kerr Mot Hali.

The Court declared that the Ndigal Followers are entitled to assemble and gather in order to practice their religion and to manifest such practice in the village, Kerr Mot Hali.

Victimisation of Ndigal Followers

Mr Sait Secka a native of Kerr Mot Hali, Senegal said for more than a month now they are struggling to secure the new digital birth and health insurance certificates, but the health officers refused to even consider their claim. Secka said over 75 people from his community went to Njau Village, Upper Saloum District to register, but they were deprived of it.

“When we went to Njau Village, we joined the queue in order to be registered but when we reached the registrar, we were told that we cannot be registered and they forcefully removed us from the queue and asked us to go home. They threatened us that if we don’t go away the police will be called to come and deal with us,” he alleged.

Mr Secka said all of them who went to find these new documents have Gambian birth certificates, the new biometric Identification Cards and other documents to justify that they are Gambians.

“We are Gambians and we are having all the requirements but the authorities denied us access to these new documents without any justification,” he stated.

Kumba Secka, a lactating mother, said she was among the  people who went to the Njau registration center to obtain the new documents, but they were told to leave.

“We travelled from our current residence in Senegal to Njau Village to get these documents because we are Gambians, but when we got there, the health officials decided to sideline us. They said we cannot be registered despite having our authentic Gambian documents,” she said.

She added: “We don’t want to lose our citizenship. We don’t want our children – born or yet to be born children to become foreigners in their own country.”

The Chief of Upper Saloum, Demba Sey told Foroyaa he is aware of the situation of the Ndigal followers but the matter is beyond him – meaning he cannot take steps in the matter. He said he is not responsible for the issuance of attestations in his district.

The Chief of Upper Saloum said he was aware that health officers are not issuing the new birth certificates and health insurances to people from Kerr Mot Hali currently in exile.

“The issue is beyond me, I cannot do anything to curb it. I cannot do much on this issue,” he said.

Chief Sey said anybody who is attested by the Alkalo of the various villages within his District has no problem in counter signing their attestations too.

Masireh Conteh one of the registrars at Njau Village, Upper Saloum District confirmed to Foroyaa that the natives of Kerr Mot Hali, who are currently in exile in Senegal went to Njau Village to look for the new birth certificates.

Conteh said the Ndigal followers joined the queue like all other persons. She told Foroyaa that she heard the residents of Njau quarrelling with them saying they (the Ndigal Followers) are not Gambians.

Madam Conteh said she later called one of them to enquire what was happening because the tension was high, adding that was how she came to know that they are Ndigal Followers.

“I called my boss to enquire from him, but he told me to hold on and wait for him to make more findings. I told them to wait whenever I have clear information about them I will make sure that they get their documents,” she said.

She told Foroyaa that she ended up not issuing them the documents as she was waiting for clearance from her senior. She also told Foroyaa those she interacted with confirmed to her that they are having Gambian documents but they are currently residing in Senegal.

TRRC Findings & Recommendations

The Truth Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) white paper indicated that Ex-President Jammeh issued Executive directives authorizing the infringement of the rights of religious groups and communities including the Ndigal Sect of Kerr Mot Ali. The Gambia government accepted the recommendations of the TRRC that Former President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh should be prosecuted for the persecution of the Ndigal Followers in The Gambia.

The Gambia government further accepted the recommendations of the TRRC that the members of the Ndigal Sect still living in exile in Senegal should be returned to live in Kerr Mot Ali (Gambia) and their properties returned to them. The government also accepted that the judgment obtained by members of the Sect at the High Court of The Gambia should be enforced.

The Government have accepted the recommendation that they should establish a Peace Committee for Kerr Mot Ali composed of all relevant stakeholders including the National Human Rights Commission whose mandate would be to negotiate the resettlement of the exiled residents and restoration of peace and religious co-existence in Kerr Mot Ali with all the relevant stakeholders and National Human Rights Commission.

Foroyaa, however, has been reliably informed that the Ndigal Followers have lodged a formal complaint using the NHRC online complaint form. At the time of going to Foroyaa was also informed that the NHRC has started investigating the matter.

The problem is twofold: refusal to allow access to Ndigal Followers to request for attestation by the Alkalo and refusal by the registrars to consider their claim to be registered. Oversight institutions are important in a democratic dispensation. The NHRC has taken up its responsibility. Foroyaa will report on the outcome. 

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