Wednesday, September 23, 2020

THE FIFTH OF NATIONAL VALUES AND ETHOS

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COMMENTARY BY HALIFA SALLAH, PART 13

The fifth of the national values and ethos that the Act charges the Commission to note under section 6 paragraph (vi) is “The Gambia’s continued existence as a secular State in which all faiths are treated equally and encouraged to foster national cohesion and unity”

If the Demagogue wanted to be a fair scholar with the aim to contextualise the debate on the chapter and verses the Constitution of the third republic he would not have gone into an irrelevant debate on the status of Muslims and Christians in Gambian society or the fringe philosophy called secularism which is hardly covered in the curriculum of significant Universities or books on philosophy written by academics with renown standing; a philosophy few Gambians are exposed to and which has no bearing on the origin or content of any Gambian constitution or statute that have ever been crafted before or after Independence.

The Demagogue should have started from the premise of building a sovereign independent state which is imitating no one even though it could learn from better practice.

Hence , the Demagogue should have started a pragmatic and evidence based analysis by first quoting the text of the Act establishing the Constitutional Review Commission and help the public to understand the grammatical and ordinary meaning of each phase and then proceed to interrogate the merits, in good faith, regarding what the Commission members are charged by statute to do.

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Allow me to do what the Demagogue should have done without an iota of error in thinking.

The sixth task given to the Constitutional Review Commission to defend Gambian values and ethos is to craft a Constitution that would ensure “The Gambia’s continued existence as a secular State [in which all faiths are treated equally and encouraged to foster national cohesion and unity.”

Now may I ask: What is the grammatical and ordinary meaning of this paragraph whose drafters are not influenced by any faith-like philosophy called secularism.

First and foremost, the paragraph implies that the Gambia has been existing as a secular state.

Secondly, that a secular state is where all faiths are treated equally before the law meaning that all states will receive equal protection under the law.

Thirdly, the Commission is to preserve such a national value and ethos of faiths receiving equal protection of law. Now, let us interrogate each premise provided by statute to find out whether there has been any material misstatement. The question now arises: Has Gambia been existing as a secular state?

Historical evidence reveal that no Constitution exists in the Gambia that has ever established a religion in the Gambia as a state religion. All Gambian constitutions have been mundane instruments.

In fact, Section 100, subsection (2) has already been quoted to assert that (2) The National Assembly shall have no power to pass a Bill –

(a) to establish a one party state;

(b) to establish any religion as a state religion;”

The Gambian Constitutions have always separated the power of religion from the power of the state but have always been protective of freedom and right to hold and practise one’s belief.

The draft Constitution also contains the same provisions as Section 151 Subsection (2) which also reads:

The National Assembly shall not pass a Bill –

(a) to establish a one party state;

(b) to establish any religion as a state religion;”

The Demagogue should tell the people the truth that even if the draft Constitution is rejected the existing 1997 Constitution which he swore to defend as Minister will still remain valid. This is the first point.

Secondly, have all faiths been treated equally under all Gambian Constitutions?

Section 25 Subsection (1)(b )and (c )and Subsection 32 of the 1997 Constitution provides for rights to profess, practise, maintain and promote one’s religious belief thus ensuring equal treatment to all faiths. Suffice it say, equal treatment of persons is guaranteed irrespective of religion under section 33 which states among other things that : ‘’All persons shall be equal before the law.”

Hence, guaranteeing equal treatment and protection to all faiths is part of the national values and ethos of the Republic under the Constitution.

Finally, should these values be sustained? We should leave that to the Demagogue to reply.

To take leave of this subject, allow me to employ jurisprudence as our guide in understanding the principle of the secular state before going into the history of the separation of the powers of religion and the powers of the state.

The state under a Republic has to become an instrument of protection rather than an instrument of coercion by safeguarding the rights of all citizens who are equal in sovereignty. These citizens have the freedom to leave and join religions or marry and mix with other ethno linguistic groups.

Equality in sovereignty enables a Gambian Muslim or Christian to occupy any post of President, Minister , Speaker, National Assembly member, Mayor, Councillor as has always been ensured by all Gambian constitutions without ever legitimising reliance on one’s own belief to discriminate and destroy mosques or churches or disturbing religious belief or practice of those who hold a different belief. .

The principle of separating the power of religion and power of the state under a Republic is not to negate religion but to ensure that each sovereign citizen who is a depository of the sovereignty of a country is entitled to be elected to be president or occupy any post. Once you have a state based on religion some people would be excluded form leadership position based on religion .

In an African Continent where Muslims Constitute the majority in some states and Christians in other states unity of the Continent is only possible if the state remains a mundane one and this is what is referred to in constitutional jurisprudence as the secular state . The Gambia has the duty to provide a model constitution for all countries in Africa to emulate, Constitution that epitomises the values and ethos of the sovereignty of the people , values that make all our citizens equal in sovereignty irrespective of their diverse origins and beliefs and enjoin them to adhere to the principle of non- discrimination in constituting one’s utmost to and benefiting deservedly from the services and resources of the state.

Allow me to explain all relevant portions of the draft constitution to prove that there is no provision that threatens the right to hold and practise a belief or values that all decent people consider to be the basis of national integrity or morality.

The Commission has afforded the people of The Gambia, both within and outside the country to the extent practicable, the opportunity to freely express their opinions and make suggestions on matters they feel should be considered in the Constitution. We need a healthy debate not empty chatter.

To be continued

Read Part 1 https://foroyaa.net/in-pursuit-of-the-mission-of-promoting-national-unity/

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