The day is always marked by mixed feelings in the history of Gambian media. Time is the blackboard and action the chalk of history.
Human beings have the right to live and act within the confines of law and descent. However, our colleague, Chief Manneh, who has been described as a perfect gentleman, a man with bright future, has been missing for five years, under the regime of President Yahya Jammeh.
Manneh has been reliably reported to be arrested by two plain clothed state security agents at the Daily Observer premises.
History has the duty to record their actions - those responsible for the arrest of Chief Manneh. The evil or good that human beings do are buried with their bones.
However, there are those whose evil and good deeds live after them. There are those who live at the expense of others and spread mischief on earth. Such people are never remembered with profound memories; they live as the cursed on earth.
There are those who live to safeguard the interest of others and those are the ones who would be remembered forever.
Chief Manneh, as he is fondly called, live to safeguard the interest of others by amplifying voice of the voiceless by joining the noble profession - journalism.
The first anniversary of Chief Manneh was held Tuesday 17 July 2007, organised by the Network of Human Rights Journalists (NHRJ), funded by the American Embassy in Banjul.
The well attended symposium was held at the Alliance Franco-Gambienne.
Despite the torrential rains that very day, the hall was full to capacity with journalists, members of civil rights groups and family members of the missing journalist.
However, no government representative graced the occasion, though NHRJ wrote to the then Secretary of State for Information and Communication Technology, Mrs. Nenneh Macdonal-Gaye, former Secretary of State for Justice Mr Kebba Sanyang who is now a private legal practitioner,
Director of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Inspector General of Police, who all failed to honour NHRJ’s invitation.
As a general assignment reporter by then, who had the opportunity to participate and cover newsworthy events for The Gambia News and Report weekly magazine, the symposium on missing journalist was held successfully despite government officials boycotted the symposium.
The symposium dubbed “Guarantee to Freedom of the Press in The Gambia,” was chaired by Mr Sam Sarr, editor of Foroyaa newspaper who at the symposium expressed sympathy to the family of Chief Manneh.
Sam Sarr added: “For a journalist to disappear for more than one year is a total violation of his fundamental rights. He also expressed delight that the media fraternity has not forgotten Chief Manneh, adding that efforts are being made to secure his immediate release but to no avail.
Kudos to NHRJ, as since the disappearance of Chief Manneh, the network that is an organised group of journalists committed to the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights, to restore, defend, and promote freedom, justice and democracy has been in the forefront in the
campaign for the release of Chief Manneh.
Suffice it to say with all the provisions, among many others guaranteed human rights and freedom of expression, it is sad that Chief has been missing for five years now in our own society and up to
date we cannot know his whereabouts.
Chief Manneh at the time of his arrest, he was exercising his fundamental rights of freedom of expression. His continuous detention tantamount total violation of his fundamental rights and it is
His continuous detention and the continuous violence against journalists in The Gambia, in general, provoke commitments to our own designed and ratified laws.
President Jammeh, it is long overdue for your government to respect the judgment of the ECOWAS Court in Abuja to release Chief Manneh with compensation of US$100,000.00.
President Jammeh, we missed Chief Manneh and the alarm bell has rung for us to kiss him.
Sarjo Manneh, father of Chief Manneh at the one year anniversary of his son told the forum that since the disappearance of his son, the family has sleepless nights and urged all Muslims to join hands and pray for him to see his son.
He added: “I have strong faith in Allah if not I will go mad.”
For Sula Ceesay Chief Manneh’s mother had this to say: “I pray to Allah to protect my son wherever he might be.”
Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, Article 4 (3) on Freedom of Information reads: “Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law.”
Therefore, the public bodies that are holding the information on Chief Manneh, it’s long overdue to give out the information about him. We need information on Chief Manneh. Help us as custodians of information especially the security apparatus.
Article 4 (3)of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa reads: “Everyone has the right to access and update or otherwise correct their personal information, whether it is
held by public or by private bodies”.
So it is incumbent upon both public and private bodies to update us (journalists) on Chief Manneh’s
whereabouts. As the government is duty bond to protect the lives of its citizens, President Jammeh the alarm bell has rung for the release of Chief Manneh.
A law of freedom of information, if enacted, the public and private bodies will be emboldened to give-out information to the media without fear of reprisal.
With Freedom of Information Act, journalists from both public and private media will have easy access to information from the government to inform the masses.
Such easy access will no doubt lead to an enlightened society, which in turn will no doubt promote and consolidate democracy, good governance, peace and stability, accountability and rule of law.
The Gambia is among countries that do not have freedom of information Act in its law books.
In Africa there are only few countries, which have the FOI Act life and kicking. These are South Africa that has it 2000, Zimbabwe 2002, Uganda 2005, Liberia 2010 and of recent Nigeria 2011.
These countries are the few African states that have legislation which obliges public and private institutions to divulge information that is of public interest.
With Freedom of Information Act in The Gambia, like in all other countries it will give many if not all, especially the journalists the right to access information held by public bodies and even by private bodies in the country.
As citizens of The Gambia and Africa as a whole, we need to have easy access to information about issues in our society and this can only be possible if such a law on access to information is enacted.
Freedom of information is also key in any national development. It is only an enlighten citizen that can take meaningful part in a national development.
Freedom of information Act must not been seen as an obstacle to improved economic and social conditions, but as an asset, and a conduit to such a development.
The burden on the media will be a thing of the past, if freedom of information is enacted in the country. When such a law is enacted will shift the onus of obtaining information from the press to the citizenry as a whole.
Thus, freedom of information Act will empower and encourage professionalism in the media and journalism. This is because such law creates a level playing field and removes any possibility of misrepresentation.
FIO promotes a system of checks and balances in which both the government and media, as well as the general public will have a common standard and interaction on the basis of which information is produced.
Therefore, if anyone’s right is violated, he or she will have the right to seek redress in a court of law.
When we talk about freedom of information, we are talking about lots advantages, as it will fundamentally encourage professionalism and honesty in public servants. Such a law makes our public institutions equally accountable, efficient and productive.
Freedom and access to information law will serve as a platform for empowerment of the people to demand answers from the government and public institutions in the way and manner they run national affairs and manage public resources.
Ambassador Ayo Oke, head of Africa Section, Political Affairs Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, London at the Commonwealth forum in Banjul says much work needs to be done by governments, media and civil society in advocating for legislation and implementation of freedom of information law.
He says, “the single most important obstacle to a healthy media and government relationship in Africa and elsewhere is failure to recognise the crucial role played by the media in the creation of conditions that promote transparency and good governance.”
Thus one can certainly say that, with a law on freedom and access to information, there will be less rumour mongering about issues happening in the Executive, Judiciary even in the private sector concerning exploitation in all its forms etc.
Journalists on the other hand will have access to the information to clarify issues for the public concerning the private and public sectors.
The journalist can freely indicate the source of the information he/she obtains for publication in accordance with the law.
The right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media, which is explicitly, guaranteed in the law books need to be exercised to the fullest in all
|Participants at the forum|
He chastised African leaders for wanting to hand over power only to their family members. This, he added, results to the miseries the continent is faced with.
He further stated many leaders who are in power today in Africa are butchering the constitution in broad light.
“Every day in their lives, they only think of how to continue robbing their citizens,” he added.
“Most of them are not holding the principles of democracy and good governance. They are dictators.”
He cited Togo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and to an extend Morocco as true examples of leadership by inheritance.
“All these countries that I mentioned,” he continued, “rule of law looks like an aberration and even trigger-happy security officials are used to secure the votes for the leaders in power.”
For him, “dictators in West Africa are in their numbers, they do everything within their might to subdue political opponents and corrupt journalists to dance to their rulers tune.”
In addition, the vast majority of the citizens live in land-locked enclaves stating that this situation makes it virtually impossible for journalists to give a clear picture of elections in such places.
These, he pointed out, calls for a lot of selflessness on the part of journalists to brave the ordeal of reaching such remote areas.