Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday evening arrived in the Gambian capital Banjul as part of a mission to mediate a dispute over a constitutional review process.
Gambia has been working to replace its 1997 constitution, which was enacted by Yahya Jammeh, the country’s former president. He was forced out of office in 2017 after he refused to cede power following a disputed election.
Jammeh’s 21-year rule was marred by allegations violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings of opponents.
President Adama Barrow came to power in 2017 under the ticket of a coalition which has since disintegrated. The enactment of a new constitution was part of the agreement of the defunct coalition. But almost four years since then, the government hasn’t been able to deliver on this promise.
A draft document done by a constitutional review committee was rejected by the country’s parliament, following disagreements on some key provisions, notably a clause that makes the constitution retroactive. This means that Barrow will have only one more five-year term if he wins next year’s scheduled election. His supporters say his first five years in office shouldn’t be counted.
There are also issues that affect minorities, including the Christian community, who are uncomfortable with the absence of the term secular.
The country is more than 90 percent Muslim.
The draft Gambian constitution has to be passed by the National Assembly (parliament) before being subjected to a national referendum.
The document, which has been in the making for over two years, will for the first time introduce a presidential term limit in the country.
But when it was presented to the House in September, it was rejected by a 31-42 vote hence did not make it to the Third Reading.
A new constitution is crucial before next year’s election campaign.
According to sources, President Adama Barrow sought the intervention of Mr Jonathan.
A statement issued from the office of the former Nigerian leader said he was approached to “lend his support” to “facilitate the process of forging a workable national consensus.”
The statement, signed by the Special Adviser to the former president, Ikechukwu Eze, added that Jonathan “is expected to deploy his experience and goodwill as a well-respected international statesman towards advancing the constitutional review process and enhancing the progress of the continuing national dialogue, in line with the expectations of Gambians.”
Mr Jonathan, the statement added, was consulted because of his “neutrality and proven record in democratic and constitutional reforms.”
Jonathan was Vice President of Nigeria from 2007 to 2010, when he assumed office as president following the death of his predecessor, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He lost the 2015 election to current President Muhammadu Buhari.
Despite the controversies surrounding that poll, Jonathan stepped down, thereby attracting respect and admiration across Africa and beyond. Since then he has mediated in several countries in the region, including recently in Mali.
Earlier this year, through his Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, the former president established a peace mediation platform called the Elders Forum. Its task is to encourage proactive consultations with stakeholders in the West African sub-region towards preventing and resolving governance and election-related tensions.
In his Gambia mission, Jonathan will be working alongside the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), which is said to have been designated by the Gambian Government to provide secretarial assistance to the former President.
Jonathan is scheduled to meet with various stakeholders during his mission in Gambia, including President Barrow and leaders of other political parties, as well as parliamentarians.