EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, The Gambia: Testifying before the truth-seeking commission on Monday, Philip Saine said the unlawful confiscation of the land belonging to the Diocese of Banjul by the government for former President Yahya Jammeh for the construction of the National Assembly building was not a religious conflict.
The 68-year-old author and lecturer appeared before the commission where he testified on several issues, including the alleged Muslims attack on worshipers on Omega Evangelical Church in Pipe line, confiscation of land belonging to Presentation of Mary Sisters in Banjul, the vail controversy at St. Therese’s Secondary school, interruption of Christian processions, the drumming ban that was introduced in June 2016, head tie ban during official hours and demolition of churches.
Since the publication of the country’s draft constitution in November last year, the new constitution came under divergent views, mainly on religious line with the Christian denominations calling for the inclusion of the word ‘secular’ while the Muslims denied it.
In December last year, the country’s Christian organisations governing body –Gambia Christian Council- has released a 20-point position paper that it observed as omission of secular and related matters in the draft constitution, saying Christians have experienced series of unfair treatment from the former regime and now they are demanding that Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) honour it’s mandate as enshrine in Section 6 sub-section 2 of its Act.
The same month, Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (GSIC) said it is strongly reaffirming its position that The Gambia had never been and should never be a Secular State, saying that is what the people inherited from the founding fathers of the nation and that is what is deeply rooted in its social norms and values.
During the Monday hearing, the TRRC lead counsel, Essa Faal asked Mr Saine whether the violation of the rights of the members of the Diocese of Banjul was done because the owners of the property were members of the Christian faith, he replied in the positive, saying that the state needed the land and took the land. “It doesn’t matter whether it belong to one faith or the other. It is not a religious rights violation but a violation to right to property,” he said.
His testimony cleared the air on whether grabbing of the land that was onetime under the Christian ownership was equated to religious fight, although the appropriation of the land did not follow due process of the law.
“In a normal event where the state wants an area, it would formally write and send a notice within a reasonable period of time to ask the occupier to vacate or relocate which will be taken as a normal process. When that happens, you expect to be compensated for what you have lost, but again that is a normal practice but that never happened and that was the annoying part.”
Mr Saine recalled that Muslims and Christians have always lived harmoniously in the country but Jammeh might have worked to change that narrative.
The 22-year rule of Yahya Jammeh witnessed numerous attacks on religious freedom including Muslim and Christian leaders who were subjected to inhumane treatment in the execution of their religious duties.
written by Juldeh Njie