New Telegraph

Constitutional lessons from Dakar

Checks and balances came out strongly in Senegal recently as the Constitutional Council ruled against President Macky Sall’s bid to postpone presidential elections earlier billed for this month. Sall had been playing cat and mouse with his ambitions, trying to extend his tenure beyond the limit as guaranteed by the constitution. Strangely, the Senegalese leader received the Sunak Peace Prize in 2020 for reducing presidential tenure, from seven to five years. In what appears to be the ‘African disease’, Sall, who rode on opposition popularity to power, became power drunk. For a man who has been in government for about 24 years, leaving office became less attractive in a region grappling with military intervention.

Before rising to the top in April 2012, Sall had been Mayor of Fatik, Presidential Adviser, Minister, President of the National Assembly and Prime Minister at different times. As a geologist, he should have had enough of jungle politics. This is the same man that sent Senegalese troops to The Gambia in 2017 as part of ECOWAS Intervention Force against the ploy of Yaya Jammeh to stay put in office. In August 2023, he was one of the strong voices for a military solution to the return of democracy in the Niger Republic. The good thing about the judiciary in Senegal is that the West African sub-region has been saved from another crisis by the ruling of the Constitutional Council against Sall’s plot to move elections to December, just two weeks before the commencement of campaigns. Unfortunately, this is not the case in some other ECOWAS countries where the courts have become so unpopular with kangaroo judgements that has left the environment charged with instability. Democracy will continue to be diminished by a compromised judiciary. The apex judges in Senegal have shown why their country remains a model of democracy since independence. Many nearby countries have gone through military intervention and even war. It is not paradise yet in Senegal but civil rule has not been truncated since independence over 60 years ago. In June 1967, Moustapha Lo was executed after being condemned for allegedly trying to assassinate President Leopold Senghor. Senghor, the country’s first President, was intolerant of opposition all through his 20 years in office, between 1960 and 1980. He accused Prime Minister Mamadou Dia of high treason and jailed him for 12 years. Credit to Senghor, he left power willingly on December 31, 1980, paving the way for Prime Minister Abdou Diouf to assume office. It is unusual for an African leader, a Second World War veteran, to relinquish authority without bloodshed. The Senegalese have continued to be different with their maturity.

Diouf stepped aside in 2000 after losing the presidential elections to Abdoulaye Wade. In 2012, Wade congratulated Sall, winner of that year’s presidential Elections. Sall, a frequent visitor to Nigeria during the Muhammadu Buhari years, should be the last person to destabilise Senegal with his unwritten ambitions. He benefited from Wade and when things fell apart, gained more support as opposition arrow head. Today, opposition leader Ousmane Sonko is in jail. However, Sall failed to reckon with the Constitutional Council. In some other West African states, he would have succeeded with the shift in election dates. Senegal showed why democracy continues to win. Members of the Constitutional Council were wise enough in their decision. They knew the import of going against popular opinion. In May 1993, Boubacar Seye, Vice President of the Council, was murdered following the February presidential elections that returned Diouf to power. Wade was declared the loser. Democracy only works where there is rule of law. In Africa, thousands have died in post-election riots simply because the judiciary refused to stand firm. In Cote d’Ivoire, Allasane Ouattara has been coy about his future. He is presently serving a third term through the backdoor. West Africa has continued to suffer dire consequences of despotic leadership hiding under the cover of democracy. Flawed elections show signs early enough. The Senegalese Constitutional Council detected fraud early enough and nipped it in the bud. ECOWAS, under the leadership of President Bola Tinubu, warned Sall on the consequences of tampering with the election date. That was a commendable move but it would have amounted to nothing if the Senegalese judiciary did not act. ECOWAS leaders should look at themselves and address their political appetite which seems to poison the region more than it serves the people. The Dakar ruling will be a reference point, from Abidjan to Abuja. We believe judges in Nigeria can pick a few lessons from their colleagues in Senegal. A country that gave Daddy Onyeama, Taslim Elias, Bola Ajibola and Chile Ebo, to the world cannot be ruined by a gang of judicial robbers, of the highest order.

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