President Adama Barrow’s appointment of Assan Tangara, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Defense to the National Security Council appears to be a violation of the Constitution.
Barrow’s unveiling of the NSC membership without key members like the Vice President is being criticized as an assault on common sense and the rule of law.
According to section 78 (1), which establishes the Council, it should comprise of the President, the Vice-President, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Interior, the Chief of Defence Staff and two other members of the Armed Forces appointed by the President, the Inspector General of Police, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, and the intelligence adviser to the President.
As the defense minister’s permanent secretary, Mr. Tangara is neither a member of the armed forces nor the intelligence adviser to Mr. Barrow.
So, he is not eligible to serve on the NSC, and if that’s the case, he is doubly ineligible to sit in any of its meetings. Tangara, however, can discuss and take part in making decisions on high-level Gambia defense and security policy.
Several observers have made the same point. One of them is Coach Pa Samba Jow. According to Jow, Barrow’s invoking of Section 78 of the Constitution makes the NSC incomplete with the absence of the Vice President and calls Tangara’s appointment “unconstitutional.”
A former military aide to Gambia’s ex-president, Lt. Col. Lamin Gano decried the absence of a female nominee to the Council, which could be one of the two military officers that Barrow could appoint.
Gano observed that there cannot be an effective security sector reform without a fully staffed and efficient NSC and a Ministry of Defense.
Although Mr. Barrow has no security experience, he appointed himself as Minister of Defense, following a tradition upheld by his predecessors. For Gano, Mr. Barrow has to break from that tradition by appointing a Vice President and naming a Minister of Defense.
Let us remember that the National Security Council shall be responsible for advising the President on all matters relating to the security of The Gambia and the integration of domestic and foreign policies relating to its security, and, under the direction of the President, shall take appropriate measures to safeguard the internal and external security of The Gambia and to provide for the co-operation of the departments and agencies of the Government in that regard.
While this may sound a little off, political considerations should therefore not play a prominent role in the highest-level interagency discussions and national security matters.
The appointment of Mr. Tangara and absence of the Vice President is something which is a radical departure from the constitutional requirement of the National Security Council.
The Barrow administration already seems to be marginalizing the influence of career officials with extensive security experience at the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Defense Headquarters and Police Headquarters.
For the most part, it is not taking chances afraid of bringing Jammeh’s loyalists closer, who may be spying and passing information to the ex-ruler.
For now, what is much is obvious is that Assan Tangara’s presence on the National Security Council and the failure to appoint a Vice President is not just terrible but illegal.