By Omar Wally
Baba Leigh, imam of the Kanifing Estate Mosque, has for the first time publicly voiced his disagreement with Omar Amadou Jallow, leader of the People’s Progressive Party on how long President Barrow should stay in office.
The Libya-educated electrician who became a suburban imam is regarded by many as a close confidant of the outspoken veteran politician better known as OJ, said he wants the president to rule The Gambia for at least a decade.
Jallow, who served as agriculture minister under both Sir Dawda Jawara and Adama Barrow, has publicly stated that President Barrow should step down after three years as agreed to by the leaders of the coalition parties that went on to win the December 2016 presidential election. Many believe his entrenched stance on the matter, which is apparently opposed by Barrow, led to his ouster as minister in the last major cabinet reshuffle end of June.
Now in what may be seen as a boost for the ‘beyond-the-three-year’ campers, Imam Baba Leigh said: “There is nothing wrong if you can adjust and join asr with maghrib and pray them together. The same way you can extend your time due to circumstances you are living in.”
He said the common denominator is that Gambians want a good government that can build, develop and sustain very strong institutions. “If there is a need for Barrow to serve for five or even ten years, I support that. Knowing how expensive elections are and Gambians just came out of many elections and those who know the law say, three years is against the constitution and we are all advocating for a respect of the constitution. I will side with the constitution and disagree with OJ. OJ should respect that,” Imam Leigh underlined.
He said OJ may be the titular head but does not own the PPP. “As for me, I am free and liberal-minded and I don’t belong to any political party. OJ has never invited me to a rally nor involved me in his politics,” he explained.
Imam Leigh said he is a relative of the current president and also has “strong family ties” with former president Jammeh. He said relations between Barrow and OJ have frayed and are now “fragile”, and that he does not know what led to the deterioration. He said this development came to him as “a big surprise” knowing how healthy the relation between the two statesmen was. He said he will engage OJ on the issue.
Leigh, who gained popularity for speaking truth to power on his pulpit and in the media, urged Gambians to set aside party, tribal and personal differences and move the country forward. He also said he believes the current government members have “good relations among themselves”.
Baba said he has no intention to run for position in upcoming Gambia Supreme Islamic Council election due to his schedules. He however said there are people in The Gambia who can bring sanity in GSIC.
Imam Leigh commended Barrow for standing against Jammeh in the last presidential election, saying it was “a big risk knowing the type of person Jammeh was”.