Monday, August 5, 2013

Judicial interference is the problem

Yaya Jammeh claimed that he was totally unaware of the deplorable and inhumane conditions that exist in his notorious Mile II Prisons.  He expressed this whopper during the swearing-in ceremony of his newly minted, Ghanaian-born Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, his second in a month. Jammeh's claim must have come as a shocker even to his ardent supporters because, it is a known fact that he visits the prison's facilities himself at night and in disguise to see that his most prized-prisoners are given the torture treatment they deserve.  He is also known for his trademark frequent firings of judges who do not dispense justice favorable to Jammeh and in accordance with his wishes.  He has been known to interfere in the judicial process either directly or indirectly.

It is obvious that Yaya Jammeh did not read the seminal Report of Amnesty International entitled “Gambia: Fear rules” that cataloged the human rights abuses under Jammeh, and where an entire chapter was devoted to the right to a fair trial with an opening quote from an anonymous lawyer who said that "the law is ineffective in this country.  We are simply operating a bunch of kangaroo courts."  These kangaroo courts, unfortunately, are being operated by a majority of judges who have been inappropriately appointed by Yaya Jammeh.  According to the Amnesty report, there has been a history under the regime of Jammeh "of the removal of judges who hand down impartial and independent decisions."  The report further states that in 2008 alone, "within a period of three months, the President removed three High Court judges without consultations with the Judicial service Commission" as required under section 141(4)-(9) of the Constitution which lays out the removal process of judges, and offers some safeguard for judicial independence.

Jammeh's interference in the judiciary is a matter of public knowledge and record, including a well-documented Amnesty International report on the human rights condition in The Gambia.   Personal accounts of judges themselves who have been victims of Jammeh's summary and unconstitutional dismissals have added to a mountain of proof of judicial interference by Jammeh.  The resultant effect of presidential meddling has contributed, in significant measure, to the current backlog of cases and overcrowding at Mile II.  Judges are being dismissed, transferred and/or cowed into submission by a regime that sees the judicial system as legitimate tool of oppression, which has further worsened an already broken and discredited judicial system.  And Jammeh is almost entirely responsible for it. 

As a result of his constant meddling, competent and reputable judges, even under technical assistance, who would rather go elsewhere than serve in The Gambia to avoid the risk of tarnishing their reputation and ruining their careers in the process.  So, Gambia is left with rogue foreign judges, notably Nigerians, to run a rotten system - a development that suits Jammeh fine. He cannot now claim ignorance that he's presiding over a corrupt and inhumane judicial system that relies heavily on what are now referred to as "mercenary judges."  Nothing illustrates the state of Gambian judiciary better that the situation currently at hand - the  new Chief Justice was being sworn in to replace the Nigerian ex-Chief Justice Wowo, who himself was dismissed as an Appeal Court judge, arrested, charged with providing false information to a Public Officer, and appointed as Chief Justice only to be dismissed again for soliciting bribe, all in a span of six months,  As for the rest of us, Gambians, who have been watching this one-man wrecking crew named Jammeh destroy the judiciary along the rest of our institutions, the only consolation (for  lack of a better word) is that we are not alone any more.  Ghana is watching, and so is Nigeria.