Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The silver lining in the Joseph Wowo bribery scandal

The Gambian judiciary under dictator Yaya Jammeh has finally attracted the long over-due international attention Gambians have been yearning.  Unfortunately, it came about all for the wrong reasons.  Although much has been written about the use of mercenary judges, most of whom happen to be Nigerians, by the Gambian dictator, it was not until the sitting Chief Justice of the country named Joseph Wowo was caught on tape soliciting a D500,000 bribe from a Gambia-based Dutch businessman, Andre Klaabergen, whose case was on appeal at the Appeal Court, that finally the Nigerian authorities and the world took notice, despite several petitions posted on the official website of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs drawing attention to the nefarious role of some Nigerian judges who acted more like judges-for-hire. The voices in the audio tape were purportedly those of ex-Chief Justice Joseph Wowo and ex-Justice Minister Lamin Jobarteh and the Gambian business partner of Mr. Klaabergen, the Dutch businessman.

The internationalization of the state of the judiciary in the Gambia came about because ex-Chief Justice Joseph Wowo is a Nigerian legal practitioner employed on contract by the Gambian dictator and who served in various capacities within the judiciary, and his successor as Chief Justice is Ghanaian in thew person of Justice Mabel Agyemang.  The voices in the audio tape purportedly those of ex-Chief Justice Joseph Wowo, the ex-Minister of Justice and the Gambian business partner of Mr. Klaabergen  was posted posted on YouTube.  It became an instant sensation and, as it turns out, an instant consternation and embarrassment also to the Nigerian Bar Association and the Nigerian government.  The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs also reacted by promising to look into the matter to ensure that Justice Wowo was not wrongfully accused.  The Nigerian Civil Society Network Against Corruption petitioned the National Judicial Council to properly investigate the matter and mete out disciplinary measures where necessary.  

The appointment of Justice Mabel Agyemang to the highest post in the judiciary did not bring joy to Ghanaians either because of the reputation of the Gambian dictator who was described in the Ghanaian press as 'crazy' who's obsessed with the desire to dictate the pace and outcomes of the judicial process.  The new Chief Justice was advised to be vigilant in maintaining her independence and reputation against a proven tyrant, followed by warnings to Jammeh by Ghanaian well-wishers to think twice before messing with the new Ghanaian Sheriff in town.  

Gambia had benefited over the years from bilateral cooperation with both Ghana, Nigeria and with the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation but all came to a grinding halt after the 1994 coup by a few renegade soldiers which included Yaya Jammeh.  In 2005, India offered to provide experienced judges who have retired from service on bi-lateral basis was turned down by Jammeh because they cannot be manipulated by him.   Judges under these programs were monitored and evaluated using internationally acceptable standards an by their own home governments. It is, therefore, easy to see why a renegade and/or rogue governments would rather hire their own than to participate in such programs which comes at little cost to government. 

It is against this background that an extraordinarily bizarre press release from the judiciary must be seen and judged.  The release in question was issued simply on behalf of the judiciary without indicating which Office in the judiciary issued it, and published in the August 14th issue of The Daily Observer, the official mouthpiece of the dictatorship.  In it,  the judiciary informed " the general public that all criminal cases involving persons detained without due process have been mentioned at the Special Criminal Court chaired by Honorable Justice Emmanuel Nkea."  Gambians were further assured that the "cases will be dealt with expeditiously and justly." Finally, the press release ended with the reassuring words to the general public that "[t]he Judiciary reassures of its constitutional commitment to ensure that justice is administered to all irrespective of status." 

The Honorable Justice who chairs the Special Criminal Court is one of those mercenary judges who happens to be a Cameroonian and not Nigerian.  It is, therefore, safe to say that he too is beginning to feel the heat generated by and emanating from the spotlights trained directly at him, in this instance, and the entire Gambian judiciary, resulting in a press release that all but admit the absence of due process in the courts, and that cases have been not been dealt with expeditiously and justly. The release also implied that in Yaya Jammeh's Gambia justice was and still is being administered in a partial manner with the status of those seeking justice factored in.  A striking admission to say the least.  Henceforth, and we move forward post-Justice Wowo, Nigeria and Ghana will be watching but so will be Gambians, ECOWAS and the entire international legal community. Finally, the Gambian people will be having their day in court against a tyranny aided and abetted by a crooked set of judges-for-hire.  At least, we hope so.