Saturday, March 8, 2014

Justice Mabel Agyemang : One more victim of a patently vindictive dictator

Justice Mabel Agyemang's troubles started the moment she accepted the post of Chief Justice - troubles that compounded exponentially when the erratic Gambian dictator abruptly and unilaterally withdrew Gambia's membership from the Commonwealth.  Taiwan, another victim of Jammeh's diplomatic 'offensive' of last November that resulted in the severance of an 19-year diplomatic relations, described their former friend's behavior as idiosyncratic.  Jammeh demanded money from Taiwan, and when he was refused, he severed ties with no regard for the Gambian populace who  may have been benefiting from projects financed by Taiwan.

To begin to understand the former Chief Justice's plight, one must understand the circumstances leading up to her appointment.  The position of Chief Justice became vacant in the most dramatic and unexpected of fashion, following the imprisonment of her predecessor former Chief Justice and fellow expatriate, the Nigerian-born Justice Joseph Wowo.  Unlike Justice Agyemang, Justice Wowo was a member of the club of mercenary judges hired off the streets by Yaya Jammeh to do his bidding for him in the judiciary.

Justice Agyemang, by all accounts, has an impeccable character and a professional track record that was built in her native Ghana and internationally.  Since her call to the bar in Ghana in 1987, she had served various judicial capacities in Ghana, Gambia and Swaziland with distinction  before returning to the Gambia under CFTC contract to serve as an Appeals Court judge before her elevation to the Supreme Court.

By contrast, her predecessor belonged to a category of judges who felt no moral scruple to dispense injustice to Jammeh's enemies, be they of the political kind or otherwise.  In short, Wowo was one of the leading hanging judges of the dictatorship.  However, he soon fell afoul of Jammeh.  He was dismissed, arrested and charged with giving false information to a public officer that carries an two-year mandatory jail time.  All of this happened to Justice Wowo in January 2013.  He was in the custody of the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA) when, for unexplained reason or reasons, he was released.  He left The Gambia, not for Nigeria, but for the United States where he was apparently resided until his surprising return to the Gambian capital in July 2013 (barely six months after being being charged) to accept the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of The Gambia.  Weeks into his new job, a YouTube audio tape surfaced purportedly of the voices of Justice Wowo and his former boss, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the private residence of the latter, soliciting bribe from a business partner of a Dutch businessman.  Chief Justice Wowo, Mr. Attorney General and Minister of Justice were both fired, charged with bribery, a charge later amended or changed to providing false information to a public officer.  The two are now serving two-year mandatory jail sentences.

It is in the midst of this judicial cesspool that Justice Agyemang found herself in when she was appointed Chief Justice to succeed Justice Wowo.   Because the regime had little time to recruit an outside judge, and the fact that they had ran out of potential candidates for the post - Joseph Wowa was in jail and another Jammeh's favorite mercenary, Emmanuel Nkea, had just been elevated to the judgeship of the all-important Special Criminal Court, a court that has been a potent weapon in the Jammeh's arsenal, the lot fell on the Ghanaian.  Jammeh was willing to take a chance on an independent and competent judge, even if it is for a short period of time; until he can find his kind of judge.  Has Jammeh found his kind of judge in the internationally renown Pakistani Ali Nawaz Chawhan?  I doubt it, unless the respected justice is ready to compromise his professional competence, and moral integrity, including his commitment and dedication to the rule of law. Time will tell, a precious commodity that seem to always be seem to favor the Gambian dictator.

Justice Agyemang's appointment was, in my view, circumstantial, in the sense that there was none of the Jammeh-type judge in the mode of Wowo or Nkea available at the time.  You may wonder by now why not a single Gambian judge has been mentioned as possible candidate for the job. Many have wondered as well, but Jammeh is in Jammeh is in a better position to answer.

Shortly after her appointment, Jammeh abruptly and without notice to even his Minister of Foreign Affairs withdrew Gambia's membership from the Commonwealth, immediately putting the Judge's contract with the CFTC in jeopardy since she cannot serve under the same terms and conditions in a non-member State.  The only option left was to negotiate a local contract with the government equivalent or comparable to her CFTC which includes salary, education allowances for her children.

In a normal country, this should not pose any problem because then the government will assume full responsibility of managing the contract.  But in Jammeh's Gambia, even something as simple and routine as meeting her monthly salary payments and educational allowances will now become a matter of state security that will involve Jammeh himself and his dreaded Gestapo-like security apparatus.  Jammeh is notorious for not abiding by contracts.  He has breached numerous contracts in the past 24 months involving an Australian mining concerning and a Canadian oil exploration company.  He is not an honest man and it is reputation well-earned.  So it is very easy for Jammeh to create a problem where one doesn't exist just to be even with Justice Agyemang.  Sooner rather than later, the rest of the international community will come to realize that Jammeh runs a criminal enterprise, not a country.

The financial aspect of the contract may have been a source of conflict, but the diplomatic status that the former Chief Justice lost when she was no longer under CFTC contract made her vulnerable to the repressive mafia-like tactics of the regime.  After serving in the Gambia for a total of 8 years during her two tours, she was and still is very well aware of the repressive nature of the Jammeh regime.  She has seen as recently as last month when a colleague of her, former Chief Judge of the Special Criminal Court, Emmanuel Nkea, handed his resignation letter to a friend from the safety of his isle seat aboard his Cameroon-bound flight  for fear that he will be bundled-up by Jammeh's hit squad known locally as the "Junglers".  It is the same fear that must have driven Justice Mabel Agyemang to seek refuge in an embassy that has not been identified by the regime.

We hope she's safe and will soon be reunited with her family.  Meanwhile, we will continue to fight against this vicious, corrupt and inept dictatorship that threatens not only the viability of the Gambia as a unified entity but the very stability and social cohesion of the entire sub-region.