Friday, January 16, 2015

Chief Justice MUST stay out of Gambian politics

Pakistani-born Chief Justice of Gambia - Ali Nawaz Chawhan
"The terror attack failed woefully because the Almighty Allah will never, never allow peaceful Gambia to be led by bandits", a letter writer wrote to the country's leader who'd like to be referred to by his full name and in the following order : His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jamus Junkung Jammeh, Nasurudeen, Balilimansa.

His recently- acquired titles of Nasurudeen and Babilimansa were considerd "Haram" by none other that Dr. Zakir Naik of every-Muslim-should-be-terrorist fame and thus dropped to add to a previously dropped title of "Admiralty of the Nebraska Navy", a landlocked American State. What followed was a presidential circular announcing the changes and warning officials, especially national radio and television announcers that the sequencing was important.  Thus a misplaced word or title can cost an announcer or official a reprimand.  This is Jammeh's Gambia, and the letter writer was not a local party apparatchik but the Pakistani-born, former Judge at the Lahore High Court and International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), congratulating the Gambian dictator for repelling an armed attack on State House.

There is general concern about what appears to be the increasing desecularization of the State by Yaya Jammeh - building Mosques in government Ministries, including State House, and proselytizing his ideas about Islam before the Gambia Armed Forces 'solidarity rally' and other State functions - which should be an unsettling development among the Christian communities across a country that was known for its religious tolerance and the peaceful coexistence between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority.  The dismissal of one of the most radical and highly partisan Banjul Mullahs, Imam Fatty, from his post as Imam of the State House Mosque may have slowed, but not stopped, the Islamization train.

It was, therefore, disappointing to read the Chief Justice's letter whose appointment was greeted in the somber quarters of those who were hoping that he will inject sanity into the Gambia judiciary but starting to rebuild its tattered image by first reestablishing its independence from the Executive.  It is not a letter that reassures a people under siege and being suffocated by a dictatorship that has perfected the used the judiciary as a weapon of mass incarceration and abuse.  It seems every other Gambian in the Greater Urban Area is in court for one frivolous or trumped-up charge or another - from sedition, economic crime and/or negligence of duty to cattle wrestling.  If it happens to involve one of the president's many heard strewn across Gambia - bad luck.  It is very common for cases in the lower courts to drag on for three years or more and most of these involve senior civil servants, particularly those highly trained in the professions whom the dictatorship seem to have problems with.

Prior to Chief Justice Chowhan's arrival, the judiciary was a circus.  For instance, Acting Supreme Court Judge Nigerian-born Wowo was arrested and charged in January 2013 with providing false information to a public officer which carried a mandatory two-year prison sentence.  The charges were dropped for unexplained reason and he left The Gambia only to return in July of the same year to pick up his appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court only to he arrested and charged again, this time together with the Justice Minister for bribery among other charges.  Both are serving mandatory jail sentences.  Former Chief Justice Wowo's appeal was denied recently.  A highly respected Ghanaian-born Chief Justice, Mabel Agyemang, was appointed to replace Justice Wowo but she was quickly fired by an erratic and idiosyncratic Jammeh to be replaced by the current holder who is on the Bench for 9 months - record of sorts by Gambian judicial standards.

We implore the Chief Justice to stay away from local politics and try during his time in The Gambia to instill professionalism among the ranks and to keep the judiciary away from the madness of the Executive and Legislative branches of the regime.  The last thing Gambia needs is another political sycophant bent on serving the dictator instead of dispensing justice in the most equitable and expeditious manner.  We know he has the intellectual capacity and the legal mind to carry out your functions professionally and independently.  Whether he has the will and the judicial temperament is what remains to be seen.