The Gambia: Judiciary in overdrive and Yahya Jammeh’s coronation


MatthewBy Mathew K Jallow

Gambia’s court system is in overdrive. The judiciary is burdened with frivolous cases brought up by the regime and with corruption so blatantly endemic, the rights to liberty are bought and sold like commodities. Incarceration of human beings has become a mere sport as magistrates and judges play Russian roulette with people’s lives. It seems the powers that be at the judiciary and in the legal system have no clue that sending anyone to Mile 2 Prison is a potential death sentence. The administration of justice is a sham, a total failure; from the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, to the chambers of the so-called Chief Justice. Just last week, according Freedom Newspaper, an Arab who was condemned to die for a massive drugs running accusation, was let out of prison to freedom, allegedly after a bribery exchange of $ I million, leaving behind six co-defendants. In any properly constituted legal system, the verdict against the remaining co-defendants would automatically be reversed, overturned or thrown out, and their release secured by court order. The law ought never to treat defendants differently for fear of losing the legitimacy of impartiality, which is the back-bone of every legal system. But this case is not atypical either; rather, it is the norm. This case, or a combination of such cases, has made the dispensation of justice in our judiciary system a mockery of the laws of our land. Yet this is only a tip of the ice-berg.

These legal shenanigans have become inextricable embedded within the fabric of our legal and judiciary systems, where they continue to fester like cancers. Consequently, to take a long view of the law, every case that was adjudicated or tried in any Gambian civilian or military court, and resulted in a conviction, over the past decade and half since Yahya Jammeh came to power, ought to be ruled illegal, overturned and the victims released in a post Yahya Jammeh government. For a long time now, even the regime has had a sense of uneasiness about the dysfunction of our judiciary, which last week prompted Gambia’s evil grandmother Isatou Njie-Saidy, to reiterate the regime’s commitment to a judiciary unblemished by external interference. Her pronouncement is a tacit, yet veiled acknowledgment of the existence of a chaotic and dysfunctional system; a system that is not in pursuit of truth, but of money and all the corrupting influences that tag to the force of its power. But there is only one problem, the fake doctor, Isatou Njie-Saidy, forgot that we have heard this song played many times before, in fact, for the fifth time in as many years, and frankly the tune is old, the sound is bad music to the ears, and the lyrics are pregnant with hypocritical disingenuousness.

To add insult to injury, Yahya Jammeh made similar assertion the past five consecutive years, yet nothing has changed; nothing. But perhaps this time there is change in the air, and this whiff of optimism is not pegged on anything either Yahya Jammeh or his evil lackey Isatou Njie-saidy have said. In-stead, in a rare moment of frankness and display of unambiguousness, the President of The Gambia Bar Association, Lawyer Sheriff Tambedou, came close to demanding job security for legal practitioners, in particular; judges and magistrates who Yahya Jammeh often hires and fires in a huff. The independence of the Gambia’s judiciary from unwanted interference and manipulation by Yahya Jammeh is at heart of the matter. Judicial and civil service appointments under Yahya Jammeh’s regime are like playing a game of musical chairs. There are instances when appointees to positions are fired within the week of hiring and in many other instances, people were fired a month or two after their appointment. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice portfolio alone had seventy-five appointments under Yahya Jammeh. That is five appointments every year, or a new Attorney General and Minister of Justice every two and half months, a record for any country in history and in the world.

But, for Mr. Sheriff Tambedou’s demand to have any chance of becoming reality, two things have to happen; either Yahya Jammeh voluntarily concedes to The Gambia Bar Association demands, which is unlikely, or the Bar Association, if at all serious about protecting their own civil rights, take a long overdue united front of civil disobedience against Yahya Jammeh’s meddling in judicial affairs. After-all, it is with them that the last hope of the citizens rests; it is to them that the country must look up to for guidance as a last resort; and so far, with everything that has happened in the country, their record has been abysmal, if not a downright dereliction of responsibility to our people. However, it is quite unlikely that the Gambia Bar Association will have any legal authority left to accomplish their desire for job security and judicial independence, considering that Yahya Jammeh’s coronation as King has the approval of Banjul. This is due to the fact that last week, in what can only be described as a stunning and jaw-dropping display of craziness, two National Assembly representatives from Banjul, Seedy Njie and Abdoulie Saine declared that, “as far as Banjul is concerned, we endorse the idea.” The idea in case you wonder, is the coronation of Yahya Jammeh as king of The Gambia.

And if these are the caliber of representatives The Gambia has as our law-makers, we are doomed to the mediocrity that has ruined every prospect we have for real social and economic development. And Abdou Jarjue, National Assembly member for Kombo Central, by literally supporting the campaign to coronate Yahya Jammeh, has demonstrated being one of his hand-picked mouthpieces. It can be recalled that prior to the last National assembly election some years ago, Yahya Jammeh in one arrogant sweep of madness, fired all the APRC’s Assembly representatives, including then Majority Leader, Churchill Baldeh, and replaced them with his carefully hand-picked National Assembly class of lackeys. One the other hand, however, Assembly member Hon. Momodou LK Sanneh from Kiang, showed intellectual maturity and leadership in his opposition to such a stupid and infinitely ridiculous idea of Gambian monarchy under Yahya Jammeh. But not everyone in the country is a court jester and Momodou L K Sanneh of Kiang has shown in more ways than one, that there serious Gambians invested in our country’s political success and economic prosperity. And that, at the very minimum, should give us hope that change can happen. The whole country demands it.

 ( First published December 2010)



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