IS THE BRUTAL KILLING OF SOLO SANDENG AND SUBSEQUENT ARREST AND DETENTION OF OUSAINOU DARBOE AND CO DEEP CLEANING THE ALREADY INFECTED GAMBIA JUDICIARY?May 21, 2016
By Ex Police Officer Abdul Aziz Sowe
Please allow me space in your newspaper once again to express my observations on events happening in the Gambia. What seems to be unfolding in the Gambia these few weeks is really eye catching as judges fell and legal experts get fired one after the other. These all started since the country’s main Opposition Leader of the United Democratic Party and his executives were illegally arrested and charged for disturbing the peace and other bogus criminal charges.
The whole wrangling started when Ebrima Solo Sandeng one executive member of the UDP was arrested for protesting for electoral reforms with banners, a whistle and a megaphone. He was said to have never refused arrest but yet again he was allegedly tortured and said to have been killed as a result of torture and other members of his group Fatoumata Jawara, Ndogoi Njie, Fatou Camara, Modou Ngum Mr. Fatty ect. As the case unfolds, it seems a lot of legal staff and judges are said to be trying everything and even praying to avoid taking over the case as most are uncomfortable in handling the case as it is a clear political one. The executive interference into the judicial decision is evident everywhere and many judges and legal staff currently face the grin of the dictator’s axe.
The first causality was justice Ottaba who after his famous interview with Journalist Fatu Camara of Faturadio Network was said to have felt uncomfortable to handle the case. The interview was widely aired and shared on social media, showcasing the real intent of the dictatorship to use them foreign Judges to imprison main opposition Leader Ousainou Darboe and co even when no crime had been committed. Gambians both at home and abroad have observed that since the alleged Killing of Ebrima Solo Sandeng who was said to have been tortured and killed while under state custody, the Gambia seized to remain business as usual. Even those who pretended to ignore what is happening all knew Gambia has changed from state of fear to a state of defiance. No one would imagine in March this year that in few days or weeks, Gambians would publicly stand in the streets and defy Dictator Yahya Jammeh in public. But that has changed. Also for a sitting judge to publicly admit in an open interview or even in a private phone conversation with someone you do not know shows Gambia has began the journey of no return.
After the interview with Fatu Camara, Justice Ottaba was said to have removed himself from the Darboe and Co case and also President Jammeh who always accused Mandinkas of tribalism and mostly against his regime in anger was said to have fired Mr. Cherno Marena the Solicitor General and replaced him with Saffie Sankareh who prior to her appointment was a state council, at the Attorney General’s chambers responsible for representing Government’s interest in domestic courts, drafting of primary and subsidiary legislations, preparing treaty documents for ratification as well as offering legal opinion to Ministries and government Agencies. She holds an LLB Degree from the University of Aberystwyth in Wales and LLM Hons degree in International Law from the University of Bristol in England. She is a Barrister of Law at Gray’s inn in the United Kingdom and also a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of the Gambia. She also lectures International Trade and Investment Law at the University of the Gambia.
Another latest causality is Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle. The firing of the Gambia’s Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle was said to have resulted from Justice Ottaba’s debacle and it has thus the resulted in the sacking of three of the four infamous Emmanuels brought as Machinery Judges to the Gambia by Dictator Jammeh to luck up his perceived opponents. First it was Nigerian Emmanuel Agim who was used and systematically elevated to chief Justice as he continued doing the bidding of the Dictator only to be wasted and dismissed, then Emmanuel Nkea who too received a similar fate after being used and wasted. Now it is believed Emmanuel Fagbenle who too has been taken to the dictatorial gallows for the sacrifice. Both Emmanuel Agim and Fagbenle are Nigerians while Emmanuel Nkea was said to come from Cameroon and both reached their peak in Gambia’s legal field for their service to Yahya Jammeh by becoming Chief Justices of the Gambia. Fagbenle was formerly the President of Appeals Court and Director of Public Prosecution a position mostly occupied by Nigerians since Dictator Yahya Jammeh came to power in 1994 and he is reportedly blamed for allowing Justice Ottaba to blink in the middle of a fight. Report had it that he too like his predecessors, was earlier arrested and detained by intelligence agents before his firing.
It is now reported that Justice Eunice O. Dada of the Banjul High Court who was the same judge who on the 12 May 2016 granted bail to Mr. Ansumana Jammeh (Brother of Yahya Jammeh), and the former Gambian Ambassador to Qatar, with his co accused Sanna Bah and Assan Badjie in the sum of 60 Million Dalasi a thing never heard of in Gambia’s legal history. When she said the following and I coate: “Bail is hereby granted to the accused persons in the sum of 60 Million Dalasi with two Gambian sureties who must submit the original of their title deeds to the Principal Registrar of the high court,” It was clear She was doing the bidding of someone but not following the law for Ansumana and co have not committed any crime against State but that is Yahya Jammeh. He wanted to make Ansumana Jammeh’s case to be seen as look Yahya did not even favor his own brother therefore he is fair. But where on earth has a misdemeanor case been bailed at 60 Million Dalasi? There is no doubt the case has been given to this lady Dada so that she can do as Yahya wish. Remember she too is Nigerian and Gambians and the international community are closely watching to see what she will do. We all saw what happened at the Kanifing Court when Magistrate Hilary Abeke of the Kanifing Magistrates’ Court on the 17 May, 2016 said his hands were tied and that the Yahya Jammeh’s government should go back with the case of 6 women Kaddy Samateh, a lactating mother of a one month old baby, Isatou Saidy, who is 60 years old, Lele Bojang, Sukai Dahaba, Fatou Sarr and Amie Touray who were charged with seven counts of Unlawful assembly, Riot, Incitement of violence, Holding procession without a permit’, Idle and disorderly behavior, Common nuisance and Prohibition of conduct conducive to the breach of the peace.
When the case was called, Lamin Jarju and Sheriff Kumba Jobe, state counsels, appeared for the Inspector General of Police (IGP), while the accused persons were represented by lawyers Janet Sallah-Njie, Loubna Farage, Haddy Dadeh Njie, Sagarr Jahateh and Anna Njie, who are all members of the Female Lawyers Association of the Gambia (FLAG). After announcing their representations, the presiding magistrate told Ms. Samateh, the lactating mother who was carrying her baby in the dock, and Isatou Saidy, the elderly woman, to sit down. At this juncture, the lead defence counsel Lawyer Sallah-Njie told the court that the matter is for ruling. She further said that as a team of defence lawyers they are relieved that even though no order was made for the accused persons to be produced before the court, they are in court as required by law. “We are objecting for ruling to be delivered today simply because the ruling is for bail and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution has taken over the case. The matter is for bail as I was briefed. We will file fresh charges against the accused persons and all what we are asking for is a short adjournment to enable us to file,” said State counsel Jarjou.
Responding to the prosecution’s objection, Barrister Sallah-Njie told the court that she is a bit flabbergasted with the position of the prosecution. She said she does not understand how and in what position of the law is the objection of the State counsel based on regarding the delivery of a ruling when the court already adjourned the matter for ruling. She added that she did not make any application warranting objection and that she only reminded the court about the ruling. Lawyer Sallah-Njie said the prosecution’s objection is erroneous because the ruling has nothing to do with bail. “This ruling is consistent and the order should be obeyed by the prosecution and the defence,” she said. She added that until the ruling is appealed against it has to be obeyed. She further said that there is no legal basis and that the taking over of the case cannot bar this ruling by the court. She said the prosecution’s objection is misconceived and that she is urging the court to disregard it. The defence counsel further said that the prosecution told the court that they intend to file a fresh charge and that this court should stay off proceedings. “This is an aberration and he does not provide justification to stay off proceeding. What is before the court is that the state has taken over and if they intend to file, they should apply for the charges to be struck out because the accused persons are denied their right to liberty. Orders of the court are meant to be obeyed,” said Lawyer Sallah-Njie.
Prosecutor Jarjou wanted to refer the court to what he said earlier but the defense counsel interjected thus telling the State counsel to reply on points of law and not to reiterate his earlier argument. “Let me make my submission or I will not sit down. Let her allow us to make our submission. She did not raise a single law so there is no need to reply on points of law. I will allow the court to do a ruling,” said the prosecutor. In his ruling, the presiding magistrate said he will urge both parties, especially the counsels in the matter, to go through the case file especially the one taking over. He added that the one handing over the case should properly brief the one taking over it otherwise it will bring misunderstanding. Magistrate Abeke therefore over ruled the prosecution’s objection on the delivery of a ruling on the matter.
The trial magistrate said he has read through the arguments of both parties and that in his prior ruling he had told the prosecution to go and put their house in order and to seek the consent of the Attorney General and that the charges are incompetent. He said he had also ordered for the accused persons to be granted police bail. Magistrate Abeke said the defense counsels argued that they were denied access to their clients. He said they did not tell the court what they did to secure the bail of the accused persons and that they have not exhibited it and as such the court cannot speculate. “In my ruling on the 12 of May 2016, I advised the defense to apply for a police bail and the court cannot make any order when the accused persons are not before the court. The charges were not even read to them and they are not arraigned and they are not before the court and as such the court cannot do anything about it,” said Magistrate Abeke. At this juncture, Lawyer Sallah-Njie said based on the ruling, she is applying for the charges to be struck out. “When charges are found to be incompetent, they ought to be struck out as required by the law,” said the defense counsel.
Responding to the defense counsel’s application, the prosecution argued that the ruling was very clear and that there is nothing before the court. He added that he is very surprised to hear such an application from the defense. He said they are applying for a short adjournment to enable them file fresh charges. For records purposes, my application is for the charges to be struck out, not the process. If there is nothing before this court, why should we adjourn the case? When charges are improper, they should be struck out and the application for adjournment is misconceived,” submitted Barrister Sallah-Njie. She further said that certain issues were raised which were ignored in the ruling of the magistrate such as the right of the vulnerable. These issues are still relevant because you can hear the cry of a baby in court,” said Barrister Sallah-Njie. However, the presiding magistrate said he has repeatedly been telling the prosecution to go back and put their house in order and which they did not do but instead handed over the case to the State. He said even the application for an adjournment is not before him. It was only of another date he was able to grant them bail. Is these all not a clear indication that the judiciary is in total panic?
We shall be able to find out when the dust settles as the cloud is still thick.
God save the Gambia!