Jobarteh-Wowo Video Exposes Gambia’s Judicial Graft

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By Baba Jobe

In democratic states where freedom, justice and rule of law are respected, the judiciary system is the government arm that preserves and protects the rights of individuals. The judiciary is expected to act freely and fairly in accordance with national and international laws. A properly functioning judiciary should be independent of executive and its officials including the head of state and/or prime minister. It should be unbiased and free from executive orders. In the Gambia, the Judiciary operates in a completely different form.

The Gambia, a non democratic state, has a judiciary system headed by the country’s president. He single-handedly appoints all the chief personnel. Since Jammeh came into power the judiciary has been criticised for its incompetence and dependence on the government. Jammeh is regarded as the super-judge of the system who gives instructions to judges from his bedroom. He dictates who should be arrested, detained, prosecuted and convicted. Under Jammeh’s authority people are arrested and detained for more than the constitutional detention limit of seventy-two hours without being charged.

People regarded as anti-Jammeh regime or those who Jammeh regards as acting against his best interest have never receive fair trials. Equally some ‘’better of’’ people serving in his government are often arrested and prosecuted for economic crimes, even if they acquired wealth outside government portfolio. In general, most state related or Jammeh related prosecutions are politically motivated. No one has ever escape conviction as long as Jammeh wants to deal with you. Baba K Jobe, whose lawyer Ousman Sillah was shot by state sponsored gunmen, is a classic victim of injustice in the Gambia. People who defy Jammeh’s orders risk arrests and unlawfull detentions. Mambury Njie, a former minister was detained by the state for his opposition to the 2012 executions of the nine Gambian death row inmates.

Unlike in modern democratic states, in the Gambia a judge has never intervened to stop unlawful treatments to individuals by the state. Many people are missing or secretly killed in the country, but the government never investigate such matters. Judges would appear as if they don’t even know what is going on. We expect judges to be professional and trustworthy. But the Gambian judges are the worst unprofessional and unethical beings of mankind. They are just there to answer commands and to accept bribes.

The Gambian judiciary has long being criticised for its dependency on Jammeh that makes it totally unprofessional. The constitution is rather a sham than a genuine one. Only laws enabling Jammeh to punish his opponents are upheld by the judges. On the contrary laws meant to protect rights of individuals such as right to access legal services, right to fair trials are always ignored in cases involving the regime. Imam Baba Leigh is the recent victim of such injustice but journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh’s case is the worst of all cases.

The Gambia Judiciary is so corrupt that it torments anyone who comes into contact with it. The corrupt practices in the Judiciary have been groomed from the top, starting with Jammeh himself. That has resulted into a vicious circle. He orders judges to give severe sentences to his opponents. Now those students he groomed are the most corrupt judges in the system. While they give him what he wants, they also capitalised from the civil cases by asking for and accepting bribes.

The corrupt practices and injustice of the system in the Gambia has concerned many Gambians both at home and abroad. Many accusations and allegations have been made against judges, especially the foreign ones about their corrupt and unfair nature, which they have always denied. Of course the chief judge Jammeh has never been spared because he is always at the center of matters.

The YouTube revelation of the corrupt practices of the recently ‘appointed and fired’ Chief Justice Joseph Wowo and Lamin Jobarteh, the former Justice Minister, has brought light into the darkness. They were secretly recorded while they were lobbying for bribery from parties of pending cases by threatening them to pay some money or lose their cases. This practice is the least that should be expected from someone in the judiciary.

This is how the Gambian justice system works, totally appalling. This reminds me of the last year’s executions when the Gambia government reiterated that all the victims had been tried in competent courts and they had all exhausted their appeals. If this is the type of judiciary that operates in the Gambia, then I challenge the state to define what a competent court is. I believe the current system doesn’t have anything like competent court and this makes the executions illegal.

In the Gambia the judiciary could best be dubbed as a system designed to facilitate the punishment of the unfortunates of the Jammeh regime and an income earning machine for the judges. It’s a system that punishes the innocence and reserves the culprits. It’s this Judiciary that convicted and sentenced people to life imprisonment for preparing to protest against a failed regime. This same Judiciary also witnessed the arrest of concerned Gambians who made formal application to the police to protest against the regime for unconstitutional executions of death row inmates.

Like many others, I believe that this recent revelation of Jobarteh and Wowo is just one in thousands dubious practices occurring in the Gambia justice system. In systems like this no one is protected and no one is safe under it. At this present situation of the Gambia political environment it would be hard to bring about change. For this reason we should expect more unlawful arrests and detentions, further unfair trials and perpetual injustice in the country.




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