|Chief Justice FAGBENLE|
|Justice Minister SInghateh|
The Nigeria-born Chief Justice of the Gambia has become the forth to be fired by the Gambian dictator in four years by the Gambian dictator. Chief Justice Fagbenle was reportedly fired because he felt the regime has no legal grounds to hold in custody Ousainou Darboe and dozens of members of his United Democratic Party (UDP), According to the dismissed Chief Justice, since they broken no laws, they should be free men and women.
The Cameroon-born Justice Ottaba who was initially assigned the case but had to recuse himself last when discussed the particulars of the case before his court, was also of the same view that the case had no legal merit. In fact, he went on to say that Ousainou Darboe’s case lacked merit and was an “embarrassment” to see a senior member of the bar being treated in the manner that he was being treated, and he expressed the hope that the Inter-Party Committee established to resolve disputes and diffuse political tension of the nature that the Gambia is going through now could step in rather than his court.
Chief Justice Fagbenle had told the Attorney General and Minister of Justice in a heated meeting recently when he noticed that at least three women, namely Fatou Camara, Fatoumata Jawara and Nogoi Njie displayed signed of torture and he had registered his displeasure. In fact, he also made sure he let Mama Fatima Singhateh know that it was alleged that the women may have been raped by the National Intelligence Agency torture team of Yankuba Badgie – a subject that we have reported extensively on.
It was during this meeting that the dismissed Chief Justice counseled the Justice Minister to “keep her house in order” suggesting that the Justice Ministry is in complete disarray, just as the regime of Yaya Jammeh is. The Justice Minister also came under fire at the Pan-African Parliament from a Ghanaian parliamentarian who questioned whether she was the right person to present to the body on human and women’s rights when quoting from a United Nations report which found that torture was “a consistent practice by the authorities” in The Gambia.
Chief Justice Fagbenle was first appointed briefly as Acting CJ in February 2014 when the Pakistani Chief Justice Ali Nawaz Chawhan was dismissed and expelled from the country in May 2015. Justice Fagbenle was substantively appointed to the post last June. Ghanaian Chief Justice, Mabel Agyemang, was appointed in March 2014 and dismissed two months later in the most bizarre of fashions and had to be smuggled out of the country for fear for either being jailed or killed by a mentally unstable dictator. Six months later in January, 2015, and safely at home, Ghanaian President Mahama appointed her Appeals Court Judge.
With the exception of Justice Wowo, all of the other CJs have been professional and highly principled who met similar fates because they refuse to compromise the independence of the judiciary and their own independence by not succumbing to presidential pressures and ministerial directives on who should go to prison and for how long.
Although Chief Justice Agyemang’s tenure was short, in fact the shortest of all of the four of Gambia’s Chief Justices in four years, her appointment was also historic in that she was the first female Chief Justice in post-Independence Gambia. She replaced the Nigeria-born Chief Justice Emmanuel Wowo who was serving a two year prison term – another historic first by a serving CJ – for giving false information to a public officer. He was recently pardoned by the idiosyncratic dictator.
POST SCRIPT – Few moments before publication word reached us that Yaya Jammeh who is presently in Janjangburay, 300 Km from Banjul on a political tour, accompanied by his favorite Nigerian comedians and some Ethiopian comfort girls, had a change of heart and wanted his Minister of Justice to hold off on the dismissal letter until he returns to Banjul.
He fears the dismissal has the potential of breeding confusion within a judiciary that is already in chaos, anyway. The problem that the Minister faces is that the letter has already been delivered to former Chief Justice Fagbenle, and withdrawing it is near impossible because he has been around and has seen how other Chief Justices careers have been ended by Yaya Jammeh. If he’s sensible, he’ll take the first flight out of Banjul International Airport or report to the Nigerian Embassy