By Mohammed Lamin Sillah
In this second and last part we scrutinize the judgment handed by Justice Emanuel Amadi in the case, the ineptitude of the defense lawyers and what we can do as Gambians, living abroad, far from the killer arms of the dictator in Banjul.
Even from a layman’s point of view, it is clear to everyone concerned with the treason trial of Lang Tombong and Co that Justice Emanuel Amadi erred in law profoundly, even if we are to assume that he was righteous and resistant to interference from the Executive. To dish out capital punishment to nine men in a case involving only alleged planning meetings, no action or violence, no loss of lives, is indeed remarkable. And all the more it was where both key witnesses are so unreliable and when all the other prosecution witnesses ,fourteen of them, were all state security employees. But let us not jump the gun. This is a matter of law, and most listeners,readers and my very self are only but laymen in matters of law. Let us therefore take an objective look at the foundations upon which the learned judge said he rested his judgment on.
First, according to the judge, Prosecution Witness Number One, Ebrima Marreh ,said the first accused, Lang Tombong Tamba sent him to “link up” with Kukoi Samba Sanyang and Co. The judge then narrated the evidence of Prosecution Witness Number Fifteen, an NIA officer, who testified on the 28th of April 2010 about the arrest of Marreh at the Farafeni Military barracks and his arrival at the NIA office in Banjul and how Ebrima Marreh disclosed the names of ex-security officers who sent him to the Farafenni barracks, and in-line with that, a panel was set up to investigate the matter and Marreh later informed the panel about the plan and the purpose of his trip to Farafeni.
Neither the panel of investigators nor the proceedings of the trial appeared to have failed to give Marreh’s purpose of being sent to the military camp in Farafenni the scrutiny it deserves. Marreh said he was to link up with Kukoie Samba Sanyang and Company. How was Marreh’s this linking up to help further the alleged planned coup? What type of services could Marreh provide that Lang Tombong and co-conspirators deemed Kukoie and his men would need? Was he to introduce men in the camp to Kukoie and his men? Or was he to recruit men in the camp into the plot and then link them up with Kukoie? Where exactly was Kukoie in the Farafenni environment? How did Kukoie and men evade Senegalese security vigilance? Or was Kukoie in it together with then Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade? The late Gambian dissident denied the story and stated he was then sick in bed in a hotel room in Kumasi, Ghana. It was shortly after his return from The Hague in Holland where he had appeared as witness in the Charles Taylor trial.
What sort of military information or assignment could this young and wild-eyed man, Ebrima Marreh, be safely entrusted with? Both the military camp in Farafenni and the one in Yundum have had their own separate experiences of lunatics walking in and asking for help to overthrow the Jammeh government, so Marreh would have just been considered as candidate number three, I would suppose. If Marrehe was really part of any conspiracy, why wasn’t he provided with a credible cover story or alibi by the ones who sent him. He seemed to have come out clean to the interrogators too early and too easily? Isn’t it unlikely that a former general and chief of defense staff of a national army would assign such task to a young semi-literate and clueless school-dropout like Ebrima Marreh? Where were the hundreds, if not thousands of dismissed and disgruntled former soldiers idling all about the streets of our towns and cities? Where are all those men from Sibanorr and other areas of the Fonis Lang Tombomng helped recruit into the army and who still accord him muffled but still lingering respect and allegiance? Why rely on a man who had never been in the army and who, even Lang Tombong pointed out is not Jola, but Mandinka? A boy he earlier helped paid school fees for but one whose parentage Lang was not even sure about and who had been accused of stealing from the Lang Tombong household, Mrs. Tamba had alleged.
Another thing the judge pointed out as what he based his judgment on was the evidence submitted by Prosecution Witness Number One, Ebrima Marreh’s alleged meeting with Major Kuluteh Manneh at the Yundum Barracks. According to the witness the Major gave him (Marreh) the telephone numbers of some other military officers. He further pointed out that the evidence of the first accused, Lang Tombong Tamba and three other accused persons that they were happy to be dismissed from the armed forces could be regarded as “euphemism” and “unbelievable” having served many years in the Gambia Armed Forces.
But it is my contention that there is nothing euphemistic in the statement of the men that they were glad to be out of the GFA. In fact I wonder if the judge really knows what the word euphemism stands for. “Face the music,“ for example is euphemism for “to be punished;” “ go down the drain” is euphemism for “to fail.” Euphemism is about one term standing for the other for reasons of decorum, political correctness or otherwise. What is “glad to be out of the GFA “substituting here ? Sad to be out of the army?” It may be unbelievable for a Nigerian born Judge without any direct contact with the average Gambian outside his judicial assignment perhaps apart from a driver, gardener or cook, or cleaner who are very unlikely to be their natural selves in the presence of the learned judge.
But for those who have had anything to do with the GAF and its staff both in official and private capacities, we may not be surprised that soldiers leave the GAF with great sense of relief. Life in the GAF is like living in a pit together with a boar constrictor. This being more dangerous than being in that same pit with an explosive, which is more systematic and predictable. It is an institution whose head, the commander in chief is mad, paranoiac and ruthless. The number of murdered, disappeared, detained under the Jammeh era is perhaps more than among any group of Gambians. It is safe to assume that every individual member of the GAF lives in permanent state of fear, nervousness and distress. To be dismissed may mean loss of job and means of sustenance for self and family, but it many a time comes with a psychological release of tensions that is worth jubilating over. No one among dictator Jammeh’s civilian or security top brass can sleep well and live a normal life. This is worse so among soldiers, among whom high attrition rates, nepotism, ethnic and professional rivalries and conspiracies, disappearances and cold blooded murders is the order of the day. So the judge might have been a learned one pedantically, but an ignorant one locally.
However, in delivering his judgment Justice Amadi also went on to touch on the evidence of PW3, Kabirou Saidy, who testified before the court and explained how he had gone out with the sixth accused, Gibirl Ngorr Secka on several occasions, especially to the Samaritan Restaurant in Bissau. The Judge dilated on how PW3, Kabirou Saidy had told the court how he had warned the sixth accused, Gibril Ngorr Secka to be careful of his dealings, and had also seen the sixth accused with one Omar Kamara and second prosecution witness , Rui Jabbi Gassama. This is seen by many as an attempt by the judge to strengthen the cocaine-dealer ’s implicating evidence that the men actually did not only hatched a plot on paper but also acted on it by arranging for three hundred men to be trained, so that the alleged conspirators did not only talk the talk but also walked the walk to meet that level of culpability to warrant the maximum sentence he had decided on , or was instructed, to hand out.
As if saying under his breath, “don’t blame me, Justice Amadi pointed out that Prosecution witness Number Three, Kabirou Saidy was never cross-examined on the evidence by the defense. The Judge also pointed out that Mr. Saidy’s evidence was corroborated by the evidence of Rui Jabbi Gassama, the cocaine dealer. So here, prosecution witness Two and Three corroborated each other’s evidences so mutually that it was worth buying, Justice Amadi indicated.
So based on those several flimsy grounds, the judge found all the nine accused men guilty of conspiracy based on his observation that all the accused men were in telephone contact with each other. But this is ridiculous! Lang Tombong was a charming, humble-looking and sociable man; a football enthusiast who became the Vice President of the Gambia Football Association and therefore had a wide circle of friends, buddies and acquaintances. In fact while in the top echelons of Gambia Armed Forces, Lang Tombong provided the hated army with a human face. So it should not be remarkable that he was in telephone contact with many. If the whole thing is a frame-up, as all the accused persons have claimed, then it must have been framed up in a credible way, that the other alleged conspirators selected must be those Lang Tombong was in regular telephone contact with, not people who can prove in court that they never met him. The chain of evidences was built on Marreh’s alleged confessions to a panel of investigators, this, corroborated circumstantially by witness Number Two, Rui Jabbi Gassama and officially by a number of police and NIA officers. The final seal was provided by the judge’s personal observation that the accused persons had been in tight telephone contact with each other.
On the treason charges the Justice Amadi also found all the accused persons guilty as charged. His judgment, he said, rested on the set of evidences given by Prosecution Witness Number Five, Lamin Cham, a police detective; Prosecution Witness Number Three, Kabiro Saidy, an employee at the Gambia Embassy in Guinea Bissau; Prosecution Witness Number One, Ebrima Marreh; and Prosecution Witness Number Two, Rui Jabbi Kassama.
In his testimony Lamin Cham had told the court that he was part of the officers who conducted a search on the house of the first accused, Lang Tombong Tamba and recovered some military items found in his residence.
According to the judge, the first accused Lang Tombong Tamba accepted that the said items were recovered in his residence, but he advanced the items were packed in a suitcase which he forgot after his removal from the service on the 9th of October 2009.The judge then revealed that the evidence of PW5 has been corroborated and he believes those military items were deliberately left in the house of the first accused for the purpose of a coup plot. The judge then backed up his comment with decided cases with reference to circumstantial evidences on issues of corroboration.
But most of his reasoning around this crucial element in the case was not sound. The materials found were a used ceremonial military uniform and an officer’s pistol, none of which was indispensable in any planned overthrow of any government. But the learned judge said he doubted Lang Tombong Tamba’s forgetfulness on this matter without explaining it properly. Why was this doubt so fundamental? And why was the accused, whose life was at stake, not given benefit of the doubt?
Justice Emmanuel Amadi did not care to explain why he refrained from giving the accused person the benefit of the doubt, instead he went on pointing at another evidence. That is the evidence of second prosecution witness, Rui Jabbi Kassama, who claimed to have trained 300 mercenaries at a border village between Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry. This piece of evidence was laughable as shown by the murmurs from the listeners in the overcrowded court room. Rui Gassama further informed the court that the authorities in Guinea did not know about his training and that he was assisted by some French and Americans instructors. However, no names of the instructors was asked or given, no photographs of the training ground were tendered in court, nothing was said of the whereabouts of the trained three hundred men; instead we only hear about the training ground. Which Rui Gassama said was close to Bambadinka a village not far from a village called Bafata but did not know if there was any military camp there. Unless there is an other less known settlement with that name, the Bafata that most people know is the regional capital of the region with the same name and also the capital of the Dioceses of Bafata; the birthplace of liberation war hero, Amilca Cabral that lies in the center of the country, not near the border with Guinea Conakry.
Under cross-examination, one of the defense lawyers asked Rui Gassama if there were any training manuals that the court could be shown, but the witness answered that there were none. in the negative, saying there was none, but (PW2) said he conducted the training at a place called Bambadinka, not far, he said, from a village called Bafata, but he denied knowledge as to whether there was any military camp in that village as suggested by a defense counsel.
But despite all these, Justice Amadi went on to say, “Based on this evidence, I therefore hold that the sixth accused and Kukoie Samba Sanyang engaged the services of the Prosecution Witness Number Two in training mercenaries on behalf of all the accused persons.”
The judge noted further that the sixth accused denied knowing Rui Gassama as well as having had no knowledge of any coup plot. The presiding judge said he believed that the sixth accused, Ngorr Secka “knows the witness very well and they had operations together.” The judge then backed up his comment with citation of some of the decided cases on the issues of denying the truth, and made references to the law of evidence book authored by Hassan B. Jallow
Next, the judge pointed out the evidence of PW2 Rui Jabbi Kassama, who testified that he took both the sixth accused and Kukoi Samba Sanyang to a big marabout called Kankai Suwareh, who gave them some charms and ordered them to sacrifice 21 cows for the purpose of staging a coup plot in The Gambia. PW2 revealed the cost of each cow was 150,000 CFA and the said sacrifices should be held in the evening of a Friday. The judge said he believed the witness when he said he misled both the sixth accused and Kukoi to believe that the marabout said the offering of sacrifices should take place in the early morning of a Friday instead of the evening so as make their coup plot fail.
This is the gist of Justice Amadi’s judgment and it is clear how hollow it looks and that it just goes to display how mercenary our judges can be, especially when Nigerian born.
But the trial also is a manifestation of the ineptitude of Gambian lawyers. The performance of the four or five defense councils, all of them senior, left much to be desired. When the case came up of for appeal, the appeal judge had to urge the lawyers to take the lives of their clients more seriously and to go study their case properly. The lawyers failed to demonstrate the unreliability of the two principal prosecution witnesses properly when there turned out many such opportunities in the course of the trial. Prosecution witness Number Three, Kabirou Saidy was never cross-examined on the evidence he gave by any of the defense lawyers; the lawyers never counter-check to see if Rui’s claims that cow could be bought for CFA 150 000 at the time was credible; they did not check the amount Rui Gassama claimed was to charge for transporting 300 men from Bambadinka to Banjul was reasonable; what transported Ebrima Marreh from the Kombos to Farafenni, by public transport or private, taxi? etc, etc. The defense lawyers also failed to make legal point of the fact that a co-accused, co-convicted, Youssef Ezzedine alias Rambo had been secretly smuggled out of jail and the country when a visiting Qatari prince paid US3 million to the corrupt Gambian autocrat. Gambians abroad can try to trace Mr. Ezzedine , perhaps through social media, and try to get him lead or take part in an international campaign to save the lives of the seven on the death row in Banjul.
Another person who Overseas Gambians should try to get in touch with is the deported former Nigerian born Director of Public Prosecutor Richard Chenge. At the end of the trial, Mr. Chenge triumphantly told journalists that he is happy about the sentence, noting that the presiding Judge, did gave a correct verdict. He explained that under Section 35 of the criminal code, the court has the discretion to impose death or life imprisonment sentence on any person or persons found guilty of treason.
He further explained that where the evidence shows that there was conspiracy to kill the president, the appropriate penalty or sentence is death, because section 35 (2) g of the Criminal Code clearly says that if there is an attempt or actual killing of the president, death sentence is mandatory. DPP revealed that his argument was that where there is a conspiracy to kill the president as in this case, the appropriate sentence is death. “In both cases of attempt and conspiracy, the law is seeking to prevent the killing of the president and to agree to kill the president is bad,” DPP, Richard Chenge concluded. It was not long after he said this that Mr. Chenge himself was abducted, put in a plane and kicked out of the country and thus provided with another angle of looking at the country. Perhaps he would be ready to help save the lives of the seven men , knowing the eighth convict, Yusseff Ezzedine, has been released after an Arab Prince paid the ransom money. His Christian conscience may not allow him to refuse. If he has none remaining and refuses to cooperate we can contact the Nigerian Bar Association and other Human Rights groups in Nigeria to put pressure on him. He has actually participated in farcical trial that wrongly sentenced eight people to death and was aware of the secrete release of Youssef Ezzedine and his dispatch out of the country. Even when Ezzedine’s defense lawyer asked about her client’s whereabouts, Chenge lied to the court that he didn’t know.