I was invited to attend a forum on impunity in Finland on May 3rd this year. Due to busy schedules I could not make the trip. The organiser of the program, IFEX asked me to do a video which was played during the program.
Find below the video and transcript of my presentation:
I thank the Media Foundation for West Africa and the International Freedom of Exchange organisations (IFEX) for the invitation even though I’m thousands of miles away.
I sought assistance from the Media Foundation for West Africa so I can sue the Gambia government at the ECOWAS Community Court in Nigeria simply because I want my dignity back. I was a victim of 22 days detention without trial during which I was tortured for three consecutive nights. I took the government to court because I want to set precedence – to be that sacrificial lamb who tasted the muddy waters. Someone has to take the belligerent Gambian government down; it must not be allowed to walk away with impunity; a government whose hands are dirtied with innocent blood. I felt guilty of committing a crime if I folded my hands instead of challenging a government that violated my fundamental human rights, degraded my human dignity and seized my God-given rights. I survived simply because of untiring efforts of others who stood for me until I got out of prison. These people denied themselves sleep, time and resources until their work paid off. Would I be doing justice stice if I don’t take action that would inspire others? No! I want the brutal government to pay the price of negative publicity. So that the people who torture are exposed and president’s name soiled.
When the ECOWAS court in December 2010 handed down verdict in my favour, the late Ghanaian presenter at BBC African Service asked whether my victory was a symbolic one. My answer was an emphatic no. How wrong was I? Little did I know that ECOWAS is a very weak institution. Several years down the line, I came to terms with the fact that I had underestimated the weakness of ECOWAS at the time. This weakness was demonstrated last year when two smallest ECOWAS countries – the Gambia and Togo – held the regional grouping hostage. Instead of taking down these two young presidents — Yahya Jammeh and Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé who want to rule their countries forever even if it means stepping on dead bodies — ECOWAS pampered them to get away with their heart desire.
It’s the same ECOWAS that is raising frustrating levels of everyone, including the president of the ECOWAS Court who last year complained that members’ lack of compliance was rendering the institution useless.
But ECOWAS has a bleak history. In 1989 the same ECOWAS folded its hands when Samuel Doe government massacred over 600 people who sought refugee at a church in Monrovia. No president talked about it, and it never became an issue until a Liberian journalist lodged a complaint at the Gambian High Commission in Sierra Leone. When former president Dawda Jawara was put in the picture, as the chairman of the body, he had put in place ECOMOG, with the belief that you don’t sit back and watch if your neighbour’s house is on fire.
The same ECOWAS could not have the muscle to halt Yahya Jammeh from executing nine death row inmates in September 2012. Yahya Jammeh was not bothered when ECOWAS complained about irregularities in the Gambia’s 2011 elections knowing fully the toothless regional bloc won’t do anything. It is simply a dog that neither barks nor bites.
After knowing all these things about ECOWAS, who would blame me for asking our leaders to dismantle the ECOWAS court. At least, this will put money back into our national coffers. What is the essence of having a court whose decisions will be left in the drawers unimplemented?
Yahya Jammeh is the only obstacle to the implementation of the ECOWAS Court judgments. He is a dictator who anoints everything, a dictator who is full of ego and does not accept defeat. He believes he is the only person who deserves the right to bully others and get away with it. As long as he remains in office, he will haul insults at ECOWAS. Just few weeks ago, the same Yahya Jammeh had the audacity to summon Senegal at the ECOWAS court for violating the key protocol of free movement of people, goods and services. Instead of ignoring or frustrating the community’s court, ECOWAS sent fact-finding mission to Banjul and Dakar.
ECOWAS has woefully failed its citizens. It is never there for us especially when we are in need or when we get whipped. No wonder able-bodied, skillful and talented ECOWAS youths have decided to comb Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea, in search of their dreams. Dreams they cannot find home because they have leaders in both national and regional levels who care less about them. For these thousands of youths, the salvation lies in this perilous journey of no-return.
It’s an irony for the ECOWAS to create vital court only to leave it at the mercy of countries like the Gambia. Our leaders have created the ECOWAS court and went to sleep expecting decisions to implement themselves. The major problem of ECOWAS is structural failure. Even the court itself has raised alarms on failure to implement judgments. What is the essence of having a court whose decision will be useless.
In conclusion, ECOWAS citizens have lost confidence in the court. Only Nigeria and Guinea have national authorities that deal with ECOWAS court decisions. The question becomes where are our democratic giants – Senegal and Ghana? This is not the kind of ECOWAS the citizens want. Thank you all for your kind attention.