The recent defeat of dictatorship in our motherland has woken up that good angel of patriotism in the country in different forms including the strong desire to take control of our institutions and ultimately our future and destiny. We would like to see Gambians running our national institutions such as the Judiciary, public companies etc. We want to gambianize everything Gambian. That is a good thing. We have very capable Gambians both at home and abroad who can deliver goods for our people efficiently like any other foreigner, if not even better. For example, a Nigerian or a Malaysian should not be allowed to head a banking institution in the Gambia when there are even more capable Gambians who can run these institutions better. These banks may be majority-owned by Nigerians or Malaysians for example, but they are operating on the Gambian soil and competent Gambians should not be discriminated from heading such institutions in our own country. However, my concerns in this article is about the Gambian Judiciary.
During the twenty-two years of Jammeh Dictatorship, Gambians came up with all fancifully-coined terms, which even the English would be proud of, such as “Nigerian Mercenary Judges”. We came up with these terms for good reasons because some of these judges or lawyers were used to do the Dictator’s dirty work for him and thus enabled him to entrench himself. However, to blame the Nigerians or foreign judges and lawyers for our problems is totally unfair and unacceptable for the following simple reasons: During the twenty-two years of carnage, there has never been a Justice Minister who was a foreigner. They were all Gambians, period! By the way, we had more Justice Ministers during this period than any other portfolio. By the time one was fired, other Gambians would be lurking their heads to be hired to continue doing the dirty work for the Dictator. Did we forget that the killings of Mile-2-Nine was justified by a Justice Minister who was Gambian, the disappearance of Chief Manneh was covered-up by a Justice Minister who was Gambian, all the illegal arrests, tortures and disappearances took place under the watch or active participation of Justice Ministers who were all Gambians. On the bench too we had far more Gambians than foreigners and the illegal jailing of innocent Gambians were done at the behest of the Regime by Gambian judges in the same way the so-called “mercenary judges” were doing. We the Gambians however, love to blame others for our problems while presenting ourselves as angels. I AM NOT IN ANY WAY SAYING THAT ALL GAMBIAN LAWYERS/JUDGES ARE CULPABLE IN REDUCING OUR JUDICIARY TO TRASH DURING THE JAMMEH REGIME. FAR FROM THAT. THERE WERE AND THERE ARE STILL A LOT OF DECENT GAMBIAN LAWYERS WHO FOUGHT TOOTH AND NAIL TO END THE DICTATORSHIP AND WHO UNDER ALL PRESSURE STOOD FIRM AND SERVED JUSTICE. MANY GOT FIRED, MANY WENT TO JAIL AND MANY WENT INTO EXILE FOR DOING THEIR JOB WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOR.
However, due to peculiar nature of our country, it will be suicidal and self-destructive to try to make our judiciary fully Gambian. A country of less than two million people where not only do we all practically know each other but we are all related and connected in one way or the other. We may end up having a judiciary controlled by a selected few who will decide who wins or loses at the courts. Please let nobody say that will never happen again, this is because it had happened over the past twenty-two years. It is very rare to hear of a Gambian judge recusing himself from a case for conflict of interest. Our problems have not necessarily been about mercenary judges but it was about how those individuals were selected or appointed. If the president or the executive can hire an individual as a judge without due process and that person knows that his job security depends on satisfying the president, how do you expect such a judge to execute his duties? Did these so-called mercenary judges acted different than our Gambian brothers in the security forces who ended up liquidating dozens of fellow Gambians?
During the Jawara regime (by the way I am not a big fan of either regimes, Jawara or Jammeh) we did not have scourge of mercenary judges because hiring of foreign legal experts followed a standard process which was immune to abuse to a large extent. For example Judges were hired from the Commonwealth countries in the form of technical assistance from member countries. These judges were hired or seconded for specific periods and their job security was not necessarily in the hands of the Gambia government and hence they had no reason to act unfairly or corrupt to satisfy anybody. More so, these judges hired through technical assistance from other countries were usually the best quality out there because the donor countries would like to make good impression.
Having credible foreign judges blended in the Judiciary of a small country like ours will only ensure fairness and increase confidence in the whole institution. The fact that we are back in the Commonwealth and have better relationship with the rest of the world gives us a better opportunity to diversify our Judiciary with experienced and God-fearing (to quote dictator Jammeh regarding IEC chairman) legal luminaries from other countries. This will prevent our Judiciary from degenerating into a clique. The government should put in place clear and deliberate policies that will ensure that credible foreign judges serve on our benches with their Gambian counterparts to provide the necessary checks and balances. The policy should clearly specify that the process of hiring these judges should be totally through bilateral or multilateral channels and under no circumstance should any foreign judge be hired at individual level even after his original employment contract comes to an end. The policy should limit the influence the executive will have in hiring these judges.
Let us remember that the Judiciary is the last hope for the common man and when society loses confidence in its justice system, it degenerates into Jungle Justice System (similar to Jammeh using his Junglers to implement his agenda) and consequently self-destruction.