Tambadu Bows Out: A Safe Pair of Hands or a Mis-sell?
By Pa Louis Sambou
I am sure very few would have predicted such high-profile resignation this close into election year. Given the circumstances surrounding the myriad of ‘pies’ under the custodianship of Ba Tambadu’s brief, I doubt his resignation would have conferred any favours to the health of such matters. The same can certainly not be said of our ‘Bus driver’; it’s often said that assumptions are the mothers of all cockups but, with this one, it’s a safe bet – one can safely assume that the resignation was one which President Adama Barrow received with incandescent joy. One gets the impression that Ba Tambadu isn’t really signed up to the lousy white horse stuff or, if he is, he’s probably an NPP ‘heretic’ so, I doubt his resignation is in any way a blow to President Barrow personally, politically or at all as some commentators opined.
A fair assessment of the short but colourful time in office of Ba Tambadu as Attorney General is one which must take into account not just his unique ‘jack-of-all-trade’ (and Jekyll and Hyde) approach to management but, the unique political circumstances which propelled him to such position which he’ll later craft into his personal career springboard or, PR machine for a more fitting description.
Ba was marketed by the ‘Coalition machine’ as a safe pair of hands with enormous gravitas and wit. Now, was this a mis-sell? A straight ‘yes’ or an outright ‘no’ as an answer won’t do justice to the subject matter – it’s tempting but, it’s perhaps wise to resist the urge to offer a simplistic black and white response to a rainbow of a question. I hasten to add that some of the questions around this subject are ones I find rather fascinating: sections of the Gambian media asking the public ‘how they think history would judge Ba’. The premise of such a question implies that we should reserve judgement on the subject to students of history at some later era in the distant future. I couldn’t disagree more with such a flawed premise. It does not occur to me that history is some detached exercise which is specially assigned to some red tape edifice to compile and publish to the rest of society after a lifetime of procrastination and dither but rather, reliable history is a contemporaneous record, compiled and collated overtime. Therefore, basking on the aforementioned, I won’t be forecasting on how I think history would report on the subject matter but rather, I aim to assist the reliable record(ing) of such history by objectively unpacking the 1,239 days (7 February 2017 to 30 June 2020) of former Attorney General Abubakar Tambadu, as Minister of Justice & Attorney General (A.G), Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Cabinet Minister in charge of transitional justice.
As Minister of Justice and Attorney General, there is nothing to suggest that the nature of his brief would have been substantively different from that of any predecessors but for the sea change uniqueness of his ‘Client’ cohort, President Barrow and the Gambian people. The latter are the high maintenance type and often somewhat unreasonable it has to be said, as for the former, one gets the impression that he is the special needs type, although not Ex Prisons DG, David Colley special credit to him. For these reasons therefore, one wouldn’t be wrong to suggest we cut Ba Tambadu some slack on this front. The legal advice or lack thereof vis-á-viz the confirmation of the unlawful appointment of ex Vice President Fatoumata Jallow Tambajang, the unlawful dismissal of Ya Kumba Jaiteh nominated National Assembly Member and other matters of similar political dimension weren’t ones which portrayed him (Ba) in any good light nor did his professional credibility any favours at all. On these matters, there is the school of thought which, for reasons of emotional or misguided party political motivations would take very entrenched positions either way, although politically acceptable but, for reasons of objectivity neither of these are reasonable in my view. On these matters and only these, it is fair and reasonable to accord Ba’s indiscretions a much wider degree of exceptional discretion given the uncharted political waters he had to navigate within a ‘Coalition’ of parties with fundamentally opposing interests and objectives.
Another shade of his responsibility as Justice Minister was to oversee the legal operations at the A.G’s Chambers. Under his stewardship, we’ve seen the Gambia government enter into numerous legal agreements of various forms with the most prominent of these being the fishing deals with Senegal, the EU and the Chinese. As it later turned out, none of these serve our legitimate interest more than they assist the draining of resources in what is a very critical national industry. Critical in the sense that the availability of viable marine stocks is what sustains economic activity in our coastal settlements, it is therefore not difficult to see how a depletion of such stocks could result in total collapse of economic activity in coastal settlements. This is a national security issue which it appears Ba Tambadu as Justice Minister, in offering legal advice for such ‘deals’ to be pursued, gravely overlooked and to our economic, social and sovereign detriment. He is the slick type who would conveniently wrap himself around a well-rehearsed script, making good use of plausible deniability to distance himself from anything and everything not good enough for his C.V; Ba will always find an excuse where none is available and, if he doesn’t find any, he’ll make one up. This is the impression one gets of him. A classic example of this would be the pathetic contradictory statements from what used to be his office and subsequently an unhinged diatribe of a substance-less message from him following the granting of pardon for a very dangerous criminal, Mr Sven Agasandåker (a Norwegian paedophile who raped multiple Gambian children) thanks to the legal advice to the President or dereliction of duty which one can only attribute to Mr Tambadu. Coincidentally, it had been reported that this ‘well-behaved mile 2 resident’ was a Client to one Mr Sheriff Marie Tambadu. I needn’t say any more. I guess this is for another day. The above mentioned are not isolated incidents but a constant fixture at the Justice Ministry under the tenure of the subject matter.
The absence of an independent DPP is, I must add another fundamental setback which left and continues to allow the political Executive to hug and derail the embattled wheels of Gambian due process. Why has the President under Ba’s tenure not appointed a DPP is one question which I hope we will someday get an answer to. What was Ba’s Counsel to him on this subject? Was Ba being remunerated in excess of his normal wage packet as minister for wearing the DPP hat alongside his regular A.G brief and if so, has such undermined his ability to properly counsel the President to appoint a DPP? Whatsoever the answers to these questions and reason for such unsatisfactory state of affairs, the results of such speak for themselves: the cases involving Yankuba Badjie and co (and the D16 million ‘dole’ to Sheriff Tambadu and co), Yankuba Touray and, the continued unlawful detention without charge of Soldiers accused of gross human rights abuses, the release of some of the ‘Junglers’ also accused of the aforementioned, and the inability to pursue any meaningful judicial mechanisms in order to seek the extradition of those accused of gross human rights abuses under Jammeh but, no longer within jurisdiction and the ‘three years jot na’ ludicrous over charging (treason). I very much doubt that an impartial DPP with the same knowledge of the facts and /or evidence etc. would have made these terrible but entirely avoidable errors and unethical (if not worse) calculations.
Some serious questions need to be asked of some of these, I have no doubt in my mind that like me, most other Gambians would appreciate some forthrightness on these. Ba is now out of the tent (or ‘Bus’ as his former boss likes to call it) and no longer bound by the doctrine of collective responsibility so, in my view, he should address these and not allow speculation and unhinged punditry to continue to inform our understanding of such matters. Or, has President Barrow gagged him, or will he offer a fudge, obfuscate these and do a John Bolton (starve the public of answers and use the interest in these matters to sell his book and cash in on information to which the public has a right to be freely availed in the first place)? I suspect the latter is the most likely outcome. If so, I would humbly and solemnly encourage him to donate all proceeds to the plight of the Victims of Jammeh including the followers of ‘Serign’ (Cleric) Ndigal of Kerr Mot Hali whose victimhood the government he served as chief legal adviser refuses to acknowledge by continuing to refuse to honour and act in accordance with the High Court ruling of October 2017.
By the above measure, if the A.G’s Chambers were a firm in private practice, I doubt it’ll still be in business – legal costs etc. attributed to professional negligence would have liquidated it (as well as its insurers) out of business by now, such was the scale of the chaos Ba Tambadu presided over. No wonder he denied the Press their right to free speech (not literally) to ask questions having exemplarily exercised his own right to free speech in full glare of the limelight during his Barrister’s bluster of a press Conference in which he sold (or attempted to do so at least) a very powerful but empty message, very high on rhetoric but void of substance.
It is reasonable therefore to opine that private practice is most definitely not an advisable venture he (Ba) should ever contemplate. The U.N is a very safe and fitting zone for Ba as the UN enjoys unconditional immunity. I am not suggesting that the presence of his mere persona radiates chaos nor is it my view that he would be such a disaster in his new role, it is a fair point to assess one’s track record based on the facts but, to seek to rely on the same to forecast or anticipate their future conduct or performance would in my view be an injustice. It’s a very tempting territory to stray into but, I certainly won’t. Whilst it is my view that he ought to have exhausted his mandate rather than abandon ship mid sea and in circumstances which are far from satisfactory, I have no doubt he will be a very good asset for Gambia Plc at the U.N and I hope he would use such high office and influence to further drive the thrust of international effort, focus and attention to further assist what’s left of the transition and beyond and, in areas he feels able to.
It’s worthy of note that having listened to his Press conference and farewell speech at the National Assembly, the embedded subliminal message gives me reason to believe that the ambitious former A.G’s vision transcends those achievable at his next job. Could he be eying the Presidency in a few years time, 2026 maybe? Who knows. If at all the motivation for such is, for President Ba Tambadu to right the wrongs of ex A.G Ba Tambadu then, why not.
I am sure the omission from commentary in this piece of the transitional justice element of Ba’s brief leaves an evidently noticeable void. Having carefully gauged the fine balance between my right to freedom of speech and expression against that of the public interest, I have decided in favour of the latter. The omission is therefore deliberate – I have no intention whatsoever of doing or saying anything which may assist the interests and further the cause of reactionary activists wishing to reverse the dial on the democratic progress made so far. Here’s the thing, Yaya Jammeh (the person) is out of power for good and hopefully what’s left of his ‘fossils’ (Yaya Jammeh the ‘system’) still squatting in the system will be bided farewell in due course.