The President of The Gambia Bar Association Salieu Taal has told the TRRC that nothing much has changed in The Gambia since the fall of the exiled Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh. He said some of the repressive laws that Jammeh had relied on over the years to crack down on his critics, and perceived opponents are still active on The Gambian law books. He also said the enablers that relied on embolden his tyrannical rule are still serving in Barrow’s government.
In a lengthy testimony on Tuesday, Taal, noted that both the Jammeh government and the present Barrow administration have been deliberately referring cases that are meant to be heard by the high court to magistrate courts, with the ultimate goal of keeping suspects in prison for one month without bail. He observed that when such cases are taken to the magistrate courts, the presiding magistrate, would cite the issue of jurisdiction and accused persons would be remanded in prison, pending the hearing of the case at the high court.
Taal added that the police prosecutors have been acting in concert with the state in a bid to deny suspects timely bail. He said suspects have been languishing in jail without been availed the right to bail.
“Even a good lawyer cannot secure you bail under such circumstances. They will deliberately delay cases before referring it to the high court. Cases that are supposed to be heard by the high court are often sent to the magistrate courts. They know that such cases do not fall under the jurisdiction of the lower court, but they are doing it on purpose to keep suspects in custody. The same practice is happening today,” he said.
Taal said his own brother was exposed to such legal abuses by the former Jammeh administration. His brother was accused of economic crime. He was held for some time before he was released.
According to Taal, while his brother was detained at the NIA, he was one day taken to Janjanbureh by his captives. Taal said he had to step down from the position that he held at the Bar Association to attend to his detained brother.
His brother was sacked. He was rehired by the new Barrow government. He is now a Deputy Permanent Secretary.
Taal said the judiciary and the Attorney General’s Chambers was Jammeh’s source of power abuse. The dictator, he went on, had brought in Nigerian mercenary judges to send innocent Gambians to jail. Gambian judges and magistrates, who were not in the good books of the former Chief Agim were fired.
He recalled the firing of the late Chief Justice Abdou Karim Savage. He said Savage was fired because he refused to toe to Jammeh’s caprices.
“I recall having a conversation with a particular Inspector General of police. I will write his name. He was called the best IGP of The Gambia by the President at the time. I remember this day, I came from Parliament, the late Momodou Njie, the former Speaker, he was laid before Parliament. I was walking back because I knew this IGP very well. I knew him when he was a station officer. And he told me, Salieu, this your CJ, is too soft, he is not doing the job and I have been there several times to tell him that he has to behave himself otherwise, we will kick him out. I told him you actually the IGP went to see him, and he said yes, he told the President to bring Agim back and replace him, and that is exactly that what happened. I am on oath. I swear to the Quran. It actually happened. Nobody told me. This particular IGP, who incidentally is back in the force today, was in fact part of that no to election campaign, no to election march, he was part of it. The former IGP is serving in our police force,” he told the commission.
The unnamed former IGP was Essa Badjie, AKA Jesus Badjie. Badjie was reinstated into force by President Barrow, following the fall of Jammeh. He briefly worked at the police headquarters in Banjul before he was moved to Basse as police commissioner for the Upper River Region.
Badjie was jailed during Jammeh rule on armed robbery, drug trafficking related charges. He was pardoned by Jammeh and released from prison.
According to Taal, Justice Savage was charged, but his charges were later dropped. He said when the Bar wanted to organize a validatory ceremony for the sacked former CJ, Savage’s successor CJ Agim refused. But that never stopped the Bar from holding the validatory ceremony. He said the former AG Mama Singhateh wasn’t pleased with Agim’s move.
Agim, he said, convened a similar validatory ceremony for two foreign judges who were scheduled to return to their native country Nigeria.
He said the Nigerian mercenary judges, who were micromanaged by Jammeh, would often conspire with some Gambian lawyers to sell cases. He said the lawyers, who were part of the judges’ club, would often walk out of court victorious on cases that they litigated.
“It was across the board to the extent that if you had certain cases, you want to win those cases, you have to engage certain lawyers and mind you, it was not only Nigerian lawyers, but there is also some Gambian lawyers, who were part of that crew. I recall Justice Wowo’s house on Kairaba Avenue, that was like the center, where you would see the car of the CJ, they would go there and drink, you would see the car of the Solicitor General, you will see the car of some Gambian lawyers, some high court judges. It was next to Hatib Janneh’s place Envy. You will see their cars parked there, like the special prosecutor from Cameron, you see Pa Harry Jammeh’s car there, you will see some lawyers’ cars there, some magistrates, all of them, there was this clique and Yankuba Badjie was also there,” Taal testified.
“This clique was running the show. And if you are not part of the clique, forget it. So, even sometimes a case would go to the Chief Justice, he will recommend to you what lawyer to take. It was a mess. We were relegated to second class in our own country,” he added.
Taal was so frustrated with Jammeh’s rule. At some point, he was contemplating relocating to another country.
“For me personally, I hold dual nationality and I have said to myself that this election goes to Jammeh, I will definitely relocate. There was no question about that and many professionals I know, they were saying that they will relocate. And I had Gambian friends who are highly qualified, who would call me, who could serve The Gambia, and I will beg them not to come to Gambia. These are ivy league Gambians in other places, and I would tell them, don’t ever think of coming to The Gambia and felt that was a mistake coming back to The Gambia,” he told the commission.
“Every day I wake up, I go to work, I felt I had no guarantee of coming back to my house. I used to joke that my gardener, that I see everyday riding on his bike, he had more freedom than me, because nobody would arrest him because everyday I leave my house, there is no guarantee I will come back for one thing, another, that is how we live, every single day,” he further adduced in evidence.