Strong indications emerged on Tuesday that Nigeria played a key role in frustrating the Gambia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday from forming a quorum to sit on a petition filed by the outgoing President of the tiny West African country, Yahya Jammeh.
Jammeh is relying on the apex court to get an order stopping the inauguration of his rival and winner of the December 1, 2016 presidential poll in the country in order to elongate his tenure
For a very long time, Nigeria provides a high percentage of judicial officers running the country’s judiciary at all levels.
The country’s Supreme Court is presently headed by a Nigerian, Emmanuel Fagbenle.
Chief Justice Fagbenle who had lashed on the usual tradition of seeking assistance from Nigeria wrote a letter dated December 21 to the incumbent Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen to release some judges to him from Nigeria to enable the Gambia’s Supreme Court form quorum to take Jammeh’s election petition.
But for the first time in long years, Nigeria refused to render such assistance.
In a letter by CJN Onnoghen to CJN Fagbenle, the Nigeria’s number one judicial officer had told the Gambia that the dockets of the Nigerian courts were heavy and that it might not be able to release any judicial officer to assist The Gambia for now until sometimes in May or November this year.
It practically told the Gambia to look elsewhere for help.
By the letter, the Acting Chief Justice effectively stopped Nigerian judges from being surreptitiously recruited to travel to Banjul to assist Jammeh in his tenure elongation plan.
Mr. Jammeh, in his recalcitrance to abort the election of Mr. Adama Barrow as President-elect of Gambia, had secretly reached out to several Nigerian judges using Justice Fagbenle, who is also a Nigerian.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court in The Gambia told litigants in the election that the court could not sit until May 2017.
Justice Fagbenle told all litigants to pursue the alternative crisis resolution which has been initiated by the Economic Community of West African States.
The decision to postpone the court hearing till May reportedly devastated Mr. Jammeh.
Bar and Bench Watch reports that as soon as Justice Fagbenle wrote a letter to Justice Onnoghen for help, the Gambian Bar Association (GBA) leaked the content of the letter and accused President Yahya Jammeh of plotting to use Nigerian legal practitioners to return himself to office despite his defeat at the presidential election.
The association stated that Jammeh, who rejected his loss of the presidential election after initially accepting the outcome, was planning to bring to The Gambia judicial officers from Nigeria to frustrate the decision of the Gambian electorates.
The GBA in a statement obtained by Sahara reporters on Monday, also said it had no confidence in the Gambian Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle, a Nigerian, noting that he would take steps to extend the illegal regime of Jammeh.
“There is a total breakdown of the rule of law and the Chief Justice has been known to carry out executive directives in matters of the state interest,” the Gambian Bar said.
The union further explained that there had been no Session of the Supreme Court of the Gambia for almost two years, in breach of the law, noting that the only Judge appointed to sit on the Supreme Court was Fagbenle.
The lawyers said, “Whenever there is an intention to constitute a Supreme Court, he (Fagbenle) and the Attorney General would handpick qualified lawyers or judges from commonwealth countries who would visit the Gambia for a two-week duration and are appointed by the President for that purpose to dispose of cases.
“It is clear that Jammeh did not expect to lose the election and did not deem it fit to have a sitting permanent Supreme Court.
“This has inured to his benefit for the last two years during which several cases have sat unheard by a Supreme Court.
“Case in point is the appeal by the United Democratic Party against the conviction of its party leaders.”