In another twist in the sacking of the former Chief Justice Ali Nawaz Chohan, who was fired from his position as Chief Justice of the Gambia, declared persona non grata and given 72hrs to leave The Gambia. Justice Chohan spoke to dawn news and said he “relinquished” charge of his post, implying that he resigned and was not fired as implied by the Jammeh regime. According to dawn news, “Justice Chohan stepped down from this highest judicial slot after he developed differences with Gambian President Yahya Jammeh for acquitting former Gambian naval chief Sarjo Fofana in a treason case. Mr Fofana was a co-accused in planning a coup against the Jammeh regime over a decade ago, and had been under arrest since 2006.
In the same case, Mr Chohan — hearing an appeal against the conviction of former Gambian army chief Lang Tombong Tamba — upheld the latter’s conviction, which had been announced by the high court in 2013”. Justice Chohan is quoted as saying that “Since the Gambian government was not happy with the decision, I therefore decided to step down because I could not work in such an environment,” Mr Chohan told Dawn.
This worrying revelation vindicates Gambian activists who have been raising the alarm regarding Jammeh’s control of the Gambian judiciary and its lack of autonomy. Speaking to Jeffery Smith Advocacy Officer at the Robert F Kennedy center for Human Rights, on the revelations of the former Gambian Chief Justice he said: “The controversy surrounding Justice Chohan is not all surprising given President Jammeh’s deplorable track record in The Gambia. The Jammeh regime has proven, time and time again, that the rule of law and the concept of justice mean little in his country. President Jammeh is among a dying breed of retrograde African dictators, one who shows complete disregard for basic human rights and human dignity. Luckily, the world has taken stock of this fact and has begun to take measures in response”.
Sadly this incident is neither isolated nor new in Gambia, especially with Jammeh ordering civil servants and officials to execute illegal executive orders including torture, arbitrary arrest, convicting people based on flimsy and unproved charges, denying the opposition access to state media etc. What is unique is that a few professionals like Justice Chohan, Solomon Owens the former Agriculture Minister have decided to resign rather than execute Jammeh’s illegal orders and risk being held accountable for their actions in the not too distant future. An observer said that, what is really tragic about this is that officials executing Jammeh’s illegal orders have no paperwork linking their actions to Jammeh, which means that if Jammeh decides to deny giving them any order like he did in the case of the former Secretary General Njogou Bah, his confidant the late Baba Jobe, Lang Conteh of central Bank etc, then it is they the civil servants and those executing his orders that have to face the face and account for their actions. “Am sure former Justice Chohan realizes that it is better to resign honorably than execute Jammeh’s illegal orders to jail an innocent man when there is no evidence to back such conviction, because he knows that he could be held accountable for his actions as it goes against ethics and everything his profession stands for” said an insider.
Many are also calling on the international community to strongly back their condemnation of the Human rights abuses in the Gambia with tougher sanctions against Yaya Jammeh and his government to send a clear message to him that he will be held accountable. An observer lamented the International community to stop negotiating with Jammeh’s ministers and envoys as anything they agree and sign is not respected by Jammeh and he does not bind himself to the agreements. Cases include the UN rapporteurs who had an unhindered access agreement signed by the then Justice Minister Mahoney, they came to the Gambia and were denied access by Jammeh, who then promptly fired the Justice Minister in question and then goes on to forge ignorance of the terms of the agreement with the UN Rapporteurs.
Another case is the IMF loan agreement and conditions agreed with the IMF as part of the approval process, Jammeh again violated the agreement with the IMF by issuing an executive directive fixing the foreign exchange rates in the Gambia against major currencies, in this instance, he also remove the Finance Minister who signed the agreement with the IMF. “The world has to now realize that any agreement not signed by Jammeh himself is null and void and thus to hold him accountable, governments, donors and international bodies must insist on Jammeh himself signing agreements to be able to hold him accountable, otherwise he simply forges ignorance and sacks the Minister or envoy concerned”.