The judge, Joseph Wowo, said he was simply a mediator.
The disgraced Nigerian former Acting Chief Justice of The Gambia, Joseph Wowo, has denied soliciting and negotiating bribe, saying the audio tape that was posted on YouTube was “doctored by disgruntled and ill -intention people in order to deceive and mislead the Gambian people and the world at large.”
Mr. Wowo, who was also the President of the Gambian Court of Appeal, was sacked after he was caught on tape allegedly soliciting a bribe of 500 dalasi (N2.5 million) from a Gambia-based Dutch businessman, Andre Klaabergen, to illegally upturn the judgement of a lower court over a land dispute matter.
“Since I was in the bench I have never asked or received any sought of gratification in relation to the discharge of my judicial responsibilities,” he said during a press conference he called in The Gambia.
Mr. Wowo, who according to media reports in The Gambian, refused to entertain questions from reporters at the press conference, said he was only trying to help both parties in the case reach an out-of-court settlement.
“At the meeting for the settlement of both parties at the former Minister of Justice’ house, there was no agreement between the parties and at no time was the issue of gratification to me discussed,” he said.
Mr. Wowo said he had not broken any law by holding the meeting at the residence of the former justice minister, Lamin Jobarteh, who was also sacked for his role in the alleged bribery scandal.
But in the tape, he clearly admitted sabotaging the course of justice by being at the meeting:
“You know my position based on my position I’m not even supposed to come here in the first place. I’m the President of the court of Appeal and now I’m acting Chief Justice,” he had said in the tape.
The judge said, at the press conference, that at the time of the meeting, the case had not been entered at the Court of Appeal and he did not take part in the case when it was entered at the appellate court.
It’s however difficult to believe Mr. Wowo’s account as he was clearly heard in the tape saying:
“I’ve read your file at the Court of Appeal, [and] that is why I said you don’t have any case at the Court of Appeal. You will lose at the court of Appeal because the way they deal with the case at the Court of Appeal, the lawyer messed it up. That is why I called your lawyer and said let us see how we can help you.”
Mr. Wowo said he removed himself from the case after the negotiation he tried to broker failed.
“I also made it categorically clear that I will not be one of the Judges that will hear this case when it comes to the Court of Appeal for hearing. Since both parties did not reach any settlement, I then personally removed myself from all the cases that Mr. Bernd George Diedrich was involved in before the Court of Appeal; since I was involved in the settlement that failed. The Court of Appeal course list can prove me right, any day any time,” he said.
The judge said the presence of the counsel of both parties at the meeting made it impossible to demand a bribe.
“Considering the presence of these parties at the meeting, there is no way the issue of bribery can be discussed therein.”
The Gambian government has chosen to be coy over the matter. The Minister of Justice, Amie Joof, told PREMIUM TIMES she didn’t want to “discuss the matter at this time.”
Pressure from home
After PREMIUM TIMES reported the bribery scandal, some civil society organisations have asked Nigerian judicial authorities to investigate the matter.
The Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) petitioned the National Judicial Council to properly investigate the matter and mete out disciplinary measures where necessary.
The federal government has also shown interest in the matter.
The minister of Foreign Affairs, Olugbenga Ashiru, promised to look into the matter to make sure Mr. Wowo was not wrongly accused.
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