The action of the Nigerian chief justice influenced the decision of the Gambian Supreme Court not to entertain the suit by President Yahya Jammeh seeking to annul the result of an election he lost, PREMIUM TIMES has found.
The Gambian Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned the hearing of the petition filed by that country’s ruling party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, and Mr. Jammeh, challenging the election results.
The major reason given by the Supreme Court was that it lacked the constitutionally required quorum.
When the case came up for hearing on Tuesday, the court, which required five judges before it can adjudicate on matters brought before it, had only one judge – the country’s Chief Judge, Emmanuel Fagbenle, a Nigerian.
Mr. Fagbenle said Tuesday’s sitting was for “housekeeping purposes.”
He announced that the court could not constitute the required quorum to hear the petition because Nigeria and Sierra Leone declined Gambia’s request to send judges to adjudicate on the petition.
The Gambia relies on judges and other judicial officials from other West African countries due to shortage of qualified officials in its judiciary.
Mr. Fagbenle said the country made a request for judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone since last August, but that the countries’ judicial authorities said they could not send judges outside the usual May and November judicial sessions as they did not anticipate the rescheduled January session.
PREMIUM TIMES investigation in Nigeria confirmed that the office of the Chief Justice did receive the Gambian request last year.
However, it was a reply sent last Thursday by Nigeria’s Acting Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, that virtually ruled out any possibility of forming a quorum in the Gambian Supreme Court before the expected January 19 handing over date.
“You will recall that justices are usually scheduled to sit in your Supreme Court in the month of May and November,” the letter dated January 5, 2017 by Mr. Onnoghen to Mr. Fagbenle reads.
“Based on the long established understanding our court sitting schedule is usually drawn up with the consideration of this assignment. In view of the above, I regret to inform you that the rescheduled dates for the sitting session of your Supreme Court is unfavourable to us as it will greatly affect our schedule and case management. I therefore urge you to adhere to the earlier schedule of May and November each year to avoid inconveniences to both judiciaries,” Mr Onnoghen added in the letter seen by PREMIUM TIMES.
The petition will come up for hearing again on January 16, 2017 but the chances that a quorum will be constituted on that day are very slim as other West African countries like Sierra Leone who could also help provide Supreme Court judges could take a similar stance as Nigeria.
Gambia descended into political crisis after Mr. Jammeh, who had ruled the country for 22 years, was defeated in the December 1, 2016 presidential election by opposition candidate, Adama Barrow.
Mr. Jammeh initially conceded defeat in a televised phone call, but later recanted, saying the election was characterised by irregularity. His party later lodged a petition at the country’s Supreme Court challenging the result of the election.
The opposition argued that the petition was filed outside the constitutionally stipulated 10-day window for the challenge of an election.
They also claimed the country has been without a functional Supreme Court for two years after Mr. Jammeh, known to be dictatorial, sacked some Supreme Court judges after the court ruled against his government in a case against affecting ex-military chiefs.
The opposition said it was against the course of justice for Mr. Jammeh, who had refused several entreaties to appoint new judges into the Supreme Court, to now appoint judges specifically to hear his petition.
ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION
Stating that there was no foreseeable judicial means of resolving the dispute before the January 19 inauguration of the President-elect, Mr. Fagbenle advised the contesting parties to look towards the ongoing mediation by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as a viable alternative to resolving the dispute.
President Muhammadu Buhari and other West African leaders, including the immediate past Ghanaian president, John Mahama, are spearheading the mediation aimed at making Mr. Jammeh accept the election result and allow for peaceful transition.
“This is why the ECOWAS peace initiatives in their own dispute, which has also found itself into the court is a welcome intervention,” Mr. Fagbenle said.
He also advised the parties to try the country’s Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism as another means of quickly resolving the dispute.
“This is also very important because as each day passes by, time continues to run toward the transition deadline fixed by the constitution and this is why the court has done everything possible to ensure that the petition filed can be quickly determined before we reached that deadline,” he said.
“But since the judges are not here, and so no panel is here to hear this case … We are left in the circumstance with the options of the ECOWAS mediation team and that of the inter-party political platform set up by The Gambia before the election to resolve difference that may arise in the course of the election or aftermath of the election.
“These two platforms are still available and can assist the Gambia to resolve the differences that is presently even before the court.”
However, the APRC and Mr. Jammeh’s lawyer, Edu Gomez, seemed not to be in support of resolution of the dispute outside the court.
Mr. Gomez told West Africa Democracy Radio, WADR, that as far as he and his clients are concerned, there will be no inauguration until the court decides on the matter.
A senior Gambian lawyer, Salieu Taal and chair of the activist group, #GambianHasDecided told PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday that the court’s decision was a “very big setback” for Mr. Jammeh.
“Unless Jammeh decided to hire new Supreme Court Justices, I don’t see any way out for Jammeh. He may have exhausted all legal possibilities. Short of a coup d’état Barrow will be sworn-in,” he said.