Augustine O. Alegeh, President of Nigerian Bar Association/www.nigerianbar.org photo

The deputy party leader of the opposition United Democratic Party has written to the President of Nigerian Bar Association, calling for the withdrawal of Nigeria’s legal technical assistance to the Gambia. Aji Aji Mariama Secka’s petition came in the wake of the illegal prosecution and sentencing of opposition leadership and supporters for merely protesting peacefully against fatal torture meted on opposition youths led by Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the Organising Secretary of the UDP.

Find below Aji Secka’s petition in full detail:

The President

Nigerian Bar Association

NBA House, No. 24, Oro-Ago Crescent, Off Muhammadu Buhari way,

Garki Area II, FCT, Abuja.

Dear Honourable President:

RE: PETITION TO WITHDRAW NIGERIAN TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE TO THE GAMBIAN MINISTRY OF JUSTICE AND COMPLAINT AGAINST NIGERIAN LEGAL PRACTITIONERS PRACTICING IN THE GAMBIA

Please accept the assurances of our greatest esteem.

We, the United Democratic Party are the main opposition political party in good standing registered in The Gambia.

This petition is not political despite the nature of our organization. It is a plea for the withdrawal of technical assistance to The Gambia based on injustices suffered by the Gambian population as a result of matters under your direct authority and administration. We therefore urge you to consider this petition seriously, taking into consideration the interest and rights of Gambian people whom we represent, to enjoy freedom from persecution. These are values that we know your Government stands for and promotes in regard to every citizen of your country.

We are forced to write this petition because no person or body of persons in The Gambia dares issue it without fear of reprisal or threat to their security and life.

1. TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE TO THE GAMBIAN MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

For decades the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been providing technical assistance to the Republic of The Gambia through judges to our judiciary and lawyers to our Ministry of Justice.

The majority of the senior professional staff in the Ministry of Justice on the other hand are Nigerian lawyers provided through your technical assistance program. So that apart from relatively young Gambians recently called to the Gambian Bar over the last 2 – 3 years, most of the senior state counsel are Nigerian lawyers. Annex 1 is a list of such personnel.

As a sister country we remain thankful to the Federal Republic of Nigeria for its generosity and assistance. Unfortunately, some of these personnel, especially the State Prosecutors have been used as a weapon against the population characterized by:

1. Prosecution of Political opponents;

2. Use of prosecution as a method of persecution;

3. Obtaining convictions only for the convicts to be later ‘pardoned’ by the President;

4. Filing charges on cases that do not proceed only to be withdrawn or a nolle prosequi filed while the accused are denied bail for the duration;

5. Opposing bail in almost all cases whether or not the accused is entitled to bail subject only to the whim and caprices of the Executive.

It was the expectation of the People of The Gambia that these personnel would import best practices and systems of justice and moral code from our Sister Republic, however to our dismay this has not happened. Instead they have become the preferred tool in the hands of the Executive which unscrupulously uses threats of imprisonment against members of the public in the firm assurance that same would be made good by Nigerian prosecutors and judges.

The Gambia does not lack competent and qualified lawyers. This can be verified by the Nigerian technical assistant judges who have served this country with honour and distinction. Gambian lawyers however refuse to practice as State Prosecutors because their conscience and professionalism do no allow them to persecute their fellow citizens. It is for these reasons that the holders of senior judicial offices, including the office of the Director of Public Prosecution, Deputy Director of Public Prosecution and most senior State Counsel are all Nigerians.

It is now a commonly known fact that the Judiciary of The Gambia suffers from lack of independence and interference from the State and Security Forces. Annex 2 are several reports on this matter by reputable international agencies and organizations. Therefore the prosecutors cannot legitimately use convictions obtained in the Judiciary of The Gambia as a defence to the countless violations they have meted on Gambians.

Regardless of the circumstances on the ground, the Technical assistance personnel ought to have complied with the Prosecutors Guidelines Applicable To A Prosecutor Of A Federal Offence And Any Prosecution At A Federal Court Or Court Of The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which applies to Prosecutors Serving in the Federal Ministry of Justice in Nigeria which provides:

Clause 3.1: Fair and effective prosecution is essential to a properly functioning criminal justice system and to the maintenance of law and order. The individuals involved in a crime namely, the victim, the accused, and the witnesses (as well as society as a whole) have an interest in the decision

whether or not to prosecute and for what offence, and in the outcome of the prosecution.

Clause 4.1: The essence of a criminal prosecution is not to obtain a conviction at all cost. It is to lay before the court what the Prosecutor considers to be credible evidence relevant to the allegation of a crime. The Prosecutor has a duty to see that all available legal proof of the facts is presented.

Clause 4.2: A Prosecutor is an officer of the court and minister in the temple of justice. The Prosecutor is primarily to assist the court to arrive at the truth and to do justice between the State and the accused according to law and the dictates of fairness. As a minimum therefore the Prosecutor must: (a) prosecute diligently; b) act independently, yet in the general public interest.

Clause 7.1: In Nigeria, as is the practice in other jurisdictions, not all suspected criminal offences must automatically be the subject of prosecution. The overall consideration is whether it appears that the offence or the circumstances of its commission is or are of such a nature that a prosecution is required in the public interest. A prosecutor must weigh the contending interests of the community, suspect and the victim in determining whether or not to prosecute.

Clause 7.2.1 No prosecution should be undertaken where essential evidence of the basic elements of the offence are lacking. The main reasons for this are:

(a) It is not in the public interest to use public resources on the prosecution of a case which has no reasonable prospect of success;

(b) It may amount to an abuse of legal process where a prosecution is commenced against a person when there is insufficient evidence to assure a realistic prospect of conviction

(c) If there was a very high rate of prosecutions resulting in acquittals this could undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system.

Clause 9.1 A prosecutor must ensure that he or she is fully conversant with, and complies with the Constitutional provisions for the protection of personal liberty and the laws governing bail. In particular, if the trial of a defendant remanded in custody has not started within a reasonable time then, in accordance with section 35 of the 1999 Constitution, the prosecutor should not oppose a bail application but may put forward reasonable conditions

Clause 9.2 A prosecutor must always bear in mind that bail is not to be withheld as a form of punishment or the prejudgment of a case. When a question arises whether or not to oppose bail a prosecutor must consider carefully:

(a) the law;

(b) the charges especially the seriousness of the charge and severity of the punishment;

(c) the strength of the evidence;

(d) the protection of victims, witnesses and the general public;

(e) the personal circumstances of the accused;

(f) the likelihood of the commission of offences if granted bail;

(g) the likelihood of failure to attend court; and

(h) any other relevant factor.

It is now a practice in The Gambia in violation of all local and international laws and basic expectations of human rights, that bail is denied as a practice, political opponents and dissidents are convicted as a norm and that prosecutors and in particular State Prosecutors state in Court and in public that they are under ‘directives’ as though they are not guided by rules of a profession.

Mr. Attorney General, our country can afford to hire its own prosecutors, our country has the budget and the manpower to man its own Ministry of Justice. The legitimate need for Technical Assistance no longer arises.

The Ministry of Justice of The Gambia is one of the only Ministries of Justice in the ECOWAS region to have received several orders from the ECOWAS Court of Human Rights to address gross human rights violations in the country, which continue to be ignored while consistently persecuting its citizens. We plead that the Federal Republic of Nigeria ceases to use its taxpayer’s funds to support the persecution of the People of the Republic of The Gambia.

2. COMPLAINT AGAINST SEVERAL NIGERIAN LAWYERS WORKING AS JUDGES IN THE GAMBIA

In the context of this petition and for the reasons provided above we also draw to your attention the list of the following judges:

1. Justice Agboola

2. Justice A.N.C. Ikoro

3. Justice Uduma

4. Justice E.E. Ogar

5. Justice E.O. Dada

6. Justice Sulaiman

7. Justice E.O. Otaba

All the above mention Judges, we have learned are licensed lawyers in Nigeria. Majority of them have never been judges until their appointment to the bench as High Court Judges and even Court of Appeal Justices in the Gambian Courts.

In January this year they were sworn in en-masse as Judges of the Superior Courts of The Gambia just a few months after the services of well-trained Gambian judge of the high court and two Supreme Court Judges were terminated without reason.

These Nigerian Judges in the Gambian Courts were personally picked by the Chief Justice of The Gambia (a Nigerian National also a previous Technical Assistance personnel who remained in The Gambia upon conclusion of his contract) and the Attorney General of the Gambia. This represents the single largest swearing in the

history of the appointment of Nigerian Judges in The Gambian courts. They now form the majority of The Gambian Bench.

Through these events the Gambian population was not given an opportunity to determine their good standing or reputation. Although all these persons may be licensed lawyers in Nigeria, they were not judges in Nigeria nor have they received formal judgeship training, either in The Gambia or Nigeria. They are now learning the ropes at the expense of Gambian lives. While we make no assertions about their motives, it is clear again that they are doing the work that Gambians will not do for reasons of conscience and morality.

In Nigeria such persons would not be sworn to the Bench with no previous experience.

We plead for your intervention in these matters and hope that you will act in the interest of justice and probity for all our sakes, as one African people.

Yours Sincerely

Aji Mariama Secka

Deputy Party Leader and Secretary General

United Democratic Party – The Gambia

Cc:

Chairperson of the Legal Practitioner’s Disciplinary Committee

Attorney General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN

Federal Ministry of Justice

Federal Secretariat Towers, Shehu Shagari Way,

Abuja, Federal Capital Territory.

Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee –

NBA House, No. 24, Oro-Ago Crescent, Off Muhammadu Buhari way,

Garki Area II, FCT, Abuja

The Chairman

Nigerian National Judiciary Commission

Supreme Court Complex

Three Arm Zone, FCT, Abuja.

The Chairman

Senate Committee on the Judiciary

National Assembly Complex

Three Arm Zone, FCT, Abuja.

The Chairman

The House of Representative Committee on Judiciary

National Assembly Complex

Three Arm Zone, FCT, Abuja.

The Chairman

The House of Representative Committee on Justice

National Assembly Complex

Three Arm Zone, FCT, Abuja.

The Chairman

The House of Representative Committee on Foreign Affairs

National Assembly Complex

Three Arm Zone, FCT, Abuja.

Annex 1

LIST OF NIGERIAN TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE TO GAMBIA AT THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

1. Hadi Saleh Barkum, Director of Public Prosecution (DPP)

2. Muhammed Abubacarr, Deputy Director of Public Prosecution (DDPP)

3. Yusuf Abdurahman Maitama

4. Benga Benshaya

5. Mr. A.Y. Hamah

6. R.E. Dougan

Ends

 

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