What is your impression about the country's legal system?
From what perspective, the justice ministry or judiciary
Both, if you would not mind?
That is a very wide topic. I am sure by asking for this interview, you must have something in mind… you must have an idea about an aspect of the justice delivery system you want an explanation.
For instance, your take on how cases are faring in the courts amid the backlog?
Quite frankly, the best sector to answer that is the judiciary. We have prosecutors who go to courts, but the backlog of cases that are being complained about in the criminal aspect of proceedings are very few.
The backlog really pertains mostly to civil matters. But there is no system that is so perfect that cases are expeditiously treated. We try our best, but really sometimes there are factors beyond our control - a judge can be ill or a lawyer from one of the parties could be ill or travel.
So, all of these things tend to militate against the expeditious discharge of the courts in their functioning. But ordinarily, cases are proceeding with reasonable speed.
What are some of the challenges you face when you took over the mantle at the justice ministry?
In every ministry, there are challenges. Some of them might have been there before you take over. Some might surface while you are there as minister and you may even foresee some future challenges.
When I took over as justice minister, there were some major challenges arising mainly from the position of the structure of the Ministry, the buildings needed repairs.
The main buildings housing the Registrar of Companies and Curators' offices were in a terrible state; it was leaking profusely and some of the documents had to be rescued.
And when I took over, I also have the good fortune of having a Solicitor General in the person of Pa Harry Jammeh, who is very hard working, innovative and responsive to the challenges that faced us and he really went out to ensure that all the buildings are renovated, carpeted by new furniture so that those working in those offices would feel the zeal and the desire to work in a very conducive environment with air conditioning, and even refrigerator.
Well, could you also highlight some foreseen future challenges?
Well, the future challenges are that we really need to have more Gambian lawyers. When I say Gambian lawyers, I
mean those dedicated and prepared out of patriotic favor, to work for the benefit of The Gambia.
Most private lawyers would like to work on their own as opposed to come in and join hands with few Gambian lawyers for the improvement of the country.
They [private lawyers] tend to look at the financial gains but there are some who really are anxious to lend a helping hand. They would come and work for the country. One should not only work to line his or her pockets and not care for ones country.
If we Gambians don't stand-up to work to take this country forward, who else do we expect to come and do it for us.
We have a technical assistant from Nigeria. Nigerian lawyers are helping us, but it cannot go on forever. There must come a time when we too must felt self reliant; and that we have young Gambian lawyers who are coming and are working for us.
And in trying to address that situation, we are making the positions here more attractive as well as build some incentives so that they will be encouraged to come in, stay and work as career lawyers in the ministry of justice.
In essence, you are aspiring for an indigenised Gambian legal sector?
Indigenization of Gambian legal sector is necessary because you cannot rely on people from other nations to do your work. They may at the beginning help you to build up, but there must come a day when you have to count on your own.
Why did you file an application at the ECOWAS Court in Abuja for a review of the judgement against Gambia government in concluded cases of journalists Ebrima Chief Manneh of Daily Observer and Musa Saidykhan of Independent newspaper?
Yes, while that application for a review of the judgement is on, I wouldn't comment because that may affect the case.
Is it that you were dissatisfied with the verdict of the ECOWAS court in both cases?
Yes, we were dissatisfied. Anybody has a right to ask for a review or an appeal. In ECOWAS decision, you don't appeal. There is no appellant system, but you ask for a review.
Why in the case of Manneh, the government was never represented throughout the trial at the ECOWAS court?
Government was represented. Maybe those who should have officially appeared failed to appear and there was a default judgement. Normally, if two parties are in court, one is attending all the time and the other did not attend, then there could be a default judgement. So the plaintiff could be given judgement because the defendant did not come to defend the case, but that is not the same as not been represented.
You call it a default judgement?
Yes, there was a default judgement in that Chief Ebrima Manneh's case. Yeah (laughs)… I wouldn't want to preempt, but I will tell you soon there will be very interesting developments which will also intrigue you concerning this Chief Manneh's case … laughs. Lets wait until we get there, then you will get to know.
We have no difficulties about that case and we have nothing to hide. But one thing I can tell you for sure is that we've been wrongly presented in the mass media in the world. We are not that kind of government where we just capture people and make them disappear. Soon that will come to light.
What is responsible for this 'misrepresentation'?
Because most of your colleagues will rather paint the government black. They don't tend to see the good that the government is doing. They are prepared to publish anything black and negative about the government which is not good and unfair.
We are all partners in the process of development. Yes, just as you have a duty to educate and inform, but in so doing, you should do it professionally; you should be acquainted with all the fact; what you say you must be able to prove. But you cannot just go and speculate and sensationalise in order to sell to your papers.
You are betraying your country, you are betraying the government of the day. If government does something and you have the proofs that yes government has done this, government has done that, well that is fine.
But most times, you know, you find journalists, infact I don't even quite call them journalists, you know, who will just go and publish whatever they want hoping that it will make an impact. Of course it does make a negative impact, but unfairly on the government and government officials.
Chief Manneh and Editor Musa Saidykhan's cases are not the only cases in which people complained of torture and disappearances. Look there are others such Kanyiba Kanyi, Marcie Mendy, Buba Jammeh and many others?
Did you mount any investigation?
Yes, colleagues visited families of the victims most of whom said their relatives were arrested in their present?
I can tell you with certainty that there are some family members who say that they were never ever approached by the journalism fraternity.Journalists never visited; some journalists just pick up a pen and paper and start speculating.
Everything that they put on paper is nothing but a figment of their own imagination and sometimes I would call it very 'frivolous and mischief imagination'.It's is not right. Write on something which you are sure of. And very soon you and I will have cause to sit down again and talk about Chief Manneh.
You will be ashamed what the papers wrote about Gambia and the Gambia government. I am telling you with high degree of certainty, and these are facts. You and I have a moral duty and a legal duty as well that when things are published and reach public domain it should be based on facts and not fiction.
It should not be a reflection of a man's hatred or dislike of an institution or government. It should be based on facts.
You and I, we have moral conscience, so talk about what you know, talk about what you've seen and not what you've been told by somebody who has evil mind and a desire.
You should be very careful. When I say you I don't mean you in particular, I mean you the journalists. You have a duty to educate and to inform for goodness sake, but in so doing, go by the ethics of your profession.
Musa Saidykhan was the Editor-In-Chief of the defunct Independent newspaper; he was arrested and tortured while under the custody of National Intelligence Agency…?
(cuts in) He was allegedly tortured. You are talking as if you were there. Even the way you talking, you are making a clear exposition that even if hearsay evidence, you treat it as if you were there. And he who alleges must prove.
Chief Manneh was said to be arrested in the presence of one of his colleagues who had testified at the ECOWAS court in Abuja. Now, saying that these two cases Saidykhan and Manneh are not genuine cases is quite startling?
Now, let me tell with a high degree of certainty, Chief Ebrima Manneh is somewhere not in the custody of The Gambia government or any official of The Gambia government. But we will cross our bridge, when we get to it, then some of you journalists will be ashamed of what you've published.
But let the right time come that's all I can tell you. We shall talk about this case at a later stage when it is more convenient; when I can prove to you beyond reasonable doubt the lies, the intrigues, the ill feeling, the negative feeling of some of your colleagues.We shall address that at a later stage, but I can tell when that day comes, many of you journalists will be looking for a hiding place and you can't find any.
You said Chief Manneh should be somewhere, where is he?
Don't worry, well we will come to that. And he is not in the custody of the Gambia government; we are not detaining him at all. But now when the right time comes you will see the dishonesty and lack of conscience on the part of people from your own side?
Is he alive?
Well, I can tell you Chief Ebrima Manneh is alive.
Have you heard from him?
That is what I am telling you, I am not going into full details yet, but when the right time comes you people will swallow back the venom that you've been spitting out.
That's all I can tell you. You've tried to do a lot of damage to the image of The Gambia government but without success. We are doing our work meticulously and with a sense of dignity, that's all I can tell you.
Chief Manneh's case is very serious issue, US Senators called for his release…?
(cuts in) These US Senators have a lot to talk about, they should talk about the extraordinary renditions when people were arrested in different countries and flown to different locations and tortured and some died.
Let the US Senators address those issues rather than talk about Chief Manneh. Let the US Senators talk about former president George W. Bush who in conspiracy with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and they took preemptive actions and attacked that country against all international laws, removed the head of state, had him decapitated and until today not a single weapon of mass destruction were produced.
Let them talk about that. Why don't they talk about that? Why don't the US Senators talk about taking George W. Bush to International Criminal Court (ICC)? Why not Tony Blair? You've heard of ABU GRAVE PRISON and the atrocities that took place there, let them talk about that.
Look, I find it rather childish when you [journalists] are being hoodwinked and circumvented to talk about the frivolous and unfair accusations they brought about the Gambia when they themselves have a lot of despicable acts which they are not talking about.
Now you are telling me that the US Senators said this, the US talk about that. You are the people who should answer to them. Tell them: look before you talk about Gambia look at yourselves, you are all covered in mud and filth and you come and look at me and say I am dirty.
Perhaps the US Senators spoke about it because our own government was not opening up with regards to Chief Manneh's case?
So they were open to speak up? You've heard of the recent scandals that happened, they were sitting on so many evil things. Even some of them (prisoners) were taken to Libya and tortured in Libya. Come on….you keep someone at Guantanamo Bay for four years and say that you suspect he has committed an act of terrorism.
After four years, you release him, tell him go we find nothing against you. How about compensation? You've ruined that man's life for four years; you've taken four years away from his precious life, treated him like a dog, urinated on him, and put faeces on him in the cell, even the Holy Quran they urinated on it.
We as black people are intelligent enough. Let them not come and tell us rubbish and you listen to them and start writing nonsense about your own country. Come on, you are far too intelligent for that.
Infact, some British so-called members of the parliament started saying that they going to ask for the Gambia to be sanctioned on X Y and Z. Rubbish! Rubbish! Why don't they sanction themselves?
What do you think they want to sanction Gambia for?
Well, they know. Ask them, they will tell you.
Is it because of Gambia's reported grave violations of human rights?
Maybe you should ask them. Carry out some investigative journalism, talk to them, ask them. I believe it was your paper [The Daily News] that reported that some British Members of Parliament say that I am the 'Minister of injustice' and it was published in your paper.
What a disrespect! Even if they are saying it, I don't think you people should denigrate your own minister of justice not to mention your own minister of justice.
Why don't you call Tony Blair, the prime minister of injustice, the prime minister of deceit and lies, why didn't you?
He and George Bush deceived the whole world and they lied why didn't you call them that? But you have the audacity to turn round and to publish what they said that I am the minister of injustice and you put it there and you enjoyed printing it.
But I wouldn't answer. It is about time, you people come to realise that you don't allow white people or people outside this country to look at you as inferior and stupid and then they coax you to write stupid things about your own leaders.
We are your leaders, we are your ministers, and we formed the government. And it is our duty to take this country forward and we are doing that to the best of our ability, but you people don't seem to appreciate that.
Idiots will sit down there and dictate to you what to write in order to make a mockery of your leaders and you are happy to do that. Put pen on paper and publish it.
I would have declined an interview with The Daily News since you have the audacity to print that the British MPs say that I am the minister of injustice.
And even the British High Commissioner at the time mockingly told me: 'hey hey, I saw it in The Daily News they call you minister of injustice'.
He enjoyed it, but you guys gave him the leverage to do that. Yes, this is where I am calling your attention.
You should know who you are and you should learn to respect, appreciate and cherish who you are. You should learn to appreciate your country. You should learn to appreciate your leadership.
I am not involved in any form of eulogy I am telling you the truth. We in the Gambia should thank God the almighty for having a leader like President Yahya Jammeh. This is a patriotic leader; this is a god fearing leader; this is a man who has given you a university; this is man who has given probably the best airport in West Africa; this is a man who has given you a training hospital where your doctors will be trained; this is a man who has given you a university where now lawyers will train until they put on their wig and gown and go to court; this is a man who has taken agriculture forward, he bought tractors and gave it to the whole country and say go and farm so that you eat what you grow and make you food self sufficient. What more do you want? The West are not happy that we have such a patriotic leader, they want somebody who will go begging, asking for money.
President Jammeh says he is not going to beg anybody, can't you see and appreciate that. What more do you want? Look at the whole of Africa which country can boast of a good leader than the one we have?
Let President Jammeh leaves State House to go, the crowd will be seized with enthusiasm, with happiness and joy. Everybody will be shouting and it is genuine, it is not cosmetic.
These are things we should see and appreciate. Somebody cannot come and tell you look the chicken you have in your compound are no good, throw them away and kill them I have a better chicken when you go and look at his chicken they are almost half dying, they are all full of disease.
Is the government of the Gambia thinking of repealing anti free media laws – the law on false publication, sedition among others?
Now you see I told you that I had an appointment at State House now I am almost late, I've got fifteen minutes and that is bit too risky. From here to State House there could be a bit of traffic jam.
In fact, I have got only ten minutes to be there so we can suspend this interview until some other time.
Author: Saikou Ceesay