The argument that there is no shortcut to justice is valid but it has been challenged by those critics of ‘plea bargaining’ who see the practice as a form of shortcut to justice. However, the saying that ‘Justice is very expensive’ has not been challenged by anyone due to having no reasonable grounds to do so. In her book “Uprooted”, American writer – Noami Novik justified this by stating that the reason there is little justice out there is because of its expensiveness and affordable only by few who either have enough money to pay for legal fees and or are influential enough to press some buttons and make things work their way (paraphrased). With the above, one can deduce that to follow due process and attain proper justice, there must be a lot of mechanisms in place, backed by the required resources. Otherwise, a shortcut will be the option – an option that will go against the same principles intended to be displayed and maintained.
At the dawn of a new government in The Gambia in early 2017, majority of Gambia started calling for justice for victims of former President Jammeh and his government. Some even wanted a more radical approach by calling for the attack and possible arrest of Jammeh while he was still the substantive holder of the Office of the President. After his departure to exile, the former NIA Director Yankuba Badjie and his senior officers were arrested and charged with the murder of a national martyr Solo Sandeng – two years on, the case is still ongoing. In addition, there has been arrest of other soldiers believed to be members of the hit squad – the Jugulars, alleged to have planned and executed various human rights violations, including killing of Gambians and non-Gambians alike perceived to be opponents to the then regime. Unfortunately, the reported operation leader of the hit squad, Sana Manjang left the shores of Gambia right at the fall of Jammeh. Manjang would have made investigations into killing easier because he has been a long time member of that group. Allegedly initiated in 2003, his first operation was the arson attack of the Independent Newspaper in October 2003.
Time went by and some Gambians became so impatience with the Government of Adama Barrow and others went far as rebuking the Attorney General and Minister of Justice for what they believe is a show of ‘lack of sympathy to victims’ or ‘lack of commitment to deal with those who committed abuses in the previous two decades’. The calls for action were genuine but the manner in which those agitators wanted government to handle the situation would have made the claimed defender of justice turn into a violator – that was the system of the former regime. Correcting it means doing things differently and in line with law and procedure. Jammeh and his closest security officials never believed in due process. For them, the law is not what is in the books but what Jammeh says it is and whoever commits an action perceived to be wrong need to face the consequences there and then – from the interpretation of their actions, the courts was somewhat a time and resource waster. Even if one is lucky to get to court, the outcome was very obvious because what use to be, was a judiciary where the Gambian born judges were confined to the civil courts and the Nigerians, mostly, machinery unqualified judges presided over the criminal courts, including the court of appeal where all government interested cases are brought.
The downfall of Jammeh’s empire was greeted with overwhelming joy and a sigh of relief for the thousands who wanted change. It will be meaningless if only Jammeh is not in the country but his system is glued to our minds. It was an entrenched system that we must disentangle ourselves and accept the obvious – that what use to be wasn’t in anyway right and as such we must strive to follow the rule of law. It will be expensive and time consuming but we should be ready to go through it to the end because the intention is not just to know the truth, put on trial and possibly jail the guilty ones, confiscate some illegally gotten properties and close the chapter. We want formidable outcomes with recommendations on how to set up strong systems and institutions to prevent a reoccurrence of what happened in The Gambia – not just in the presidency of Jammeh but that of his predecessor, President Jawara. Our failure – identical all over Africa, is the lack of well-established and strong institutions, made complex by a majority population that is either politically not inclined or not awareness of their civil rights and power as citizens or just focus on trivial matters and a pathetic situation of unreasonable selfishness.
The encouraging factor is the government of “New Gambia” through the Justice Ministry established the Financial Commission. They went on to table, and National Assembly ratified the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) Act. While the Financial / Janneh Commission submitted its report to the President on Friday 29thMarch, the TRRC is just starting what will be a very long and tedious work to unearth the hitherto out-of-sight activities of Jammeh’s government 22.6 years reign over Gambia. The revelation so far are chilling. What is yet to come will not just shock us but has the potential to break some families and relationship. Some will argue that it is not worthy – it is, we will get over it, reconcile and move ahead as greater people who will work together to avoid allowing a few mess up a whole country and its future. At this stage, the atmosphere is favorable and we must take this opportunity to correct what was wrong in our criminal justice system. The government, by all indication is committed to get to the bottom of what happened under Jammeh. Fact that it was done over two decades in a guileful manner explains why the financial commission took more time and resources than envisage.
Some Gambians have cause to complain about the money used, especially those cost relating to the venue, which could have been reduced if government had used its own facilities for the sittings. However I am of the believe that if one is to apply the principle of cost benefit analysis, the advantage far outweighs the bad – and this I say in full confidence that President Barrow’s government will implement the recommendations of the commissions – he cannot let us down and must not be selective or scapegoat some in implementation of the recommendations. This will also be the right time to remove from cabinet, in the security forces or other government departments anyone found to be adversely implicated in the wrongs of the pass. Doing it now as some people have called for President Barrow to do will be wrong and certainly not in line with due process – the foundation on which legal matters between people and state is premised. There is a reason why the law frowns at beating a thief who is not physically violent. Same reason why despite a thief admission of stealing at Police, he is still taken to court instead of incarcerated and the victim asked to stop work or other more important commitments to come to court and testify – failure which the thief will be let go. It is the law and must not be bypassed simply because we are sure someone did wrong. Patience and following the rule of law is demanding but we must not be pressured to act ultra vires. In the end, we will not just be recovering money, we will also move forward in creating institutions and setting up a system that will dictate how government business is done and not leave it to the whims of a person serving as leader at any level. We will also be sending a clear message to the international community that Gambia is serious about fighting corruption – but in the rightful manner.