The ECOWAS Court Wednesday ordered The Gambia to pay US$200,000 in ‘nominal damages’ to Justice Joseph Wowo, its former chief justice, for the violation of his rights to fair hearing, unlawful imprisonment and removal from office on allegation of corruption, false information and the abuse of office.
A three member panel of judges of the court presided over by Justice Edward Amoako Asante ordered that $150,000 of the amount or its equivalent in Dalasi should be paid to the former CJ as restoration mindful of the plaintiff’s claims of inability to secure employment and the time spent in prison after he was wrongfully tried and sentenced although he was subsequently cleared.
The balance of $50,000 will be paid to the plaintiff as legal fees since he has ‘not been working after his removal from office and may be constrained in meeting the financial obligations of his attorney.’ The court also awarded costs against The Gambia as will be assessed under and by virtue of Article 66 of the Court’s Rules of Procedure.
The court held that the plaintiff`s trial by a judge who was himself undergoing trial for corruption under the chief justice constituted a violation of his human rights to fair trial. The court also held that the acts of the defendant relative to the plaintiff`s removal from office, trial and conviction were biased, lacking in independence, inconsistent with due process, in breach of natural justice and thereby constituted a gross violation of the plaintiff`s right to fair trial.
In suit no: ECW/CCJ/APP/06/18, Wowo, a Nigerian who served as chief justice under former President Yahaya Jammeh sued the president for the alleged violation of his legitimate rights as enshrined in the African Charter, Articles 6&7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Section 24 of the 1997 Constitution of the Gambia.
He claimed that owing to his nationality, he suffered discrimination by most members of The Gambian Bar to the extent that Ubna Farage, the then president of the Bar, and Amie Joof, the minister of Justice, sometime in 2013, made frivolous allegations of corruption against him which led to his removal from office without prior investigation.
The former chief justice, who had asked the court for $20 million in damages, stated that he contested his removal through the security authority which initiated an investigation in to the matter whose outcome has not been announced.
Consequently, he called a press conference where he denied the allegations of corruption against him as false and noted that the then President erred in removing him from office without due process.
In reaction, he alleged that the then president perceived his action as an affront to his authority and publically threatened to send him to jail and subsequently instructed the then minister of Justice to file a frivolous case against him alleging the abuse of office and spreading false information.
In this connection the Plaintiff said he wrote a letter in his capacity as the acting chief justice to the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, which investigated the allegation and exonerated him and surprisingly even commended him while two others who were indicted in the report were never charged.
He averred that during the trial, his counsel filed a motion urging the trial judge to recuse himself from the proceeding as he was himself on trial before the chief justice for corruption, a motion that was deliberately ignored by the trial judge. He alleged that the trial judge also ignored all the documents and testimonies of witnesses and instead convicted and sentenced him to two years imprisonment until his release under pressure by the governments of Nigeria and the United States.
The plaintiff therefore asked the ECOWAS Court for a declaration that his trial by a Judge who was undergoing corruption allegation proceedings before him is a violation of his human rights and for an order on the government to pay him $20 million dollars in damages and six percent interest per annum for violation of his human rights among others.
The defendant, however, denied the allegations of the plaintiff and instead contended that the former chief justice was removed from office by the president in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission after investigation and due deliberations pursuant to the petition.