A report by PREMIUM TIMES has it that a senior Nigerian judge serving as the Acting Chief Justice of the Gambia, Joseph Wowo, was sacked for soliciting a N2.5 million (500,000 Dalasi) bribe from a Gambian-based Dutch businessman in return for a favourable judgment in a land dispute case,
Mr. Wowo, also a former President of the Gambia Court of Appeal, was caught on tape holding a surreptitious meeting with the former Gambian Justice Minister, Lamin Jobarteh (who has also been sacked), a Dutch national, André Klaarbergen, and his Nigerian Lawyer simply identified as Mene, negotiating the price of subverting the judgment of a Gambian High Court over a land dispute case, which Mr. Wowo agrees the Dutch rightly lost.
“How much are you willing to offer first so that we can negotiate,” Mr Wowo was heard saying on tape, now posted on Youtube.
“You know my position based on my position I’m not even supposed to come here in the first place. I’m the President of the court of Appeal and now I’m acting Chief Justice,” he continued, openly admitting he was sabotaging the course of justice by even agreeing to be at the meeting.
“I’ve read your file at the Court of Appeal, [and] that is why I said you don’t have any case at the Court of Appeal. You will lose at the court of Appeal because the way they deal with the case at the Court of Appeal, the lawyer messed it up. That is why I called your lawyer and said let us see how we can help you,” confirming that the lower court had made the right call in the case.
Mr Jobarteh then cuts in and suggested a quick resolution of the matter.
“The fact of the matter is that the error has been made and it’s irrecoverable. The issue now is how can we meet each other to correct the problem,” he said.
Mr. Wowo then demanded a bribe of 2.5 million Dalasi (N12.3 million) but Mr Klaarbergen, who complained that his business had been slow lately, offered to pay 500,000 Dalasi.
The disgraced Attorney-General, with a tone of threat, then appealed to Mr Wowo to accept the bribe.
“Come a time you people will come running to me and in view of all other consideration and the man financial predicament now, I appeal to you to accept the 500,000.
“Because of Justice Jobarteh, honourable minister, that is why I’m accepting,” Mr Wowo replied.
Even when the Dutch businessman expressed some reluctance and suggested talking to his partner, Justice Wowo asked him to “go and borrow” if he could not raise the agreed bribe.
Fearing prosecution, Mr Wowo is feared to have fled the Gambia furtively. His whereabouts is currently unknown, and he did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ series of calls to his Gambian mobile telephone.
Guinness and Brandy
However, the Wowo bribery transaction also revealed a flabby underside and worldliness of the Nigerian judge. Once he was satisfied that the bribery deal had gone well, Mr. Wowo then complained about the choice of drink on offer.
“You didn’t bring my choice. Me I take only Guinness and brandy.”
When his host (Mr Jobarteh) offered to give him non-alcoholic wine apparently due to his religious leaning, Mr. Wowo complained that it would “run my stomach” and jocularly threatened to sue his host if that happens.
Nigerian Mercenary Judges
The report of the scandal in the Gambian media shows that Mr. Wowo and other Nigerian judicial officers have tainted reputation in that West African country.
Many Gambian newspapers openly refer to Nigerians working as legal personnel in the country with derogatory monikers such as “The Nigerian Mercenary Judges”, “the Nigerian Mafia” and the “Nigerian cowboys”.
The President of Gambia, Yayah Jammeh, had on June 13 named Mr. Wowo as replacement for another Nigerian, Akomaye Emanuel Agim.
A source that asked not to be named told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Wowo was allegedly instrumental to the removal of Mr. Agim as the Chief Justice of the Gambia after he reported on him to Mr Jammeh.
With his removal from office the somewhat astronomical career growth of the 47- year old judge came to a disgraceful end.
Mr Wowo, a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was called to bar in 1991 and after a stint in private practice in the Gambia, he was appointed a Principal State Counsel and Deputy Head of the Civil Division Ministry of Justice, Banjul, The Gambia from 1998 – 2001.
In 2007 he was appointed a High Court Judge, Criminal Division from where he became the President of the Court of Appeal.
The Gambia, West African smallest country of less than two million people, lack qualified citizens to hold key positions, especially in the judiciary. So it has, since independence in 1965, hired many Nigerians to work as senior judges, and presidents of its Court of Appeals and Chief Justices of the country.