ECOWAS Court Orders Gambia to Pay $200,000 to Former Chief Justice Wowo
The ECOWAS Court in Abuja on Wednesday ordered The Gambia to pay $200,000 to former Chief Justice, Joseph Wowo for unlawful removal from office and incarceration.
Wowo, a Nigerian was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison in January 2014 by the Special Criminal Court in Banjul following a thirteen-count indictment including abuse of office, conspiracy to defeat justice and interference with witnesses, and giving false information to a public officer. He was pardoned by then president Yahya Jammeh in July 2015 with many other prisoners.
The ECOWAS Court however ruled his imprisonment unlawful and a violation of his rights to fair hearing.
In the ruling, a three-member panel of judges of the court ordered that “$150,000 of the amount or its equivalent in Dalasi be paid to Wowo 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, according to the ruling, will be paid to Wowo 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 held that Wowo`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 ruled that the acts of the Defendant relative to Wowo`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 his right to fair trial.
Wowo, a Nigerian judge who served as Chief Justice under former President Yahya Jammeh filed a suit against Jammeh for the alleged violation of his legitimate rights as enshrined in the African Charter, Articles 6 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Section 24 of the 1997 Constitution of the Gambia.
In his suit, the former Chief Justice had asked the Court for $20 million in damages.
Wowo stated in the suit 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 said 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, Wowo alleged that President Jammeh perceived his action as an affront to his authority and publicly threatened to send him to jail and subsequently instructed the Minister of Justice to file ‘a frivolous case’ against him alleging the abuse of office and spreading false information.
His arrest and trial stemmed from allegations that he solicited a bribe of D500,000 from a Dutch businessman in order to alter the course of justice in a land dispute matter.
The Solicitor General, Cherno Marenah described the ruling as a disappointment and told The Chronicle that the government would react once it received the content of the ruling.