Thursday, October 22, 2015 12:41 pm
Justice Emmanuel Olusegun Olugbenle is the Chief Justice of The Gambia. In this brief encounter with Sola Adeola- Folorunso, he spoke about the economy, judiciary system and other issues related to The Gambia.
Q: How did you get to The Gambia?
A: I came in year 2000 during the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo to render legal assistance under the bilateral agreement between The Gambia and Nigeria. Fortunately, l found the environment very supportive of what l was sent to come and do. I came in as a lawyer from the Ministry of Justice in Nigeria. I rose through the ranks before I became the Chief Justice of The Gambia. I went back home briefly after my tenure expired.
Then, the President, Alhaj Yahaya Jammeh, called me back to come and do more for the country. He appointed me as the Chief Justice because of the strong historical relationship between Nigeria and The Gambia. I was with Kanu Agabi and Associates before l joined the civil service. I was in private practice from 1991 till 1999. When the request came, the Nigerian government found me fit to represent it and that was it. I weighed the two options between my honouring the invitation of staying back in Nigeria and l accepted it. Other than the strong historical background between them, the two countries have always been giving each other the very best they could afford. We were four that were chosen by the Nigeria government, I was special assistant to the then Minister of Justice, Mr Kanu Agabi.
Q: Four of you were selected to come here. So what happened to the rest?
A: They finished their terms and left for Nigeria .
Q: How does the Judiciary in the Gambia work?
A: The Justice system here is just like the Justice system in Nigeria. The system blends and works together because of our common historical background and colonial history. I think climatically we have to adapt to some things that are peculiar to us. The laws are very similar and the system is similar. We have the customary law system, magistracy, high court, court of appeal and then supreme courts in The Gambia just as it operates in Nigeria.
But The Gambia is also radically different from many other countries in the world. Here, we draw inspiration from the top. We have a president who is up to the most ideals that any human can put up in Justice system- a justice system that is honest and plain. He has zero tolerance for corruption and if one veers out of line, he has a case to answer. The system works clean and the system produces results you can predict. If anyone wants to live clean, The Gambia is the best place or environment he or she can live, because you don’t need anyone to induce you to do anything out of line. Once you follow the law, you are not under any obligation to anybody. That is what has guided me and that is what l have enjoyed since l came to this country.
Q: Is that why you have remained here?
A: Believe you me; I am so comfortable with it because my way of life either in or out office doesn’t encourage me to do anything under the carpet. I find the environment supportive of my lifestyle, my dreams, aspiration and my religious beliefs and all the things that I was brought up with as a person.
Q: In Africa, there is a common factor that binds all the leaders, that is mismanagement of the economy. What is the situation here?
A: The economy may not be strong up to your expectation for me to make hard points. But with me on ground here for 15 years, I can tell you that The Gambia economy is a growing one that has a lot of green, open areas for anyone that wants to invest. The government is willing and ready to support anyone who wants to invest in The Gambia. There are many opportunities for investments. The government will guide you aright when you show interest. The several years of colonial rule did not help The Gambia and economically. After independence, the government has to fend for herself. The first government did what it could do. The second government is that of Professor Yayah Jammeh. He is more proactive, farsighted and pragmatic in a lot of things he does. For instance, people think that this country can’t sustain a university, but he went for it and it is a success today.
Q: You mean that there was no university before now?
A: No. The highest institutions in The Gambia before the establishment of the university were Secondary schools. For anyone to have university education, he or she had to go overseas. The university was established in 1999 precisely. That is the only university in The Gambia and for the Gambians. There is America University, AMTI University supported by Indians. But there are other supportive institutions and other private ones coming up. He also refurbished the airport, which has helped to promote tourism and the economic strength of the country. In the area of health, he has also done exceedingly well.
Q: How stable is electricity here?
A: There is no hydroelectricity. The entire nation runs on generators. Well organized and well managed, powered by diesel.
Q: Does the country refine oil or where is the diesel coming from?
No. We import diesel from across the world. We are more used to constant electricity supply than outage. If there is going to be outage, the public will be informed through newspapers advertisements. And within a short time, power will be restored. There is steady supply of power. And the government is doing everything possible to get power and roads network to the remotest settlement of this country.
Q: One peculiar trait among African leaders is manipulation of justice and abuse of human rights. With this dictatorial tendency, can you say that the judiciary is really independent in The Gambia?
A: There is absolutely no interference and I am accountable for everything. Believe you me; I have my God, my name and integrity to protect. I make sure l look at the law and everything is in alignment.
Q: What are the major developments that you would say have taken place under Jammeh administration?
A: So many, he established the first television station and there were only five secondary schools. This country has very limited resources of income. Both night and day the President is pursuing free education at all levels. He is doing everything practically possible to make sure that education goes round. If he has so much money he will turn this country into a paradise. There is no settlement you go to today that you will not find schools and health services. The concept is to bringing government nearer to his people. The desire this to grow more foods, as you can see, he is on leave now. As am talking to you he is in the farm. People go there to assist him
Q: Who owns the farm?
A: We call it the President’s farm. There are tons of rice and groundnuts grown there and at the end of the day he gives them out after harvesting them to children, communities, and those in need. He goes round the world looking for whom to partner with.
Q: What are the major sources of revenue used in developing the economy of The Gambia?
A: Basically, it is tourism because the country is very liberal, it welcomes people. The second one is tariffs. We import things, anything imported you pay tariffs. There is very low crime rate. We are agrarian, we plan ourselves. Groundnut is another major source of income- even though we have to fight internationally to sell it. Every day they introduce all manners of conditions. Everybody is making contribution here, as you move around, look at the small farms. The women are more proactive. Again, if you look at the beach, they refused the colonization of it. You can go there without paying a dime.