Lamin J. Darbo Critically Examines Justice Hassan Jallow’s Book, Journey For Justice

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Book Review:  Journey for Justice, 632 pages, AuthorHouse   Author: Justice Hassan B Jallow

Review By LAMIN J DARBO, JD, London, UK

Rather poignantly, Journey for Justice commenced at the end of Hassan B Jallow’s (Hassan) all-life career as a Law Officer, specifically as Chief Law Officer in his capacity as Attorney General and Minister of Justice. That this magisterial work also closed with the overthrow of the PPP government underscores the significance of the seismic event that was 22 July 1994.

From chapter one, “July 1994 – Coup D’etat”, the reader is confronted with the question of PPP’s fitness to preside over Gambian public affairs In the main, and in so far as the coup d’etat, those questions centre on who, within government, knew what about the events culminating in the by then predictable intervention of the military in Gambian governance.

Occupying the middle ten years separating independence to 1984 and 1994 to 2012 – the publication year of Journey for Justice – the record suggests that Hassan’s tenure as Chief Law Officer easily makes him the most productive and distinguished Attorney General so far. There is nothing per se magical about the years in question, only that Hassan’s president had the good judgement to leave him in post for a decade, and he himself the ability and vision to productively engage with his responsibilities. Herein the significance of Journey for Justice as a vital perspective on a contentious period in Gambia’s public life.

From the onset, there lurks in the background the disturbing issue of a government so divided, and, or, incompetent, as to prove incapable – on any objective analysis – of adequately protecting national security. There was the controversial issue of Hassan’s assignment by then Vice President, Saihou Sabally (Sabally), to meet the President, Sir Dawda Jawara (President Jawara) at the airport on return from overseas.

Inextricably linked to this assignment was the unsettled question of what Sabally, and Hassan, knew about the political thunderstorm that was to hit their government on 22 July. Sabally skipped the airport meeting on the excuse he had “to go to Farafeni to attend the funeral of a relative” p.17. Inexplicably, Sabally spent that very night of 21 July in Banjul and was in his office at the State House quite early the fateful next day. “It is now established that Saihou Sabally was back in Banjul that night, or early morning and in his office in the morning of July 22nd 1994” p.17. Why was Sabally’s movement specifically red-flagged when Hassan neglected to offer an explicit view on the question?

On his part, and this according to President Jawara in his autobiography, Kairaba, Hassan broke away from the presidential convoy without explanation. He neither briefed his President about the state of affairs in the country, nor followed his convoy to State House. And even whereas Hassan dealt with the briefing issue, he avoided the critical protocol oversight of abandoning the presidential convoy as it headed to the island of Banjul, that potential trap in times of public uncertainty and conflict.

In the chaotic early moments of military intervention in Gambian public life, some ministers admitted hearing inklings of something akin to 22 July a whole two weeks prior. Rather extraordinarily, others heard nothing! Even when the noose was tightening around Banjul, the boss of the National Security Service was assuring Cabinet ministers all was well. In Kairaba, Sir Dawda claimed he was unaware of the presence of the American naval vessel, US La Moore County in Gambian territory. He pointed the finger of suspicion at Sabally! However viewed, this was quite extraordinary, and the evidence, admittedly circumstantial, appears to suggest the PPP Government was actively self-canibalising in its sunset months, weeks, and days!

And so it happened that ministers in the country, along with some security chiefs, were held captive commencing that fateful day when a thirty year government spectacularly collapsed like a house of cards. President Jawara and other senior figures were afloat on national waters headed for lands beyond our shores. What an inglorious, and some may say, fitting end, to three decades of a generally do-nothing and tremendously corrupt government. It was in this climate that the AFPRC’s irreverent Sana Bairo Sabally, if only briefly, set to work traumatising former ministers and the unlucky that crossed his path.

In Chapter two, “Early Years”, Hassan dealt with his Bansang beginnings through high schools at Saint Augustine’s, and Gambia High, in Banjul, and to Tanzania to “read for the LL.B. degree at the University of Dar-Es-Salaam” in 1973 p. 42, from where he graduated “with an LL.B (First Class Honours Degree)” in May 1976. His educational journeys continued through the Nigerian Law School in Lagos in October 1976 from where he “passed the Bar finals” in May 1977 p. 47. In September 1978, Hassan entered the UK on a British Council scholarship to study “for the Master of Laws Course at University College London” p. 58, returning “exactly a year to the day” he left Banjul, and having specialised in public international law. At the tender age of 28, Hassan graduated from rural childhood in Bansang, high school and urban childhood in Banjul, and higher education at institutions in the great and exciting cities of Dar-Es-Salaam, Lagos, and London. His permanent career was to commence and end at the AG’s Chambers where he worked since 1976.

In Journey for Justice, Hassan discussed the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and its interface with OAU politics (chapter 3), and dealt with The Special Criminal Court Act 1979, at chapter 4. Chapter 5 dealt with Kukoi and his 30 July 1981 incident, and chapter 6 dilated on the politically expedient Senegambia Confederation. In chapter 7, Hassan became Solicitor General, and entered the big league as Attorney General and Minister of Justice in chapter 8. As Chief Law Officer, Hassan embarked on systematic reform of law (chapter 9), and did what he could to enhance operations in the chronically inefficient Gambian judicial system (chapter 10).

In chapter 11, Integrity in Public Life, Hassan extensively discussed the single issue that ultimately sunk the PPP, i.e., rampant corruption. Chapter 12 dealt with governance and not only undertook a comparative analysis of the 1970 and 1997 constitutions, but lauded the democratic credentials of President Jawara and the PPP, and in chapter 13, Hassan discussed his “Early Political Duties” as a member of the Cabinet. Chapter 14 dealt with overall party political tapestry and elections, and in chapter 15, he tackled the famous and watershed Fifth PPP National Congress at Mansakonko, and chapter 16 dealt with his Government’s last general elections in 1992. Chapter 17 dealt with the gathering storm that already undermined the castle of sand that was the PPP Government as its incompetent hubris was about to catch up with destiny. As earlier mentioned, Journey for Justice ended, at chapter 18, with “1994 Coup D’etat – Postcript”.

Viewed in the round, Journey for Justice is an excellent book especially in terms of the sheer volume of cogent factual information. From a purely intellectual perspective, the analysis equally passes muster, but here the reader must remain alert to Hassan’s understandable partiality. In the face of overwhelming evidence of runaway corruption, Hassan consistently questions the validity of any such contention. Indeed, the Bishop of Banjul, the Rt Reverend Michael Cleary, attacked “bribery”, “corruption”, “greed” and “an appalling lack of accountability … fast taking root in the country” p594-6. In his words, there were “disturbing signs that the good name which the country has for upholding justice is being rapidly eroded. Hardly a week passed by without reports of a financial scandal in government, parastatal bodies or business circles”.

Outside PPP circles, Bishop Cleary’s view was the consensus in the country.  and the evidence supporting it was overwhelming. But Hassan thought otherwise. “As a lawyer when I spoke of corruption I did so in a technical legal sense which is different from the offences of theft or embezzlement of public funds and property”. p597. He continued:

I am mindful that the opposition NCP and others made much noise about corruption and its rising levels. But when challenged to identify specific cases to the police or the Attorney General they were noticeably short of any concrete information. One developed the impression that the opposition, in order to discredit the Government, merely latched onto this popular anti-corruption slogan p.597-8

Contrary to Hassan’s contention elsewhere in Journey For Justice, it is irrelevant whether Government leadership was involved in corruption or not. Indeed, there was evidence of leadership-level corruption years before 1994, including in the Sanna Manneh saga. In any case, the Government had oversight responsibility for the public purse! There was compelling evidence that Hassan’s government had no serious commitment to rooting out corruption.

For example, when the Asset Evaluation Commission was launched by Fafa Mbai as Attorney General, he was hounded out of Cabinet and himself dragged before the Commission. According to Hassan, of the complaints lodged with the Commission, only Fafa’s came from the State House. “I believe all the complaints submitted to the Commissioner other than the one in respect of Fafa, which was forwarded by the office of the president, were filed by two individuals whose identity eventually became a matter of public knowledge in Banjul. With the result that they became the object of private criminal prosecutions. And great dislike” p.300..  The two were charged with the now viral offence of “giving false information to a public servant”, a PPP-era law!

Who lodged Fafa’s file with the President’s Office and why were two citizens prosecuted for doing the bidding of the Commission within its established operational framework? This was a perverse abuse of the Commission framework which was based on information from the public.  It stands to reason that members of the public who volunteered information must be protected and as Attorney General, Hassan was duty bound to block the malicious private prosecutions via the agency of the police power of the state.

In explaining why the scheme was ultimately scrapped, he had this to say: “As time went on the Commission began to be faced with a credibility problem as the society, rightly or wrongly, began to perceive the exercise as being manipulated and used as a political weapon targeted principally against the urban elite of a particular ethnic group”. p. 300 Hassan offers no personal thoughts on this allegation of witch hunting but there was no question it was founded on utter fabrication. The victim “urban elite of a particular ethnic group” controlled the government and masterminded the sacking and subsequent humiliation of Fafa.

Regardless of Hassan’s perspective, the PPP era was inseparable from the widespread corruption that took such firm root in the country that ill-gotten gain was flaunted as the norm. When the Special Criminal Court Bill was tabled in Parliament in 1979, then Attorney General M L Saho stated: “It is not alarming to say that this country will be destroyed if this cancer is not arrested now. Me make no apologies for this Bill … No stone would be left unturned in the fight to protect the interest of the public from the rapacious mafia within our society” p. 298. In 1980, “one Member of Parliament expressed the view that more stringent measures such as hand amputation ought to be introduced” to stem the tide of runaway corruption. “A Parliamentary Secretary, addressing Government accounting personnel, was reported by the Gambia News Bulletin of 10th July, 1980 to have suggested the firing squad for embezzlers” p. 298.

It was in this climate of mass disaffection with a do-nothing government that Kukoi emerged in 1981, and in which Fafa M’bai, Attorney General in 1982, shepherded the Evaluation of Assets and Prevention of Corrupt Practices Bill” which “came into force on the 31st of December 1982 as Act No. 17 of 1982” p.298. We know what happened to Fafa and his Act when the “rapacious mafia” went to work on him.  It is not even persuasive to contend that the “society” perceived “the exercise as being manipulated and used as a political weapon targeted principally against the urban elite of a particular ethnic group”. It was clearly a case of jaalo singo bey forango kang and this particular development was an utter stain on PPP’s willingness and, or, ability to effectively discharge its responsibilities as overall manager of our public purse.

Aside the PPP Government’s principal and ultimately fatal albatross of runaway corruption, there were other instances of illiberal conduct that continue to negatively impact Gambian public life some two decades after its demise.

As Attorney General, Hassan embarked on extensive and useful law reform (see chapter 9 generally) but also came across as a man wedded to the law and order school, as someone with a conservative philosophy of justice. It was ill-advised of the Government to sanction the “private prosecution” of the two individuals who provided information to the Commission regarding certain corrupt individuals. They appear to have acted within the framework established by the Government. And what was the charge? The now notorious offence of “giving false information to a public servant” that Professor Jammeh’s APRC government is utilising with reckless abandon against the innocent (see p 299).

There was also the small matter of Sana Manneh’s prosecution on allegations of criminal libel for fingering four ministers as corrupt. “I felt that this libel was not an entirely private affair with the victims being left to institute private legal proceedings to defend their integrity. They had been libelled in their official capacity and it would be unfair to leave them on their own. I decided to institute a case of criminal libel…” see p. 302-10 generally. Sounds familiar? Absolutely! Criminal libel/defamation is now a potent weapon against the journalism profession. Ala Hassan, Sana Manneh ultimately won “on a technicality”. What is law without its “technical” baggage! As we say, process is everything!

In the legislative domain, there was the treason regime that excluded the overt act requirement and introduced the elastic conspiracy element thus creating vast room for abuse. “Thus it was that on the 26th of March, 1986 I moved the House for a second reading … There was no debate on the Bill, I suppose the members were satisfied by my explanation of its contents. It went through Committee stage and its third reading, received the Presidential Assent and came into force as Act No. 8/86” p. 234. Extraordinary considering the House just passed the ultimate political offence without a word of debate! When dealing with a parliament of this nature, an Attorney General placed as Hassan, was duty bound to utilise a heighten regime of self-restraint. That was not evident in the treason legislation when parliament completely dropped the ball!

On the issue of personal law affecting Muslim inheritance, he oversaw the legislative scrapping (see section 30 of the Wills Act 1992) of the laudable Court of Appeal decision in Saidy v Saidy “that a Muslim who makes a will in the English form in contravention of the Islamic rules of inheritance is deemed to have opted out of the Islamic law of succession”, and that “his will must thus be given effect, despite the conflict with his personal law” p. 247.

Other instances of this apparent law and order fixation manifested themselves in the relationship between politicians and the army. In June 1991, there was a mutiny by a “contingent of soldiers of The Gambia National Army” staged at MacCarthy Square over payment of allowances for peacekeeping operations in Liberia which incident the government regarded “as a gross act of indiscipline” p 426-27.  Colonel Ndow Njie was consequently retired p. 428, Major Maba Jobe was put in charge, and Nigerian soldiers under Major Dada were brought in. “In a separate development, the IGP Sidney Riley called me on Monday 5th August 1991 to tell me he too had been requested to leave …” p. 429. President Jawara didn’t bother to inform his Cabinet about Riley and the Nigerians!

A similar mutiny, and over the same complaint of unpaid allowances occurred on 03 February, 1992.  Hassan was away in Bansang but when he returned, he agreed, on a phone conversation with Sir Dawda “on the need for firm action to be taken this time against the mutineers. Some deterrent action was called for to discourage a recurrence and put an end to this serious and dangerous indiscipline within our armed forces” p. 479-80. “Four months after the Army incident in February, the Acting Army Commander Major Maba Jobe was compulsorily and prematurely retired from the Army at the tender age of 30!” p. 481. I wonder how the Government thought that “discipline” was theirs to impose on the restless and officially armed segment of society.

Journey for Justice is some 632 pages of vital factual and analytical tour de force. There is plenty of material on internal PPP politics, including candidate selection for general and other elections. The frequent cross carpeting from other parties to the PPP is the clear culprit for the disgraceful section 91 (1) (d) of the 1997 Constitution.  And there is a lot of information on the Mansa Konko Congress and the confusion occasioned by President Jawara’s bizarre announcement of not standing as a candidate for president in 1992. It was utter chaos with grown men behaving as though no person in the party was capable of succeeding Jawara. In government, it triggered the ill-informed and sycophantic so-called Civil Service memo on presidential succession.

There was the ruthless parliamentary manoeuvring that, via a constitutional amendment, expelled P S Njie, and Buba Baldeh, from the House in 1972, and 1985 respectively p. 389. And the unfair election processes that allowed use of government resources for political campaigns, and made the Permanent Secretary of Local Government as Supervisor of Elections. Hassan kindly gave us his thoughts on presidential term limits, and considered the Daily Observer at the height of its glory as “subversive”. Poetic justice then that Kenneth Best was deported by the political authority that replaced the PPP. He gave us information on the banning and unbanning of MOJA(G).His recollection conflicts with that of President Jawara on the issue of an amnesty for Kukoi! There is extensive literature on the Senegambia Confederation but absent a perusal of the governing instrument, Hassan’s assertion that it did not trigger a referendum must be approached with some caution.

Singaporisation? p. 564. A dream pure and simple considering Gambia and Singapore attained statehood the same month of the same year, with virtually identical chances of surviving in the global milieu they were born into. Lee Kuan Yew documented Singapore’s extraordinary journey in his memoirs From Third World to First. What Singaporisation required was way beyond the mediocre capacity of Hassan’s Government. What utter joke that was!

Notwithstanding that Journey for Justice ended with the PPP’s overthrow, Hassan exceptionally touched on the controversial recent prisoner executions in light of the PPP’s abrogation of the death penalty in 1993. He recalled the parliamentary debates on the issue:

The member for Niamina, Lamin Waa Juwara, supported the motion and then prophetically proposed that while Sir Dawda, an acknowledged humanist was still round, it was best that the abolition of the death penalty be entrenched into the Constitution, lest some future leader of a different inclination were to reactivate its application. How prophetic indeed! p. 347

What a difference in Waa Juwara’s perspectives between 1993 and 2012!

Not to succumb to Waa Juwara’s firepower in the prophecy department, Hassan, in final chapter reflections, mused on the teachings of the Arab Spring:

The policy of opposition to unconstitutional changes of government, commendable and necessary as it is, is not meant to provide a licence or sanctuary and security to dictatorship. If one important lesson is to be drawn from the ‘Arab spring’ – largely played out on African soil in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, it is this: that no amount of intimidation, repression and security systems can forever deny the peoples yearning for justice, freedom and respect for human rights and that in the face of persistent systematic oppression and dictatorship, the people will, in the absence of effective avenues for redress, exercise their ultimate right of rebellion against dictatorship p. 619.

How very true!

Compared to what replaced it, the PPP Government was quite mild compared to its replacement. Would we still have the PPP in one form or the other without 22 July? It is entirely possible but that would be a degrading prospect for an independent country. No matter how tragic our present condition, who says life is an easy passage. A government that collapsed so spectacularly without so much as a shot fired did not deserve to be saved. Good riddance PPP!

Without question, Hassan belongs to that rare breed of Gambian lawyer whose preoccupation is not merely with black letter law and its technical application, i.e., theft as offence, its elements, and questions of guilt or innocence.  From my reading of Journey for Justice, his understanding of law and its public purpose is far deeper and more visionary. This is not to say Hassan’s philosophical window on public life as of 1994 represents my ideal standard. There is ample room for reasonable people to analytically disagree from reading the same set of factual circumstances. And it is imperative we remember the PPP era as belonging more in the contemporary sphere than in ancient history, especially for those Gambians who were in secondary school as of 1994.

Nevertheless, Journey for Justice assures that Hassan’s will remain among the abiding public voices on the PPP era. He is a third of a triumvirate of higher level political operatives within the PPP Government whose solid intellectual credentials will remain a challenge to contrasting views on the era. The other one is President Jawara himself! Isn’t the third obvious?

Although there is indeed a lot of it, Journey for Justice is not merely about law. It is more of a political memoir with the law therein arguably incidental to Hassan’s career as a Law Officer from 1976, and as Chief Law Officer between 1984 and 1994. Do not merely congratulate Hassan for writing Journey for Justice. Purchase this significant book on Gambian public life.

I recommend it highly!

Among other outlets, Journey for Justice can be purchased from the publisher, AuthorHouse, and from Amazon

Editor’s Note: Originally posted on The Echo: 2 January, 2013

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