By Chioma Igbokwe
A Gambian born British national, Mr Alieu Barry has described as blantant lies allegations of bribery for which a former Chief Justice of The Gambia Justice Joseph Wowo has been widely condemned and facing criminal charges in the West African country.
Justice Wowo hails from Edo State in Nigeria but has been serving in the Gambian judiciary and had risen to the position of Chief Justice until he was relieved of that position on July 19, 2013 when he was accused of demanding bribe from a party in a civil suit before the court. To support their allegations against the Nigerian jurist, his accusers uploaded on the internet audio recordings of discussions in which the bribe was allegedly demanded. As a result, Justice Wowo was arrested and charged to court while the Nigerian media was awash with the reports of the incident.
Facts coming out after the drama are, however, showing that Justice Wowo was framed by powerful interests in the Gambia in their bid to stop him from occupying the position of Chief Justice of the country. He has since been released from detention while his accusers have been dismissed from service and charged for criminal conspiracy.
Miffed by the persecution of Justice Wowo, a principal party in the dispute whose audio recording of a settlement meeting of all parties in contention was doctored to frame the jurist, Mr Barry in a sworn affidavit in Banjul, the capital city of Gambia said he has chosen to open up on the facts of the case to dispel the “wicked lies” against Justice Wowo.
“Contrary to the callous and wicked insinuations and outright falsehood being bandied around by unknown persons both in some print media and on the internet, Justice Wowo at the settlement negotiation which I recorded personally on tape, never ever demanded any bribe or any favour whatsoever from any of the parties or their lawyers at the meeting. None of the parties or their lawyers offered any bribe or any favour to Justice Wowo on the said tape”, he stated.
While shedding light on the root of the allegations against Justice Wowo, Alieu Barry said that the trouble began in 2005 when someone encroached into an expanse of land owned by his friend and business partner, Mr Bernd George Diedrich who is a German.
As a result of the trespass, he said Diedrich decided to drag the trespassers to court in a civil suit number HC/313/09/BK/035/A0. Following the court action, he added that an attempt was made by a Dutch, Andre Sape Van Klaabergen who is the 12th defendant in the suit for out-of-court settlement.
According to him, “On the 26th November 2012, I, Alieu Barry received a call from our leading lawyer Mr. Christopher Mene informing me as Attorney for the plaintiff, Bernd George Diedrich that the Justice Minister Mr. Lamin Jobarteh is inviting us to meet in the evening at his residence to discuss the problem about his former client, Mr. Klaabergen, (the 12th defendant) and how to compensate Mr. Diedrich for his land occupied by the 12th defendant.
“On that day in the evening, I met with Mr. Christopher Mene who led me accompanied by my nephew, Ebrima Gisseh to the Arttorney General and Minister for Justice, Lamin Jobarteh’s residence at Old Yuntum.
“Upon arrival with Mr Mene accompanied by my Nephew Ebrima Gisseh, we were welcome by the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Mr. Lamin Jobateh who invited us into his living room where we found Honourable Justice Wowo, the 12th defendant, Mr. Klaabergen and his lawyer, Mr. Chuka Agbapuonwu.
“In the meeting, the Attorney General and Minister for Justice Lamin Jobarteh insisted on negotiating on behalf of his former client, the 12th defendant, Mr. Andre Sape Van Klaabergen and his lawyer, Mr. Chuka Agbopuonwu.
“Justice Wowo made it clear to all the parties present that if the negotiation failed, he will not preside over the matter when it comes up in the Court of Appeal on account of his being there.
“Mr. Mene informed the Justice Minister, Lamin Jobarteh who negotiated on behalf of the 12th defendant, Andre Sape Van Klaabergen in the presence of the 12th defendant and counsel for the 12th defendant and all other persons present that because of the huge size of the land, the plaintiff Bernd Geoge Diedrich was asking 2.5 million from the 12th defendant as compensation for the portion of the plaintiff’s land occupied by the 12th defendant.
“Mr. Laminn Jobarteh rejected the amount proposed by the plaintiff through his counsel, Mr. Mene as compensation for the plaintiff for the portion of the plaintiff’s land occupied by the 12th defendant. On behalf of the 12th defendant, Mr. Lamin Jobarteh offered D500,000.00 to the plaintiff as compensation for the portion of the plaintiff’s land occupied by the 12th defendant.
“As Attorney and representatives of plaintiff at the negotiation, the amount of D500,000.00 proposed by Mr. Lamin Jobarteh as compensation for the plaintiff for the 12th defendant’s use and occupation of the plaintiff’s land was unacceptable.
“Hon. Justice Wowo interjected on the discussions on a number of times encouraging both parties to reach an amicable resolution of the matter, but all his effort was to no avail.
“The settlement meeting broke up without any agreement with a promise that we, meaning myself, the plaintiff and our counsel will think about the offer of the Hon. Minister for Justice and get back to the Honourable Minister Lamin Jobarteh if his offer to the plaintiff is acceptable to the plaintiff.
“We never accepted his offer of D500,000.00 on behalf of the 12th defendant to the plaintiff to date. No payment of compensation was ever made by the 12th defendant to the plaintiff pursuant to the said negotiation meeting.”
He disclosed that he decided to tape discussions at the meeting for future records and wondered how his recording was doctored to frame Justice Wowo by government officials who invited him to the parley as an arbiter.
“Honourable Justice Wowo consistently made it clear to all present that he was there only at the behest of Mr. Lamin Jobarteh, the Hon. Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Gambia and that if the negotiation failed, he will not preside over the matter in the Court of Appeal and true to his words on the failure of the attempt at settlement by the 12th defendant and the plaintiff, Hon Justice Wowo never presided over any matter directly or indirectly relating to the case at the Court of Appeal from the said 26th of November 2012 to date.
“The amount of D2.5 million mentioned in my recording was the amount the plaintiff was willing to accept as compensation from the 12th defendant for the 12th defendant’s use and occupation of the plaintiff’s land because of the size of the land and NOT bribe to anyone.
“The amount of D500,000.00 mentioned in the recording was the amount offered by Mr. Lamin Jobarteh the Honourable Minister for Justice on behalf of the 12th defendant to the plaintiff as compensation for the 12th defendant’s use and occupation of a portion of the plaintiff’s land and NOT bribe to anyone.
“It is inconceivable that in a reconciliation meeting attended by both parties to the dispute (i.e. the 12th defendant and Attorney for the plaintiff), counsel for both parties, Mr. Chuka Agbapuowu for the 12th defendant and Mr. Christopher Mene for the plaintiff and in the presence of my nephew, Mr. Ebrima Gisseh and the sitting Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Gambia, the issue of bribe to Justice Wowo could be alleged by any honest person to have been discussed on the said tape. That never ever happened”, Barry swore.
He added: “It is obvious that these lies and wicked falsehoods are being spread and propagated by enemies of Justice Wowo whose only desire it seems is to destroy him and make him appear to be unfit for the public office. In that regard, the recording that was uploaded on Youtube is clearly a doctored version of my recording which had been seriously edited to create suspicion in the minds of gullible listeners about the integrity of Justice Wowo. It does not reflect the truth of what happened at the meeting to settle a civil matter amicably by both parties and their lawyers and in the presence of a third party, Mr. Ebrima Gisseh and the Minister of Justice of The Gambia who apparently invited Justice Wowo to mediate.
“It is unfair and extremely wicked for anyone to seek to use my said recording (which I did to protect myself and the plaintiff from the machinations of Lamin Jobarteh, the Minister for Justice who was bent on using his position in government against us) to destroy an innocent man for reasons best known to some faceless individuals. Justice Wowo is innocent of the wicked and unfounded allegations against him. I do not wish to be party to the destruction of an innocent man hence this my statement.”
In his reaction to the development, Justice Wowo’s elder brother based in Nigeria, Mr Godwin Wowo attributed the jurist’s travails in the Gambia to the desperate attempts by powerful forces in the West African nation to stop his brother from being appointed into any public office in the country.
“There is no doubt that Justice Wowo is innocent. He is a Nigerian being persecuted in the Gambia on account of his nationality. He is being battered and bruised by those who have orchestrated the vicious and wicked falsehood against him”, he stated, adding that the Nigerian government, public and the media should rally round to defend him rather than join hands with his persecutors to crush him unjustifiably.