Caught on Tape Negotiating N 2.5 Million Bribe
The dented image of the Nigerian judiciary has received yet another damaging blow, this time in Gambia where Mr Justice Joseph Wowo, a senior Nigerian judge who incidentally is the Acting Chief Justice of the small West African country was sacked for soliciting a bribe of 500,000 Dalasi (N2.5 million) from a Dutch businessman in order to alter the course of justice in a land dispute matter. Wowo had also served as the President of the Court of Appeal in Ganbia.
Justice Wowo who was appointed as the Acting Chief Judge in June was caught on tape meeting with the former Gambian Justice Minister, Lamin Jobarteh, who was also 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 agreed in the tape that the Dutch businessman lost.
In the tape which has been posted on Youtube, the Acting Chief Justice was heard asking “how much are you willing to offer first so that we can negotiate. 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.”
A form of confirmation that the case had already been decided at the High Court came as Justice Wowo said “I’ve read your file at the Court of Appeal 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.”
The Minister for Justice was later heard saying “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?”
The Acting CJ then put forward a demand of 2.5 million Dalasi (an equivalent of N12.3 million) to which Klaarbergen responded that he could not afford especially as his business had been slow lately. He offered to pay 500,000 Dalasi.
The Justice Minister appealed to the CJ to take the amount, claiming they would need his (Justice Minister’s) help later. “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”, he said.
The Nigerian judge also made it known that he would not have accepted that amount. He said “because of Justice Jobarteh, honourable minister, that is why I’m accepting,” He went as far as telling the Dutch to “go and borrow” if he could not raise the amount agreed upon.
After the deal had been sealed, drinks were offered and the Judge was heard saying “you didn’t bring my choice. Me I take only Guinness and brandy.” He said the non-alcoholic drinks offered him could give him stomach discomfort. Wowo was heard complaining that the drink would “run my stomach”.
Mr Justice Wowo who graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was called to bar in 1991. He was appointed a Principal State Counsel and Deputy Head of the Civil Division Ministry of Justice, Banjul, The Gambia, a position he held from 1998 till 2001.
In 2007 he was appointed a High Court Judge, Criminal Division from where he became the President of the Court of Appeal.
Meanwhile, the sacked Chief Justice is believed to have fled Gambia in view of possible arrest and prosecution.