24 May 2011

Gambia: Lang Tombong, Sarjo Fofana Sink

The Special Criminal Court in Banjul, presided over by Justice Joseph Enwa Ikpala, yesterday convicted and sentenced Lang Tombong Tamba, former chief of Defence Staff (CDS) of The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF); and Sarjo Fofana, former Chief of Naval Staff for their involvement in the foiled March 21st 2006 Coup d' etat.

Lang Tombong Tamba was charged with four counts of conspiracy to commit treason, treason, concealment of treason; whilst Sarjo Fofana was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit treason and treason.

On count one, Lang Tombong Tamba and Sarjo Fofana were alleged, on diverse dates between January and 21st March in 2006 at Banjul and other places in The Gambia to have conspired with Col Ndure Cham and others now at large, to stage a coup d' etat, and overthrow the president and democratically elected government of the Republic of The Gambia by force of arms.

On count two, the two and others now at large, on diverse dates between January and 21st March 2006 in the Republic of The Gambia, endeavoured to stage a coup d' etat and overthrow the democratically elected government of The Gambia by force of arms.

On count three, Lang Tombong Tamba was alleged on diverse dates between January and 21st March 2006 in Banjul and other places in The Gambia, knowing that Col Ndure Cham, Sarjo Fofana and others now at large, intended to stage a coup d etat and overthrow the President and democratically elected government of the Republic of The Gambia, did not give information thereof within all reasonable despatch to a minister or a magistrate or a police officer.

Whilst on count four, Lang Tombong Tamba on diverse dates between January and 21st March 2006 in Banjul and other places in The Gambia, knowing that Colonel Ndure Cham, Sarjo Fofana and others now at large, intended to stage a coup d' etat and overthrow the president and democratically elected government of the Republic of The Gambia, did not take reasonable and necessary steps to prevent the commission of the offence.

The duo pleaded not guilty to the charges. Delivering judgment, Justice Joseph Enwa Ikpala disclosed that the prosecution called five witnesses and tendered three exhibits and closed its case. The defence made a 'no case' submission, but was overruled and the duo were called to enter their defence, but refused to enter, instead rested their case on the evidence of the prosecution case. Justice Ikpala further disclosed that the summary of prosecution as distilled from its witnesses is that there was a coup on the 21st of March 2006. Justice Ikpala revealed that the prosecution analysed the ingredience of conspiracy, noting that the accused persons participated in a meeting.

The Special Criminal Court judge further revealed that the prosecution's case also indicated that the PW1, Major Momodou Alieu Bah, told Lang Tombong Tamba about the information of a looming coup d etat, but Land dismissed the said information as barbaric. The Special Criminal Court judge said the prosecution also gave a graphic description of the deployment of security officers in a wrong way by Lang Tombong Tamba, which gave the progenitor time to escape, whilst the prosecution urged the court to convict both Lang Tombong Tamba and Sarjo Fofana on count one.

Justice Joseph Enwa Ikpala disclosed that on count two, the prosecution also gave an analytical report on how Lang Tombong Tamba deployed troops in a wrong way to ensure the safe exit of the main progenitor, Col Ndure Cham. The Special Criminal Court judge further disclosed that exhibit C shows the initial agreement between the accused persons, adding that Lang Tombong Tamba had an initial information of the coup, but did not inform or alert the appropriate officials and that even though some senior police officials were informed, they had their hands tied.

The prosecution urged the court to draw the necessary inferences on the role Lang Tombong Tamba played and that his status as the deputy chief of Defence Staff, that he could not get to the president was false. The judge disclosed that the prosecution submitted that Lang Tombong Tamba did not take the necessary step to quell the coup but was involved in a designed delay tactics to ensure the escape of Col. Ndure Cham, and therefore urged the court to convict accused persons on the counts charged. Justice Ikpala disclosed that defence counsel S.M. Tambedou on the count of conspiracy, submitted that it is only PW1, Major Momodou Alieu Bah that mentioned the name of Lang Tombong Tamba, adding that he was not part of the conspiracy.

The judge said the defence counsel further submitted that Lang Tombong Tamba showed gallantry and bravery in quelling the coup and urged the court to acquit and discharge him. On count two, three and four, defence counsel Tambedou submitted that the prosecution has not moved the court in compliance with Section 144 of the Evidence Act, adding that Lang Tombong Tamba cannot be convicted on uncorroborated evidence. Justice Ikpala further said the defence counsel Tambedou also submitted that Lang Tombong Tamba tried to contact the president through the chief of protocol but to no avail, adding that he (Lang) chooses not to give evidence in his defence because the prosecution had failed to make a prima facie case against him and therefore urged the court to discharge him.

On the 2nd accused, Sarjo Fofana, the former chief of Naval Staff, the Special Criminal Court judge disclosed that his counsel, L.K. Mboge, pointed out that PW1, Momodou Alieu Bah gave evidence and never mentioned the 2nd accused, Sarjo Fofana. Justice Ikpala further disclosed that the defence counsel submitted that the only piece of evidence, which touches Sarjo Fofana, was in exhibit C which was tendered before the court and that there was contradiction and inconsistency in the case of the prosecution, which has last doubt and therefore urged the court to discharge Sarjo Fofana.

Justice Joseph Enwa Ikpala pointed out that in determining the instant case, certain elements must be considered: the evidence of the prosecution witnesses, whether the evidences are corroborated or uncorroborated and whether the unsworn evidence was uncorroborated, and if there was conspiracy. The Special Criminal Court judge then defined conspiracy and pointed out that both accused persons admitted that they attended a meeting at the Vice President's Office on security matters, but they did not state who were in attendance.

Justice Ikpala revealed how the PW1 testified before the court and said how he informed Lang Tombong Tamba about the coup plot but he was dismissed. The judge further revealed how Yaya Darboe was given a lift by the 1st accused where they sensitized him on the alleged coup. Justice Ikpala declared that with these pieces of evidence, the accused persons opted not to enter their defence. Justice Ikpala remarked that evidence belongs to the accused persons and nobody else in criminal case, adding that inaction of the accused persons not to enter their defence has cast doubt and therefore resolved the count of conspiracy against the accused persons in favour of the prosecution.

On count two, Justice Ikpala disclosed that on the statement of Lang Tombong Tamba, who said he attended a meeting at the Vice President's Office, the accused did not state who were in attendance. Justice Ikpala pointed out that the top military brass (Lang Tombong Tamba and Sarjo Fofana) cannot be absent from that meeting. He disclosed that he agreed with the prosecution that the deployment of troops by Lang Tombong Tamba was designed in a wrong way to allow the progenitors' escape. He said the defence saying that the 1st accused displayed an act of gallantry and bravery is totally misconceived, noting that it is the PW1, Major Momodou Alieu Bah who should be described as a gallant and brave soldier as he did not only inform the 1st accused, Lang Tombong but also went to inform other people.

On count three, for Lang Tombong Tamba not giving any information to a police officer or a minister or a magistrate, the Special Criminal Court judge disclosed that the 1st accused in his statement that he got the information through Bo Badjie and he did deploy troops to quell the coup was described by the prosecution as false. On count four. Justice Ikpala disclosed that he also agreed with the prosecution that the deployment of troops was done in a wrong way as a ploy to allow the progenitors to escape. The judge said the 1st accused admission that he learnt that the coup will take place around 23:00 hours and he brought a tape to record Ndure Cham, yet the said tape was not seen in the court.

Justice Ikpala further said the 1st accused instruction to Modou Serign Njie not to inform the president until Col. Ndure Cham was arrested and yet he was not arrested cast some doubts. Justice Ikpala disclosed that it is absurd for the 1st accused to think that he does not want to inform the president about a coup d' etat, which threatens the life of the president and the Office of the Presidency. Justice Ikpala revealed that corroboration can be direct evidence, oral or by conduct. Justice Ikpala cited the Law of Evidence written by Hassan Jallow, adding that from the evidence adduced, it is clear that the unsworn evidence of PW5, Bunja Darboe was corroborated.

Justice Ikpala pointed out that nothing stops the court from using unsworn evidence, adding that PW5, Bunja Darbo made exhibit C, on promises of reinstatement and then PW5 gave a narration of how he was approached to join the coup. "If the witness (PW5) is under pressure it was certainly not from the prosecution but from the defence not to testify before the court," he added. The Special Criminal Court judge then held that the prosecution proved its case beyond reasonable doubt against the two former military top brass in connection to their involvement in the 21st March 2006 coup d' etat and they were found guilty as charged.

Allocutus

Defence Counsel S.M. Tambedou in making allocutus on behalf of Lang Tombong Tamba, told the court that he is the highest ever ranked military officer in the history of The Gambia; that Lang Tombong Tamba is the first officer to attain the rank of Brigadier General, Major General and LT General and was decorated by the president with the order of MRG. Tambedou disclosed that the instant case, which he is now being convicted for was the very one that earned him to be decorated with the MRG. Defence counsel Tambedou said Lang Tombong Tamba is 45 years old, with wives and 15 children, adding that the court should consider the burden of responsibility that goes with his status in the society.

Tambedou submitted that the evidence adduced by the prosecution does not disclose any form of violence nor does it disclose any use of any toxic substance during the coup plot. Tambedou referred the court to Section 18, Subsection 2 of the 1007 Constitution and Section 29, Subsection one and two of the Criminal Code, Cap 10:01, Vol. 111 of the revised laws of The Gambia and therefore urged the court in passing sentence to consider the aforementioned sections. He said the Special Criminal Court has the power to grant a shorter sentence as provided by the above-mentioned code and urged the court not to impose the sentence of death on Lang Tombong Tamba, adding that no violence or death was recorded in the said coup plot.

On his part, Lamin K. Mboge, defence counsel for Sarjo Fofana, urged the court to exercise its discretion, adding that the said discretion should be exercised to commensurate the act of Sarjo Fofana. L.K. Mboge quoted the part of the court judgment, that even though the 2nd accused was aware of the coup he did nothing, adding that there was no proof of violence in the foiled coup. L.K. Mboge submitted that even though the punishment for the charge is either death or life imprisonment, he urged the court to read Section 35 of the Criminal Code in conjunction with Section 29 of the Criminal Code.

L.K. Mboge further submitted that the court has the power to impose a lesser sentence and urged the court to consider the length of time; Sarjo Fofana has spent in prison custody and the totality of the evidence in passing sentence on him. Defence counsel Mboge disclosed the 2nd accused, Sarjo Fofana as the finest gentleman who has no harm and cannot bite anyone, adding that the evidence before the court is a true reflection of him that he has not taken any step to quell the coup. He added that Sarjo Fofana is a highly responsible gentleman with a wife and children, brothers, sisters and traditional extended family who depends on him.

L.K. Mboge however craved the court's indulgence to forgive him, so that he would not spend the rest of his life within the four corners of the Mile Two Central Prison. The prosecution represented by senior state counsel Maurice Agiah told the court that Lang Tombong Tamba has a record of previous conviction of a coup plot, whilst Sarjo Fofana has no previous criminal records.

Sentences

The Special Criminal Court judge, Justice Joseph Enwa Ikpala in passing sentence disclosed that the court has noted the provision of Section 29 of the Criminal Code and therefore, on count one, the charge of conspiracy, the two were sentenced to twenty years imprisonment each, and on count two the charge of treason, the two were also sentenced to twenty years imprisonment each.

Whilst Lang Tombong Tamba was sentenced to ten years imprisonment on count thee, for concealment of treason charge and on count four, also on concealment charge, Lang Tombong Tamba was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Justice Joseph Enwa Ikpala however ordered that the sentences run concurrently and pointed out that the duo have the right to appeal.

Immediately, the presiding judge finished his pronouncement, Lang Tombong Tamba shouted on top of his voice inside the dock; saying: "I will remain loyal to the President Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya AJJ Jammeh up to my grave."

After Lang Tombong Tamba's statement, relatives and well wishers in and around the courtroom burst out in tears.

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