A Nigerian jurist who served in Gambia as a legal expert and later as the Chief Judge, Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle, has been honoured with the Kwame Nkrumah Outstanding Merit Award on Wednesday, September 28.
PMNews reported that the award recognized his remarkable contributions to the development of democracy in Africa and the resolution of the 2016 political impasse in Gambia.
Fagbenle was deployed to Gambia under a bilateral agreement between Nigeria and Gambia. He worked as a state counsel, head of civil litigation, deputy director of public prosecution and director of public prosecution at different times. He handled many high-profile cases and earned a reputation for his professionalism and integrity.
He became a High Court Judge in 2009, a Court of Appeal Judge in 2012, and the President of the Court of Appeal in 2014. He was appointed as the Chief Judge of Gambia on 13 May 2015.
In 2016, Gambia faced a political crisis when the former president Yahaya Jammeh refused to accept the election results that favoured his opponent Adama Barrow. Fagbenle played a crucial role in upholding the rule of law and the democratic process during this tense period.
He refused to bow to pressure from any side and maintained his neutrality as the head of the judiciary. He kept the courts open for all parties to seek legal redress and prevented violence and chaos from erupting in the country.
He also rejected the idea of an interim government and did not interfere with the petition filed against the president. His actions were widely praised by the international community as an example of courage and commitment to democracy.
The Kwame Nkrumah Vision Alive Movements, the organizers of the award, compared Fagbenle to Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana and a champion of African unity and independence.
“During the heated political impasse in the Gambia, he (Fagbenle) discouraged any unconstitutional political solution including interim governments because of his staunch belief in the democratic process, especially in a nascent democracy like Gambia,” said Dr Felix Okonkwo, the coordinator of the movement.
He added that Fagbenle ensured that “the court remained open even at very personal risk to give the people of Gambia the needed platforms to air their grievances to prevent anarchy without aligning with any party.”
The award ceremony was attended by dignitaries, friends, classmates, lawyers and judicial officers at the NAF Centre. It also featured a keynote address by Professor Mike Ikupolati, a former ambassador to The Gambia, who spoke on “Leadership and Economic Development: The Pathway for Africa.” He blamed poverty and insecurity in Africa on poor leadership selection methods and urged Africans to emulate leaders like Nkrumah and Fagbenle who had vision and values for their people.