WE commend the joint effort of the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) for their swift response to the precarious situation which arose last week in the Gambia following the decision of President Yahya Jammeh to denounce and annul the presidential election results he had earlier accepted.
African owes a debt of gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who currently chairs the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma, President John Mahama of Ghana who only last week accepted defeat in his country’s presidential election, and Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the UN Special Representative for West Africa. Their mission to Banjul was timely and having to meet President Jammeh twice is a labour of love and a seed sowed for peace.
We are still at a loss on how to place President Jammeh’s dangerous U-turn on the Gambia elections because he announced to the world that the elections were clean, that he would not dispute the results, that he has accepted the results which was why he congratulated the winner President-Elect Adama Barrow. It was on the strength of his positive responses that we commended him earlier in the week for emulating Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan. Even so, we could not but caution that Jammeh’s “legacy will be influenced by how he handles the transition to the new government. He still controls the armed forces and his relations and acolytes control much of the levers of power.” We did also warn the winner to “resist the temptation of settling scores.”
The reasons for President Jammeh’s volte face are that the election umpire discovered more votes in his favour which narrowed the margin of his loss. But the election authority has been emphatic that those figures did not alter the ultimate results. The President has taken his case to the Supreme Court for adjudication. Typical of dictators, he forgot he had dismissed two of the judges last year and that the court would need six new judges appointed. This is quite apart from the impossibility of the court being able to reach a verdict before the 18th January 2017 when his tenure would elapse. The constitution does not provide for him to remain in office thereafter even for a single day.
President Jammeh’s rejection of the results he had earlier accepted is condemnable, his call for fresh elections is unreasonable, and his claim of annulling the election is probably treasonable. On the whole we find it outrageous that after being in power for 22 years, honour and statesmanship seem meaningless to him.
President Jammeh does not need a sorcerer’s prophesy to know he has reached a dead end. He should be wise to take the good advice of his peers, listen to them and step down without demur. His posture brings global opprobrium on the African continent. He cannot be in power “for a billion years.” The deadline is 18th January 2017 and he should cheerfully handover to President-elect Barrow.
The ECOWAS heads of state are meeting this Saturday 17th December 2017 to receive the report of the committee’s trip to Banjul. The task before the region is to prevent any political upheaval arising from President Jammeh’s brinkmanship. We urge patience, firmness and persistence. The Gambian Army chief who earlier pledged loyalty to Barrow has gone back to Jammeh because, as he was quoted, Jammeh pays his wages. The general needs some briefing by President Buhari and, maybe, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. ECOWAS has a responsibility to do all it can to resolve this problem.
ECOWAS leaders must lean heavily on the Gambian opposition to end further misguided and tactless threats of vengeance President Jammeh. Dictators are always riding a tiger and they keep long on the saddle because they are afraid to dismount. If need be, Jammeh should be offered a safe passage out of Gambia. He should not be allowed to drag Gambia into the abyss that he fears is now facing him. He needs help to keep everyone safe.