By Tayo Ogunbiyi
After he had initially conceded defeat to Adama Barrow, who won more than 43% of the the total votes cast, suddenly in a typical African leader’s sit-tight fashion, Gambian strongman, Yahya Jammeh made a volte face and announced that he was rejecting the result of the Presidential election. It was a week after he had graciously conceded defeat. Part of his reasons for this sudden change of mind is what he termed “abnormalities” in the vote. He has, therefore, called for fresh polls.
Meanwhile, African leaders, including Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia and John Mahama of Ghana were recently in Banjul, the Gambia, to persuade Jammeh to take the path of honour by respecting his country’s constitution, accept the wish of his people and allow the presidential election result to stay.
Given his earlier rash treatment of President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson whose plane was blocked from landing in the country, it is cheering that Jammeh saw reason to allow her plane to land this time around. Actually, the fear among West African leaders is for the Gambian situation not to degenerate into another Liberian debacle that once threw the entire sub region into a theatre of warfare. Thus, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, is not ruling out the possibility of deploying troops into landlocked Gambia if Jammeh remains defiant.
From all indications, The Gambia might be heading for a major catastrophe as reports suggest that Jammeh has ordered Headquarters of the nation’s electoral commission to be taken over by soldiers. Many believe that this might be a ploy by Jammeh and his cronies to tamper with electoral documents, thereby paving the way for his judicial victory at the Supreme Court. It will be recalled that Jammeh had earlier signaled his intention to challenge the presidential election’s result at the nation’s Supreme Court.
In a manner suggestive of his reluctance to willingly relinquish power, reports also indicate that Jammeh is currently nursing a power-sharing agreement with Adama Barrow, the winner of the nation’s presidential contest. Meanwhile, Barrow has told the international media that he would stand by the mandate given to him by the Gambian electorate, even at the point of shedding his blood. He claimed that his mandate doesn’t include any power sharing arrangement. It is the differing posture of the two top most dramatis personae in the unfolding Gambia’s comedy that made political analysts to conclude that, unless something drastic is urgently done; The Gambia might be heading for a cliffhanger.
But then, what could have been responsible for Jammeh’s sudden retraction of his initial stance towards the election? How come a man who had originally congratulated his vanquisher abruptly made a u-turn to swallow his word? Well, political analysts have blamed the unfolding scenario in The Gambia on what they termed the ‘immaturity’ of the opposition in the country.
They hinged this submission on the ‘hasty’ and ‘premature’ manner in which Barrow and his men have been hounding Jammeh since their historic victory at the poll. They particularly singled out for mention, Barrow’s recent tantrum concerning handling over the current president to the International Criminal Court, ICC, for prosecution. Keen watchers of events in the country are aware that there is no love lost between Jammeh and the ICC. In-fact, he recently vowed to withdraw hic nation’s membership of the ICC. It is, therefore, the view of political experts that the opposition in the Gambia contributed to the current messy state of affairs in the country. If only they have kept their game plan close to their chest, perhaps, Jammeh wouldn’t have changed his mind.
As plausible as this argument seems, it, however, does not really hold much water. One does not really see how. Barrow’s supposed reference to the ICC could be sufficient justification for Jammeh to hold the nation to ransom. What has that got to do with the presidential election result? The issue of the election is a constitutional matter. Is there a provision in the nation’s constitution that empowers him to reject election results if his opponents threaten to drag him before the ICC? Why, in the first instance, should he be afraid of the ICC? Of course, like every African tyrant, the likelihood of an ICC prosecution should certainly send shivers down Jammeh’s spine.
Jammeh is merely exhibiting the classic sit-tight nature of African despots. For twenty-two years, he had ruled his country with an iron fist. The prospect of leaving office willingly without resorting to unconstitutional measures is never an attractive option for African despots. He once boasted that he would rule The Gambia for a “billion years”. Now that his people have voted against his wish, he is taking to illegitimate means to perpetuate himself in office.
Jammeh should simply take the path of honour by respecting the wish of his country’s electorate. He has had his feel of power, both as a military despot and now a civilian dictator. Ironically, his years in power have not really done much good for his country. All he has mostly done is to lead the nation from one mess to the other.
His hapless compatriots have continued to bear the burden of his economic failures and political onslaughts. Many have already fled the country, making the hazardous journey to Europe by boats. According to a statistic, The Gambia provides 7% of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, a vastly lopsided figure considering the nation’s population of just 2 million. It is not only the economic and political landscapes of the country that Jammeh has messed up; he has also desecrated the judiciary. Just last year, he sacked all the judges of the nation’s Supreme Court and he is yet to appoint new ones. This, of course, makes his resolution to challenge the presidential election result at the Supreme Court is a rather laughable and phony one!
If Jammeh refuses to heed noble calls to leave office honourably, he would certainly go the way of his ilk such as Charles Tailor and Lauren Gbagbo. When and how this would happen is what one might not be able to really ascertain. But history reveals that despots usually end ignominously. And he unless he turns a new leaf, Jammeh could end in that way of infamy.
Ogunbiyi writes from Lagos