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As it is now, The Gambia is under emergency rule as declared by its president of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh. The emergency rule has become necessary in the estimation of Jammeh, following his decision to challenge the outcome of the country’s December 1, 2016 election in which Adama Barrow was declared winner.
The impasse has been largely fuelled by the haste with which the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has not only intervened but also interfered in what should, at this stage, be a purely internal matter of a sovereign nation.
Jammeh’s decision to challenge the outcome of the election result is very well within his constitutional rights. By this, the man who is said to have ruled his country with an iron fist, is still within his constitutional rights to test the validity of the election result in the law court.
Obviously, it is this right that the ECOWAS nations and indeed a good part of the world has misinterpreted to mean that Jammeh has refused to step down, and this is part of what has heightened the impasse.
Just like in Nigeria, the declaration of results by the electoral body does not mark the end of an electoral process in The Gambia. The political actors are still constitutionally permitted to challenge such results in the law court. Such electoral matters can only be said to have been fully dispensed with after the highest court constitutionally empowered to deal with such matters have done so.
ECOWAS will be making a grave mistake if they send in troops to The Gambia at this stage. What the regional body should be concerned with now is to send in fearless and impartial judges to that country from Nigeria as requested to dispense with the matter speedily and judiciously. It is only after the country’s highest courts have affirmed Barrow as winner and Jammeh refuse to step down and handover to Barrow that a military action would be justified.
Another mistake ECOWAS made was their choice of delegation as led by President Muhammadu Buhari to The Gambia as emissaries of peace and democracy to persuade Jammeh to hand over power peacefully and as scheduled.
Although Jammeh had earlier accepted defeat and promised to leave the stage on the set date of January 19, 2017, he immediately did an about-turn the moment Barrow made the hasty and politically disingenuous statement of probing Jammeh’s administration.
Jammeh, who from his earlier posture, wanted to play the Goodluck Jonathan card of handing over power to the opposition after an election must have quickly remembered the Nigerian situation where persecution, injustice, oppression, deprivation and gross abuse of the rights of officials of the immediate past administration in particular and the citizens in general have been the order of the day, and recanted his earlier stance immediately.
The appointment of Buhari as leader of ECOWAS delegation to The Gambia is a monumental error. How can a man with no democratic credentials lead a mission of democracy? How can a man who hardly obeys court orders as in the case of Sheikh El Zakzaky, Nnamdi Kanu et al be the one appointed to mediate in a constitutional process? Not even the orders of the same ECOWAS court on Sambo Dasuki has been obeyed by Buhari months after they were given, yet, it is the same man ECOWAS gave the enviable responsibility to convince Jammeh about the need to leave the stage a democrat!
Buhari should not have been on that delegation not to talk of leading it.
With the continued denial of campaign promises and policy somersaults, no leader would take Buhari’s word for whatever it is worth. With the rascally behavior of some of our security agencies under Buhari’s watch leading to many innocent citizens being killed just for exercising their rights to assemble and protest, among others, in Jammeh’s mind, Buhari’s discussion with him might just seem like a dictator talking to a dictator about the need for a peaceful transition.
In fact, during those dialogues with Buhari, Jammeh might just be saying in his mind, “with your antecedents and current style of leadership, how am I sure that you would hand over power to your opponent if you were defeated in 2019?”
No doubt, Buhari is not the ideal example of a democratic leader. Such a leader like him needs the intervention of proven democrats to guide him on the inalienable ingredients of democracy.
So for The Gambia to pass through this phase peacefully and speedily, ECOWAS should facilitate the immediate transfer of judges from Nigeria to that country as requested and allow all parties exhaust all their constitutional rights and provisions made available to them.
While that is going on, democrats with proven track record of not being power-drunk and who also have themselves handed power over to members of the opposition including well respected figures like Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan, Ghana’s John Mahama, Kofi Annan, Emeka Anyaoku etc should have been in the delegation to the exclusion of the likes of our own Buhari.
It is only after the courts might have ruled against him and such entreaties have failed that a military action becomes desirable.
For now, let the delegation be reshuffled and let The Gambia run the full course of its own constitutional provisions. That way we do not attempt to right a wrong with another wrong.