Demola Ojo and Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and US Secretary of State John Kerry have both congratulated the President-elect of The Gambia, Mr. Adama Barrow, on his victory in the country’s December 1 presidential election.
Barrow defeated Gambia’s president of more than 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, in the election last Thursday, and Jammeh vowed to relinquish his position peacefully, calling the election results “a clear victory” for Barrow.
Buhari, in a statement yesterday by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina also saluted the spirit of statesmanship displayed by out-going President Jammeh, by conceding defeat.
According to Buhari, such uncommon gesture was crucial in calming fears of unrest in the West African nation. While expressing delight at the gallantry shown by Jammeh, the president enjoined president-elect Barrow to be magnanimous in victory.
“I will help him work towards the transition,” Jammeh said on state TV on Friday evening, after speaking to the president-elect by telephone.
Buhari also commended Gambians for peacefully exercising their democratic right to freely choose their leader and called on all stakeholders to maintain the peace.
The Nigerian said he looks forward to a smooth transition of power and working with the incoming President of The Gambia to deepen existing cordial relations between both West African countries.
Yesterday also, US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Gambia and Barrow, on the country’s first democratic presidential election, calling it “a new era in The Gambia.”
Kerry also commended Jammeh for his willingness to respect the results and said he was grateful to the electoral commission for its transparent handling of the election.
“We call for unity and calm during this transition period, and urge the Gambian government to respect the rights of citizens to freely assemble and express their views on the election results,” Kerry said in a statement.
Kerry said he looked forward to working with the new president to “promote democracy and governance” in Gambia, which has had long-standing ties with the US.
Gambia’s electoral commission announced on Friday that Barrow had won 263,000 votes, or 45 percent of the total, while Jammeh took 212,000 votes, about 36 percent. A third candidate, Mama Kandeh, won 17 percent.
Barrow, 51, represented a coalition of seven opposition parties that challenged Jammeh in Thursday’s election.
Jammeh, also 51, has ruled the tiny West African nation since taking power in a military coup in 1994. He won four subsequent elections that critics said were neither free nor fair and supported a 2002 constitutional amendment that removed presidential term limits. He once said he could rule Gambia for “a billion years.”
Gambia is a former British colony that occupies a narrow sliver of land surrounded by French-speaking Senegal. About 880,000 Gambians were eligible to vote in Thursday’s poll, which took place under a complete communications blackout, including social media platforms.
The president, who had predicted he would win, had said that no protests would be allowed after the election.
Meanwhile Barrow has said his shock win of the election heralds new hope for the country.
Hundreds of Gambians took to the streets to celebrate one of the biggest election upsets West Africa has ever seen.
The BBC’s Umaru Fofana, who spoke to Mr Barrow, said the president-elect seemed bewildered by the result.