Nigeria should provide leadership in easing out the tyrant

It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) may have to send a military intervention force to help resolve the political logjam in The Gambia. With the defeated President Yahya Jammeh insisting he would not hand over power following his defeat at the presidential election, a military push appears to be the only option left to chase him out of office before he leads his country into a serious crisis.

Last week, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, in her capacity as the chairperson of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, led a delegation which included President Muhammadu Buhari to The Gambia. But Jammeh practically bluffed them as he defiantly said he would not hand over power. “I am not a coward. I cannot be intimidated. Nobody can deprive me of that victory except the Almighty Allah. Already the ECOWAS meeting was a formality. Before they came, they had already said Jammeh must step down. I will not step down,” vowed Jammeh, who had initially accepted the results of an election he lost to the main opposition candidate, Mr. Adama Barrow.

However, ECOWAS leaders are not taking any nonsense from Jammeh. “If he is not going, we have stand-by forces already alerted to intervene to restore the people’s wish. Senegal has been selected by its peers to lead the operations but we do not wish to start a conflict”, said ECOWAS Commission chairman, Marcel Alain de Souza. “If he loves his people, he has to be able o negotiate an exit door calmly. If it doesn’t happen, the most radical means will be used.”

In many ways, Jammeh personifies much of the contradictions in Africa’s emergent democracy. He came to power as a junior military officer who toppled the civilian government of Sir Dawda Jawara. When military autocracy fell into global disfavour, he quickly metamorphosed into a civilian politician. He organised and predictably won a succession of controversial elections. In the process, he personalised and privatised security and other national institutions to serve his political ends while progressively building a typically African ‘big man’ personality cult that hovered menacingly over his tiny country. On the eve of his defeat at the polls, Jammeh had so elevated religious and ethnic bigotry to a level where he renamed his tiny nation into Islamic Republic of The Gambia. Now that his time is up with his defeat after 22 years in power, he does not want to go.

There is no doubt that ECOWAS has a strong sense of regional identity and a track record of political co-operation in times of crisis vis-a-vis the deployment of regional intervention forces in Liberia and Sierra Leone. But at the end of the day, it was Nigeria that bore the brunt of the ECOMOG intervention in the two countries. Nigeria is not well positioned to undertake similar ECOMOG operations as in the past. Nigeria is currently facing enormous internal security challenges that have stretched thin the number of men available for active service. But we can still provide the leadership.

That Senegal will lead the push against Jammeh is understandable given its proximity but that also calls for some realistic assessment considering the longstanding relationship between the two countries. Since Jammeh is intent on playing Laurence Gbagbo of Cote D’ivoire who is now before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, efforts should be made to ease him out in such a manner that he does not cause much damage to his country.

It is sad that force has to be deployed but since that seems to be the only language Jammeh understands, ECOWAS leaders must act very quickly by sending a clear message that his time is up.