*Leaders tidying up measures against Gambia’s President
*Senegal says military action will be absolute last resort, ready to lead operations
*Nigeria indicates intention to evacuate citizens from troubled nation if…
*Buhari mandated to offer Jammeh “honourable exit” at Wednesday meeting
*As UN Sec-Gen Rep says he should show love for his people by choosing ‘exit door calmly’
By Kemi Kasumu with Agency reports
From left: ECOWAS Chairperson, President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia, President Muhammadu Buhari, President Macky Salle of Senegal and former President John Mahama of Ghana, before a meeting on the Gambian situation at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Monday.
The leaders of the West African countries charged with the responsibility of ensuring safe and proper transition of power in The Gambia, on Monday in Abuja, resolved that the embattled President of West African country, Yahya Jammeh must quit power having lost election in December, 2016.
Emerging from a meeting at the Nigeria’s Aso Rock Presidential Villa, the ECOWAS leaders, who chairman is President Muhammadu Buhari, insisted that the political crisis in Gambia must be resolved in a manner that conformed to the constitution of the country and accord respect for the will of the Gambians, emphasising the need for Jammeh to respect the constitution of the country he had led for over two decades.
Jammeh, who had accepted defeat in last month’s presidential election, later reneged on his concession and vowed to cling to power.
But the Abuja meeting, hosted by Nigieria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and attended by Helen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia), Macky Sall (Senagal), Ghanaian ex-President John Mahama, the president of the ECOWAS Commission and the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, said Yahya Jammeh had no other option left for him than to respect the law of The Gambia and quit.
Briefing the State House correspondents after the meeting, Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said: “The leaders agreed on the determination to resolve the crisis in a manner that every step of the way conforms to the constitution of The Gambia and respect for the will of the people of The Gambia.”
The minister stated that the ECOWAS leaders particularly expressed concern over the reported deteriorating security situation in The Gambia, especially the closure of media houses including radio stations in country.
He said the leaders also frowned at the arrests “that have been taking place and also the refugee situation that is being created with the mass exodus of a large number of people to the interior and to neighbouring countries.”
The minister said in view of this development, the ECOWAS leaders resolved to meet Jammeh in The Gambia on Wednesday to discuss with him the need to respect the constitution of his country.
Meanwhile, in a related development, Nigeria has indicated readiness to evacuate its citizens from the troubled country, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa said.
Dabiri-Erewa, The DEFENDER learned, disclosed this in a telephone conversation with media correspondent Monday night where she said Nigerians living in The Gambia were concerned about the political impasse in that country and had been asking what the Nigerian government would do if the situation became volatile.
The presidential aide said, “Naturally, the Nigerian government will not abandon our citizens. But in case the situation becomes volatile, we will evacuate those who want to be evacuated.
“But we are hoping and confident that it will not get to that and that the matter will be resolved through the ongoing intervention of the ECOWAS leaders. The leaders will meet with President Yahya Jammeh on Wednesday,” Abike Dabiri-Erewa said.
Speaking further, Geoffrey Onyeama said the delegation to meet Jammeh tomorrow would comprise President Buhari as the mediator, Sirleaf, the president of Sierra-Leon and Mahama as the co-mediator, as well as the President of the ECOWAS commission, the Special Representatives of United Nations and also a Representative of the African Union.
ECOWAS had mandated Buhari as mediator to offer Jammeh an “honourable exit.” But he defied the leaders, saying he would not hand over.
Jammeh, who had vowed to rule the tiny West African country for “billion years,” rescinded a week after congratulating the President-elect, Mr. Adama Barrow, and called for fresh election, citing “abnormalities” in the electoral process.
He had filed a petition to challenge the result in Gambia’s Supreme Court, which is expected to hear the case this Tuesday. But reports have it that the foreign judges from Sierra Leone and Nigeria will not be travelling to Banjul.
Marcel de Souza, the ECOWAS Commission president, had said that the body would put standby forces on alert should Jammeh refuse to hand over.
De Souza was reported to have said that Senegalese troops would lead any military intervention “to restore the people’s wishes.”
Senegal has indicated that military action would be an absolute last resort.
“If he loves his people, he has to be able to negotiate an exit door calmly. If it doesn’t happen, the most radical means will be used,” De Souza said.
But in his New Year’s broadcast to Gambians, Jammeh vowed to defend his country against any external aggression.
He said the decision of ECOWAS is totally illegal as it violates the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states, which is an entrenched clause in the ECOWAS treaty.
The country’s real GDP growth is projected to reach 3.5 percent in 2017 and 4.5 percent in 2018, but the political impasse is already taking a huge toll on Gambia’s small economy that relies primarily on tourism and agriculture and is vulnerable to external shocks.
Meanwhile, Jammeh has sacked 12 ambassadors after they asked him to step aside and allow opposition leader Barrow to take power, according to the country’s foreign ministry.
The Gambia’s ambassadors to China, Britain, Turkey, Senegal, and the United States, as well as the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations, were among those sacked after sending a letter in late December asking Jammeh to leave.