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Before the Gamble in Gambia: Memo to President Buhari

By Cornelius Segun Ojo

Do you know what astonished me most in the world? The inability of force to create anything. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the spirit. If they want peace, nations should avoid the pin-pricks that precede cannon shots.
— Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-182)

The current political impasse in Gambia has placed a burden of history on Nigeria’s President Mohammadu Buhari (PMB). And unless the situation is handled with utmost care, another haven for Boko Haram, ISIL and Al Shabab elements is in the offing. Following the December 1, 2016 general elections which President Jammeh initially conceded to Mr Adama Barrow, the opposition candidate, the U-turn by the President to reject the election result based on alleged malpractices (and later cancelled), has raised the stakes not only in Gambia but also across the world.

In the midst of ensuing tensions, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) set up a committee headed by President Buhari to mediate in the crisis and restore orderliness. However, sentiments so far by ECOWAS point in the direction of military intervention. Hence, this public memo to President Buhari, urging him to ensure peace and not war reigns.

First and foremost, from what can be advanced from the electoral processes, President Jammeh appeared genuine to organise a credible election, and also was confident of his victory (for whatever reason). Watching the video of his concession speech, President Jammeh appeared shocked, but nonetheless, he wore a brave face to accept his defeat and concede to his opponent. While it is noble and heroic to accept defeat even before the process is concluded and reports from field managers collated and analysed, the implication here is that, evidence of malpractices might emerge thereafter, and a rejection of the result already accepted is likely to cause confusion, as it turns out.

Ghana’s recent example, where the ruling party refused to accept defeat even in the face of pressures mounted by the opposition and a section of the press, until they were satisfied of the sanctity of the process, appears more credible. Notwithstanding however, the fact must be reiterated that, accepting and conceding defeat does not rob off on allegation of electoral malfeasance – morally or legally.

The pertinent question to ask is: why did President Jammeh reject the election results? The fact that the Electoral Commission admitted errors and fiddled with figures should be of grave concerns to all advocates of democracy and accountability. Since elections are a game of numbers, recording correct figures for all candidates thus becomes a matter of duty. The moment an allegation of padding of figures surfaces, the credibility of the election results becomes compromised. Only courts are then vested with the powers to ascertain the errors, and validate/invalidate the results. Rejigging the figures as carried out by the Gambian Electoral Commission remains a nullity. Still, President Jammeh may have been confronted with credible proofs of electoral fraud both from his field managers and the security apparatuses.

Another plausible reason may be that foreign interests compromised the process. Given the fact President Jammeh recently stirred controversies — pulling out of the Commonwealth and the controversial International Criminal Court (ICC); as well as declaring Gambia an Islamic Republic, not a few feathers of the ‘owners of the world’ would have been ruffled. The election may therefore have presented a perfect opportunity and means to kick out another independent-minded African leader. Mr. President Sir, whichever of the above may be the case, writing from the perspective of the concept of power; I will argue that it will be an extraordinary decision for anyone holding the levers of powers to overlook and concede to pullers of the rug under his/her feet. While this is natural, institutions of State may also push against allowing such democratic infractions to stand.

Flowing from the above, the decisions by ECOWAS, not to bother to investigate the veracity or otherwise of the allegations of electoral malpractices, but to simply condemn and threaten President Jammeh appear to have scuppered the peace initiatives. This costly error also negates the principle of peace and conflict resolution which does not favour apportioning of blames. It also puts President Jammeh on a moral ground with his insistence that ECOWAS was ab initio, not interested in peaceful resolution but to simply intimidate and humiliate him. The situation now is grim and the fate of millions of Gambians hangs in the balance.

No doubt, PMB will be under intense pressure to act and restore the opposition Adama Barrow to power. Whether Nigeria should embrace the military option being pushed now appears to be a matter of serious concern. To enable PMB decide on the best route to go, I list four reasons, why Nigeria should eschew violence. In the run up to the invasion of Libya by NATO, there was a sharp disagreement among African leaders, with majority going against the planned invasion. President Obama was said to have spoken to then President Goodluck Jonathan on phone, persuading him to endorse the invasion (without Nigeria’s approval, the plan would have been defeated).

Libya today is a failed State while humanity has been put on the precipice. Most Africans (that I have met) bitterly complained that Nigeria was responsible for the collapse of Libya. The level of mistrust between Nigerians and other Africans thus appear to be on the increase. Spearheading another war in Gambia will surely make the matter worse. Besides, Nigeria has had to pay heavily for the collapse of Libya, as looted weapons and NATO munitions found their ways into the hands of Boko haram in what can be regarded as a coordinated conspiracy against Nigeria by the invading nations.

Over twenty thousands of innocent Nigerians and thousands more of our security personnel have also been killed, maimed and dehumanised. Most observers will be wondering whether Nigeria will commit itself to another potential catastrophe in Gambia. PMB will also recall that he contested elections three times before succeeding the fourth time in 2015. In those three periods, PMB was dissatisfied, and notwithstanding his shaky believe in the Nigerian judiciary, embraced the courts and never resorted to violence.

Most observers may then be wondering why Nigeria will opt for violent intervention in Gambia. Very importantly too, Nigeria should not encourage the opposition candidate, Mr Adama Barrow to declare himself President. The situation will take another dimension from electoral disputes to treasonable offence. Historically, Nigeria has passed through this dangerous phase. The self-declaration by the late Chief MKO Abiola (RIP) in the disputed June 12 1993 elections, led to his arrest by the late head of State, General Sani Abacha (RIP).

The ensuing violence exacerbated the crisis that nearly tore Nigeria apart. Eventually, both Chief Abiola and General Abaca were sacrificed in order to end the violence. Finally here, there is no evidence in the public domain suggesting that the people of Gambia prefer a violent change. Unlike in Nigeria and other places were by now, violent protests would have broken out; the people of Gambia appear to remain peaceful. This is not to suggest that they are weak. They may have weighed the consequences of a violent uprising. I strongly believe their preference for peace should be respected.

However, in the event that the military option is finally embraced, ECOWAS should brace itself for a long-drawn battle with attendant humanitarian crisis. By the time the grim images of war begin to pour in, particularly of children and women, with allegations of rape and other avoidable war crimes, the public opinion as usual will change, and leaders will face the accusation of being quick to resort to a violent solution when peaceful resolution should have been embraced.

Potentially also, Gambia could descend into ethnic war — a familiar turf in Africa. But the scariest of the likely scenarios, is the possibility of the dispersed elements of Boko Haram, ISIL and Al Shabab congregating in Gambia to as they always claim, fight the infidels who invade another Islamic Republic. This will throw the surrounding countries into crises. In the case that President Jammeh is removed violently and Mr Barrow is installed, the possibility is that he will be presiding over a dislocated and destroyed nation. He will be at the mercy of foreign troops as Gambia’s wounded Armed Forces will not be able to guarantee him protection. Crises like assassinations, coups and counter coups could well become the order of the day.

Mr President, from Iraq to Afghanistan, Yemen to Libya and Syria, none of the military interventions have succeeded in bringing the desired change, rather millions of innocent lives have been wasted wile nation states have failed. There is every possibility of Gambia becoming another failed state. Regrettably albeit hypocritically, the masterminds of these invasions have voiced their frustrations in bringing about peace to the destroyed nations. President Obama in particular recently admitted is regrets over Libya.

Sadly, the crocodile tears cannot bring back the perished souls. Former South African President Tabo Mbeki confessed that former British PM Tony Blair suggested to South Africa that a military option should be considered to remove President Mugabe, but they refused. Today, Zimbabwe cannot be compared with the bloody situations in Syria and Libya where the military option was embraced. It is time West African leaders extricate themselves from the UN/EU/US pressures on them to always embrace military option in solving the sub-region’s problems. In conclusion, and in view of the foregoing, President Buhari should in the interest of humanity, strengthen the peace process and resist pressures to bring another African nation down.

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