There was palpable tension in Banjul, capital of The Gambia, yesterday as the deadline given to President Yahya Jammeh by ECOWAS to step down by midnight or be ousted drew to a close.
Jammeh was adamant yesterday, belligerently swearing to remain in office and warning that anyone who violated the state of emergency he has imposed on the country on Tuesday would be summarily dealt with.
He may, however, be unable to carry out the threat as Nigeria has deployed 200 troops, fighter jets and heavy military equipment on standby in Senegal preparatory to the enforcement of the ECOWAS deadline today.
In any case, Jammeh appeared increasingly isolated following his deputy, Ms. Isatou Njie-Saidy’s resignation last night. His Minister of Higher Education, Mr. Aboubacar Senghore, has also thrown in the towel.
Senghore, who was appointed to the position last July, said he could no longer serve in the office beyond the tenure of the embattled president.“Given my strong religious and legal background, I feel it is now ethically and legally speaking, time to step down as Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology and Religious Affairs as the constitutional mandate of the current government expires today, Wednesday 18th January 2017,” he wrote in his resignation letter to Mr Jammeh.
This brings to eight, the number of ministers that have resigned from Jammeh’s cabinet since the political logjam began.
Addressing the Nigerian troops deployed in The Gambian operation before their departure to Senegal, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, emphasised Nigeria’s commitment to democracy in The Gambia.
The Nigeria Air Force chief who spoke at the 117 Air Combat Training Group (ACTG), Kainji, Niger State yesterday, said the mandate of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was to enforce the results of the December 1, 2016 presidential election in that country.
The troops, which included the Special Forces, Combat Support Group, Technicians, Medical officials and others, were airborne in the Hercules C-130 military transport plane.
Abubakar urged the troops to keep Nigeria’s flag flying by being professional and to conduct themselves professionally and adhere to Air Force best practices.
“They have been given the task which is very well defined; and we have put together all the air assets that we think are necessary to ensure that we are able to successfully conduct this operation. And that is what we have on the ground here,” Abubakar said.
Also, the platforms being deployed to The Gambia include, fighter air planes, helicopters, C-130 and the large utility helicopter, which will also be useful in the conduct of the operation.
Abubakar said: “What we have here are men that are highly trained, highly skilled; they know their job and they know their task, and as a professional service the commander of the air assets will work together with other commanders and they will come up with what is required in terms of plans, to be able to execute their tasks and come back home.”
Also, the Nigerian Army is also expected to deploy troops in the Gambia today. The troops will be airlifted by the C-130 transport plane. The Navy had on Monday deployed its newest warship, NNS Unity, in the tiny West African country for combat if Jammeh insists on staying beyond today.
Elaborating more on the deployment, Director of Information and Public Relations, Nigerian Air Force, Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa said: “NAF deployment to Senegal was part of Nigerian contingent of Economic Community of West African States Military Intervention in Gambia (ECOMIG) – a standby force tasked by ECOWAS Heads of State to enforce the December 1, 2016 election mandate in the The Gambia.
“The NAF today (yesterday) moved a contingent of 200 men and air assets comprising fighter jets, transport aircraft, Light Utility Helicopter as well as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft to Dakar from where it is expected to operate into Gambia.
“The deployment is also to forestall hostilities or breakdown of law and order that may result from the current political impasse in The Gambia.”
The contingent which he said, was led by Air Commodore Tajudeen Yusuf, was airlifted yesterday morning. Other troops contributing countries according to him, were Senegal, Ghana and countries within the sub-region.”
A senior official of Nigerian Foreign Affairs said last night that the federal government was in touch with its embassy in Banjul over the safety of the Nigerian community there.
This came as AFP reports that The Gambia’s neighbour, Senegal, had asked the UN to back regional military actions against Jammeh.
‘’The federal government is aware of the unfolding events in Banjul, and we are in touch with our mission there over the safety of Nigerian community,’’ a senior diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Said.
Gambia is a small country, with a population of 1.7 million people. Nigeria has played a major role in ensuring that The Gambia is what it is today.
Nigeria was also directly involved in setting up the Army in the country and many other institutions such as the immigration service. And with the bilateral relationship that is between Nigeria and The Gambia, the federal government had sent Technical Aid Corp volunteers to the country that is assisting in the area of education and health.
Jammeh announced a state of emergency on Tuesday night, which he said was necessary due to interference of foreign powers in The Gambia.
He lost to Barrow in the December 1, 2016 presidential election.
Barrow, who is currently sheltering in Senegal, told AFP that his inauguration would go ahead today on Gambian soil, putting the country on a collision course.
Senegal was reported as presenting a draft resolution to the UN Security Council yesterday, seeking support for West African efforts to press Jammeh to step down.
But the text does not explicitly seek council authorisation to deploy troops in The Gambia.
Jammeh’s declaration immediately triggered travel advisory warnings by Britain and the Netherlands, with around 1,000 British tourists expected to leave on special flights yesterday alone.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly urged Jammeh to respect the outcome of the vote and step aside, a call backed unanimously by the international community.
The exact location of the inauguration was “in the hands of ECOWAS,” said James Gomez, the inauguration’s head organiser who said he had spoken with Barrow twice on Tuesday.
Gomez said that plans for the transfer of power in a huge stadium outside the capital Banjul were now cancelled, but added “there will be a big celebration” despite the state of emergency.
Under the Gambian constitution a state of emergency lasts up to 90 days if the National Assembly confirms it and the legislature did late Tuesday.