Nigerian troops on standby to sack Jammeh as more ministers desert Gambian leader

Nigerian troops on standby to sack Jammeh as more ministers desert Gambian leader
January 18 06:36 2017

Four more cabinet ministers in Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s government have defected, a source close to the regime told AFP on Tuesday, as citizens stream out of the country in fear of unrest.

With a day left of his mandate, Jammeh has caused a political crisis by refusing to step aside and allow president-elect Adama Barrow to take power following his December 1 election victory.

Foreign minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, finance minister Abdou Kolley, trade minister Abdou Jobe and tourism minister Benjamin Roberts had all resigned, the source said, requesting anonymity for safety reasons.

Roberts was appointed to replace Kolley on Monday, meaning he spent less than 24 hours in the new post, local media said.

The latest resignations came after the high-profile defection last week of information minister, Sheriff Bojang, who is now sheltering in neighbouring Senegal.

Meanwhile, citizens packed their bags and streamed out of Banjul by road and ferry for Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, taking as many possessions as they could carry.

One traveller told AFP that those arriving at 10am would have to wait until the following day to board a ferry at Banjul port to cross the river headed for Senegal, unless they bribed officials, due to huge numbers exiting the city.

The UN’s refugee agency has said several thousand Gambians have crossed the border in the last few weeks to shelter with extended family while they await January 19, when Jammeh is due to hand over power.

Barrow is in Senegal, where he plans to remain until the inauguration on Thursday.

– Military arrests –

The spectre of a military intervention in The Gambia has arisen in recent days following declarations by the United Nations and African Union that boots on the ground could get the green light without a rapid resolution to the crisis.

Fears of conflict were ramped up in Banjul following the weekend arrest of soldiers suspected of being sympathetic to Barrow, underlining significant disagreement within the armed forces over whom they will support come Thursday.

“Captain Babucarr Bah and some junior officers close to him were arrested on Sunday night at the Fajara barracks by members of the Republican Guards,” a security source told AFP, adding they were still being held at the headquarters of the feared National Intelligence Agency.

Republican guard commanders personally protect Jammeh and are picked for their loyalty.

Bah had told the guards that the army should be loyal to the state and Gambian people, the security source added, when the elite troops came to solicit support for the president just days ago.

Elsewhere Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf hit out at Jammeh for broadcasting a conversation they held by phone on Sunday on Gambian television without her knowledge.

“Unfortunately, being the person that he is, Jammeh recorded and televised their conversation without advising her of his intent to do so,” a statement from the Liberian presidency said.

Sirleaf was then quoted as saying that as of Monday “there is no change in ECOWAS position. The Constitution of The Gambia must be respected.”

The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly called on Jammeh to respect the result of the vote and leave after 22 years in power.

President Muhammadu Buhari, Sirleaf and Ghana’s ex-president John Mahama have appealed to Jammeh to step down twice in person, without success, most recently on Friday.

– Nigerian troops on standby –

In a related development, Nigeria soldiers will, on Wednesday  arrive at a base of the Economic Community of West African States troops in Senegal to ensure that President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia steps down on Thursday.

Nigerian warship, NNS UNITY, is also heading for the coast of The Gambia to join the operation.

It was learnt from a top military source in the Nigerian Air Force that the troops would be briefed by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, in the early hours of Wednesday, before leaving for Senegal.

It was gathered that apart from the NAF and the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian Army would also contribute troops.

The source said some of the NAF fighter jets were expected to airlift the troops.

He said, “I can confirm to you that men of the Air Force will leave for Senegal om Wednesday They will be briefed by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, at the Kainji base in Niger State.

“That Nigeria is deploying troops is now a certainty after several meetings with The Gambian president yielded no result. The Chiefs of Defence Staff of ECOWAS countries came to Abuja on Saturday, where they discussed what components each member state is expected to contribute to the troops that will force Yahya Jammeh out.

“The troops are expected to stay for two weeks and they will be received at a base in Senegal.”

Another military source added, “The NNS Unity is currently sailing off the coast of Ghana, after leaving from Lagos. It is not only Nigeria. Senegal is the host country for the troops, as it would be easy to launch an attack from there.”

– Asylum offer –

Jammeh has lodged a challenge to the election result with The Gambia’s Supreme Court and last week filed a fresh injunction to prevent the chief justice from swearing Barrow into office.

But on Monday, Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle said he could not hear the new case, dealing a blow to Jammeh’s efforts to halt Thursday’s inauguration.

In Rabat, it was reported that Morocco had offered Jammeh asylum for accepting the election defeat and stepping down “in return for a golden retirement”, but Banjul sources were reluctant to confirm the offer.