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Africa

Military intervention in Gambia 'not ruled out', interview Nigerian foreign minister

media President Buhari greets Mahama in Abuja on 9 January ahead of a meeting about the situation in Gambia. Photo: Sunday Aghaeze/AFP

West African leaders will encourage Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh to respect his country’s constitution in a visit scheduled for Wednesday, Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama has told RFI. Onyeama said that leaders from the Ecowas regional bloc have not ruled out sending troops if Jammeh does not step aside when Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow is expected to be sworn into office on 19 January.

“We want the process to be peaceful, the negotiations also to be conducted in an environment of peace and security,” said Onyeama. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Ghana’s former president John Mahama and Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma are expected to visit Banjul on Wednesday.

“It’s really [about] emphasising following the constitution, in an environment of peace and security,” said Onyeama during a telephone interview on Tuesday morning. Leaders from the Ecowas regional bloc had previously visited Gambia in December and held separate meetings with both Jammeh and Barrow.

Q&A: Geoffrey Onyeama

Jammeh initially accepted defeat following the 1 December polls after being beaten by Barrow, according to results announced by the electoral commission. However, he later rejected the results and has brought a case before the country’s Supreme Court contesting the election.

An official from Ecowas has previously said that Senegal is ready to send troops to intervene in Gambia if Jammeh, who has ruled the country since 1994, refuses to step down. “We're not ruling anything out,” said Onyeama, when asked about the possibility of military intervention.

“These are all options that are on table and will all be considered on their merit and nothing has been ruled out,” according to Onyeama, who did not exclude the possibility of Nigerian soldiers being sent to Gambia. He said any use of force in Gambia would be “done within the framework of international law”.

Gambia’s communications minister was the latest high-profile official to leave Jammeh’s government on Monday. Sheriff Bojang, who acted as Jammeh’s spokesperson, said in a statement that he acknowledged Barrow as president-elect and it was “never too late to do the right thing”. Gambian state television said Bojang had been sacked, according to other reports.

“It just goes to show the heightened level of tension in the country,” said Onyeama, “we are not really privy to the dynamics within the cabinet,” he added.

Gambia’s Supreme Court was expected on Wednesday to hear complaints filed by Jammeh contesting the election results. However, Nigerian judge Emmanuel Fagbenle is the court’s only sitting judge and the Nigerian judiciary will not be sending any other judges on secondment.

“No other Nigerian judges will be sent because there's no agreement for Nigerian judges to be sent in January,” said Onyeama, describing an agreement between the countries whereby Nigerian judges spend two months working within the Gambian judiciary. “So the timelines for those - when those can happen - are clearly specified and January is not within that timeframe,” he said.

“The constitution has to be followed and as long as that is done, then we have no issues,” said Onyeama, talking about Jammeh’s legal challenge to the election results. “There are rules, there are deadlines and timelines provided within the constitution. We just believe that those should be fully complied with,” he said.

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