Buhari, Sall And Jammeh’s Defiance - By Olusegun Adeniyi
I was already in bed around 10Pm local time in Dakar, Senegal (11pm Nigerian time) on Sunday when my host peeped into my hotel room to ask: “I am going to see the President, want to come along?”
I don’t know any reporter in the world who would not jump at such opportunity.
Driving into the Palace, as they call the official residence of the President of Senegal, an old colonial edifice built in 1902, was without much fuss.
Inside the building, we were ushered straight to the dinner table where we met President Sall, his wife and their three children, two male and a female.
Incidentally, Mrs Marieme Faye Sall is Senegal’s first black first lady to have a single nationality.
Wife of the first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor was French; Abdou Diouf’s wife had a Senegalese mother and a Lebanese father while Abdoulaye Wade’s wife is also French.
The Salls are evidently a normal family that dot on their last child, a young boy who said he would want to be a pilot and spoke impeccable English just like his dad.
Having always been fascinated by how many French-speaking people can also speak English while such proficiency in French language cannot be said of English-speaking people, I asked Sall who explained that it was a practical decision borne by the fact that English is more universal a language than French.
A geologist by profession, it was enjoyable chatting with Sall, 54, who was elected in 2012, after defeating the then incumbent Wade, who was at the period seeking a controversial third term in office.
In the course of the dinner chat that lasted more than two hours, there was an argument about whether more countries drive on the left than on the right and while we were still on it, Sall brought out his phone (and apparently having Googled), he began to reel out in French before translating into English not only the numbers of countries that drive on each of the two divides but also the history of the whole idea.
One interesting insight he brought out is that there is actually a place in London where motorists drive on the right: It is the road leading up to Savoy Hotel’s front doors and there is a 1902 Act of Parliament to legalise the decision taken for the reason of commonsense.
“That is the year this building was erected”, Sall added.
While I do not know much about Senegal to write about Sall’s stewardship, it was nonetheless a refreshing time with him until we left at exactly 1.20am (Nigerian time) which was 12.20am local time.
He said he would be departing for Abuja by 6.30am for the ECOWAS meeting on the crisis in The Gambia.
By then, I had learnt a lot about the mutiny in Cote D’lvoire where soldiers went on strike last week as well as the attempts by the ECOWAS leaders, including President Buhari, to resolve the political crisis in The Gambia.
Fortunately for me, when Sall was receiving us on arrival, I had been introduced to him as a former presidential spokesman in Nigeria and not a journalist so he had no reason to be on his guard, as most people usually are when with reporters.
That gave me ample opportunity to ask probing questions at the dinner table without raising any suspicion about my interest.
I started by reminding Sall of what he already knows: that whereas the problem in The Gambia may be a challenge for ECOWAS, it is one that his country (Senegal) would have to deal with on behalf of all of us.
He agreed with my summation before also expressing optimism that it would be resolved before January 19.
He was confident that Yahya Jammeh would go because the consequences of doing otherwise, as Sall explained it, would be too much for the Gambian dictator who would likely not want to commit suicide.
Already, some of Jammeh’s ministers have started voting with their feet.
However, Sall is also mindful of the fact that there are old prejudices between the two countries that for a period in history were one (Senegambia), especially when I asked him whether he was ready to offer asylum to Jammeh; having already told me of such plans and some of the countries without mentioning Senegal.
“I can have him here in Senegal but I don’t think he will come,” Sall said as he explained the complications of the negotiations to oust Jammeh.
“I think he fears what might happen to him when he leaves, especially with the International Criminal Court that could look into some things that happened under his watch.”
According to Sall, raising the stakes by Jammeh may prove to be no use for him at the end, given that Charles Taylor of Liberia also negotiated his way out of power before he was apprehended three years later under circumstances that were not particularly edifying for Nigeria.
The best way out for Jammeh, he argued, was the first option he took to concede the election before he reneged.
But Sall believes that he and other African leaders have a responsibility to ensure Jammeh’s exit without damage to his country and Senegal will definitely play a decisive role in that direction.
To say that it will not be easy is an understatement given that Jammeh is digging in and he is not without his own supporters.
For instance, The Gambian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Mr. Samsudeen Sarr, recently took to the social media to reiterate his “unflinching support for His Excellency Shiekh Professor Doctor Alhagie Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babillimansa”…
…while attacking Senegal that “has always overtly or covertly expressed its compulsion to annex our Anglophone nation into its 8th region.”
However, Jammeh will most likely not have the last word on this matter, even if he chooses to play the Gbagbo script.
The author, Olusegun Adeniyi
As Dr Chidi Amuta highlighted in his intervention yesterday titled “The Banjul Urgency”, Nigeria has to take the lead in finding a resolution to the logjam by helping to ease out Jammeh with as minimal damage as possible.
He also reminds us of the role Nigerian military was playing in the country as at the time Jammeh staged his coup.
But perhaps the more poignant lesson that must underpin our intervention this time is our disgraceful outing in Mali.
When in 2012 President Amadou Toumani Touré was toppled by a bunch of military adventurers led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, a Nigeria-led ECOWAS initiative moved quickly to force out Sanogo who was granted all the benefits of a former leader, an allowance, a house, transportation and security as well as immunity of sorts while the negotiations also led to the resignation of Toure.
A one year transitional arrangement led by Dioncounda Traore was also put in place to lead Mali for one year.
At that period, Nigeria was meant to send in a contingent of troops to create a buffer between the interim administration and the polarized Malian military.
Unfortunately, because those troops were not on ground, mobs loyal to Sanogo invaded the presidential palace to give interim President Traore, 72 years in age at the time, the beating of his life after which they looted the Malian seat of government with images of that barbarism beamed to the world.
As Nigeria therefore leads another effort in The Gambia, this time to impress it upon the dictator of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, that the market is over, we hope sufficient lessons have been learnt from the Mali misadventure.
But the message President Buhari and his team must take to The Gambia tomorrow remains the same: Jammeh must go!