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The Gambian gambit and President Buhari

By Ugoji Egbujo

Yahya Jammeh has been nudged into exile and the little Gambia saved from nightmares. We must give maximum credit to our president. When the sub-region yearned for leadership, he did not hesitate. This championship of democracy has to become an attitude. It’s easy to underestimate the enormity Gambia was.

She’s a tiny, and ordinarily, inconsequential country. So it’s easy to trivialize what ECOWAS achieved. Jammeh and his paltry 1000 soldiers can easily be stampeded. But we cannot forget Africa’s most virulent scourge – the sit-tight syndrome and the proliferation of counterfeit democracy. A triumphant Jammeh would have predisposed a convalescing sub-region to a recrudescence. And we cannot forget the moral power of conspicuous precedents set by the collective. And how the Gambian minimum would help in mending a broken moral compass. Hopefully, it’s a new dawn.

Now we know that going home after losing an election isn’t heroism after all. It’s prudence, self preservation. Gambia has re-emphasized sit-tight ambitions as anathema. The collective banishment of that syndrome that has impoverished this continent by stifling freedom, accountability and productivity has begun in earnest.

An otherwise endowed continent made wretched by a congregation of self perpetuating human relics, can heave a sigh. African nations, became their conquered and bequeathable territories. Protected by the canopy of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of nations, the masses were raped into submission, eternal servitude. The longer they stayed on their thrones, the more childish they became. And their countries became spaces for horrifying social experiments and tests of the limits of frivolity.

Credit must go to Buhari and other ECOWAS leaders for their forthrightness, and determination, and particularly, tact. They must receive credit for declaring , eloquently , by this very act, that they are effectively bound to leave office when they lose elections or when they reach constitutional limits. Credit must go to anyone who enhances freedom, brings light where darkness once pervaded and still lurks. It’s not heroic to accept defeat, it’s heroic to chase away a loser who has rejected the will of the people.

But there is a sense in which Buhari’s exploits in the Gambia invites curiosity. Our country has serious internal security challenges. The president has contained Boko Haram with commendable determination. But he has failed to meet the other challenges with any urgency. Consider the resurgent Niger Delta militancy and its disastrous effect on the national economy. And then take a look at the agitations for Biafra in the South East and its effect on national unity. You are left to wonder why the one who championed a timely resolution of the Gambian crisis has yet to take on these festering challenges.

The government agrees that the flare in Niger Delta militancy is majorly responsible for our parlous economic state. So its status as a primary national security emergency is accepted. How has it then been allowed to linger? It is true it may be the handiwork of political opponents bent on securing immoral selfish ends.

And that a political compromise may entrench impunity. And no one would like to see ‘sit- tight’ replaced with ‘loot large and go scot-free’ syndrome. But astute leadership exists to tackle moral complexities . He has sufficient carrots and sticks, but doesn’t have eternity. Buhari succeeded in the Gambia because he approached it with relentless commitment. He made seemingly endless shuttles to that country in a single month. He consulted widely and forged a broad consensus.

He bent down low and backwards, made stopovers to personally pick up other presidents for meetings. He didn’t allow any preconceptions and prejudgments of the notorious Jammeh to affect him. He maintained an even temperament. The desperation to keep it peaceful was in service of the ultimate interests of the poor people of the Gambia . He retained persuasiveness even in the face of the annoying unpredictability of a megalomanic Jammeh

It is not difficult to imagine that there were many bargains and trade offs. It’s not difficult to imagine that justice suffered some losses. It’s not difficult to imagine that some of the trips were fruitless, made provokingly fruitless by Jammehs recalcitrance. But Buhari persisted, didn’t allow frustrations to obscure the goal and derail the mission.

Buhari knew Jammeh had an army of just one thousand. But that didn’t tempt Buhari into a hasty military action. The people of the Gambia whom he sought to redeem would suffer hardship if violence broke out on the streets. So the riotous elephant in a precarious china shop was approached with restraint.

If Buhari applies his Gambian strategy to the Niger Delta he will replicate the Gambian success. If he personally opts to swallow a load s— t , as foul smelling as like Jammeh’s; if he attends to the rascality of those popping pipelines like party balloons with meekness and call them into his bedroom as he did to Jammeh; If he weighs and applies measures that are dictated by nothing else but the overall interests of the poor people of the Niger Delta; he will swear in lasting peace in that region.

So can Buhari replicate Gambia in the south east? Can he fly into that region ten times in February, shaking hands, persuading, cajoling and nudging? Can he trade off some justice, just a little, for lasting peace in the interest of the people of Nigeria? Can he utilize Tompolo’s influence, and the energies of the IPOB? These agitations will succumb to a massive infrastructural development programme in those regions and the enthronement of equity in our polity.

Can he keep his eyes on the bigger picture of Nigeria’s economy and national unity and consciously appoint people from these regions to head critical national security positions? This is the third world. Inclusiveness will calm this fever. Can he fix a deadline within which reach his set goals or change his method? Can he give cattle herdsmen a deadline to stop the carnage or stop cross- country grazing? Yes, there are really no absolute rights beside the right to life. Their qualified right to cross- country grazing isn’t in any case as strong as Gambia’s sovereign, non- interference, rights which could have left Jammeh and become trouble for The Gambia.

 

Congratulations, Mr President! Now , take Gambia to the South-east and South-south of Nigeria.

 


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