By Tunde Rahman
It was only a matter of time for the dictator’s resolve to further perpetuate himself in office to be badly broken. President Yahya Jammeh had spurned all entreaties to quit the office he had held for 22 years. The end however came with the December 1, 2016 vote. The people of The Gambia had had enough of Jammeh, obviously, and they expressed that in very clear terms by voting him out.
But he refused to respect the will of the people, as he had indicated when he initially conceded defeat. In several trips to the capital, Banjul, efforts by the ECOWAS leaders led by President Muhammad Buhari to get Jammeh to read the writing on the wall were futile.
What is the post on The Gambian wall? It’s that the end of Jammeh’s dictatorship has come. Outside The Gambia, I mean across Africa, the end of dictatorship had long come. The days of sit-tight leaders had long been numbered.
For dictators across Africa, the party is over. Jammeh’s endgame theatrics are part of what have given vent to the common characterisation of Africa as a backward continent and why a world leader with a penchant for unguarded utterances would even dare suggest that Africa needs to be re-colonised.
In the case of The Gambia, there was some redemption though. The last-minute intervention by Guinean President Alfa Conde and Mauritania’s President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz was to pay off in the end.
The two leaders had been in Banjul since Friday last week, trying to persuade Jammeh to drop his hardline posture that could only end in perdition as the ECOWAS troops were literally next door. He caved in, perhaps as a result of pressure from the two leaders. But the problem was how to take the dictator out.
Now, President Conde, a personal friend of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, had flown into Banjul in the Falcon jet leased by the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader and the plane was still in the former’s possession.
On learning that the chartered plane was going to be used to ferry Jammeh out of Banjul to Conakry, Guinea, Asiwaju Tinubu’s only condition as reported by some national newspapers was that he had no objection if such would facilitate Jammeh’s quick exit, resolve the building political crisis, lead to the restoration of democracy to the land and the return of President Adama Barrow to The Gambia to assume his mandate.
To him, this was the demand of President Muhammad Buhari-led ECOWAS mediation efforts and this demand was irreducible. Satisfied, the plane was good to go.
But there was this tricky problem as I learnt: the plane would fly over Senegal’s air space enroute to Guinea and the Senegalese authorities wanted to know the identities of those on board. They particularly wanted to know if Jammeh was inside the plane and whether he was proceeding on exile.
The fears were instantly doused by President Conde who reportedly said the airlift of Jammeh was in deference to the demand of the ECOWAS leaders. Only five persons were said to be aboard the jet as it left Banjul. They were President Conde, Jammeh, his wife Zainab, mother, and son Mohammed. There were reports that Jammeh, his mum and wife wore mournful look as they were being driven out of the State House and taken out of the country.
They were expectedly sad throughout the journey, an outcome that would have been avoided if Jammeh had acted honourably and quit the stage with dignity after ruling for all of 22 years. Jammeh may have indeed written his epitaph: here lies a leader who refused to heed the demand of his people to quit the stage.
The report in an online platform that the jet was used to ferry Jammeh’s loot put at $11 million is mere fallacy. That can only exist in the warped imagination of the publishers of that online platform. It’s a typification of the lazy journalism that dots the media landscape. It is what we call agbeleko, conjuring of news, in the newsroom.
Once the writer saw in the news that a spokesman of the Adama Barrow government had alleged that some $11 million was taken out of the coffers, he went to work. SaharaReporters concluded that the chartered plane must have taken out the reportedly missing money, without any investigation. If they had done so, they would have known that the money in question was allegedly taken out of that country in tranches.
Also, they forgot – or chose to ignore – that there was also another plane, a cargo plane, said to have ferried some state-of-the-art vehicles and choice items for Jammeh.
How looted monies would be loaded on a plane that was in the full glare of the international media without attracting serious suspicion is strange to me. The attention of the international media, security forces and The Gambian people was on the plane once it emerged that it would fly Jammeh out into exile.
I first saw the full length photograph of the chartered plane in a BBC report on the night of Saturday, January 21 when Jammeh was ferried out. Other reports also used the photograph of the plane.
In allowing the chartered plane to be used, Asiwaju Tinubu has undoubtedly helped in advancing the cause of democracy in The Gambia. By allowing the plane to ferry out Jammeh, he helped bring to fruition the demand of the ECOWAS leaders.
And, of course, his gesture helped pave the way for Adama Barrow to return home and assume office, in line with the December 1, 2016 mandate given him by the Gambian people. Such actions should attract nothing but commendation for Asiwaju Tinubu. SaharaReporters should bury its head in shame for the baseless insinuations and puerile conclusions they have drawn.
*Rahman is Special Adviser on Media to Asiwaju Tinubu.