By Kingsley Omonobi, Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—Nigerian and senegalese troops were deployed to The Gambia, yesterday, as part of the Economic Community of West Africa, ECOWAS, mandate to enforce the December 1, 2016 election result in that country.
This came as senators were divided, yesterday, over President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to send troops and fighter jets to The Gambia, saying that President Buhari did not get its approval for the action.
Nigerian troop is part of the Senegal-led troops that have entered The Gambia to ensure that Adama Barrow, who was sworn-in as president in Senegal, yesterday, assumes power as the country’s new president.
A Senegalese army spokesman confirmed the troops entry into The Gambia shortly after Mr Barrow took the presidential oath at The Gambia’s embassy in Senegal.
Barrow has been recognised internationally. But strongman and embattled Yahya Jammeh has refused to quit and is backed by parliament that has granted him 90 days extension of power.
West African leaders had threatened to remove Mr Jammeh by force. The United Nations Security Council backed their efforts, which led to the troops deployement.
However, in Nigeria, members of the Upper legislative chamber are kicking.
Their worry over deployment of Nigerian troops to The Gambia without the Senate’s approval, came following a point of Order raised by Senator Chukwuka Utazi, PDP, Enugu North, referring to Section 5, sub-section 4 and 5 of the 1999 Constitution.
According to Senator Utazi, the constitution categorically directed the president to communicate to the Senate if he was sending Nigerian military out of the country for any war.
However, Defence Minister, Mansur Dan Ali, justified Nigeria’s deployment of troops, saying that it was in consonance with the unanimous decision of the ECOWAS community at its meeting to deploy the ECOWAS Standby Force that includes Nigeria’s military.
Also, Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, APC, Yobe North, who defended the President’s action, insisted that Buhari did not err as he acted within the confines of the law.
Speaking at the plenary, Senator Utazi said subject to the provisions of Section 5 (4) “the President shall not declare a state of war between the Federation and another country except with the sanction of a resolution of both Houses of the National Assembly sitting in a joint session; and (b) except with the prior approval of the Senate, no member of the armed forces of the federation shall be deployed on combat duty outside Nigeria.
“I am saying this because the happenings in our friendly country, The Gambia, the ECOWAS countries have been discussing this issue on how to ensure that democratic rights of the people of The Gambia are protected.
“But to ask that this country will go on a war in another country without a recourse to this constitutional provision is an affront to the 1999 constitution and it is a breach of the constitution and we have failed even when the Senate has been cooperating with the executive. Let it be on record that if anything of this nature happens in this country that this National Assembly has to be informed properly, in writing.”
In his contribution, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who noted that the act was a constitutional breach, said: “Not for today but for future because this is not about us, it is about this institution. If you look at section 5(4) of the constitution it says: “Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the president shall not declare a state of war between the federation and other country except with the sanction of a resolution of both houses of the national assembly sitting a joint session.
“The operational one as it affects us here is the (b), except with the prior approval of the Senate no member of the armed forces of the federation shall be deployed to combat duty outside Nigeria. This has to do with war and we are not at war with anybody but for you to send the Nigerian armed forces outside Nigeria, this Senate must be told. But it is happening in The Gambia, they need the approval of the Senate because that is not war. War comes in when you are talking about section 5 and the president does not need our approval he can go to war on our behalf and come back later. But for you to deploy them to The Gambia, you must seek the approval of the Senate.”
Saraki overrules Utazi, Ekeremadu, says Buhari still has time to inform Senate
Senate President, Bukola Saraki later overruled him and other senators, saying that President Muhammadu Buhari acted within the confines of the law as he has not exhausted the constitutional window.
Saraki said: “Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (4) of this section, the president, in consultation with the National Defence Council, may deploy members of the armed forces of the federation on a limited combat duty outside Nigeria if he is satisfied that the national security is under imminent threat or danger.
“Provided that the President shall within seven days of actual combat engagement, seek the consent of the Senate and the Senate shall thereafter give or refuse the said consent within 14 days.
“If Senator Utazi had come under order 42, I would have allowed contributions, but I will not allow any contribution because he came under order 43. The point he has made is noted, but the explanation concerning the constitution, I believe, gives room for the president within seven days for such an action to come before us.”
The issue was stepped down and not debated on the floor again.
Gambia intervention, ECOWAS decision, by Defence Minister
Ali said that the president acted in line with ECOWAS decision
According to a statement by the Principal General Staff Officer, PGSO, to the minister, Brig- General Muhammed Sani Ahmed, he said: “The aim is to implement the decision of ECOWAS leaders in upholding the result of the Presidential election held in The Gambia on the 1st of December 2016.
‘’Accordingly, in line with this, the Nigerian military will deploy its assets as part of ECOWAS standby force to protect the people of The Gambia and maintain sub-regional peace and security. Additionally, it will also protect and sustain the democratic norms in the sub-region. This will also forestall the breakdown of law and order in The Gambia and the sub-region in general.”
Buhari did not err – Lawan
Senate Majority leader, Senator Lawan on his part, said, yesterday that the president did not err, as he acted within the confines of the law.
He noted that the President would transmute a letter to the Senate through Senate President, Bukola Saraki before the expiration of seven days as stipulated by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“There is no doubt that Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution has given the President the leverage to take the action he took. He has the opportunity of seven days to write. The President did not err on this, we are expecting a letter from the President through the Senate President within the expiration of the stipulated period in line with the constitution. The President did not breach any law.”
Also, Senate Deputy Minority Whip, Senator Biodun (PDP, Ekiti South) said that the President should let the Senate know about the development against the backdrop that it involves funding, as he will need the National Assembly to appropriate for the assignment.
Barrow takes oath of office in Senegal
Meanwhile, Adama Barrow, the man who won The Gambia’s election, has been sworn in as president.
Mr Barrow took the oath at the country’s embassy in Senegal.
Western ambassadors to Senegal attended the ceremony, while hundreds of The Gambian expatriates gathered outside the compound.
West African military forces, stationed at the border, say they are ready to enforce a transfer of power in The Gambia, a popular beach destination among European holidaymakers.
UN Security Council has backed the intervention being sought by Senegal and the regional bloc ECOWAS, but some diplomats said if Barrow, 51, requested help after his inauguration, such approval would not be needed.
Gambia’s vice president quits
Similarly, Gambia’s Vice President, Isatou Saidy, who has been on the role since 1997, has quit, a government source and a family member told Reuters, yesterday.
Saidy is the highest level official to abandon Jammeh’s camp in his stand-off with opposition leader Adama Barrow.
Abubakar Senghore, Gambia’s Minister for Higher Education, has also quit, the sources said.
Gambian Navy abandons Jammeh, declare allegiance to Barrow
Meanwhile, as many in Jammeh’s government continue to withdraw their support for him, The Gambian Navy led by Rear Admiral SarjoFofana, has also abandoned Jammeh while pledging to pass allegiance to Barrow after his swearing-in.
The army led by its chief, Ousman Badjie and a lot of others have also abandoned Jammeh for his refusal to step down for Barrow.
The Gambian army chief has said he would not engage his men in a battle with the troops from both ECOWAS and Senegal should the event turn into force.
“I am not going to involve my soldiers in a stupid fight. I love my men,” he added as he posed for selfies with admirers while dressed in fatigues, beret and green t-shirt.
ECOWAS gave a deadline of January 19 for Jammeh to step down or he would be ousted militarily.
This deadline was corroborated by the Senegalese government which issued a warning to Jammeh on Wednesday, giving him till midnight of January 18, to vacate the seat. However, despite the warnings, Jammeh has stayed put.
U.N. Security Council to back military action
The United Nations Security Council backed a Senegalese draft resolution that would support efforts by ECOWAS to ensure that Jammeh hands over power to his successor, diplomats said.
Senegal, which entered The Gambia, last night with hundreds of soldiers shares border with The Gambia and Nigeria has pre-positioned war planes and helicopters after ECOWAS said it would remove Jammeh, if he did not hand over power to Barrow.