Endgame & Abacha’s last disciple by Louis Odion

Those skilled in psychoanalysis could not have missed the telltale hint. Newspaper images we saw of Yahya Jammeh receiving ECOWAS emissaries at the Banjul airport last Friday clearly depicted acute weight loss, accentuated by a distant look on his face.

Really, it would have been humanly impossible to be haunted at home and heckled from outside like Jammeh in the past seven weeks and remain unruffled. An unconfirmed source even quoted him jokingly beseeching the leader of the august visitors, Nigeria’s Muhamnadu Buhari, “Mr. President, please don’t invade my country.” If true, it would seem the self-confessed herbalist (he claims HIV/AID cure) who prefers to be addressed elaborately as “His Excellency, Sheik, Professor, Alhaji, Doctor” had, alas, become aware of the limitation of his muchvaunted talisman.

But like the proverbial doomed house-fly destined to join the coffin in the grave, The Gambian buffoon failed to take advantage of the olive branch offer by the ECOWAS peace-makers in the last-ditch effort to save him from himself. Not even another face-saving offer of asylum by the Nigerian congress would dissuade him from the path of perdition.

On Tuesday, he took liberty to impose a threemonth state of emergency even when his legal mandate would expire less than twenty-four hours (Wednesday night). Before then, the Government House had almost become deserted and Banjul a ghost town following the exodus of fearful citizens to Senegal and other neighboring countries.

No fewer than eight cabinet members (including the Information and Foreign Ministers) had resigned and defected. The floodgate of resignations was opened by no less than the chief electoral officer himself, Alieu Momar Njai. After declaring Adama Barrow winner of the December 1 polls, Njai had admitted some glitches in the process of tabulating the results.

But despite that the reconciled figures still did not alter the outcome significantly, Jammeh, who had ruled the tiny country for 22 years, suddenly found a cheap alibi to recant his earlier concession of victory to the opposition.

From initially accepting defeat, the Gambian desperado now wanted a re-run. Njai’s responded by sneaking out of the country, upsetting Jammeh’s crafty trap. So, as the Nigerian war ship and ECOWAS troops begin to mass along the Gambian coast in the days ahead for what now appears an inevitable invasion of the presidential fortress in Banjul, the nay-sayers – like Nigeria’s deputy senate president Ike Eweremadu – need not misconstrue the historic necessity of the task at hand.

The mission to dislodge Jammeh for refusing to obey the electoral verdict of December 1 should not be seen as a favour to a fellow West African nation. Rather, it is a moral duty owed the long-suffering people of The Gambia. The argument of Ekweremadu and those preaching against the military option is essentially based on the otherwise thoughtful notion that “to jaw-jaw is better than war-war”.

But such pacifism is tenable only on the premise that we are dealing with a sane man. From his conduct over the years, especially the odd symptoms seen in the past 49 days, it should be clear to everyone now we have on our hands a power psychopath, if not a first-class psychiatric patient. Those presently worried about the material costs of a military invasion are only being myopic.

They should consider the price ECOWAS would pay if the Jammeh cancer was not quickly staved and excised but instead allowed to metastasize into a full-blown civil war with the attendant humanitarian crisis and instability for the sub-region.

If nothing at all, ECOWAS’ swift and robust handling of the issue thus far should be a source of pride not only to the people of the sub-region but the rest of the Africa that democratic norms and values are fast taking root and, most significantly, that the people themselves are now developing the mechanism and capacity to resolve issues arising therefrom in the spirit of African solidarity without the prodding of any external neo-colonial power.

Overall, perhaps only those with fairly long memory today could attest that Jammeh is indeed a calamity long foretold. After seizing power on July 22, 1994 as a young Army officer, he never hid his admiration for then Nigerian fledgling despot, Sani Abacha.

As the infantry general in Abuja was increasingly isolated by the international community on account of his murderous proclivities, Jammeh became a regular visitor to Nigeria for fellowship at Aso Rock in his trademark gaudy costume of over-sized white Agbada, conspicuous sword and giant-sized prayer-beads, offering the public ceaseless comic entertainment.

One salacious account has it that his preference for big Agbada in public outing is to conceal a permanent bulletproof vest. But unlike Abacha who, lacking self-confidence, chose a rather serpentine route in pursuit of a transmutation from Army law-giver to civilian president, Jammeh short-circuited his own metamorphosis to a civilian president within two years in the relatively much smaller The Gambia.

Like his hero in kleptocracy in Abuja, the little read Jammeh ruled his tiny country with iron fist, even as he mindlessly purloined the bulk of the little that trickled into the national treasury mostly from peanut and tourism. And while the vast majority of Gambia’s population of 2 million wallow in indigence, the megalomaniac leader lives a life of debauchery and filthy extravagance.

To further secure himself, he lately decided to mix politics with religion by proclaiming his country an Islamic country in blatant disregard for the sensibilities of a good number of citizens who are practising Christians.

But one of the supreme ironies is that though he gave an executive order banning women from appearing in public without scarf consistent with Sharia practice, that hardly stopped his psychedelic Moroccan wife from continuing to flaunt openly her own procured assorted Brazilian hair at every opportunity. Indeed, “Abachaology” and the darkness it embodied had since unraveled in the land of its birth. But the enduring tragedy is that the infatuated like Jammeh still seem detained by that sordid past, refusing to read the ominous handwriting now on the wall.

The savages are unwilling to accept that, with a more conscientised electorate, fixing elections results or disobeying its outcome is fast going out of fashion in Africa.

It then explains why Jammeh, whose own family has since reportedly fled the country, seems still incapable of appreciating – much less following – the worthy footsteps of Ghana’s John Mahama who, tellingly, is among the ECOWAS peacemakers today. Mahama vied for a second term in the Ghanaian polls and lost precisely a week after the exercise in The Gambia.

Once fully in receipt of the figures from the polling units, he promptly called the opposition candidate to congratulate him, even before the results were officially declared by Ghana’s electoral empire.

Now, even after 22 years in the saddle, the political glutton in Banjul is still unwilling to let go. But he no longer has a choice.

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