A Nigerian warship has been deployed in The Gambia, more as a show of force rather than preparation for an attack, the BBC reported Tuesday.
The deployment is part of the strategy of ECOWAS to force out President Yahya Jammeh who has refused entreaties from the region’s leaders to step down following his last December 1 presidential election defeat by Mr. Adama Barrow.
Jammeh remained intransigent tuesday, declaring a 90-day state of emergency, less than 48 hours before his official mandate ends, according to the Gambia Television.
Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters, however, yesterday continued to downplay its reported involvement in planned military operations in The Gambia, insisting that the matter remained with the political authorities to decide.
“We are not involved in any preparation for military action in The Gambia,” the Director of Defence Information, Brig-Gen. Abubakar Rabe, told THISDAY last night.
But BBC said a military source told it that the vessel – the NNS Unity – is currently sailing off the coast of Ghana.
THISDAY had reported on Tuesday that ECOWAS had prepared a force for military intervention if the outgoing Gambian president refused to step down today.
The exact terms of the state of emergency remain unknown, as no details were provided with the announcement.
Jammeh initially accepted the election results but then decided he wanted them annulled after the electoral commission admitted some errors, although it insisted this did not affect the final outcome.
The Supreme Court is unable to hear Jammeh’s petition against the results of the election until May because of a shortage of judges, and the embattled president said he would not step down until then.
At least three Gambian ministers, including the foreign minister, have resigned in recent days. Thousands of Gambians have also fled to neighbouring Senegal amid fears of violence.
Barrow won 43.3% of the vote compared with Jammeh’s 39.6%. A third candidate, Mama Kandeh, got 17.1%.
Jammeh seized power in the tiny West African country in 1994 and has been accused of human rights abuses, although he has held regular elections.
Legal Basis for Military Intervention
In Abuja, a senior lawyer, Chief Sebastine Hon (SAN), said ECOWAS decision to use force to oust Jammeh was protected both under the United Nations Charter and existing ECOWAS legislations.
He said the political situation in The Gambia had reached a situation that called for urgent action, to forestall a large scale humanitarian challenge, regional instability and anarchy.
He advised that on no account should the world, ECOWAS and the African Union, stand aloof and watch the ethos of democracy destroyed by a sit-tight dictator who did not even assume leadership under acceptable circumstances.
By section 63(1) of the Constitution of The Gambia, the 5-year tenure of office of Jammeh will end on 19th January, 2017.
He said: “The reported resolve of ECOWAS to use force, if necessary, to topple him and then to install the winner of that election – Adama Barrow – is not only a welcome development but is protected both under the United Nations Charter and under existing ECOWAS legislations.
He noted that even though Article 2(4) of the UN Charter provides that: “All Members shall in their international relations refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations,” other extant provisions of the Charter and empirical examples showed that military intervention was not altogether ruled out or deemed illegal.
He said: “For instance, Chapter VIII of the Charter has in very clear terms recognised ‘Regional Arrangements’. In particular, Article 52(1) which falls under that Chapter provides that ‘Nothing in the present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action….’”
Hon said that Charter VIII provisions had been tested before during the Liberian and Sierra Leone political quagmires of the 1980s-1990s.
According to him, with the positive signal from the UN representative in West Africa, Mr. Ibn Chambas, military intervention in The Gambia under Article VIII without prior UN Security intervention is not only legal and lawful, but is also imperative, should Jammeh refuse to relinquish power today.
Airforce jet bombs settlements in ‘error’
Tuesday was another day of tragedy for Borno State as a Nigerian Airforce fighter jet mistakenly dropped bombs on some settlements, believed to also harbour Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs), in Rann, Kala Balge LGA of the state, killing over 50 persons. About 200 others, including some humanitarian aid workers of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) were reported injured.
International aid agency, MSF, confirmed to BBC that at least 50 person were killed and more than 100 injured in the accident.
President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed regrets at the incident and has appealed for calm over the ‘’unfortunate accidental bombing,’’ saying the accident happened while the Nigerian Air Force engaged in the final phase of mopping up Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east.
“So far, it is a little bit disturbing; death has occurred. There are casualties; there were deaths and injuries,’’ New Agency of Nigeria quoted Maj-Gen. Lucky Irabor, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole as saying on Tuesday.
He said: “This morning, we received a report about the gathering of Boko Haram terrorists around Kala Balge area of Maiduguri. I coordinated and directed that the air component of the operation should go and address the problem.
“Unfortunately, the strike was conducted but it turned out that other civilians were somewhere around the area and they were affected.’’
He said some humanitarian staff of Medicines Sans Frontiers and some staff of International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) were also affected.
“We are sending helicopters to evacuate those that were critically wounded, including our wounded soldiers.”
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) described the incident as unfortunate and highly regrettable.
In a statement by the Director, Public Relations and Information (DOPRI), Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa, the NAF said it would keep updating the public as soon as investigations were concluded.
Famuyiwa said: “The NAF is saddened by today’s accidental air strike by its fighter jet at Rann in Kala Balge area of Borno State in which some innocent lives were lost. While available information is sketchy, the Theatre Commander OPERATION LAFIYA DOLE is taking appropriate steps to avail us with details of the incident.
“The loss occasioned by this unfortunate incident is deeply regretted. The NAF commiserates with those affected and their families and would update the public as soon as detailed facts emerge from the investigation.”
MSF said that many of the casualties were believed to be displaced people who had fled from areas where Boko Haram had carried out attacks.
The charity’s Director of Operations, Jean-Clement Cabrol, said: “This large-scale attack on vulnerable people who have already fled from extreme violence is shocking and unacceptable.”
MSF spokesman Etienne l’Hermitte urged the Nigerian authorities to facilitate evacuations of those injured by land and air.
“Our medical and surgical teams in Cameroon and Chad are ready to treat wounded patients. We are in close contact with our teams, who are in shock following the event,” he said.
The President, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, said he received the news of the bombing with deep sadness and regrets.
Buhari also condoled with families of the dead, wished the wounded divine succour, leading to full recovery and sympathized with the Borno State government.
The President pledged federal help for the state government in attending to “this regrettable operational mistake,” and pleaded for calm, even as he prayed God to grant repose to the souls of the dead.
The Defence Headquarters also expressed shock at the incidence, describing it as a regrettable mistake that would be avoided in future.
The Director of Defence Information, Brig-Gen. Abubakar Rabe, told THISDAY last night that the incident was receiving the attention and review of the military high commander and apologised to the nation for the costly mistake.
Similarly, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, expressed sadness over the incident, calling on the military authorities to ensure that such incident did not occur in future.
Dogara, in a statement yesterday night offered condolences to the families of the victims, and prayed for quick recovery of those injured.