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Did We Loot The Gambia For Yahya Jammeh? By Sonala Olumhense

Finally, last weekend, Africa was saved another political and humanitarian mess when President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia agreed to surrender the leadership he lost in the December 2016 election.  

First conceding the defeat, to Adama Barrow, Mr. Jammeh had turned around to say he would not give up power, claiming he had in fact won the contest.  Following the intense pressure of world leaders, the African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and with foreign troops already present to force him out, Jammeh threw up his hands.  

In November 2016, he had indicated readiness to die in office, and it is unclear why he allowed the election in the first place.   “Allah elected me, and only Allah can remove me,” said the man who had been in office for over two decades, on television.  

“His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J Jammeh,” as he called himself, had joined the pantheon of African leaders who, having become superior to their nation and to the law, refuse to leave office.  Dressing like a fat clown and wielding a pretentious staff, Jammeh became the only voice on culture, religion, science, medicine, peace.  He made Islam the state religion.  He undertook actual witch-hunts and dispensed hallucinogenic potions to supposed sorcerers.  He scoffed at the notion of human rights.  He arrested and tortured journalists.  He claimed he could cure AIDS.  He told women how to dress.  

And even when he was forced out into exile kicking and screaming last week, he was still implying he had done Gambians a favor in the 22 years he took them hostage.  “I am truly and sincerely proud of being of service to you,” he said—with a straight face, I hear—in his final speech.

Actually, that was not his final speech to Gambians.  The final was a bucket of warm spittle he emptied all over their heads in a robbery spree as he was flown flamboyantly into exile in Malabo.  

Reports say he grabbed over $11m from the state treasury on his way out.  Mai Fatty, an Adviser to President Barrow, confirmed Jammeh’s looting of seven exotic cars: two Rolls Royces, a Mercedes Benz, and several Sports Utility Vehicles.  An airport official and a knowledgeable diplomat confirmed the story to the New York Times.  The cars were flown out to Malabo for him in a separate aircraft made available by President Idris Deby of Chad.  

Jammeh also allegedly took with him many other luxury items.    The “truly and sincerely proud” former Gambian leader saw no hypocrisy in his looting.  As is usually the case with such psychopaths, he thought his country owed him, and that he could help himself.  

Reports said he traveled with his wife, his mother and his son into exile in Equatorial Guinea, a country with the same brutal and corrupt kind of leader,  Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.  Jammeh will be in good company, having ensured his family will have everything money can buy.  But we all know that does not include peace and happiness, or freedom from nightmares.

He will be cursed daily by Gambians, and equally hounded by Equatorial Guineans who have enough resentment for two dictators.  Speaking after Jammeh arrived, Andres Esono Ondo, the secretary-general of the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy party, said: “Mr. Jammeh is dangerous.  He killed opposition members.  He stole from his country and his people.  We already have one dictator as a president, we don’t need another.”

It is something of a relief that Jammeh did not wind up in Nigeria.  His $11m loot would have been laughed at in Nigeria’s corruption capitals, but his armoured luxury cars would have made a splash beween Sagamu and Benin City, with Nigerians giving him new titles with their middle finger.

Think about it: Jammeh did not just go into exile, he went in style, on the back of a Nigeria-related luxury jet.  In a move which underlines how porous Nigeria’s so-called war against corruption really is, Jammeh also emptied a bucket of warm spittle on Nigerians in the form of his getaway jet, which turned out to belong to Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the National Leader of Nigeria’s All Progressives Congress (APC).  

Yes, the UN wanted Jammeh out, as did the AU, the United States and ECOWAS.  But none of them sent a jet.

As an individual country, Nigeria wanted Jammeh out too, and President Muhammadu Buhari had been instrumental to the negotiations.  But while Nigeria could have sent one of her many executive jets in the implementation of an agreed ECOWAS policy, it was curiously to an aircraft belonging to a private citizen to which we turned.  

Mr. Tinubu obliged, reportedly happy the gesture would support the cause of peace in the sub-region, releasing the VP-CBT Falcon which had been in the custody of Guinean President Alpha Conde, a close friend of his.  

I commend Mr. Tinubu, whose tentacles have grown longer, for that gesture, but neither he nor any other Nigerian can wash Jammeh’s spittle off his face so casually.  What West African leaders achieved, in effect, was to sell out the people of The Gambia and enslave them to a (now) former leader, empowering him to take whatever he wished and destroy what he didn’t, on his way out.

Jammeh was a brutal dictator and coward, and when the end came, it was understandable that he embarked on blackmail and bluff.  But given the balance of forces at the time, it was not worth at least $11m and seven luxury vehicles.  

Nonetheless, we must assume that leaders of ECOWAS did not know at the time of the vicious and scurrilous final moves he would make.  Now they do, and it is not too late to seek justice for the people of The Gambia.  ECOWAS leaders know where Jammeh is, where he sleeps, and what he has that does not belong to him.  

To let him keep this wealth would be the final act of betrayal of every Gambian child who lacks water or needs an education.  

This is of particular importance in Nigeria, given our role in the so-called final resolution in Gambia, and our floundering war on corruption at home.  If Nigeria does not want to confirm the image of duplicity and hypocrisy, she must lead a mission to separate Jammeh from the loot he possesses and return it to the government of Mr. Barrow.  

This is a simple test of Nigeria’s character.  Let us demonstrate loyalty to the new government and its people, not a fleeing scoundrel who ought to remind us of our history of the past 60 years and how we became an under-developing country in the first place.  

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Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense