By Jonathan Nda- Isaiah, Abuja
President of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, said yesterday that President Muhammadu Buhari’s note of warning to former president of that country, Yahya Jammeh, against clinching to power saved the nation from political crisis.
President Barrow who was a guest at the presidential villa, Abuja, noted that President Buhari’s statement that if Jammeh wanted to challenge the sub-region, he was welcomed to do so at his own risk was a turning point in resolving the impasse in The Gambia.
In a joint press conference after the closed door meeting with his Nigerian counterpart, Barrow said, “My visit is very important to us. We have always wanted to say thank you when Nigeria gave us all the support during and after the impasse. Nigeria has been supporting The Gambia for a long time in different areas like technical assistance in the area of education and judiciary.
“We are really happy to come. When we met in Mali, he (Buhari) took a decision as a leader in a closed-door meeting. He made one statement that changed everything; that if The Gambian president wants to challenge the sub-region, he is welcome.
“This was his words and that made a big difference as a leader. And that leadership role was very important, not just for The Gambia, but for Africa because the problem was an Africa problem with an African solution.
“So, we are very grateful and that was why we wanted to come and say thank you. There is a saying in my country that if you want to thank a farmer for a good job, you have to visit him at his farm and that is why we are here”.
When asked to give details on the deal he struck with the former president that led to the smooth transition, he said ECOWAS, UNDP, Nigeria, Liberia, Guinea and Mauritania were involved in reaching an amicable solution.
Barrow said, “ ECOWAS, UNDP and the international community were involved to mediate and in this mediation, Nigeria was involved and Liberia as the chair was involved. The Guinean president and the Mauritanian president were also involved.
“The Guinean president and the Mauritanian president were physically on ground for him to accept the will of the people, exit and allow us assume office. This was the deal. He accepted to go on exile, which we couldn’t guarantee his security. This was the deal”.
On what role Nigeria will continue to play to help The Gambia overcome some of the reforms it is undertaking, President Buhari said the Gambian president had already answered all the questions on that.
“Well, your president has virtually answered the question. We did our best in the most critical time. Hopefully now, the president will raise his team and we will raise a corresponding team and we will seat together and see how we can draw a political programme that will complement each other’s effort on development. So, this is the next thing we are doing”, he stated.
Earlier at the closed-door meeting between the two African leaders, Buhari regretted that he and other leaders of ECOWAS had to use strong-arm tactics to get Jammeh out of office after failing to win re-election.
“We had to go through those actions because it was the only option for Nigeria and ECOWAS”, President Buhari told President Barrow.
According to a statement by presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, President Buhari recalled that in spite of all entreaties, the former president refused to accept the outcome of the election he superintended which was widely accepted as credible.
He said, “We thank God for the role He allowed us to play in the Gambia. We believe in multi-party democracy. In Africa, it is absolutely necessary but for the system to work and one to come out of it clean, there is need for patience.
‘‘Patience on the part of leaders is also necessary in view of ethnic and religious diversities that prevail. Leaders must be patient, hardworking and resourceful”.
President Buhari counselled that if African countries can get the institutional structures of democracy working properly, the continent will emerge from the process of development successfully.
He urged the Gambian leader to uphold the legacy of free and fair elections, which he described as the biggest guarantee for democracy.
Comparing experiences with the new leader of the Gambia, the Nigerian leader said one of the biggest challenges facing Nigeria is unemployment.
He noted: “Sixty percent of the 180 million people are under 25 years. They all wish for a secure future. Those of them who are educated feel they are more qualified for employment. We have studied the problem and are doing our best to stabilize the situation.
‘‘We took over from a party that had been in power for 16 years. During those years, the country earned an unprecedented amount of money as revenue, never seen at any time before. It is noteworthy that, no matter how grudgingly, the people are accepting that we are doing our best”.
At the end of the meeting, the president announced that representatives of both countries will deliberate and advise the leaders on how best to strengthen the existing level of cooperation between the two states.