Post ECOMIG Exit – Barrow Leans On ‘Big Brother’ Nigeria
Since March 2021, the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) is pushing for a quicker Security sector reform and pullout ECOMIG troops from The Gambia. President Adama Barrow’s government has since sprang diplomatic efforts to obtain that, either the mandate of ECOMIG be extended a little more after the 2021 presidential election or in default, see a country like Nigeria playing a greater role similar to the one of ECOMIG.
Gambia and Nigeria draft a new MoU on Security cooperation
This materialized in the margin of the 44th Ordinary Meeting of the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council held last August in Niamey. During that meeting, the West African regional body recommended that the ECOMIG mission in the Gambia be only extended to six months. President Adama Barrow then leaned on Nigeria and President Muhamadou Buhari as a potential backup to ECOMIG’s exit.
Discussions between emissaries of President Buhari and those of President Barrow have been set in motion since the Niamey meeting in the silence of the diplomatic channels. For The Gambia, all maneuvers to lobby Nigeria was the business of Momodou Tangara and Sheikh Omar Faye. On their part, the Nigerians heavily engaged top officials of their country’s ministry of Defense.
The two parties agreed to draft a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on what would be the terms redefining Nigeria’s military post ECOMIG role in The Gambia. Upon Nigeria’s request, The Gambia, being the party making the demands of military assistance, had to formally spell them out in the draft MoU.
The Nigerian request for Gambia to spell out its demands is because the two countries had already have decades of existing military bilateral cooperation. Nigerian military was technically assisting the Gambia Armed Forces when the July 22nd 1994 coup d’état took place.
This time, the post Yahya Jammeh situation in the Gambia and the potential exit of the regional forces of ECOMIG impose a complex geopolitical context that requires more than joint trainings, technical assistance and intelligence sharing which were the basis of the cooperation between the two countries.
Earlier last October, Sheikh Omar Faye and Mamadou Tangara went to Abuja to discuss the terms of the MoU and advocate for Nigeria’s importance in assisting The Gambia’s Security sector reform. Apart from Mamadou Tangara and Sheikh Omar Faye, the Gambian High Commissioner to Nigeria Amadou Taal and the Defense Attaché to Nigeria Commodore Assan Sarr were part of the Gambian officials that met with the Nigerian Minister of Defense, Retired Maj-Gen Bashir Salihi Magashi.
Sheikh Omar Faye and the honeyed Gambian advocacy
In the Abuja meeting, Mamadou Tangara told the Nigerians that every request forwarded by The Gambia was “approved by President Adama Barrow as a follow-up to the earlier agreement and arrangements made in the 44th Ordinary Meeting of the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council held in Niamey“. Neither the Nigerian nor The Gambia officials we contacted have agreed to avail the details of the MoU to The Chronicle.
We however know that the Gambian Defense Minister Sheikh Omar Faye eloquently made reference to his participation in the Gambian contingents to ECOMOG in Liberia where the Nigerian Minister of Defense, General Magashi also served as Brigade Commander 15 ECOMOG. Sheikh Omar Faye told his Nigerian hosts that “The Gambia is planning to posthumously immortalize Nigeria’s Late General Abubakar Gada for his role in establishing the nucleus of the Gambian Armed Forces“.
While Sheikh Omar Faye insisted that Nigeria’s support remains “the lifelines for the sustenance of Gambian democracy, military and judicial system“, Mamadou Tangara sought “further support from Nigeria ahead of the 2021 election in Gambia“. In Niamey, The Gambia agreed “Implement the validated national documents such as the National Security Policy, National Security Strategy and Security Sector Reform Strategy and prepare the ground for holding credible, free and transparent elections“.
From all indications, Nigeria appears to be seduced by the sweetness of The Gambian delegation exposé of motives in the MoU. Retired Maj-Gen Bashir Salihi Magashi promised to Adama Barrow’s envoys that Nigeria will ratify the MoU and provide all the military assistance needed by The Gambia.
He was flanked in the Abuja meeting by the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Defense Babangida Hussain, the Director of Joint Services Department Ministry of Defense Mrs Olu Mustapha, the Defense Liaison Officer Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar and the Director West Africa Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Danjuma.
Nigeria treads carefully with Adama Barrow’s demands
Nigeria has a lot to gain in being a solution to the military equation in Gambia. First, the West African economic giant regains grounds in a domain it was unceremoniously pushed
out by the 1994 military junta led by Yahya Jammeh. Second, Nigeria’s comeback is at the request of The Gambia which legitimizes a little more the role of a “Big brother’s presence” in The Gambia.
In an ECOWAS context defined by a fierce rivalry between Nigeria, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, all francophone countries, Nigeria will scrap from Senegal’s influence in Anglophone Gambia. This is very important as Nigeria struggles to build common ground and federate ECOWAS Anglophone countries around its position on the proposed West African planned currency of ECO.
Nigeria is however treading very carefully on President Adama Barrow’s wishes. Nigeria and President Buhari understand the geopolitical stakes of not upsetting a country like Senegal in the current ECOMIG set up. Beyond the respect Gen Buhari and President Sall have for each other, Nigeria needs the support of Senegal in handling cases like that of Mali and the instability in the Sahel region.
In fact shortly after Momodou Tangara and Sheikh Omar Faye left Abuja, Senegal’s President Macky Sall accompanied by Guinea Bissau head of State Umaro Sissoco Embaló had a tête à tête dinner with Gen. Buhari in Abuja. All the discussions between the three heads of state revolved around security issues in the sub region. The Gambia was also in the menu.
While The Gambia has all the latitude to choose its partners in beefing up its military capacities, it is important to highlight the poor record of Nigerian security in upholding peace and stability in moments of trouble. Nigerian Army is yet to contain the insurgency of Boko Haram. The worst signal to Gambian authorities by the Nigerian Security forces is the shooting to death of over 50 peaceful “End SARS” demonstrators only 10 days after Momodou Tangara and Sheikh Omar left Abuja. A repressive move similar to those justifying Gambia’s Security sector reform.