Around the middle of 1993, while serving in the PPP government as the liaison or Military Staff Office at the Ministry of Defense, Office of the Vice President, Statehouse, Banjul, I incidentally once thought it my responsibility to warn the senior bureaucrats both at the office of the President and Vice President about a dangerous national security reform carried out in the Gambia by the late General Abubacarr Dada, commander of the Nigerian Army Training & Assistance Group (NATAG) and his 84-person team. In a letter addressed to the Secretary General Office of the President and Head of the Civil service at the time, Mr. Sara Janha and the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Defense Mr. Sulayman Bun Jack, I explained how General Dada and his assistants in their tactical and technical reform of the Gambia security forces had deliberately or inadvertently insulated the GNA with the capability of organizing a successful coup d’tat that no other force could deter, by arming and training the army far better than the police Tactical Support Group which until then had maintained a balancing strength for deterrence that was in effect completely compromised. Other officials privy tony latter at the Statehouse was Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defense Mr.Omar G. Sallah and Permanent Secretary President’s office Mr.Ahmed Bensouda.
I was as a result reprimanded for offering an unwelcome counsel with a stern warning not to ever advise them on ideas they could receive from the “Nigerian generals and colonels contracted purposely for enlightening us about the state of Gambia’s security imperatives and not from you, a Gambian Captain”. Barely a year later, the GNA successfully carried out what I had feared, thanks to the GNA’s tactical and technical superiority over the TSG.
Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara’s secret MOU in 1992 with his then Nigerian counterpart, General Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria to send Nigerian troops he would rather trust than the GNA he had created in 1984 to undermine the SeneGambia Confederation pact, turned out to be a mere time buying resolution that lasted from 1992 to 1994. Factually, neither Senegal nor Nigeria could have preserved the politically decadent PPP government from being forcefully removed from power any longer than in July 1994. This is not about justifying or encouraging military takeovers in any way or form but a simple reminder of when ignorant and condescending authorities too drunk with power turn into their own worse enemies.
That was then; and 27 years later, I again find myself seriously worried about what President Adama Barrow is negotiating with the Nigerian government about a secret-security MOU being ostensibly hidden from the Gambian people.
From every indication, the Barrow government according to independent sources had in early October sent his Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Mamadou Tangara and Defense Minister Hon.Sheikh Omar Faye to Nigerian on a mission that among other things featured a strange MOU aimed at replacing the ECOMIG troops in the Gambia with Nigerian forces in 2021. We have read an authentic report about how and where that meeting was held in Abuja, the attendees both from Nigeria and Gambia and most importantly about the drafted MOU that the Nigerian Defense Minister had assured the Gambian delegations its ratification by the Buhari government. To seduce the Nigerians into complying with their demands, the Gambian envoys hypocritically offered to posthumously decorate the late commander of NATAG General Abubacar Dada who since 1994 had been blamed by several Gambians for causing the coup. The General, in 1992 was exclusively entrusted with commanding and controlling the GNA, of keeping it professional army and ensuring that the entire Gambia was safe and peaceful on his watch. He had promised Jawara a successful completion of the task in two years, precisely by the end of 1994. In July 1994, five months before the end of 1994, the PPP government was overthrown while General Dada was at home enjoying his morning coffee and cookies.
He even helped the junta with ideas on how to stabilized the chaotic situation in the early hours of the July 22 coup. I was a live witness to that.
It’s therefore fair to conclude that Dr. Mamadou Tangara and Hon. Sheikh Omar Faye simply lied to their counterparts in Nigeria about General Dada being a household name in the Gambia whose contribution to the development of the current professional Gambia Armed Forces had everything to do with his efficiency or proficiency. LIARS ON STEROID!
It was however reported that soon after Ministers Tangara and Faye left Nigeria, President Mackey Sall of Senegal who has been in the forefront of building and maintaining the foreign forces in the Gambia since 2017, flew to Nigeria with President Umoro S Embalo of Guinea Bissau on a trip that was also to discuss the Gambia’s security requirements. Barrow was oddly not taken along. The details of that meeting are yet to be publicly revealed although information filtering from keen observers, spoke of Mackey Sall being unhappy with Adama Barrow for turning to Nigeria for military assistance when Senegal has been adequately providing that for him.
Then today, December 3, 2020, barely a month after Mackey Sall’s visit to Nigeria, Adama Barrow left for Abuja for an undisclosed reason.
In my view, it’s way overdue for Statehouse to start letting the public know the purpose of the visit by the president to any foreign country. Simply telling us that it is official is not enough and doesn’t help either when he comes back with mixed messages or zero information for public consumption.
What is going on about the fate of Gambia’s security forces and all these international players toying with it need to be clarified to Gambians. Replacing Senegalese troops with Nigerian soldiers is reminiscent of the same blunder committed by the PPP government in 1992 after the departure of the Senegalese in 1989 and Jawara mistrusting the GNA more than foreign troops.
Let us hope and pray that something that stupid is not in Barrow’s agenda when Nigerians are today suffocating from their overbearing troubles of pervasive government corruption and the nightmare of Boko Haram growing stronger, deadlier and uncontainable.
Thanks for reading.
BANJUL, THE GAMBIA.