Internal Army documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES have punctured claims by the Nigerian Army that it was not gearing up to deploy troops in the Gambia if President Yahya Jammeh fails to step down when his tenure expires on January 19.
This newspaper had on Thursday exclusively reported that the Army had raised a battalion to be deployed in the troubled tiny West African country if Mr. Jammeh fails to hand over to the winner of the December 1, 2016 election, Adama Barrow.
The report indicated that personnel for the Ecowas Military Intervention Group (ECOMIG) NIBATT 1 Battalion was drawn from the Army’s 19th Battalion, based in Okitipupa, Ondo State.
But hours after the story ran, the spokesperson for the Army, Sani Usman, circulated a rebuttal, claiming the report was “false in its entirety”.
Mr. Usman, a Brigadier General, also said the report was a figment of the imagination of PREMIUM TIMES.
But documents seen by this newspaper indicate the army spokesperson’s claims are untrue and misleading.
The first document is a January 10 memo by the Army’s Directorate of Training and Operations (DATOPS) informing key formations of the impending deployment in the Gambia.
In the memo, with reference number AHQ/DATOPS/G3/250/70, the Director of Peacekeeping Operations, A.A Fayemiwo, a Brigadier General, informed the Army’s 2nd Division, 81st Division, Infantry Corps Centre, Nigerian Army Armoured Corps, 707 Special Forces Brigade and the Operations Monitoring Team of the planned deployment of 19 Battalion in The Gambia.
Mr. Fayemiwo informed the recipients of his memo that officers and men nominated for the operation were proceeding to the Nigerian Army School of Infantry with effect from January 12 for counter terrorism and counter insurgency training.
He then proceeded to request the formations and units to provide troops to beef up 19 Battalion for the operation, detailing the number of personnel each of them should contribute.
The memo was also distributed to the Office of the Chief of Army Staff, the directorates of army planning and army logistics, Operation Delta Safe, the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, 4 Brigade, 9 Brigade, 19 Battalion, 133 Special Forces Battalion and 174 Battalion.
In another memo, also dated January 10, Mr. Fayemiwo requested the leadership of formations contributing troops for the operation to forward their lists of nominated personnel to his office not later than January 12.
He also informed the General Officer Commanding, 2 Division, to prepare to fill the vacuum to be created by the withdrawal of some personnel of 19 Battalion from Operation Delta Safe.
In yet another document, Mr. Fayemiwo gave a detailed breakdown of the personnel requirement for the proposed Nigerian first battalion in ECOMIG.
“PREMIUM TIMES is reluctant to publish every detail in the documents at this time,” Managing Editor, Idris Akinbajo said. “But we might be compelled to do so if the Army continues to claim that our story is false.”
The regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), had on December 23, 2016 put standby military forces on alert.
The ECOWAS Commission President, Marcel de Souza, said Senegal, The Gambia’s only territorial neighbour, would lead any military operation in the country.
Other West African countries will be mandated to provide troops as well, Mr. De Souza reportedly said.
Mr. Jammeh lost the December 1 2016 Gambia presidential election to opposition candidate, Mr. Barrow.
He initially accepted defeat and congratulated Mr. Barrow but changed his mind and decided to challenge the outcome of the election.
He also vowed not to hand over to the winner as expected on January 19.
On Thursday, Mr. Jammeh said he would not step down before a Supreme Court decision on the disputed election, the BBC reported.
The President, the report said, insisted his cabinet and the National Assembly would remain in place until the Supreme Court rules on his party’s petition.
There is currently shortage of judges in the country to sit on the matter.
The case can only be heard in May if Nigeria agrees to supply judges to the Supreme Court.
West African leaders, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, the chief mediator, travelled to Gambia Friday to persuade Mr. Jammeh to accept an “honourable exit plan”.
The outcome of that meeting is unknown at this time.