The Nigerian army has reportedly put 800 troops on standby to be part of the regional force that will soon enter Gambia to take on renegade dictator Yahya Jammeh, according to an army memo seen by the Associated Press (AP).
The memo, which is signed by Nigerian Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, describes the force as ECOMIG, or ECOWAS Mission in Gambia, media reports from the capital Abuja said.
Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States said that they would at the last resort send troops to Gambia to bring Jammeh down for refusing to leave power peacefully.
The ECOMIG force will likely be headed by Senegal, with all 15 countries of the region supplying troops. However, it remains unclear how many troops one nation is expected to contribute to the military operation.
Speculation is rife in the Senegalese capital Dakar that the operation will made up of 12 000 troops, while others have put that number at 10 000.
So far, Guinea-Conakry President Alpha Condé is opposing the military solution, saying that diplomatic channels must be used to solve the stand-off. But Jammeh, a well trained soldier, has refused all sorts of suggestions put to him to leave power, including to go into exile in Nigeria.
Thousands of Gambians, mostly women and children and the elderly, have already crossed to Senegal and Guinea Bissau in anticipation of the escalation of the conflict.
Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Saturday launched a desperate plea to Jammeh to quit peacefully to avoid bloodbath in his country.
“On January 19, I dare to hope that African wisdom will convince our brother (Jammeh) that the good Muslim that he claims to be understands the greater good for Gambia, which does not need a bloodbath,” President Keita told journalists.
The African Union said it would stop recognising Jammeh as Gambia President as of January 19, the date president-elect Barrow – a former security guard and estate agent – will be sworn-in as Gambia head of state.