Gambia's new govt mired in controversy over appointed VP's age

Yahya Jammeh. (File: AFP)
Yahya Jammeh. (File: AFP)

Banjul - Gambian President Adama Barrow's administration faced a backlash on Tuesday after admitting its new vice-president may be constitutionally barred from serving and confirming ex-leader Yahya Jammeh will be permitted to keep a fleet of luxury cars.

One day after naming Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang as deputy leader, an outcry broke out after local media alleged she was 67 years old, two years over the legal maximum to serve in the post.

Barrow spokesperson Halifa Sallah told journalists he was aware of the reports and advisers were recommending a parliamentary vetting process be put in place to avoid a similar situation, without confirming Jallow-Tambajang's true age.

Several phone calls to Jallow-Tambajang by AFP went unanswered on Tuesday.

"I have spoken to President Barrow that many concerns are being raised," Sallah said.

"The president has been carefully advised that he constitute a vetting committee," Sallah added, while asserting that "the appointment was done in good faith based on the facts that were available".

Final discussions

Barrow was in "final discussions with west African leaders "in order to announce the hour of coming," Sallah said, adding that he would arrive "very soon".

Barrow is currently living in Senegal until his safety can be guaranteed by thousands of soldiers from five African nations currently deployed in The Gambia, but unease is growing over his prolonged absence.

Equatorial Guinea Tuesday for the first time confirmed the presence of Jammeh in the small west African country, where he had been offered refuge as "a political exile".

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, another long-serving African leader, had convinced Jammeh "to avoid any situation of armed confrontation", government spokesperson Eugenio Nze Obiang said.

Bentley and Benz

The news came on the same day it was confirmed that ex-leader Jammeh had struck a deal with Barrow to keep a fleet of luxury cars in exchange for leaving the country on Saturday for exile in Equatorial Guinea.

An airport source who saw the cargo being prepared on Saturday night when Jammeh flew out of the country said "two Rolls Royces and one (Mercedes) Benz" were loaded onto a Chadian cargo plane, while 10 others await shipment.

"The government was fully prepared and supportive of ex-president Jammeh to leave and as a result they found it is better to leave with all his properties," his spokesperson said.

The airport source even reported a tussle over whether to take Bentleys or Rolls Royces onto the cargo flight, before settling for the latter.

The news is likely to anger Gambians who have also learnt Jammeh took off with $11m of state funds, according to one of his Dakar-based advisers, leaving the coffers nearly empty.

"I am so sickened by the deal; but I guess saving just one life on either side is worth more than all of his wealth," Twitter user @YesWeCan_Gambia wrote.

An "entry-level" Rolls Royce costs $250 000, and most Gambians live on less than $2 a day.

Controversial judge gone 

Meanwhile a top judicial official told AFP the country's sole remaining Supreme Court judge has resigned following attempts by Jammeh to overturn the result of a December 1 election won by Barrow.

"It is true that the chief justice has resigned from his position. His resignation letter is dated 20th January. He is out of the country. He has gone back to Nigeria," judicial secretary Landing Sanneh told AFP.

Emmanuel Fagbanle had deferred a decision on hearing Jammeh's legal complaint over a lack of other judges to hear the case, but was known to be uneasy with the mercurial strongman's use of the court system to pursue his personal grievances.

Jammeh's defiance over the election result prompted more than 76 000 people to seek shelter in Senegal, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday, citing Senegalese authorities.

The agency said "more than an estimated 8 000 people, as of Monday, have returned to their native Gambia since the political crisis there ended" when Jammeh left the country on Saturday night.

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