(This Day, Lagos, Nigeria, May 20, 2005)
We won’t impose solution, says Obasanjo
Heads of State from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) yesterday rose from an eight- hour long reconciliation meeting between President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo and the opposition with a common position on the formation of a government of national unity.
But President Olusegun Obasanjo who convened the meeting as African Union (AU) chairman, said only the people of Togo were in a position to find an amicable solution to the political crisis in their country.
The West African leaders also called for the adoption of confidence building measures and an establishment of a framework for dialogue aimed at returning the country to normalcy.
The unity government, they agreed should be representative of the entire political class.
All the seven ECOWAS leaders who attended the summit however threw their weight behind the Togolese President, Faure Gnassingbe who they said is the recognized leader of the West African country which has since April 24 been embroiled in crisis over the election.
Yesterday’s summit which started around 11a.m in the morning ended with the opposition insisting that it needed time to “think” about the ECOWAS leaders’ joint position.
After the opening remarks by Obasanjo who told the heads of states the essence of convening the meeting which he said was to halt the regime of violence which followed the April election, journalists were excused as the regional leaders locked themselves up for more than five hours.
Details of the closed meeting which were revealed to THISDAY showed that all the leaders were of the opinion that the opposition should accept the outcome of the election.
At a point, the opposition agreed to the idea of a unity government only to change its mind a few moments later insisting that Gnassingbe should instead stay in office for only one year as head of a transitional government. The alternative, they said was for that country to organize fresh elections and discard with the one conducted in April. At this point, President Obasanjo was said to have described the opposition’s position as unwise and un-pragmatic. He said he was disappointed about the position of the opposition which he said showed that they had no respect for the heads of states whom he said left their various countries despite their own busy schedule and commitments to sit for several hours in order to find a lasting solution to the impasse.
Gnassingbe however yesterday expressed satisfaction with the common position of the ECOWAS leaders five of who held another brief chat with him behind closed doors at the presidential lounge of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on the way to their respective countries.
At the summit yesterday were Presidents John Kufuor of Ghana, Mathieu Kerekou of Republic of Benin, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Mamadou Tandja of Niger, Omar Bongo-Ogimba of Gabon as well as Gnassingbe and Obasanjo.
The leaders at the summit warned all the political parties to desist from acts of violence and vandalism that contribute to insecurity in that country.
A comminique issued at the end of the meeting read by the Secretary-General of the ECOWAS, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, stated that Gnassingbe has promised to “prepare adequately for the conduct of national legislative elections likely to produce a National Assembly in which shall be represented a broader spectrum of political parties.”
“And political parties should acknowledge that recourse to violence and anti-constitutional acts do not aid in the building of a new, stable democratic Togo,” it stated.
The communique also observed that “the Heads of State expressed concern about the plight of Togolese refugees in Benin and Ghana and called upon the Togolese political classes to take their responsibilities for creating the enabling environment for the return home of their compatriots.
“They further called upon the international humanitarian community to provide assurance to the distressed Togolese and to facilitate their early return home,” it noted.
While expressing gratitude to Obasanjo for his concern over the situation in Togo, the communique added that “the heads of State urged the Togolese political class to demonstrate greater flexibility and to place national interests above personal considerations.”
“They called for the adoption of confidence-building measures, establishment of a framework for dialogue aimed at returning the country to normalcy including the formation of a Government of national unity that is representative of the entire political class. They also called upon all Togolese political forces to desist from acts of violence, impunity and vandalism that contribute to insecurity in the country,” it stated.
Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Obasanjo said the meeting was not in a position to impose a solution on the people of Togo.
According to him, the meeting which brought together all the stakeholders in the Togolese crisis and leaders of Niger, Benin, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Gabon, could only help the Togolese to arrive at an acceptable solution to their problem.
Obasanjo said the situation in Togo before and after the demise of late President Gnassingbe Eyadema had remained messy.
He said both ECOWAS and AU were determined to help the country find its feet.
He added that African leaders had “a special concern and desire for peace, harmony and progress in Togo,” pointing out that he convened the meeting as a follow-up to the first meeting between the party in power and the opposition in Abuja.
“We are not here to dictate to you, it is the Togolese that must do what they need to do for peace, security and progress to return to their country,” he said.
The President added that the leaders at the meeting could only lend a helping hand and serve as witnesses to any agreement that would be reached between the parties at the meeting.
He thanked members of the Togolese delegation, including those from the opposition and the ruling party and expressed the hope that the meeting would achieve the purpose for which it was convened.
However, speaking shortly before the commencement of the summit, the leader of the opposition in Togo, Mr. Gilchrist Olympio, said “we have had over 811 deaths and over 4,000 heavy casualties, several homes destroyed, torture and all sorts of things.”
“These are the sort of things we want to discuss. We have to first find a solution to the killings, burning of homes and torture.
“The agreement was that whoever comes in as the victor, or the winning party after the elections, should not consider the loser as a war prisoner, but to be integrated into the government to find a solution to our problems. We are yet to come to that position. What we are saying is that the person who says he is the winner is not the winner. So, he cannot have any legitimacy to form a government. We have to find out who the winner is, then we find out what type of government to form. I did not go back on my words.
“We still have a lot of killings, a lot of casualties, the burning of homes and torture. That is the first thing we have to resolve with the help of responsible Heads of State from other sister African countries. That is why we are here. Hopefully, after discussions, we should be able to find a solution,” he said.