Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh has appointed six foreign judges into the Supreme Court to join the remaining member, Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle, a Nigerian national, so that his election petition could be heard.
Although the names of the judges have not been officially revealed, they are believed to come from Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
The President has also ordered the electoral commission building taken over by police on 13 December to reopen.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) office was sealed off without warning by security forces on the same day President Jammeh’s political party lodged a court case against the commission to have the 1 December election result annulled.
A decree issued yesterday, 29 December claimed the authorities had received reports the IEC would be burnt down, stating: “Now that the threat has abated, the IEC head office will reopen.”
The Gambia is facing prolonged political deadlock as Jammeh has said he will await a Supreme Court ruling, delayed until 10 January, before ceding power.
The reopening of its headquarters will allow IEC officials time to prepare their case.
Why the Supreme Court cannot resolve crisis
The opposition coalition has made it clear that it would not accept Jammeh appointing new judges to hear a case in which he is an interested party.
From all indications, the Supreme Court would not likely be able to hear the case and make a decision before 18 January. What happens then?
“After the 2011 polls, the losing candidate, Ousainou Darboe, filed a petition to challenge the result but Jammeh was sworn before it had been heard,” writes Gambian journalist and long-time BBC correspondent Sheriff Bojang.
“So there is a precedent for Barrow to be sworn in while Mr Jammeh is still going to court but it is unlikely that the strongman would agree.”
On 17 December, the heads of state of the regional ECOWAS named a mediation committee headed by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari with Ghana President John Dramani Mahama as deputy, to engage Jammeh diplomatically and find a peaceful solution to the crisis.
ECOWAS leaders have however warned that they would not hesitate to send troops to Banjul, if Jammeh, who lost the election to opposition candidate, Adama Barrow, fails to step down next month.
Senegal,which surrounds much of The Gambia, has been designated to lead the proposed military intervention, president of the Economic Community of West African States, Marcel de Souza, told reporters in Bamako,Mali.
“The deadline is January 19 when the mandate of Jammeh ends,” de Souza said.
“If he doesn’t go, we have a force that is already on alert, and this force will intervene to restore the will of the people.”
Jammeh, who has been in power since 1994, said he would not be intimidated, and that Ecowas had no right to interfere in The Gambia’s affairs.
The UN and African Union have also urged Mr Jammeh to respect the will of the people and step down when his term ends.
Jammeh as “rebel leader”
The president-elect, who has repeatedly called on Jammeh to rescind his decision, has announced that the preparations for his inauguration were in top gear.
The opposition coalition on whose platform he contested and won the election has said that President Jammeh would effectively become a “rebel leader” if he failed to leave office at the end of his mandate on 18 January.
“He will lose constitutional legitimacy and any president who loses constitutional legitimacy becomes a rebel,” said Halifa Sallah, a spokesman for the coalition.
Mr Barrow has said he will declare himself president on 19 January.
In a message posted on social media this week, he urged “all peace-loving Gambians to advocate, pray and work for a peaceful transfer of executive power for the first time in our history since independence”.
“If the colonialists could peacefully hand over executive powers in accordance with the dictates of the people of The Gambia, we, the citizens, should be able to show a better example to our children,” he added.
Ken Kamara and Tala Ahotonu with agency reports