Last ditch attempt by regional leaders to persuade Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh to give up power peacefully at the end of his term have ended in Banjul without any breakthrough.
According reports, Presidents Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and ex-President Mahama of Ghana were unable to convince Mr Jammeh to respect last month’s election results and facilitate a smooth transfer of power.
Mr Jammeh, 51, who has ruled the Gambia for 22 years was defeated in the December election by opposition candidate Adama Barrow.
He initially conceded defeat and praised the country’s electoral system as rigged proof, but changed his mind a week later and declared the results null and void citing huge and unacceptable mistakes by the electoral commission.
Barrow won 43.3% of the vote in December’s election, compared with Jammeh’s 39.6%. A third candidate, Mama Kandeh, got 17.1%.
Jammeh later filed a suit at the Supreme Court asking judges to determine that Adama Barrow was not duly elected or returned as president, and that the said election was void.
But the court is unable to hold a hearing until May – as most of the judges come from neighbouring countries – and Jammeh has said he is going nowhere until then even though his mandate ends on 18 January.
At Friday’s meeting with President Jammeh, reports said the Ecowas delegation who have also met with President-elect Barrow, the Chief Justice of the Gambia, Emmanuel Fagbenle, and two electoral commissioners, made it clear how serious their assignment was and emphasised their determination to find a peaceful solution that accords with the constitution of the Gambia and also reflects the will of the Gambian people as expressed in the December polls.
The team also reiterated the decision made last month by Ecowas head of states in Abuja, Nigeria, to send a Senegal-led military force to intervene militarily in the Gambia and enforce the outcome of the election if he refuses to give up power when his mandate expires on 18 January.
Reports added that Mr Jammeh in response insisted on staying in power until the Supreme Court decides on his election petition in May.
He reportedly told the delegation that he was cheated in the election and is seeking redress it the court in line with provisions of the constitution of the Gambia.
Jammeh is also reported to have asked the mediators to drop the threat of military intervention, which he described as unhelpful.
He also called on them to respect the sovereignty of the Gambia and warned that his regime will defend the country against any outside military invasion.
He said while he is strongly in favour of a peaceful solution to the crisis, he wants justice and fairness to prevail.
Meanwhile, President-elect Barrow has left Banjul for Bamako, Mali, where he will give a first-hand report on the political standoff to West African leaders attending the Africa-France summit.
During the summit, President Buhari will also brief his colleagues about the outcome of his mediation efforts before a final decision is taken by the heads of states.
Ecowas, a 15-nation bloc of West African states that organised the delegation, has it said it would consider removing Jammeh using military force if he refuses to step aside.
There are growing fears that the uncertainty in the Gambia could cause a refugee exodus.
Already, thousands of Gambians, mostly women and children, are reported to have crossed the border into neighbouring Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, where they do not require a visa.
Ken Kamara with additional report from Jollof Media Network