The Gambia’s outgoing leader, Yahya Jammeh, continued to insist on Monday he would not step aside for President-elect Adama Barrow to be sworn-in on January 19, brushing aside international calls and pressure from the regional bloc, ECOWAS.
Mr. Jammeh issued the latest threat to the country’s fist change of leadership in 22 years in a telephone call to the chairperson of ECOWAS and Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
During the conversation posted on Youtube, Mr. Jammeh told Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf, who is leading efforts to ensure respect for the outcome of last December’s election, that the “status quo” had to remain until his country’s Supreme Court decides on an application by his party.
The application wants the court “to restrain Adama Barrow from being sworn-in as well as restraining the Chief Justice or any other person from swearing him, Adama Barrow, into office.”
But the Chief Justice and at the moment sole judge of the court, Emmanuel Fagbenle, a Nigerian, on Monday said he could not entertain the application because it includes him as a defendant.
The Gambia went to the polls on December 1 to elect a new president. Mr. Jammeh running for a fifth term came up against two other candidates. The electoral body returned Mr. Barrow winner of the election, and within 24 hours made a phone call to concede defeat and congratulate the declared winner.
The gesture had earned Mr. Jammeh, who had seized power in a military putsch against the first president of the country, Dauda Jawara, in 1994, instant praises.
But a week later, Mr. Jammeh shocked the world when he rejected the results on national television citing irregularities and ordering a rerun of the polls.
Judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone traditionally preside at the Supreme Court of The Gambia in special sessions between May and November because the country does not have enough qualified judges to sit at the apex court.
Mr. Jammeh therefore appealed to Mrs. Johnson to help facilitate the availability of the judges, although the Nigerian and Sierra Leonean judiciary had already said they could not do so until May.
In his telephone conversation with Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf on Monday, Mr. Jammeh said: “With regards to our last meeting when you came here. I want to request your assistance as the chairperson of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State. I want to request you to help us resolve this matter through the court.
“I want you, I want ECOWAS to facilitate the release of the Judges so that they can come to help us resolve constitutionally through the constitution of the Gambia. As I said the only resolution of this impasse is through the court.
“Everything that will be done let it be based on the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia. An application has also been filed before the Supreme Court of The Gambia for injunction to restrain Adama Barrow from being sworn-in as well as restraining the Chief Justice or any other person from swearing him, Adama Barrow, into office.
“Until this application is decided either way, the status quo must remain, that is until the Supreme Court makes decision on this the status quo can’t change.”
Mr. Jammeh’s fifth term runs out on January 19.
Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, first said: ‘you want to talk to again’ on answering the call, before Mr. Jammeh added, that “date is not cast in stone.”
He then persisted thus: “As we have matter in court and have issue with our election, all parties should await the judgement of the Supreme Court which will be the only legal entity to trash out this case once and for all.
“I want to assure you that whatever we are going to do will be based on the constitution of The Gambia. All as we discussed must pass through the constitution of The Gambia which is the supreme authority.
“So once again, I am requesting the ECOWAS to facilitate the coming of the judges so they can resolve this case as soon as possible. I count on you,’ said Mr. Jammeh, to the Liberian President whom he called “my sister”.
In her response, Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf assured him she would go “to work on this right away.”
She said she would consult with other authorities “to tell them what you said.”
She then asked Mr. Jameh to make a “short statement” of commitment that “there will be peace, there will be no violation of the constitution.”
“A short statement like that will make everybody comfortable and will encourage Nigerians and others to get the Judges to come,” said Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf.
“I assure you I am going to do it today, my sister. You have my words” was Mr. Jammeh’s response.
“Gambia needs peace, ECOWAS wants peace,” Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf then said.
“I guarantee you insha Allah,” Mr. Jammeh replied, and the conversation ended.
Earlier on Monday, the Chief Justice, Mr. Fagbenle, declined to grant Mr. Jammeh’s prayer on Monday on the ground that the application listed the Chief Judge, who is the only Supreme Court Judge at the moment, as a party in the application.
He said he could not rule against himself.