BANJUL. — Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other African leaders on Tuesday urged Gambia’s long-ruling President Yahya Jammeh to respect the will of the people and step down following his defeat in an election.Jammeh has declined to relinquish power despite initially conceding that he had lost to opponent Adama Barrow in the election on December 1. He cited irregularities in the official results and on Tuesday morning security forces took over the building of the Independent Electoral Commission which holds the original poll records, its chairman said.
A delegation of West African leaders under the auspices of the regional body ECOWAS was in the capital Banjul on Tuesday on a mission to resolve the crisis.
“We hope that the will of the people prevails,” Johnson Sirleaf, who is Liberia’s president and ECOWAS chairwoman, told reporters on arrival.
Other heads of state taking part are Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma and Ghana’s John Mahama, who lost an election last week and conceded defeat.
“We will be asking President Jammeh to respect his country’s Constitution, and to maintain the inviolability of the electoral process,” Buhari said on Twitter.
Diplomats say that if Jammeh seeks to cling to power after negotiations fail, neighbours might consider options for removing him by force.
Marcel de Souza, president of the ECOWAS commission, told Radio France International on Monday that sending troops was “a conceivable solution”. The delegation was also due to meet Barrow, who has said he would annul Jammeh’s declaration of Gambia as an Islamic republic among other reforms, later on Tuesday.
Gambia’s president officially has 60 days to hand over power. Jammeh’s party intends to challenge the results at the Supreme Court, potentially offering a legal basis for new polls.
“That would put the international community in a strange position and reduce available options,” a diplomat said.
Senegal, which surrounds the riverine country of 1,8 million people, called Tuesday’s trip a “last chance mission”.
However, the African Union said in a statement on Monday that it also planned to send a high-level delegation led by Chad’s long-ruling President Idriss Deby.