West African leaders meet in Abuja over Gambia crisis

From right: Presidents Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria at a hotel lobby in the Gambian capital Banjul ahead of their meeting with President Yahya Jammeh on December 13, 2016. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

West African leaders are expected to hold a special sitting on Monday in Abuja, Nigeria to take a decision on The Gambia crisis caused by President Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to step down after elections.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) leaders are expected to deliberate on the action to be take that would ensure a peaceful transfer of power.

The meeting in Abuja follows another held in Accra, Ghana on Saturday on the sidelines of the inauguration of President Nana Akufo-Addo.

President Jammeh, in power for 22 years, initially conceded defeat to opposition candidate Adama Barrow but flip-flopped later and said he would contest the result.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said the Abuja talks will discuss further steps to be taken.

“There are some disturbing information the (Nigerian) president (Muhammadu Buhari) is hearing which he needs to verify and the Abuja meeting will take a final decision,” he said, without elaborating.

President Buhari is leading the mediation talks.

Leaders expected at the meeting include Liberian and Senegalese presidents, vice-president of Sierra Leone and former President John Mahama of Ghana (the co-mediator).

In Accra, the West African leaders expressed readiness of the region to continue in pursuit of dialogue with the leaders of The Gambia.

“We are committed to a peaceful mediation and a peaceful transfer of power in The Gambia… we will continue to pursue that for now,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who chairs the 15-member Ecowas, said on Saturday.

Diplomats are concerned that the political impasse in The Gambia could escalate quickly into violence. On Saturday, the United States warned its citizens against visiting the country and asked those who were there to consider leaving.

“The Department of State warns US citizens against travel to The Gambia because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future,” the statement said.

In a telephone interview on Monday, Mr Onyeama said that Nigeria will do everything possible to help The Gambia resolve the political crisis peacefully.

He expressed belief that President Jammeh would honour the call of the Ecowas leaders to relinquish power at the end of his mandate on January 19.

“We would like to believe that he would listen to the voice of his peers in Ecowas.

“And that he will also listen to the voice of his people, but above all he will follow the democratic path.

“So we will do everything possible to bring that about.”

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