14/Jan/2017 // 808 Viewers
The political party of Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh filed a request yesterday with the Supreme Court for an injunction blocking the swearing in of his rival and president-elect, Adama Barrow, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Barrow’s party has said the President would be honoured as a former head of state if he stepped down and suggested he might not face trial for alleged crimes during his 22 years in power.
In an apparent bid to ease increasing tensions in the country by persuading Jammeh to step aside, a senior member of Barrow’s coalition, Mai Ahmad Fatty, said Jammeh would be entitled to the usual benefits afforded past heads of state, including an office of his choice, bodyguards and luxury vehicles.
“We want to give him all the privileges of a former head of state,” Fatty said late on Thursday, adding that the party would like Jammeh to be someone it could call on for counsel.
Barrow told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) yesterday: “We want to keep Jammeh in the Gambia. I don’t think there is any need for him to go to another country.”
Jammeh lost in last month’s presidential election, but has refused to accept defeat, despite earlier conceding defeat and congratulating Barrow on his victory.
The question of whether the West African country would inaugurate Barrow as president is seen as a test case for African democracy and regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has set up a committee to persuade Jammeh and ensure smooth transition in the country.
Barrow, who is backed by the international community, has said he would go ahead with his inauguration on January 19, despite Jammeh’s rejection of the result.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle confirmed receipt of the petition filed by Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), saying: “It is filed today with the court registrar.”
But he did not say when a decision on the petition might be made.
Aziz Bensouda, Secretary General of the Gambia Bar Association, said an injunction would be unconstitutional, adding: “The inauguration of the president-elect should be held when Jammeh’s term officially ends. The court does not have any mandate to put an inauguration on hold.”
According to Reuters, Fatty said the opposition was not pursuing legal action against Jammeh, whose rule has been marred by the imprisonment and torture of opponents, despite calls for his immediate prosecution once Barrow takes over.
“If there are any crimes against Jammeh, we cannot say so, because the crimes must be proven in a court of law. But at the moment, we are not talking about that,” he said.
The election defeat of Jammeh, a former coup leader, after 22 years of increasingly authoritarian rule was celebrated across the tiny West African nation.
The APRC had earlier challenged the poll results, but the Supreme Court was unable to hear the petition due to lack of enough Judges to hear the matter, making Fagbenle to adjourn the hearing until January 16.
The Supreme Court, which rights campaigners say is heavily influenced by Jammeh, has not sat in over a year.
Two chief justices have been dismissed since 2013 and one of them was jailed.
The court hired four foreign Judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone to hear Jammeh’s appeal, but it was not clear whether or when they would arrive the country.
ECOWAS has sought to negotiate Jammeh’s peaceful departure and President Muhammadu Buhari is leading a mediation mission to Gambia this weekend.
The House of Representatives has approved a motion to authorise an offer of asylum to Jammeh if he steps down.
ECOWAS has also hinted at possible military action if he stays beyond the end of his term in office next week, raising the prospect of violence.
The U.S. Department of State, which has already advised against travel to Gambia, warned American citizens to avoid the capital, Banjul’s, city centre, with Embassy staff required to be off the streets by 6 p.m. until further notice.
Jammeh’s predecessor, Dawda Jawara, fled the country when he was deposed in a bloodless coup and lived in exile until Jammeh granted him amnesty in 2001.