Nigerian legislators voted Thursday to offer asylum to Gambia’s longtime leader, who is refusing to cede power after losing elections and whose mandate expires next week.
Legislators confirmed the vote in favor of authorizing Nigeria’s leader to offer safe haven to President Yahya Jammeh. On Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari leads a regional delegation to Gambia to try to negotiate a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, seen as a test of democracy in a region once populated by military dictators.
The asylum offer would “strengthen the hand” of Buhari in negotiating with Jammeh, said Sani Zoro Mohammed, the legislator who sponsored the motion. Some legislators disagreed, saying the offer could be interpreted as showing support for dictatorships.
The West Africa regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, also has a military force on standby to intervene if Jammeh does not step down when his mandate expires Jan. 19.
He initially accepted defeat in the Dec. 1 election and publicly congratulated winner Adama Barrow, the candidate of an opposition coalition.
But then Jammeh changed his mind and challenged election results at the Supreme Court. The court, short of judges, has said it might not be able to consider that challenge until May, and Jammeh says Gambia should await its decision.
Jammeh took power in a coup in 1994 and is accused of gross rights violations including arbitrary detentions, torture and the killings of opponents in the tiny country of 1.9 million people.
Jammeh might be wary of a Nigerian promise of safe haven. Nigeria offered asylum to Liberian warlord Charles Taylor in 2003 to help end the civil war he started in 1989, but it was forced by international pressure to hand Taylor over in 2006 for trial for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. Taylor was convicted in 2013 and is serving a 50-year sentence in a British prison.
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