Demola Ojo in Lagos, Tobi Soniyi and Alex Enumah in Abuja with agency reports
Condemnation has trailed President Yahya Jammeh’s rejection of the results of Gambia’s election held on December 1. Jammeh had initially accepted the results and conceded defeat to his rival Adama Barrow, preparing to cede power after 22 years as the leader of the West African nation of less than two million people.
But in an announcement on state TV on Friday, Jammeh said he had changed his mind and wanted “fresh and transparent elections which will be officiated by a god-fearing and independent electoral commission”.
Jammeh said, “After a thorough investigation, I have decided to reject the outcome of the recent election. I lament serious and unacceptable abnormalities which have reportedly transpired during the electoral process.”
However, in a unanimous statement, the 15-member UN Security Council called on Jammeh to “respect the choice of the sovereign people of The Gambia”.
The body condemned the latest statement from Jammeh and called on him to transfer power “without condition and undue delay”. They intend to review the situation tomorrow before deciding whether to hold a meeting, diplomats said.
AU chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma also said Jammeh’s latest statement was “null and void” because he had already conceded defeat in the election. “The chairperson of the commission strongly urges President Yahya Jammeh to facilitate a peaceful and orderly transition and transfer of power,” she said.
Senegal’s government urged President Jammeh to respect the election results. Senegal, which has Gambia’s only land border and once sent troops there during a coup, warned Jammeh not to harm Senegal’s interests or its citizens in Gambia.
Also, the US State Department weighed in. “This action is a reprehensible and unacceptable breach of faith with the people of the Gambia and an egregious attempt to undermine a credible election process and remain in power illegitimately.”
Similarly, New York-based Human Rights Watch said it was “deeply concerned by reports of belated objections to the Gambian election results raised by President Jammeh”.
HRW called on the international community, notably the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union to “loudly protest against any unlawful attempt to subvert the will of the Gambian people”.
President-elect Barrow accused the incumbent of damaging democracy. He told reporters in Banjul that, “The outgoing president has no constitutional authority to reject the result of the election and order for fresh elections to be held.
“I open up a channel of communication to convince him to facilitate a smooth transfer of executive powers in the supreme interest of this country,” he said.
ECOWAS chair, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, had hoped to put back on track Gambia’s first democratic transition of power in over 50 years. However, those plans appeared thwarted yesterday when her plane was denied landing access at Banjul.
“Johnson Sirleaf was supposed to fly in today, but Jammeh said ‘not at the moment,” Senegal foreign minister Mankeur Ndiaye told media.
The results of the election had been revised by the country’s electoral commission on December 5, when it emerged that the ballots for one area were added incorrectly, swelling Mr. Barrow’s vote.
The error, which also added votes to the other candidates, did not change the outcome but narrowed Mr. Barrow’s margin of victory from 9 per cent to 4 per cent, about 22,000 votes.
The US embassy in Banjul urged the army to continue to show “respect for the rule of law and the outcome of the presidential election”. It added: “The Gambian people have made a clear choice for change and a new start.”
This came as troops were deployed to the streets of Banjul, the capital of the Gambia. Soldiers were seen placing sandbags in strategic locations across the capital, a development that triggered widespread unease among the already spooked population, who had been panic-buying food before the vote due to fear of unrest.
Opposition figures had earlier said that although they expected some electoral fraud and rigging, they hoped to win by a sufficient margin to make their victory impossible to contest.
The election result – and Jammeh’s acceptance of defeat – was widely seen as a moment of democratic hope on the continent and prompted widespread celebration in the Gambia and elsewhere.
There was immediate speculation that the autocratic leader’s defiant announcement had been prompted by the prospect of prosecution under the new government.
Human rights groups have accused Jammeh’s government of detaining, torturing and killing his opponents during his rule. Dozens of pro-democracy activists were arrested earlier this year and one well-known leader killed.
Last week the chair of the country’s new ruling coalition said Jammeh would be prosecuted for his crimes within a year of handing over the reins of government in January.
Jammeh’s earlier decision to resign was reportedly due to a lack of support from senior security officials. However, the prospect of being held to account for previous human rights abuses may have rallied the military and police behind the president. It is also possible Jammeh hopes to secure immunity from prosecution in return for withdrawing his rejection of the poll results.
ECOWAS, Buhari Congratulate Ghana
Meanwhile ECOWAS has congratulated Ghana’s President-Elect Nana Addo Akufo-Addo, for his victory at the December 7 general elections, describing it as well deserving.
The commission, in a communiqué on the outcome of the 2016 Ghanaian elections, also commended President John Dramani Mahama for gracefully accepting the outcome of the elections as the will of the people.
While congratulating the Electoral Commission for conducting a credible and peaceful election in the country, ECOWAS however, charged the president-elect to be magnanimous in victory and endeavour to work with all Ghanaians irrespective of political leaning in order to realise the dividends of democracy.
“The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has taken note of the announcement of the final result by the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Ghana, and the congratulatory phone call by the incumbent President, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to the president-elect, H.E. Nana Addo Akufo-Addo, of the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
“The ECOWAS Commission, on behalf of the West African Community, congratulates H.E. John Dramani Mahama for gracefully accepting the will of the people of Ghana and displaying an enviable sense of Statesmanship.
“Equally, the ECOWAS Commission congratulates the President-elect, H.E. Nana Addo Akufo-Addo, for his well-earned victory in the Presidential election. The commission encourages the President-elect and his team to work hard to live up to the aspirations of the Ghanaian people, especially in addressing the critical issues of youth unemployment and economic growth”, the statement read.
The commission also applauds the Ghanaian electorate for the high sense of patriotism and civic responsibility they displayed by coming out en masse on Election Days to exercise their franchise in a peaceful and orderly manner.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari congratulated Nana Akufo-Addo, on his historic win.
Buhari also felicitated with the government and people of Ghana, the National Electoral Commission, and candidates of political parties, for the decorum, maturity and peaceful conduct of the election that produced a winner from an opposition party, who was contesting for the third time.
The statement said: “As a scion of one of the biggest political families in Ghana, and with the lessons learnt from previous unsuccessful attempts preceded by years of service to the country, most notably as foreign affairs minister, President Buhari believes Akufo-Addo is widely experienced and skilled in leadership to build on the legacies of President John Dramani Mahama.”
The Nigerian leader extolled the statesmanship and great leadership qualities of Mahama, who came into power at a trying period for the country with the passing away of former President John Atta-Mills, and kept pushing for a better life for all Ghanaians, and strengthening diplomatic relations with countries in the sub-region, especially Nigeria.
Buhari commended the incumbent President for the great courage to call his opponent and concede defeat, stressing that leaders must always honour their pre-election pledge to accept the results of polls as the will of the people.
He expressed his optimism that the future of African development rests on building strong political, democratic institutions, ensuring free, fair and credible elections, and respect for the sanctity of the ballot.