Nigeria readies battalion for possible military action  AU to withdraw recognition for him after January 19

By Yemi Adebowale with agency report

President Muhammadu Buhari led a regional delegation to Gambia yesterday in a last-ditch attempt to persuade its longtime leader, Yahaya Jammeh to step down and allow his rival’s inauguration next week, while fears grow that the impasse could turn violent.

As at press time, it could not be ascertained if an agreement had been reached with the Gambian leader to step down, as Buhari departed for Bamako, Mali to brief some West African leaders, with a view to taking a final decision. Jammeh had stated clearly that he would not step down setting the stage for a cliffhanger. His attempt to hang on to power is being resisted by the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) which had insisted that he must hand over.

Sources said Buhari had been authorised to offer Jammeh asylum, if necessary, during Friday’s visit. It could not be ascertained if Jammeh accepted this.

But sources close to the meeting said should diplomacy fail, only a military option would get Jammeh out.

The source, who attended the meeting added that the Gambian leader has a plan in place to scuttle moves to remove him and extend his tenure, while he battles President-elect, Adama Barrow in the Supreme Court.

But the West African regional bloc also has a military force on standby to intervene if Jammeh does not step down.

According to reports monitored on the The Associated Press (AP), a Nigerian army memo, dated Wednesday, January 11, and seen by AP, ordered officers to prepare a battalion of 800 troops for a possible military intervention in Gambia.

Military authorities in Nigeria had earlier denied the said plan for military intervention. They were not available for comments as at press time.

Meanwhile, the African Union has announced that it would cease to recognise Jammeh as Gambia’s legitimate leader from January 19, when his mandate expires.

The decision by the AU’s Peace and Security Council warns Jammeh of serious consequences if his actions lead to the “loss of innocent lives” and calls on Gambia’s security forces to exercise restraint.

In a related development, the President-elect is renewing his offer to Jammeh for direct discussions on the crisis, telling the BBC that “I’ll be very willing to talk to him directly.”

The ruling party’s legal challenge to the election results shows complications. Gambia’s Supreme Court, short of judges, has said it might not be able to consider the 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 this tiny country of 1.9 million people that is nearly surrounded by Senegal.

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.