Gambia crisis: Nigerian MPs back asylum for Jammeh

Yahya Jammeh (archive shot) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Jammeh is accused of leading a repressive regime

Nigerian MPs have voted to give The Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh asylum if he accepts his defeat in elections and gives up power.

The "clock is ticking fast" and efforts to end the crisis in The Gambia should intensify, the lawmakers added.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari is due to visit The Gambia on Friday in a bid to broker a deal with Mr Jammeh.

His office has not yet commented on the vote by the lower chamber, the House of Representatives.

Property developer Adama Barrow, the winner of The Gambia's election, insists he will become president on 19 January when Mr Jammeh's term expires.

However, Mr Jammeh says he will remain in office until the Supreme Court rules on his bid to annul the 1 December poll.

He alleges that the election was marred by irregularities and he has demanded a new poll.

Nigeria's House of Representatives approved a motion, saying Mr Buhari should offer Mr Jammeh a "safe haven" in Nigeria to try to end the standoff peacefully.

This would be better than sending troops to remove Mr Jammeh from power, and seeing Gambians flee to neighbouring states, Speaker Yakubu Dogara said.

Analysis, Ibrahim Isa, BBC Hausa, Abuja

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Buhari (R) and other regional leaders met Mr Jammeh last month to urge him to step down

The vote by Nigeria's House of Representatives reflects growing concern about the crisis in The Gambia, which has never had a smooth transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1965.

MPs are worried about the future of the many Nigerians who work in the small West African state as civil servants and even as judges.

They are therefore pushing for a "soft landing" for Mr Jammeh, hoping that it will avert conflict.

MPs believe that the vote will give Mr Buhari a free hand to offer Mr Jammeh asylum when he goes to The Gambia on Friday.

But some MPs opposed the move, saying it will send the wrong message to autocratic leaders in their bid to escape justice.

Mr Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 and has been accused of human rights abuses.

He has regularly held elections, and his defeat in December came as a shock.

He initially accepted the result, but rejected it after the election commission changed some of the results.

Mr Barrow won 43.3% of the vote compared with Mr Jammeh's 39.6%. A third candidate, Mama Kandeh, got 17.1%.

Earlier this month, election commission chairman Alieu Momar Njai fled to neighbouring Senegal, saying he feared for his life.

The regional body Ecowas, the Economic Community of West African States, has warned it will send troops to The Gambia if its mediation efforts, led by Mr Buhari, fail to persuade Mr Jammeh to quit.

Mr Buhari's visit to The Gambia on Friday would be his second to the small country since the crisis broke out.

Nigeria has given asylum to former leaders in the past - most recently Liberia's former President Charles Taylor in 2003 as part of a deal to end Liberia's civil war.

He was caught trying to flee Nigeria in 2006, and was handed over to Liberia's new government.

A UN-backed court later convicted him of war crimes and he is currently in prison in the UK.

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