Security forces from the elite presidential guard loyal to Gambia’s downcasted President Yahya Jammeh ended their occupation of the West African nation’s electoral office.
Gambia’s military took over the office of the electoral commission after Jammeh rescinded his decision to concede defeat to the opposition challenger Adama Barrow, who won the country’s December 1 polls.
Electoral Chief Alieu Momar Njai said armed men took over the office and ordered him “not to touch anything and to leave.”
“I got there by quarter to eight and when I was going up to my office, one of the cleaners told me they were not allowed in,” Njai told the Guardian. “I went to my office and a military man came and said I was not allowed to touch anything, so I took my briefcase, got into my car and went home.”
It remains unclear if Njai has returned to work and if the military occupiers tampered with any sensitive electoral materials that may be needed during hearings of a petition by filed by Jammeh in the Supreme Court, including ballot boxes that are sealed for 30 days after the elections in case a recount is requested.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the takeover of Gambia’s elections commission headquarters by soldiers and called for them to vacate the building immediately.
Moon reprimanded Jammeh’s conduct as “an outrageous act of disrespect of the will of the Gambian people and defiance towards the international community at a time when a high-level delegation was in the country to broker a peaceful transfer of power.”
Jammeh’s APRC party has accused the electoral commission of rigging the polls and of failing to properly collate the results. The defeated African strongman is calling for fresh polls as the only peaceful way to end the political stalemate and has made a legal challenge to have the results annulled.
But Electoral Chief Njai insists that the only thing legal is for Jammeh to step down.
“Let’s just hope and pray that now these heads of state are here President Jammeh will decide to step down. The only legal way is for him to step down,” Njai said.
The West African leaders, however, were unable to broker a deal with Jammeh, who now is accusing them of violating The Gambia’s sovereignty.
ECOWAS said it will use military force to bend Jammeh out of power and uphold The Gambia’s election results if he refuses to hand over when his term expires next month.
(Reporting and Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Reporting from Reuters, Guardian and Aljazeera; Editing by Sainey MK Marenah)