Nigerian legislators debate offering asylum to Gambia leader

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian legislators on Thursday were debating whether to offer asylum to Gambia’s longtime leader, who is refusing to cede power after losing elections.

Rep. Yisa Orker-Yev told The Associated Press that a motion to offer safe haven to President Yahya Jammeh was being debated in the House of Assembly. It was not clear if Jammeh requested the asylum.

On Friday, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari leads a committee of the Economic Community of West African States to try to negotiate a diplomatic resolution, raising the possibility he may want to make an offer of asylum to Jammeh.

But the West Africa regional bloc also has a military force on standby to intervene if Jammeh does not step down when his mandate expires Jan. 19.

Jammeh initially accepted defeat in the Dec. 1 elections and publicly congratulated winner Adama Barrow, the candidate of an opposition coalition.

But then Jammeh changed his mind, ordered troops to take over the electoral commission office 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 wait until its decision.

Jammeh might be wary of a Nigerian promise of safe haven. Nigeria offered asylum to Liberian warlord Charles Taylor in 2003 in order to end the civil war he started in 1989, but 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.