Ivory Coast's political crisis has gone to court, with the incumbent president asking West African judges to annul a decision recognizing his rival as the winner of November's vote.
Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo wants the regional Court of Justice to invalidate decisions by the Economic Community of West African States that recognize declarations by both Ivory Coast's electoral commission and the United Nations that former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara won the vote.
Attorney Mohammed Lamine Faye, who represents the Gbagbo government, says those decisions violate the supremacy of Ivory Coast's constitutional court, which declared Mr. Gbagbo the winner, after annulling as fraudulent nearly ten percent of all ballots cast. Faye says the decisions also violate United Nations resolutions on Ivory Coast.
Faye says the Gbagbo government is asking the regional court to find these decisions illegal, thus forcing regional leaders to suspend any actions connected to those pronouncements.
Regional leaders have threatened to use military force to remove Mr. Gbagbo, if he does not hand over power to Mr. Ouattara.
In a separate filing before the Abuja-based court, Nigerian attorney Godswill Mrakpor sought an order blocking the use of force by the regional alliance, which is known as ECOWAS.
"I have relatives in Ivory Coast," said Mrakpor . "If the Nigerian government or ECOWAS decide to use force against Laurent Gbagbo, I have friends in the Nigerian armed forces. I have brothers in the Nigerian armed forces who will be mobilized and they can also lose their lives. So my interest is to ensure that there is peace in my region. It is a duty imposed on me by the African Charter."
Mrakpor says the actions of ECOWAS show it is no longer neutral.
"The people who ordinarily should have been the natural mediators, which is the ECOWAS, we feel that they have compromised their mediation capacity by hastily taking sides with Alassane Ouattara and then going a step further to issue an ultimatum and a threat of invading Ivory Coast in the event that Mr. Laurent Gbagbo refuses to step aside," he said.
ECOWAS Communications Director Sonny Ugoh says the lawsuits are a waste of time.
"The evidence before us is to the effect that Alassane Ouattara won the election, and that is the basis for all the decisions that heads of state have taken, and that is the position of ECOWAS," he said.
Ugoh said that Mr. Gbagbo had no problem with the first round of voting, because he won. He says the incumbent president objects to the second-round run off because he lost.
"An election took place and both parties were satisfied with the process. That same process was replicated in the run-off. So I don't see why anybody would suddenly wake up and decide to change the goalposts at the end of the match," he said.
Ugoh says ECOWAS leaders stand firm in their conviction that Alassane Ouattara is Ivory Coast's duly-elected leader.
"There is a consensus about the results except for one person who said he won. Don't suggest that the whole international community is wrong, including ECOWAS. We had observers there. The EU had observers there. Everybody who cared had observers there. And, we were unanimous in saying that this is the outcome," he said.
The Court of Justice adjourned all the legal challenges until March 10. Five heads of state from the African Union meet Sunday in Mauritania to discuss how best to resolve the political crisis.