FILE - Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh attends the plenary session of the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island, Sept. 27, 2009.
FILE - Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh attends the plenary session of the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island, Sept. 27, 2009.

ABUJA, NIGERIA - Nigeria’s lower house of parliament has recommended that President Muhammadu Buhari make an asylum offer to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who has refused to accept his loss to Adama Barrow in the December 1 elections, leaving Gambia with a political standoff since then. 

The members of Nigeria’s lower house of parliament discussed the advisory motion Thursday as part of an ongoing effort to negotiate a peaceful transition of power in the tiny West African nation.

Nigerian house of representative member Mohammed Zorro introduced the offer of asylum, saying that it is in the best interest of Nigeria to help ensure peace in Gambia.

“It is a normal standard diplomatic practice everywhere to host exiles, either as deposed heads of state or as heads of state that lost elections or political exiles,” Zorro said. “And that’s why we now want to, as a legislative input, strengthen the hands of the president of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari.”

Nigeria's interests

There are other reasons, Zorro added.

“In Nigeria’s strategic interest, we have Nigerian banks doing business in the Gambia,” he said. “We have airlines from Nigeria flying to Gambia. We have invested so much in training Gambian leaders in various spheres.”

There is some speculation that Jammeh might be holding onto power to escape criminal charges. His 22-year rule has long been tainted with allegations of severe human rights abuses. The asylum from Nigeria could be offered as a means to urge Jammeh to step down, says popular activist in Abuja, Echezona Asuzu.

“If they can use that to take him out of power and then begin to find other mechanisms to make him answer for his crimes,” Asuzu said. “It’s part of the political process. Take him out of the way and then you can now begin to talk of the next steps.”

Asuzu is a vocal advocate for democracy. He sees the asylum proposal as a good thing, but he is also skeptical and unsure if Nigeria can hold up an asylum agreement.

“You remember the case of Charles Taylor?” he said.

Charles Taylor, the infamous former Liberian president and war criminal, was granted controversial political asylum in Nigeria more than a decade ago. Nigeria later released Taylor to stand trial in Sierra Leone.

Haven to other leaders

Nigeria has been a haven to other African leaders, including Felix Malloum, the former president of Chad and Somalia’s former president Mohammed Siad Barre.

In the case of Jammeh, Nigeria is leading the mediations. President Buhari joins a delegation of West African leaders in the Gambian capital Friday. Earlier this week, Nigeria’s foreign minister urged leaders to find a peaceful solution to the impasse.

Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari (right) welcome
Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari (right) welcomes Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf before a meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, Jan. 9, 2017. Nigeria's lower house of parliament has urged Buhari to offer Gambian President Yahya Jammeh asylum.

Last month, ECOWAS chairperson and President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf emphasized the need to come to a conclusion before January 19. That’s when the Gambian president’s term ends and he is constitutionally mandated to hand over power.

But time is running out. There are only six days left, and Jammeh says he will remain in power until the Supreme Court makes a ruling on the outcome of the disputed election. That ruling is not expected until May.