West African army chiefs met in Abuja, Nigeria at the weekend in preparation for a possible military intervention in The Gambia.
President Yahya Jammeh’s tenure ends on Wednesday but he has refused to quit power despite efforts by the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) leaders to persuade him to step down.
Two missions to Banjul, led by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who is leading the Ecowas mediation team, failed to convince the Gambian leader to respect the December 1 election outcome.
President-elect Adama Barrow is in Senegal until his planned inauguration on Thursday.
The military chiefs’ meeting, is part of efforts by the regional bloc to force President Jammeh, in power for 22 years, out should such a need arise.
Nigerian chief of defence staff Gen Abayomi Olonisakin on Saturday expressed readiness of regional leaders and military commanders to continue the pursuit of dialogue to end the political impasse.
However, Ecowas has said it will not rule out the use of force as a last resort. No communique was issued at the end of the military chiefs’ meeting.
The United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel said Friday Ecowas would ask the Security Council to approve troops deployment in The Gambia.
The African Union has also said it will no longer recognise President Jammeh as head of state as of Thursday this week.
Meanwhile, Senegalese President Macky Sall has accepted a request by Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to host Barrow in Dakar until his inauguration.
President Jammeh said late on Sunday he had spoken to President Sirleaf by phone and was adamant he would not budge until a legal challenge he has lodged against the result was heard.
“The so-called deadline of 19th January 2017 is not cast in stone and all parties shall await the outcome of the Supreme Court,” he said on state television.
Mr Jammeh said a separate injunction filed Thursday would “restrain Mr Adama Barrow from being sworn in as well as restraining the chief justice and any other party from swearing in Mr Adama Barrow,” until the Supreme Court decision was made.
Until then, Jammeh said, “the status quo remains”.
A source in the Senegalese presidency told AFP it had been agreed Barrow would stay briefly in Dakar following consultations with other heads of state from the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) at a Bamako summit.
The 15-nation bloc has repeatedly called on Jammeh to respect the result of the vote and leave after 22 years in power.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Sirleaf and Ghana’s ex-president John Mahama have appealed to Jammeh to step down twice in person, without success, most recently on Friday.
Barrow was the surprise guest at a Bamako summit over the weekend, where he was welcomed as a head of state and introduced to several world leaders.
The heads of at least 30 nations had gathered to discuss jihad on the continent and Africa’s impact on the European migrant crisis — but The Gambia’s political impasse dominated events.
The spectre of a military intervention in The Gambia has arisen in recent days following declarations by the United Nations and African Union that boots on the ground could get the green light without a rapid resolution of the crisis.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, said on Friday that ECOWAS would ask the Security Council to approve the deployment of troops to The Gambia if Jammeh continues to refuse to leave office.
ECOWAS has made clear in the past that force will not be ruled out as a last resort, but the Nigerian army has denied reports it is preparing troops for a Gambian intervention.
There are just three days left of Jammeh’s five-year term, and he has warned the international community against “undue external interference”.
The Supreme Court ruling however is unlikely to happen before May.