ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo made an unannounced visit to Ivory Coast, arriving late Saturday for a private meeting with the country’s defiant president in a final effort to get him to cede power after losing the recent election.
The purpose of Obasanjo’s visit was confirmed by an adviser to the internationally recognized winner of the November ballot.
The United Nations special representative to Ivory Coast, Choi Young-jin, who met Obasanjo, told the Associated Press the Nigerian leader had made the unexpected trip to “discuss the post-electoral crisis.”
The international community has been unanimous in recognizing opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the election because the results were certified by the United Nations, which observed the vote and reviewed the tally sheets.
The incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo has refused to leave the presidential palace, insisting that he won. The country’s constitutional council headed by a Gbagbo loyalist overturned Ouattara’s victory by canceling the vote from the north of the country, Ouattara’s stronghold.
In the past week, Gbagbo’s troops have sealed the exits to the hotel where Ouattara is holed up, cutting him off. Reporters and diplomats, as well as provisions, are brought in to him via a U.N. helicopter.
So far four African presidents have come in to see Gbagbo, including most recently on Monday, but all attempts at mediation have failed. He is now being threatened by the 15-member regional bloc of West African countries known as ECOWAS, which has warned that if he does not step down he could face a military ouster.
A close adviser to Ouattara who was aware of the visit said that Obasanjo is coming to carry a message from the government of Nigeria, whose current president is the chair of ECOWAS. The bloc is scheduled to meet in coming days to decide whether to go ahead with a military intervention.
The adviser said that Obasanjo – a former military ruler who is famous for being the first in Africa to voluntarily transfer power to an elected government – carries weight when matters of force are in question.
“In diplomacy you can say things very nicely. Or you can say it by being mean. He is here to say it in the mean way,” said the senior aide to Ouattara, who asked not to be named.
Gbagbo has turned his back on the world, and even refused to take telephone calls from President Barack Obama, who tried at least twice to call him.