- Experts accuse Russia of involvement in Niger Coup
- Defiant junta dares ECOWAS, refuses to hand over to Bazoum
- Anxiety mounts in the region as experts kick against military solution
In the early hours of 26 July 2023, a coup d’état occurred in Niger when the country’s presidential guard detained president Mohamed Bazoum. The presidential guard commander general Abdourahamane Tchiani proclaimed himself the leader of a new military junta. Presidential guard forces closed the country’s borders, suspended state institutions, and declared a curfew.
With this military takeover in one of the world poorest country, Niger has unwittingly joined the league of Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Sudan as countries where democracy has been trounced.
The coup also came in the wake of recent coups in nearby countries, such as in Guinea, Mali, and Sudan in 2021, and two in Burkina Faso in January and September 2022, which has led to the region being called a “coup belt”.
This was the fifth military coup d’état since the country gained independence from France in 1960, and the first since 2010. Internationally, the coup was widely condemned by the international community and by the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, which is currently considering military intervention in the country, sparking the 2023 Nigerien crisis.
However, at home, Nigeriens saw it as a good opportunity to flush out irredeemably corrupt politicians who have kept the country in perpetual penury, economic degradation and political slavery.
ECOWAS condemns the coup
Expectedly, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS condemned in strongest terms, the military takeover in Niger Republic.
In a statement issued by the Chairman of the African Sub regional bloc, President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria on Wednesday, the Organisation will not take the military incursion in the sub-region lying low.
“Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS condemns in the strongest terms the attempt to seize power by force and calls on the coup plotters to free the democratically- elected President of the Republic immediately and without any condition.”
According to the sub regional bloc the international community will hold all those involved in the plot responsible for the security and safety of the president, his family, members of the government and the general public.
“Information filtering in from the Republic of Niger indicates some unpleasant developments around the country’s highest political leadership.
“It should be quite clear to all players in the Republic of Niger that the leadership of the ECOWAS Region and all lovers of democracy around the world will not tolerate any situation that incapacitates the democratically-elected government of the country.
“The ECOWAS leadership will not accept any action that impedes the smooth functioning of legitimate authority in Niger or any part of West Africa.”
“I wish to say that we are closely monitoring the situation and developments in Niger and we will do everything within our powers to ensure democracy is firmly planted, nurtured, well rooted and thrives in our region.
“I am in close consultation with other leaders in our region, and we shall protect our hard-earned democracy in line with the universally acceptable principle of constitutionalism.
“As the Chairperson of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, I state without equivocation that Nigeria stands firmly with the elected government in Niger and equally conveys the absolute resolve of leaders in our sub-region that we shall not waiver or flinch on our stand to defend and preserve constitutional order.”
Possible reasons for the incessant coup in West African sub region
In any case, many analysts have continued to adduce reasons for frequent military takeover in the sub region.
In a chat with Dr. Ikechukwu Asadu, political and social analyst explained that the coups are backlash political failure in the sub regon.
“Do African countries really practice democracy? Democracy as a form of government goes beyond the conduct of election and having civilians in power. Democracy entails that the process of election must be transparent and the outcome must reflect the will of the majority of the people. In fact what we have in Africa can be best describe as a process by which the electoral process is manipulated by few powerful political leaders who impose themselves on the masses.
“If I may ask, what is the difference between stolen mandate in an acclaimed democracy and military coup? Thus, the recent waves of coup in Africa is a manifestation of leadership failure owing to a very weak and fragile democratic institution cum practice.
“The coups are pointers to the fact that the civilian leaders have not lived up to expectations particularly in area of security, economic and social needs of the people. Whenever you see majority of the people celebrating military coup in their countries, it tells you that the civilian leadership has failed abysmally.
“I think Africa should either practice genuine democracy or be ready for more coups. Why i do not advocate military government, we must realize that a benevolent military ruler is better than a civilian dictator.
“Therefore, let Africa uphold not only in principle but in practice the tenets of democracy. Democracy must not only be practiced but seen to be practiced.”
On the issue of threat by ECOWAS to use military action against the military regime in Niger, Dr. Asadu stated that” should the military Government fail to restore the ousted president, I will describe it as a case of a blind man calling another man a blind man.
“Is it not the same ECOWAS that endorsed charade called election in Nigeria and went as far as electing Bola Tinubu as its chairman even when the dispute over his election has not been resolved. Now a man that is sitting on disputed position is pushing for military action against military junta.
“Well, ECOWAS have no moral justification to embark on military action. Any attempt to do so will worsen the situation by plunging Niger into protracted rebellious circumstance that will have ripple effect in some African countries.
“Nigeria no doubt will suffer some economic, social and security dislocation in such a circumstance.
“It is surprising that rather than thinking on how to fix Nigeria failed economy which has imposed untold and unprecedented hardship on people the man at the helm of affairs is pushing to finance military action just to satisfy his ego. ECOWAS had better opt for dialogue with the junta to amicably resolve the crisis.”
Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso throw their weight behind Niger coupists
In what could be better described as a dangerous and sharp turn of events , junta-ruled Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea have declared their support for the coup in Niger.
Burkina Faso and Mali in a joint statement on Monday warned that any military intervention against Niamey will be considered a declaration of war against their nations.
According these three countries in Sahel region, “any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali,” they warned, stressing that such a move could result in “disastrous consequences” that “could destabilize the entire region”.
The warning was read out on their national broadcasters a day after ECOWAS threatened to use force to reinstate Niger’s deposed President Mohamed Bazoum should the coup plotters not comply after seven days.
The transitional governments of Burkina Faso and Mali express their fraternal solidarity to the people of Niger, who have decided with full responsibility to take their destiny in their hand and assume the fullness of their sovereignty before history.”
They described sanctions imposed on Niger as “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane against the people and authorities of Niger hence will not apply them.”
In Guinea, a post made on the social networking platform X said “the National Committee of the Rally for Development (CNRD) firmly expressed its support for the people of this friendly country (Niger), emphasising the importance of the values of Pan-Africanism dear to the Head of State, Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya.”
Following the support these countries in Sahel region, the stage is continually getting set for a seeming military show down between ECOWAS and Niger coup plotters in one hand and the regional bloc and Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso at another hand.
To further add strength to their condemnation, the Sub-regional bloc held an emergency meeting in which they expectedly suspended Niger from the Organization and the coup plotters seven days ultimatum which ended on August 6, 2023 to hand over the power to the democratically elected President, Mohamed Bazoum or face military face-off.
ECOWAS, Member countries hand down heavy sanctions on Niger
Shortly after issuing the ultimatum, the ECOWAS imposed stiff restrictions to ensure its orders were obeyed.
The West African regional body ordered the freezing of all Niger Republic enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks in all ECOWAS member states.
A statement issued on Sunday by the sub-region bloc read thus: “ECOWAS imposes stiff restrictions, directs the following measures to take immediate effect on Niger Republic.
“Closure of land and air borders between ECOWAS and Niger.”Institution of ECOWAS no flight zone to all commercial flights to and fro Niger.
“Suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger.
“Freeze all service transactions including energy transactions.
“Freeze assets of Niger Republic in all ECOWAS Central banks.
“Freeze all Niger State and the state enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks.
“Suspension of Niger from all financial assistance and transactions with all financial institutions.”
“Impose travel bans on the military officials and their families involved in the coup attempt including anyone who accepts to take a position in the military government,” it adds.
However, as if that is not enough, the Nigerian Government on Wednesday cut off power supplies to Niger Republic.
Niger’s electricity company, Nigelec, noted on Wednesday that the development followed an emergency meeting by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), where sanctions, including freezing utility services, were imposed on the Niger Republic over its coup.
By and large, as the situation continued to worsen to for Niger as a result of the sanctions, defiant Niger military rulers have run to Russia for military help should ECOWAS make real their threat of military action.
Though it is not clear how deeply involved Russia will be in rescuing Niger from the looming military intervention in the country, many analysts have continued to accuse Russia of involvement in the coup.
WITHIN NIGERIA gathered that in the face of all these developments, neither the ECOWAS nor any member country has had any briefing or diplomatic interaction with the Nigerien military rulers as to why the coup actually happened.
That is why one week after the military takeover, the sub-regional bloc still see the situation in Niger as “coup attempt.” They refused to believe that change of guard had actually happened in Nigerien political structure.
Analysts have continued to argue that it is a huge diplomatic flaw on the part of both ECOWAS and Nigeria to have imposed sanctions on the junta without first of all meeting with the coup leaders.
According to some analysts, diplomatic courtesy demanded that ECOWAS and Nigeria would have followed path of peace and reconciliation by having a meeting with the military rulers, giving them ultimatum, if need be, before issuing sanctions on them.
However, when the ECOWAS delegation led by former Nigeria military Head of state, Lt. Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar (rtd) eventually went to Niamey for peace talk with the military rulers, they failed to meet with the Head of military rulers, Abdourahamane Tchiani. They left Niger without coming in physical contact with him to discuss the modalities by which the military will hand over to the civilian as promised by the coup plotters.
In any case, military intervention by the ECOWAS is no longer new in the sub region.
Previous ECOWAS military interventions in Africa
In 1990, West African leaders sent a neutral military force to Liberia to intervene in the civil war between the forces of President Samuel Doe and two rebel factions.
The unprecedented deployment of a regional force, the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), helped restore some security but the troops were complicit in a series of human rights abuses, according to Human Rights Watch.
Troop numbers peaked at around 12,000 and the last ones left Liberia in 1999, two years after former rebel leader Charles Taylor was elected president.
West African forces were deployed again at the tail end of the brutal 14-year conflict, which finished in 2003. Some 3,600 of these troops were then reassigned to a U.N. peacekeeping operation that ran until 2018.
In 1998, a Nigerian-led ECOMOG force intervened in Sierra Leone’s civil war to drive out a junta and rebel allies from the capital Freetown and reinstate President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who had been ousted in a coup a year earlier.
In 2000, the force withdrew, handing over peacekeeping operations to a U.N. mission. The decade-long war ended in 2002.
In 1999, ECOWAS sent around 600 ECOMOG troops to preserve a peace deal in coup-prone Guinea-Bissau. Rebels seized power barely three months later and the force was withdrawn.
ECOWAS deployed another mission from 2012 to 2020, after another coup, to help deter the military from intervening in politics and to protect political leaders.
It sent another contingent of 631 personnel in 2022 to help stabilize the country after a failed coup that year.
A West African force was sent to Ivory Coast in 2003 to help French troops police a shaky peace deal between rebels and loyalists that in effect split the country in two for the next eight years. In 2004, they were integrated into a U.N. peacekeeping force.
The bloc sent soldiers to Mali in 2013 as part of a mission to drive al Qaeda-linked fighters from the north. As had happened elsewhere, the force later that year handed over to a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Central and Northern Mali are now overrun by militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, whose decade-old insurgency has spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
In 2017, ECOWAS sent 7,000 troops to Gambia from neighbouring Senegal to compel President Yahya Jammeh to go into exile and cede the presidency to Adama Barrow, who had defeated him in an election.
Jammeh’s security forces offered no resistance to the mission, which was dubbed Operation Restore Democracy.
Reactions trail military options in Niger
A peacebuilding think tank, Foundation for Peace Professionals also known as PeacePro, has called on the leadership of the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS not to contemplate military intervention in Niger Republic.
PeacePro also noted that no foreign nation or organization has authority to intervene militarily in any sovereign nation over internal issues.
The Executive Director of the group, Abdulrazaq Hamzat, in a statement said it supported the strong position of African Union and ECOWAS on the restoration of democratic order in Niger Republic and all other proposed measures, except military intervention.
He warned that military intervention would turn West Africa into a battle zone between foreign powers and armed dealers.
He stated that no matter the good intentions behind it, the outcome will be catastrophic for the continent.
Hamzat also explained that, no international law permits military intervention in any country, except for peacekeeping operations and should AU and ECOWAS contemplate such intervention, foreign powers may also justify their numerous illegal operations and other future interventions through the same process.
“Military intervention in Niger Republic amounts to digging Africa’s grave and nobody digs his or her own grave,” Hamzat added.
Arewa Consultative forum
Arewa leader, Alhaji Musa Saidu has advised against military action against Niger Republic, saying it will worsen challenges of poverty in the northern part of Nigeria.
According to him, banditry had done so much damage to the economy of the north , adding that if they used the area as a base for military operation against Niger republic it would further deepen hardship in the north.
Continuing, he enjoined the Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Taoreed Lagbaja to endeavour to tackle the security challenges posed by banditry in Sokoto, Zamfara ,Nasarawa, Borno, Kaduna , Sambisa before any movement of troops to Niger republic.
Saidu also urged President Bola Tinubu and other presidents in the Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS , not to be hasty in ordering military action in Niger republic, advising Nigeria specifically that even though it will be a decision of ECOWAS, the burden of funding will fall on the federal government as the giant of Africa.
‘President Tinubu should not move against advice. Nobody should use the north as a base for war. The Chief of army staff still has much to do internally, he is yet t to crush the bandits in Kaduna, communities in Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Sambisa so that our people can go to farm, walk peacefully on our roads.
“Banditry has cut off marriage tiers among several communities in the north. There are some villages you can’t go, the villagers tell you not to come else you will be kidnapped. Most influential northerners cant go to the village for fear of bandits .Our poverty in the north is so much.
“Tinubu is a good man. He should be careful. His enemies should not mislead him. For now let us consolidate our internal security.
“Businesses, farming have all collapsed in the north because of banditry and some persons are talking of war that may affect Sokoto, Kano, Katsina and kebbi. These are likely the base for military operation.
“Kebbi students are still in the custody of kidnappers, some Chibok girls are still with the bandits
“We know the implications when military enters a place. I am a son of a soldier.”
He also appealed to the Nigeria government to consider it that Niger republic is predominantly a poor country, adding that the government should not take actions that will worsen the poverty situation.
” Disconnecting Niger from power is like an action targeted at the poor because the soldiers can have alternative source of light”.