As Heads of States of the Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS, meet in Abuja today to take a position on the military junta in Niger Republic, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, 14th Emir of Kano, yesterday met with the coup leaders in Niamey, the country’s capital.
Sanusi’s meeting with the coup leaders came as Niger’s former rebel leader launched an anti-coup movement in the first sign of internal resistance in the country.
This is even as the French government yesterday rejected accusations by Niger’s new military rulers that it freed “terrorists” and violated the country’s air space.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, under the leadership of South-South leader, Chief Edwin Clark, also kicked against the adoption of military means to force the illegal government in Niger Republic out of power.
The Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA equally advised ECOWAS against sanctions on Niger, saying dialogue would work better.
Sanusi, a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, met the military leadership after the junta aborted a meeting with representatives of the African Union, AU, ECOWAS, and a top US diplomat.
A delegation raised by ECOWAS, led by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, retd, could not broker peace with the military rulers as they declined a meeting.
But yesterday, footage of Sanusi, whose Tijjaniya sect has a large following in Niger, went into circulation.
Sanusi is the Khalifa of the sect in Nigeria.
Sanusi met the junta leaders in the company of the Sultan of Damagaran.
Damagaran is the third largest city in Niger.
It was gathered Sanusi went there to open doors for negotiation with the junta.
One of the sources said: “His Highness took the trip in his personal capacity but with the knowledge of President Bola Tinubu, following his concerns about the impasse and the likely consequences it is already having on Nigeria/Niger relations and the citizens of the two countries.”
Sanusi said he was in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, to hold mediation talks with the military leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani.
“We have spoken to the head of state, the new strongman, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, and will deliver a ‘message’ to Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu,’’ said Sanusi, adding that he is not an emissary of the government.
His message comes on the eve of a key summit by ECOWAS on resolving the latest crisis in the Sahel, which will be chaired by Tinubu.
Sanusi is known to be a close friend of Tinubu, who is a former governor of his home state of Lagos.
“We came hoping that our arrival will pave the way for real discussions between the leaders of Niger and those of Nigeria,” Sanusi said.
Tinubu meets Sanusi
Shortly after returning from Niger Republic, Sanusi met last night with President Tinubu at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He arrived the Villa at about 8:25pm immediately after a high delegation of the Nigeria Islamic Ulama met with the President.
Asked about his visit to Niger, the former Emir said, “I came to brief him on the details of my discussions with leaders of Niger.“
“We’ll continue to do our best to bring the two parties together to improve understanding. This is not the time public diplomacy is left to governments alone. All Nigerians, all Nigeriens need to be involved to find a solution that works for Africa, a solution that works for Niger, that works for Nigeria, and a solution that works for humanity.
Asked to respond to the reports that he took the initiative by himself and not government’s delegation, he said, “No, I was not sent by the government. Government officials were aware I was going, but it was my personal initiative, using my personal contacts to get there and I will continue to do my best. It is my duty as a leader to do that.”
He said that he was well received by the military juntas in Niger.
Niger ex-rebels launches anti-coup movement in first sign of internal resistance
In a related development, a former rebel leader and politician in Niger, Rhissa Ag Boula, has launched a movement opposing the junta that took power in a July 26 coup.
According to AFP, this is a first sign of internal resistance to army rule in the strategically important Sahel country.
Boula said in a statement yesterday that his new Council of Resistance for the Republic, CRR, is aimed at reinstating ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, who had been in detention at his residence since the takeover.
“Niger is the victim of a tragedy orchestrated by people charged with protecting it,” the statement said.
The launch comes as diplomatic efforts to reverse the coup appeared stalled after the junta rejected the latest diplomatic mission and the military governments of neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, which backed the armed takeover.
Mali and Burkina Faso also appealed to the United Nations to prevent any military intervention.
Niger’s coup leaders denied entry to African and UN envoys on Tuesday, resisting pressure to negotiate ahead of a summit today.
Today, ECOWAS heads of state will discuss the possible use of force.
The CRR supports ECOWAS and other international actors seeking to restore constitutional order in Niger, according to Ag Boula’s statement, which added that it would make itself available to the bloc for any practical purpose.
A CRR member said several Nigerien political figures had joined the group but could not make their allegiance public for safety reasons.
Ag Boula played a leading role in uprisings by Tuaregs, a nomadic ethnic group present in Niger’s desert north, in the 1990s and 2000s.
Like many former rebels, he was integrated into government under Bazoum and his predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou.
While the extent of support for the CRR is unclear, Ag Boula’s statement would worry the coup leaders, given his influence among Tuaregs, who control commerce and politics in much of the vast north.
Support from Tuaregs would be key to securing the junta’s control beyond Niamey’s city limits.
The UN, Western powers and democratic ECOWAS member states, such as Nigeria, want the junta to reinstate a civilian government that had been relatively successful in containing a deadly Islamist insurgency devastating the Sahel region.
Niger is the world’s seventh-largest producer of uranium, the most widely used fuel for nuclear energy, adding to its strategic importance.
France rejects Niger’s accusations over ‘terrorists’, air space
Also yesterday, the French government rejected accusations by Niger’s new military rulers that it freed “terrorists” and violated the country’s air space.
Niamey accused France of having released several jihadists, and of allowing a military plane to enter its air space.
But the French government source told AFP that the flight in question had been “authorised by and coordinated with” Niger’s armed forces.
The regime had claimed France had allowed a military plane to take off yesterday from neighbouring Chad, which then crossed into Niger, defying a ban imposed on Sunday.
France has around 1,500 troops in Niger to support the country in its fight against jihadists who swept in from Mali in 2015.
Responding to the claim that France had released jihadists in Niger, the French government source said “no terrorist has been freed by French forces”.
US ‘greatly worried’ about the health of detained Niger president
Similarly, the United States yesterday voiced concerns about the health of Niger’s detained president after Secretary of State, Antony Blinken spoke to him by telephone.
“We are greatly worried about his health and his personal safety and the personal safety of his family,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
Niger’s Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou recently said Mohamed Bazoum was being held with his wife and son without electricity or water.
Miller declined to offer details from Blinken’s call, which took place late Tuesday US time, on the condition of Bazoum, an elected Western ally who was detained during a July 26 takeover by the military.
But he said health concerns were one reason Blinken’s acting deputy, Victoria Nuland, sought unsuccessfully to see Bazoum during an unannounced visit on Monday.
“As time goes on, as he’s held in isolation, it’s a situation that is of growing concern to us,” Miller said.
Niger’s tailors rush to make Russian flags after coup
Also, Nigerien tailor, Yahaya Oumarou, carefully ran cuts of white, blue and red fabric under his sewing machine, assembling them into the three horizontal bands of Russia’s flag.
The flags have been in demand since President Mohamed Bazoum was toppled late last month in a military takeover, leading to some Russian support among crowds that celebrated the coup.
It echoes similar outpourings of pro-Russian sentiments after recent military takeovers in other West African countries, worrying Western powers who see their influence slipping in some old regional allies.
“Since the coup I have made dozens of these,” said Oumarou, who works in the country’s capital Niamey.
He said the flags of neighbouring Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali, where military takeovers have also occurred since 2020, were also popular.
Support for Russia has accompanied a rise in anti-French sentiment across West Africa.
Mali’s junta has turned its back on France since it took over in 2021, and is instead cooperating with Russian mercenaries to fight a jihadist insurgency in the Sahel.
Citizens in Burkina Faso also waved Russian flags during violent anti-France demonstrations that followed a coup in September 2022, the second in the country that year.
“I’m a fan of the Russian flag, which is why I’ve come today to buy fabrics for the tailor to make me a flag.
“Before the coup d’etat, I didn’t know the Russian flag. It’s really a fashion statement,” said Niamey resident, Okacha Abdoul-Aziz, who took part in pro-junta demonstrations when the military seized power.
Don’t adopt military means to force illegal govt out of power —SMBLF
Meanwhile, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, under the leadership of South- South leader, Chief Edwin Clark, yesterday kicked against the adoption of military means to force the illegal government in Niger Republic out of power.
Instead, the Forum asked the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, President Bola Tinubu, and other leaders in the region to put in place concerted efforts that will ensure that democracy is restored urgently in the Republic of Niger and that the new military leader, General Tchiani, and his cohorts are made to abdicate the power they seized by force.
The Forum said in a statement that it had joined other Nigerians and the rest of the world to, in very strong terms, condemn the military coup which occurred in Niger on July 26, 2023, overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Bazoum.
The statement, signed by the leader, Chief Edwin Clark; Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Afenifere leader; Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide; Dr. Pogu Bitrus, President, Middle Belt Forum and Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essien, National Chairman, PANDEF, is titled, “Why President Tinubu needs to settle the Niger question peacefully, urgently.’’
It read: “The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum has observed that for the past two weeks, the Nigerian nation and the entire global community have been confronted with the complications from the disturbing events of the unconstitutional change in government, in our neighbouring country, the Republic of Niger.
“We also note the position of the Senate who, in their response to Mr. President’s letter, likewise suggested that peaceful means should be used to settle the problem, instead of engaging in a fratricidal war.
“Perhaps, due to the very close history of the relationship and cultural links, which Nigeria shares with our northern neighbor, this subject matter is today on the front burner in our national media space and discussions among opinion leaders.
“Undoubtedly, Nigeria’s active involvement in censuring the coup and the need to bring sanity back to our neighboring country is also because President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the current chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State.
‘’The burden of resolving this crisis, which has happened around us, therefore, seems to have fallen on him.
“As leaders of four of the country’s six main socio-cultural groups, Afenifere from the South West, Ohaneze Ndigbo from the South East, PANDEF from the South-South and the Middle Belt Forum, we have also taken active steps to follow the events and also listen to the views being expressed by Nigerians, both in our parts of the country and the rest of the nation, even by people at the grassroots level.
‘’We observe that no other issue concerning Nigeria’s relations with its neighbours, and the rest of the world, had recently attracted so much interest and concern from virtually all areas.
“We, therefore, want to make suggestions, which we think the government should take seriously. We join all Nigerians, and the rest of the world, to condemn the military coup which occurred in Niger on July 26, 2023, overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Bazoum.
“This is in particular because, after many years of instability and the history of attempted and successful military coups, Mohamed Bazoum was the first president to peacefully inherit power from another democratically elected president.
“Since we know that military governments have also taken power in neighbouring countries of Mali and Burkina Faso, the addition of Niger to the list for such a breach of national constitutions, just on the other side of our border, is very uncomfortable and definitely cannot be allowed to stand.
“It is, therefore, necessary that concerted efforts should be put in place to ensure that democracy is restored urgently in the Republic of Niger and that the new military leader, Tchiani, and his cohorts, are made to abdicate the power, which they seized by force.
“Nonetheless, as important as the restoration of democracy is to Nigeria, ECOWAS, and the global community, we advise President Tinubu to realize that his primary responsibility is to the peace and security of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, all actions of our government should, therefore, focus on how Nigeria can play its roles and obligations without getting stuck in the crisis in Niger.
“This is why we commend the President for making moves to follow up negotiations and political contacts, using the former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the Sultan of Sokoto.
“This process should be accelerated, using other sources both within Nigeria and our neighbouring countries that can be of benefit to the cause.
“The information available to us shows that there are other personalities in Nigeria and international figures who can also be used to intervene in the matter.
“It is, therefore, necessary that concerted efforts be put in place to ensure that democracy is restored urgently in the Republic of Niger and that the new military leader, Tchiani, and his cohorts, are made to abdicate the power, which they seized by force.
‘’From our judgment, such a move will be resisted sternly by forces both within Niger and Nigeria. It is important to note that several of our Nigerian communities in the extreme north do not see Niger as mere neighbours but enjoy a lot of traditional and cultural ties. In those border areas, there is no difference between a Nigerian and a Nigerien.
“There are tenable concerns that if war comes, normal lives will be disrupted in the border communities, insecurity will increase, and there will be an influx of refugees.
“From our previous experience of wars, in Chad, such refugees do not stop at the border areas but penetrated the farthermost points in Nigeria and became a source of concern to all of us.
“Back in Niger, the people seem to perceive the military government as liberators due to the state of poverty and hunger. ECOWAS intervention, even if supported could, therefore, be highly resisted all across the country.
“We have also read very disturbing reports that the equally unconstitutionally existing governments in their neighbouring countries, Mali and Burkina Faso, and those in other places, within the area, may combine to resist the ECOWAS efforts in their self-interest.
“Lastly, it is known by all that Niger, unlike most other countries, has a lot of foreign interests.
We have seen the American military bases, the French military bases, and the Italian military bases and reports of Russian and Chinese presence in their various forms are being brought up by the media.
“If care is not taken, therefore, that situation may become the centre for another seeming global war similar to what is happening in Ukraine.
“That is why as leaders of the various socio-cultural ethnic groups in Nigeria, we strongly advise the President and Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads to State to explore all avenues for a peaceful resolution.
‘’This matter is delicate and could affect our country’s unity and, security, and put a heavy financial burden on us, at a time our national challenges are more than can be imagined.
“We hope the President will carefully continue to take heed on doing what will not create additional problems for the country and take the best decisions, in line with our national interest.
“We also urge our brothers and sisters in the border states to cooperate with the President in resolving this matter peacefully, amicably, and urgently.”
Islamic council advises ECOWAS against sanctions on Niger, says dialogue’ll work
Also reacting to the Niger situation, the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, said the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS on Niger Republic would not yield positive results.
In a statement yesterday, the NSCIA, led by Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar 111, the Sultan of Sokoto, said the sanctions would yield little results.
“It is well known that such kinds of economic sanctions are counter-productive and eventually end in futility,” Salisu Shehu, the NSCIA deputy secretary-general, who signed the statement, said.
The NSCIA also stated its opposition to the use of force in dislodging the military leaders who toppled Bazoum.
The Islamic council acknowledged that the coup leaders were defiant in their stance but called for dialogue in dealing with them.
The Sultan of Sokoto had been part of an ECOWAS delegation to Niger, led by Abdulsalami Abubakar, former military head of state, to negotiate with the country’s military junta.
The meeting was unproductive as the junta declined entreaties by the delegation.
Also reacting to the crisis, the Reunion of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa, RECOWA, urged the Authority of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government to refrain from military intervention in Niger.
This plea comes in the wake of the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Mohammed Bazoum.
RECOWA’s entreaty, captured in a two-page letter, followed the ECOWAS Authority’s resolve to deploy all means necessary, even force, to restore Niger’s constitutional regime.
“We affirm that any military intervention in Niger at this time would complicate the situation of the people of Niger and the sub-region more than it would provide solutions,” read the letter, signed by the President of RECOWA and Bishop of Agboville, Most Rev. Alexis Touabli Youlo.
It was addressed to the ECOWAS President, Heads of State, and the transitional authorities in Niger.
The Catholic Bishops called on leaders to prioritize dialogue and reconciliation over military action, citing previous disastrous consequences of such interventions.
“We are deeply concerned by the sub-regional tension linked to the political situation in Niger. Faced with the events currently unfolding in the sub-region, the lives of the people of West Africa are at stake,” read the letter.
Drawing from the tragic events that unfolded, following military intervention in Libya in 2011, RECOWA urged the West African leaders to learn from the past.
The consequences, they noted, were disastrous for people’s lives, dignity, and future.
“We cannot remain silent in the face of such situations and must learn lessons to ensure that such events do not happen again, particularly with Niger as a potential epicentre of a similar crisis,” the bishops warned.
They stressed that no interest should take precedence over the preservation of life, human dignity, and the well-being of future generations in West Africa and beyond.
The Bishops challenged national, sub-regional, and international organizations to play a positive role in easing tensions and promoting lasting peace.
“We call on the sub-regional leaders to respond decisively to this call for restraint, discernment and responsibility, but work together to build a future of peace and prosperity for the West Africa region and Africa as a whole,” they stated.