President Bola Tinubu on Tuesday said the biting sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States on the Niger junta would not be lifted despite the military leaders’ promise to negotiate with the regional bloc to resolve the crisis in the francophone country.
Tinubu, who stated this when he received the Special Envoy of President Ali Ondimba and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Gabon, Hermann Immongault, at the State House in Abuja, insisted that military takeover of government was no longer acceptable in Africa.
However, the junta led by Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani, has demanded restoration of electricity cut off by the Federal Government as part of the embargoes slammed on the coupists following the overthrow of President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.
Tchiani, who made the request during their meeting with the Ulamas from Nigeria in Niamey on Saturday, said they were outraged that the regional bloc did not hear from them before slamming several embargoes on them, including the threat of military intervention to restore democracy.
But Tinubu, who is the ECOWAS chairman, told his visitors on Tuesday that any interference in democratic governance would not be accepted by the leadership of the regional body.
The President also praised the solidarity of the Economic Community of Central African States on the political impasse in the Republic of Niger, according to a statement released by the Presidential Spokesperson, Ajuri Ngelale.
The President said the special message of support and solidarity from President Bongo, who doubles as the Chairman of ECCAS, expressing the full support for ECOWAS resolutions on the unconstitutional takeover of government in Niger, proved once more that military interference in democratic governance was not acceptable anywhere, and certainly, no longer so on the African continent.
“I appreciate the solidarity and support of President Bongo on the situation in Niger. We are working not to compound the problem. We have well-meaning people who have intervened.
“I understand the fear of our people on any form of military action. We are working to keep the sanctions in place and we are following them to the letter.
“We are happy to know that ECCAS is with us on this. Interference in democratic governance is not acceptable to ECOWAS,” Tinubu stated.
Tinubu opposes coups
Tinubu reinforced the position of the regional body not to accept any attempt by the military junta in Niger to intimidate and harass Bazoum who is in custody.
“We will work with ECCAS and keep President Bongo informed on our actions and we will continue to collaborate,” the President assured.
In his remarks, the Special Envoy commended the leadership of ECOWAS and Tinubu for the steps taken so far to restore democracy in Niger, adding that Bongo and ECCAS are fully in support of all ECOWAS resolutions.
“President Bongo has been following your efforts and those of other ECOWAS leaders on the situation in Niger. President Bongo and ECCAS strongly condemn the coup in Niger.
“He sent me here to tell you that he supports ECOWAS and your leadership in what you are doing to ensure democratic governance is restored in Niger. With Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and the refugee situation in Chad, whatever happens in West Africa affects Central Africa. My President joins efforts with you and ECOWAS to find a solution to the crisis in ECOWAS,” he said.
The Special Envoy noted that he will communicate the firm solidarity between ECCAS and ECOWAS to the military authorities in Niger as they meet in the coming days.
Disclosing the demands of the junta, a member of the delegation to Niger and Secretary General, Jammatul Nasril Islam, Prof. Abubakar Aliyu told The PUNCH that the military leaders demanded the restoration of power supply to their embattled country.
“Part of their demands is to have the opportunity to state their own side of the story and that they should restore electricity; and that they are ready to meet the ECOWAS leaders at any place they consider good for negotiation,’’ he explained.
In compliance with the ECOWAS directive to activate the bloc’s standby force in preparation for deployment to Niger, West African military chiefs will meet in Accra, Ghana this week to discuss possible intervention in Niger.
Defence chiefs meet
According to Reuters, the meeting billed for Thursday and Friday was originally scheduled for last weekend but was postponed for ‘’technical reasons.’’
The military chiefs’ meeting will be taking place despite the junta’s disposition to dialogue to resolve the crisis.
This is also against the backdrop of the talks being hosted by the African Union which began on Monday in Addis Ababa, bringing together representatives from the regime and ECOWAS.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a “peaceful political and diplomatic” resolution to the crisis in a phone call with Mali’s junta leader, Assimi Goita, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
Mali has cemented an alliance with Moscow since its coup in 2020, acquiring Russian planes and helicopters and bringing in paramilitaries that the West says are Wagner mercenaries.
Putin spoke to Mali’s military leader about the recent coup in Niger on Tuesday, a call likely to cause concern among Western governments that fear growing Russian influence in West Africa’s Sahel region.
Putin “stressed the importance of a peaceful resolution of the situation for a more stable Sahel,” Mali’s interim President Assimi Goita said on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
The Kremlin said in a statement that the call was initiated by Mali.
“The parties specifically focused on the current situation in the Sahara-Sahel region and emphasised, in particular, the importance of settling the situation in the Republic of Niger solely through peaceful political and diplomatic means,” it said.
Niger has strategic significance for the United States, China, Europe and Russia due to its uranium and oil resources and its role as a hub for foreign forces fighting a regional Islamist insurgency.
Western powers and democratic African governments have called for the coup leaders to reinstate the ousted President who they have detained since July 26, but the junta has refused and rejected attempts at negotiation.
Putin had called for a return to constitutional order in Niger, while Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin welcomed the army takeover and offered his services.
Support for Russia has appeared to surge in Niger since the coup, with junta supporters waving Russian flags at rallies and calling for France to disengage.
Niger’s coup leaders have revoked a raft of military agreements with France, although Paris shrugged this off by saying that it did not recognise them as legitimate authorities.