Sunday, 3rd December 2023

Niger: Long road to peace as ECOWAS, coup leaders maintain positions

By Tope Templer Olaiya (News Editor), Yetunde Ayobami Ojo, Ngozi Egenuka, Adelowo Adebumiti (Lagos), Terhemba Daka, Sodiq Omolaoye and Ameh Ochojila (Abuja)
10 August 2023   |   4:37 am
As leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) meet today in Abuja for their emergency summit on the way forward after a strident opposition to their resort to military force to restore democracy in Niger Republic...

Sanusi also met with leader of Niger Republic military junta, General Tchiani, yesterday.

• Niger ex-rebel leader launches anti-coup movement • Former Emir of Kano meets coup leaders day after botched AU, UN visit
• Holds crucial meeting with Tinubu after Niger visit • Nigerien Islamic Ulama receive Tinubu’s nod to intervene on behalf of ECOWAS
• Bazoum running low on food under house arrest • W’Africa Catholic bishops, Nigeria’s Islamic council reject military intervention
• NGE calls for strategic engagement, diplomacy • Group drags Tinubu, ECOWAS to court to stop Niger invasion

As leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) meet today in Abuja for their emergency summit on the way forward after a strident opposition to their resort to military force to restore democracy in Niger Republic, hopes for a diplomatic resolution to the political conflict appear to be fading.

It’s been exactly two weeks since soldiers seized power, claiming they could do a better job at protecting the nation from jihadi violence. Groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have ravaged the Sahel region, a vast expanse south of the Sahara Desert that includes part of Niger.
ECOWAS equally maintained that its preference is to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff, but has not ruled out using force to restore constitutional order and bring Bazoum’s government back to power.
However, on both sides of the divide, intense pressure is being applied between forces seeking to reset the country to constitutional democracy and those pushing the buttons to halt ECOWAS’ threat of invasion, just as the coup leaders go into overdrive to cement their positions amid fresh internal anti-coup movement gathering pace.
A day after refusing a delegation of African Union (AU), United Nations (UN), ECOWAS and United States entry into the capital Niamey over what it cited as security reasons, the former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, yesterday met with leaders of the military junta in Niger.
In a video in circulation, Sanusi was seen in company of the Sultan of Damagaram during a visit to the coup leader, Abdourahmane Tchiani. Last week, a delegation by President Bola Tinubu, led by former head of state, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd.), was rebuffed and their mediation efforts stalled.
Damagaram is the third largest city in Niger. The military junta had turned down entreaties from the AU in a bid to resist pressure to negotiate before today’s summit in Abuja at which ECOWAS heads of state will discuss the possible use of force. It also refused to yield to the demand of ECOWAS on the reinstatement of the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum.

Last night, Sanusi visited President Tinubu at the Presidential Villa, Abuja after his visit to Niger. Sanusi arrived the Presidential Villa at about 8:25pm immediately after a high delegation of the Nigeria Islamic Ulamas met with the President.

Ahead of today’s ECOWAS meeting, President Tinubu, yesterday continued with series of consultations aimed at resolving the political crisis in Niger.
On Wednesday evening, President Tinubu met with leaders of various Islamic sects in the country, who had sought his approval to intervene and negotiate with their counterparts in Niger Republic. 

Just as the meeting with the Islamic Ulama was ending, the former Emir of Kano, Muhammed Sanusi, also walked into the Presidential Villa to hold another round of meeting with President Tinubu. Sanusi had earlier met with the leaders of the junta in Niamey.

Earlier in the day, the President met with a larger set of Islamic scholars at the Villa on the same matter. The clerics (Ulamas), who are opposed to war with the Nigerien military, as threatened by the ECOWAS, said that apart from the dire consequences of armed conflict, they are enjoined by their religious faith and the Quran to seek mediation first in cases like this before resorting to war.

Sheikh Bala Lau of Izalla group and Sheikh Abdurahman Ahmad of Ansar ud Deen, flanked by leaders of other sects, addressed newsmen after their meeting with President Tinubu.

Sheikh Lau said, “we thank Allah that He gave us the opportunity to meet with Mr. President and the delegation of Ulama from here in Nigeria met with Mr. President on the issue of Niger. We want to find a lasting solution, we want peace and harmony to reign, not only in Nigeria, but in the sub-Saharan region and in globe as well.

“The Ulama advised Mr. President that we want peace and reconciliation. If anything happens between you and your neighbour, the holy Quran commands you to reconcile, so we want reconciliation.” 
Also, yesterday, a former rebel leader and politician in Niger, Rhissa Ag Boula, launched a movement opposing the military government that took power on July 26, a first sign of internal resistance to army rule in the strategically important Sahel country.
In a statement, Ag Boula said his new Council of Resistance for the Republic (CRR) aims to reinstate overthrown Bazoum, who has 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. Ag Boula’s statement said it supports ECOWAS and any other international actors seeking to restore constitutional order in Niger, adding that it would make itself available to the bloc for any useful purpose.
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 will worry the coup leaders given his influence among Tuaregs who control commerce and politics in much of the vast north.
This is as an advisor told The Associated Press yesterday that Niger’s deposed president is running out of food and experiencing other increasingly dire conditions two weeks after he was ousted in a military coup and put under house arrest.
Bazoum has been held at the presidential palace in Niamey with his wife and son since mutinous soldiers moved against him on July 26. The family is living without electricity and only has rice and canned goods left to eat, the advisor said.

Many Nigeriens have also been living without electricity for nearly two weeks now as Nigeria, which supplies much of Niger’s electricity, cut off the power in response to the coup.
Bazoum remains in good health for now and will never resign, according to the advisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the sensitive situation with the media.
Bazoum’s political party issued a statement confirming the president’s living conditions and said the family also was without running water. Also, in a series of text messages to a friend, Bazoum said he has been “deprived of all human contact” since Friday, with no one supplying him food or medicine, adding that he is being kept isolated and forced to eat dry rice and pasta.
Bazoum’s messages were given to CNN with the ousted president’s consent. All of the perishable food he was supplied with has since gone bad, and he is now eating dry pasta and rice.
Despite his isolation, Bazoum has been in contact with the outside world. Though denied the chance to speak with acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, during her visit to Niamey, on Monday, Bazoum spoke by phone with her boss, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a day later, where he “emphasised that the safety and security of Bazoum and his family are paramount.”

ON the home-front, the voices of opposition to ECOWAS use of force continued yesterday. The Catholic Bishops of West Africa have urged the ECOWAS Heads of State to restrain from the use of force to restore the constitutional government in Niger.
The Bishops, under the auspices of the Reunion of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA), which comprises all Catholic cardinals, archbishops, and bishops in West Africa, also urged the sub-regional leaders to learn from the 2011 Libyan experience, describing it as a tragic example of the disastrous consequences for people’s lives, dignity, and future.
In a letter, signed by the President of RECOWA and Bishop of Agboville, Most Rev. Alexis Touabli Youlo, and addressed to the President of ECOWAS, Heads of State ECOWAS, and the Transitional Authorities in Niger, they expressed their concerns and called for dialogue and reconciliation rather than belligerence and military response.
The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) has further cautioned against the use of military power toward tackling the military coup in Niger, calling for diplomatic options to address the situation.
The council, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, who was part of the ECOWAS delegation to Niger last week, also said the economic sanctions melted on Niger were counterproductive and will eventually end in futility.
NSCIA in a statement by its Deputy Secretary-General, Prof. Salisu Shehu, said the economic sanctions have socio-economic negative implications for both Nigerians and Nigeriens, especially “as we share a common history and border.”
It, therefore, cautioned President Tinubu to tread the path of dialogue rather than resorting to violence. The statement stated: “While Nigeria spearheads the imposition and heaping of sanctions on Niger, it should be reminded of the thousands of Nigerian refugees to whom Niger provided succour and safe abode for several years now.

“This is undoubtedly an act of good neighbourliness, rare hospitality and kindness that should not be reciprocated with measures that would cause disaffection, breed hate and hostility and aggravate the sufferings of the downtrodden people across both sides of the borders.
“While it is understandable that the leadership of both ECOWAS and Nigeria must preserve and protect democracy by discouraging forceful take-over of power through military coup d’état, the NSCIA strongly implores the Federal Government of Nigeria and by extension the leadership of ECOWAS to continue to tread the path of dialogue rather than resorting to violence.
“This is because violence does more harm than the intended good in any circumstance. Should violence break out in Niger, it is the helpless and hapless masses, who have already been devastated and impoverished by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world economy, that would pay the very costly price, not the coup plotters.
Also, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has advised President Tinubu to persuade the sub-regional body to adopt diplomatic channels in handling the Niger crisis.
Although the professional body of editors in Nigeria noted that military intervention is now regarded as an aberration around the world, it nevertheless urged ECOWAS to employ “strategic engagement and diplomacy” in ensuring that democratic structures are restored in the country.
The NGE also observed that the hike in pump price of petrol has taken its toll on Nigerians, who have been facing hard times due to the astronomical rise in transportation costs, food items and other goods.
These were contained in a communiqué signed by the NGE President, Eze Anaba and the General Secretary, Dr Iyobosa Uwugiaren, at the end of the editors’ Standing Committee Meeting in Lagos, during the week.

ALREADY, an international civil rights group, Egalitarian Mission for Africa (EMA), has instituted a suit against ECOWAS to the bloc’s court over the proposed military intervention in Niger. The group, in the suit, wants the regional court to invoke relevant ECOWAS treaties and international laws to stop the military invasion of Niger.
The suit, delineated ECW/CCJ/APP/3/23, was filed on its behalf by a Nigerian lawyer, Kayode Ajulo, saying ECOWAS treaties prohibit aggression among member states.
In the suit, aside EMA, other plaintiffs are a former Director General of the Nigerian Institute of the Internal Affairs (NIIA), Prof. Bola Akinterinwa and Hamza Dantani, a Nigerian lawyer based in the North.
The defendants in the suit are ECOWAS, Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, President of ECOWAS Mission, Federal Republic of Nigeria and Republic of Niger.
The group is praying the court to invoke ECOWAS protocols to stop the planned military action against Niger. Noted that any military intervention in Niger would be tantamount to aggression between ECOWAS member states.
The group said the planned military action or invasion would run foul of the obligations in the ECOWAS treaties and therefore amounting to illegality, adding that the military intervention would specifically violate Articles 1, 5, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22 and 24 of the African charter on human and peoples’ rights and others.
According to him, Article 22(2) of the protocol on the community court of justice mandates that when a dispute is brought before the court, member states shall refrain from any action likely to militate against its settlement. No date has been fixed for hearing in the suit.
Meanwhile, ahead of the ECOWAS meeting today, Lagos-based human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has called on the ECOWAS leaders to put an end to unconstitutional change of government in the region.

He urged the bloc to limit the tenure of elected presidents to two terms and halt the control of natural resources by imperialist forces. He said it is common knowledge that the immediate and remote cause of unconstitutional change of governments is the manipulation of constitutions and referenda by elected governments to extend the tenure of presidents.
Falana further stated that the new Chairman of ECOWAS, President Tinubu, should ensure that the amendment of the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance to limit the tenure of presidents is passed forthwith, while sanctions are imposed on democratically elected presidents who engage in amendment of the national constitutions to extend their tenure beyond two terms.
Falana, who is also the Chair, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), said another reason for change of governments in West Africa is the contempt of African leaders for rule of law and human rights.
He, therefore, called on ECOWAS leaders to comply with all subsisting judgments of the ECOWAS court. He also stated that the authority of the Heads of State and Government should jettison the military option and impose more sanctions with a view to isolating the military junta in Niger.
“The demand for the restoration of constitutional order in Niger must address the exploitation of uranium by France and the United States. It is unacceptable for Niger, the fourth largest producer of uranium to remain one of the poorest countries in the world,” he added.