Sunday, 10th December 2023

Niger: Military option open as Tinubu orders more sanctions against individuals, entities

By Tope Templer Olaiya (News Editor), Terhemba Daka (Abuja) and Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna)
09 August 2023   |   3:18 am
• Niger’s military junta appoints ex-Economy Minister as new PM • Says it cannot receive ECOWAS delegation for security reasons • Mali warns of catastrophe if ECOWAS intervenes in Niger • No headway as U.S. envoy meets coup leaders, denied access to Bazoum • Blinken: Wagner taking advantage of instability • ACF urges ECOWAS to…

ECOWAS leaders

• Niger’s military junta appoints ex-Economy Minister as new PM
• Says it cannot receive ECOWAS delegation for security reasons
• Mali warns of catastrophe if ECOWAS intervenes in Niger
• No headway as U.S. envoy meets coup leaders, denied access to Bazoum
• Blinken: Wagner taking advantage of instability
• ACF urges ECOWAS to lift sanctions, commends Senate’s opposition of military action

Ahead of tomorrow’s emergency meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) seeking to restore the ousted President of Niger Republic, Mohamed Bazoum, President Bola Tinubu, serving as ECOWAS chairman, has ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to initiate a slew of financial sanctions targeted at individuals and entities associated with the junta that recently sacked the democratic order in Niger.

This is just as the Presidency yesterday declared that “the ECOWAS mandate and ultimatum is not a Nigerian ultimatum.”

The Special Adviser to the president on media and publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, while refraining from divulging details of the new sanctions, maintained that they are being instituted under the authority of the ECOWAS, adding that ECOWAS had not taken off the option of military action in Niger and would discuss its options at Thursday’s meeting in Abuja.

He said: “I emphasize that this is not an individual action. This is an action taken, yes, by ECOWAS chairman who is the president of Nigeria, but standing on the authority provided by the consensus resolution of all ECOWAS members and heads of state with regard to financial sanctions being levied by ECOWAS Member States against the military junta in Niger.”

Meanwhile, Abdourahmane Tchiani, Niger’s self-declared head of state, has named Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, former minister of economy and finance, as the country’s new prime minister. Zeine’s appointment, which was announced in a statement on Monday night, comes nearly two weeks after the military took over power in Niger.

The new prime minister had served in the cabinet of then-president Mamadou Tandja, who was toppled by the country’s military in 2010. He replaced Mahamadou Ouhoumoudou, who was in Europe during the coup.

The junta also appointed Amadou Didilli as the head of the country’s High Authority for Peace Consolidation (HACP) and Abou Tague Mahamadou as the inspector-general of the army and the national gendarmerie.

Ibro Amadou Bachirou was appointed as the private chief of staff of the junta leader, while Habibou Assoumane was named the commander of the presidential guard. Tchiani, until his new role as head of state, had led the presidential guard, which has held democratically elected President Bazoum hostage since July 26.

The coup leaders have told ECOWAS that they cannot receive a proposed mission to Niamey, Niger’s capital, for ‘security’ reasons, according to an official letter seen yesterday.

Coup leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani (middle) receiving cheers from supporters as thousands gather in Niger’s capital to say NO to foreign intervention aimed at toppling the country’s new military junta…yesterday.

“The current context of public anger and revolt following the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS does not permit the welcoming of this delegation in the required conditions of serenity and security,” the foreign ministry said in a letter to the ECOWAS representation in Niamey.

The bloc, whose ultimatum to reinstate Bazoum or face the use of force, expired on Sunday, had sought to send a delegation to Niamey on Tuesday ahead of a crisis summit on Thursday in Abuja.

The coup leaders’ letter said: “The postponement of the announced mission to Niamey is necessary, as is the reworking of certain aspects of the (delegation’s) schedule. The schedule includes meetings with certain personalities, which cannot take place for obvious reasons of security given the atmosphere of the threat of aggression against Niger”.

Also, Mali’s head of diplomacy has warned that a military intervention in Niger by ECOWAS to restore the ousted president could be a “catastrophe”. Neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, both run by juntas, have expressed their opposition to any use of force against the coup leaders.

Malian Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, said: “The military force that has been used in other countries, we see the results — it’s a disaster.” He was speaking alongside his Burkinabe counterpart, Olivia Rouamba, during an event aimed at deepening bilateral relations between the two juntas.

Diop invoked Iraq and Libya as examples of countries that had been invaded in the name of democracy with unsuccessful outcomes.

He said he “could not understand why ECOWAS would send a military force to restore fallen authorities, but would not provide arms to help the Sahel countries in their fight against jihadism.”

There was no immediate headway in reversing the coup after the second-highest U.S. diplomat met with Niger’s military leaders on Monday. Victoria Nuland, the acting deputy secretary of state, said she met for more than two hours with Niger’s senior military leaders in the capital Niamey.

Nuland said: “These conversations were extremely frank and at times quite difficult. This was a first conversation in which the United States was offering its good offices if there is a desire on the part of the people who are responsible for this to return to the constitutional order. I would not say that we were in any way taken up on that offer.”

She said the junta did not respond to her requests to meet Niger’s self-proclaimed new leader, General Tchiani, or the detained elected president, Bazoum, although U.S. officials have been in touch with Bazoum by telephone.

Nuland said that she gave a number of options on ways to reverse the coup. She said she also made clear the consequences for relations with the United States if Niger does not restore Bazoum or follows the path of neighbouring Mali in calling in Russia’s Wagner mercenaries.

Some of the consequences include the potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and security support for Niger, and the U.S. decision to pause certain assistance for the government.

“I hope they will keep the door open to diplomacy. We made that proposal. We’ll see. The people who have taken this action understand very well the risks to their sovereignty when Wagner is invited in,” she said.

Corroborating Nuland, U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said Russia’s Wagner mercenary group is taking advantage of instability in Niger. According to him, there have been suggestions the coup leaders have asked for help from Wagner, who is known to be present in Mali.

Blinken said he did not think Russia or Wagner instigated Niger’s coup. “However, the U.S. was worried about the group possibly manifesting itself in parts of the Sahel region,” he said.

Wagner is believed to have thousands of fighters in countries including the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, where it has lucrative business interests, but also bolsters Russia’s diplomatic and economic relations. The group’s fighters have been accused of widespread human rights abuses in several African countries and whose brutal terrorism has been on full display in Ukraine.

The prominent Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel, Grey Zone, on Monday had said that some 1,500 of its fighters had been sent to Africa. It did not specify where on the continent they had allegedly been deployed.

Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has also urged the junta to “give us a call” in a voice message uploaded to Telegram on Tuesday.

Chief of Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin — shows Yevgeny Prigozhin (Photo by Handout / TELEGRAM/ @concordgroup_official / AFP) /

“We are always on the side of the good, on the side of justice, and on the side of those who fight for their sovereignty and for the rights of their people,” he said.

Meanwhile, Arewa leaders, under the umbrella of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) have called for the lifting of economic sanctions imposed against Niger by ECOWAS, just as they commended the Nigerian Senate for rejecting the use of military action against the junta.

The socio-cultural group in the North also sought for more dialogue with the military junta to prevent a further breakdown of talks following the expiration of the one-week deadline earlier given to the regime to restore democratic rule in the country.

In a statement by the ACF National Publicity Secretary, Prof. Tukur Muhammad-Baba, yesterday, the group said: “We at the ACF would like to reiterate our condemnation of the coup and demand that the personal safety of President Bazoum and members of his government be guaranteed by the coup leaders.”

He remarked that “Nigeria and Niger have had brotherly relations over the years and the ACF, upon reviewing the latest political impasse, economic sanctions and expiration of the one-week deadline given to the military junta in Niger, has concluded that dialogue remains the best option to avoid a catastrophic occurrence of events between the two nations and the West African sub-region.

“We should utilise all available goodwill, diplomatic, political, economic and human assets to win back the confidence of the people of Niger, who have, historically, come to regard Nigeria as a Big Brother.”