· Senior security officials criticise Senate for undermining FG’s diplomacy
· Regional body quiet as deadline for reinstatement of Bazoum passes
· Foreign affairs experts insist use of force unpopular
· Eight leading groups caution against sanctions, invasion
By Deji Elumoye, Kingsley Nwezeh, Michael Olugbode, Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja, and John Shiklam in Kaduna
President Bola Tinubu, last night, met with governors of five Nigerian states sharing boundary with Niger Republic at State House, Abuja, to consider options in the bid to restore democratic governance in the troubled republic.
The meeting, held at the expiration of the one week ultimatum handed the Nigerien coup plotters by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), presidency sources said, was part of further consultations by the Tinubu administration on the political situation in Niger.
However, senior security officials, who spoke to THISDAY yesterday, criticised the senate for undermining Tinubu’s diplomacy by not supporting military action in Niger.
One of the officials, who pleaded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, declared, “By their resolution kicking against military action to restore democratic governance, they tied the president’s hands with their opposition to his request. Luckily, the law does not require him to go to National Assembly before going to war. He can go to war and inform them later. So as things stand at the moment, all options are on the table.”
Despite the setback suffered by the president at the senate, ECOWAS’ Chiefs of Defence Staff, after a three-day meeting at the weekend, announced that a military action plan for the restoration of democracy in Niger Republic was ready and awaiting the approval of the heads of states and government.
Curiously, ECOWAS remained unusually quiet as the one week ultimatum handed the Niger junta expired, with many people, both home and away, wondering if the regional body would still go ahead to activate military action, as it initially threatened.
But some foreign affairs experts, including Mr Joe Keshi and Paul Ejime, yesterday, maintained that the planned invasion of Niger Republic, to be spearheaded by the Nigerian-led coalition, remained unpopular. They urged the key players in the ECOWAS plan to have a rethink.
At the same time, eight leading civil society organisations in the northern part of Nigeria, yesterday, cautioned the ECOWAS leadership against economic sanctions and military action in the effort to fix the political impasse in Niger Republic.
The governors in attendance at the meeting with Tinubu were Ahmed Aliyu (Sokoto), Umar Namadi (Jigawa), Mai Malam Buni (Yobe), Idris Nasir (Kebbi), and Dr Dikko Radda (Katsina).
The meeting came more than 24 hours after the Nigerian Senate turned down the request by Tinubu for permission to use military might against the coupists in Niger Republic.
Tinubu had, through a letter to the senate, asked for approval for military action as agreed by ECOWAS. But the senate, in rejecting the request, asked the president, who is also Chairman of regional body, and other leaders in the region to tread with caution in addressing the political quagmire in Niger.
Rising Saturday from a closed-door session to discuss the letter written to the senate on Friday by Tinubu on the decisions taken by the regional body, which lasted about two hours, the senate asked ECOWAS and its leaders to strengthen political and diplomatic options and other means with a view to resolving the political crisis in Niger Republic.
THISDAY gathered that the meeting, held at the Glass House temporary residence of Tinubu at State House, Abuja, was convened to get input from the northern governors as the seven-day ultimatum for a military action in Niger expired Sunday.
ECOWAS Heads of State and Government had last Sunday given the ultimatum to the military junta that sacked the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum.
President of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), Abdourahamane Tchiani, took over after Bazoum was overthrown on July 26, and had since been detained with his family.
The ECOWAS Heads State and Government chaired by Tinubu, at a meeting in Abuja, issued a seven-day ultimatum to the junta in Niger to reinstate Bazoum as democratically elected president or face a range of stiff sanctions, including military action.
The extraordinary session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, in its resolution, recognised Bazoum as the legitimate president of that country.
The regional body also threatened to impose land border closures and no-fly zone conditions on Niger Republic, should the military coup masterminds fail to heed its ultimatum.
It also tasked all Chiefs of Defence Staff of the member-states to hold an emergency meeting to strategise on effective ways to implement a possible military operation to restore constitutional order in Niger.
According to President of the ECOWAS Commission, Omar Touray, who read the communiqué, the body “calls for the immediate release and reinstatement of President Mohamed Bazoum as President and Head of State of the Republic of Niger and for the full restoration of constitutional order in the Republic of Niger.
“Reject any form of resignation that may purportedly come from His Excellency, President Mohamed Bazoum; considered the illegal detention of President Bazoum as a hostage situation and hold the authors of the attempted coup that are solely and fully responsible for the safety and security of His Excellency President Mohammed Bazoum, as well as members of his family and government.
“In the event the Authority’s demands are not met within one week, take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Nigeria. Suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS Member States and Asia. Freeze all service transactions including energy transactions.
“Freeze assets of the Republic of Niger in Aqua Central Bank. Freeze of assets of the Niger State and the state enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks. Suspension of measure from all financial assistance and transactions with all financial institutions, particularly EBID.”
With Military Plan Now Ready, Will ECOWAS Deploy?
As the deadline given to the Nigerien junta by the President Bola Tinubu-led ECOWAS expired yesterday, there were indications that the coupists were under intense pressure to relinquish power to avoid an impending military action.
The seven-day ultimatum issued by the regional bloc on July 30 expired yesterday’s evening.
Unfortunately, with the rejection of the request by Tinubu to deploy troops to Niger by the senate, which preferred, instead, further diplomatic engagement with the junta, the planned military action appeared unrealistic without the support of the legislature.
But at the end of the three-day meeting of Chiefs of Defence Staff of ECOWAS, weekend, the military chiefs announced that a military action plan for the restoration of democracy in Niger Republic was ready and awaiting the approval of heads of state and government.
This came as Acting Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Bashir Adeniyi, weekend, put officers and men of the service manning the Benin Republic, Cameron and other borders on red alert following the Nigeria-Niger border closure.
Adeniyi said implementation of the Nigeria-Niger border closure “is 100 percent”.
The military chiefs said the plan, including the date and time of deployment, was before ECOWAS leaders.
The regional bloc had vowed to end coup contagion in West Africa.
Speaking at the end of the three-day meeting of the defence chiefs at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security of ECOWAS Commission, Ambassador Abdel-Fatau Musah, said the defence chiefs met and came up with a plan to ensure constitutional order in Niger and the release of the deposed Bazoun.
Musah stated, “The Chiefs of Defence Staff of ECOWAS have met and come out with a plan to ensure constitutional order and to release the president. The timing, resources included, the how, where and when we can deploy.
“When and where we are going to strike is in the hands of the heads of state as commanders-in-chief of these operations.”
He added that the regional bloc aligned with Tinubu’s position that military coups in Africa were an aberration.
He said the regional organisation, in its determination to utilise diplomatic channels to restore democracy in that country, sent delegations to Algeria and Libya, who were not members of ECOWAS, to intimate them on efforts to restore peace on Niger.
Musah said, “Military action is a last resort. We are giving the junta every opportunity through diplomacy to have a rethink after which we will resort to military action. I appeal to the junta in Niger to give peace a chance. We want to send that message clearly to all of them.”
In his remarks, Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Christopher Musa, said the military chiefs reached a collective decision.
Musa said, “Throughout our discussions, we have collectively recognised the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for a well-coordinated response. The deliberations have been marked by a spirit of unity, cooperation and determination to address the challenges at hand.
“We have examined the immediate implications of the coup on the Niger Republic and its potential ripple effects across the ECOWAS region. We have also deliberated on the broader implications for democracy, peace, and stability in West Africa.”
The defence chief said discussions yielded valuable insights and actionable recommendations.
He stated, “We have acknowledged the need for a comprehensive approach that encompasses political, security, and diplomatic dimensions. It is imperative that we translate our deliberations into concrete actions that can effectively address the crisis and prevent a recurrence in the future.
“Firstly, we must emphasise the importance of upholding democratic principles and the rule of law. The coup in the Niger Republic represents a blatant disregard for these fundamental principles that underpin our regional integration and stability. We must unequivocally condemn such actions and demonstrate our unwavering commitment to democracy.”
Musa said the coup in Niger highlighted the fragility of the region and the need for a proactive security framework.
He said, “We must strengthen our regional security architecture and enhance our collective response to security challenges. The coup in the Niger Republic has highlighted the fragility of our region and the need for a robust and proactive security framework.
“We must enhance intelligence sharing, joint training exercises, and capacity-building initiatives among our defence and security forces to effectively combat threats to our collective security and enhance interoperability.”
He added, “We must ensure that the decisions taken here today are not mere rhetoric but are transformed into tangible actions on the ground.
“To this end, I call upon each member state to take ownership of the agreed-upon measures and work diligently to implement them towards finding solutions to the situation in the Republic of Niger.”
Musa, who formally took over as Chairman of the ECOWAS Defence Chiefs from his counterpart from Guinea Bissau, called for concerted efforts to ensure the entrenchment of democratic rule in West Africa.
He said, “Let us remember that the success of this meeting will not be measured by the words spoken here today, but by the actions we take tomorrow and, in the days to come. Let us seize this opportunity to make a lasting impact and ensure that the Niger Republic and the entire ECOWAS region can progress on the path of democracy, peace, and stability.
“I urge all to prioritise the implementation of the recommendations that have been put forth during our deliberations. This requires a concerted effort and a sense of urgency. We must allocate the necessary resources, engage relevant stakeholders, and monitor progress to ensure that our decisions have a tangible impact on the ground.”
Nevertheless, there were issues arising from the position of Niger’s neighbours, notably, Mali, Bukina Faso, and Guinea Bissau, which posited that any military action against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against the three countries.
There were also reports that the Niger junta had reached out to the feared Russian Wagner private military group.
The senate, in rejecting the proposal for military action, had noted that Niger was a hub for the sale of illicit arms and ammunition, a situation that might complicate such military intervention.
At play also is the ethnic relations between Nigerians in the contiguous states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano, and Jigawa, who are blood relatives with citizens of Niger.
ECOWAS Quiet as Seven Days Ultimatum to Niger Expires
With the current state of play, it seems ECOWAS may be compelled to beat a retreat from its earlier stance on forcing the military junta, which overthrew the democratically elected President of Niger Republic, Mohamed Bazoum, to hand back power to him.
The decision by the sub-regional leaders was largely welcomed by the Western world, though, it was widely condemned by others, who felt diplomatic action, rather than military action, should be taken.
In fact, the Nigerien junta was believed to have been emboldened by fellow military governments, which had earlier taken over power in Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea – all declaring support for the coup leaders and expressing their readiness to contribute military personnel to fight the ECOWAS force.
There was also a joint statement read on Mali and Burkina Faso national broadcasting outfits, saying, “Mali and Burkina Faso warn that any military intervention in Niger will be considered as a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali.”
It seemed the military expedition by ECOWAS was likely to hit the rock from the initial stage, as a house divided against itself cannot stand.
There were also indication that the Russian government and Wagner machinery were ready to support and even fight on the side of the junta-led Nigerien Army against the ECOWAS force.
Tinubu had moved against the coup, by first cutting off electricity supply to Niger, an agreement which had been on for ages and was initiated to dissuade Niger from damming the River Niger.
But this development received the condemnation from many Nigerians, who believed it was ill-advised and would only move Niger to dam the River Niger and cause further power problems for Nigeria.
Though many Nigerians openly criticised this, and the decision by Tinubu’s ECOWAS to lead a military expedition into Niger, the president still went ahead to test his political clout by seeking approval of the National Assembly to deploy military to Niger.
But the legislature said he could not have his way in the matter and withheld the approval for military deployment to Niger.
Unfortunately, this might have signaled an end to possible military action by ECOWAS in Niger as the subregional body, which was accused by many to heeding to the pressure of Western power to wage war on brother country might be unable to assemble a force of note and also not able to pull out the resources needed for such an expensive enterprise.
There was also speculation doing the rounds that there was little success recorded from the diplomatic angle, which saw him sending sending a former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Sultan of Sokoto, after diplomatic ties had even been reportedly severed by the two neighbouring nations.
The argument of those against military action was, why Niger and not the other West Africa states under military rule if not because of the West pushing the West African leaders into their fight for the struggle for the uranium in Niger.
Niger is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium, the radioactive metal widely used for nuclear energy and treating cancer.
Presently, the United States, and a former colonial power, France, as well as other Western states have troops in Niger and had been working with the government to overcome an Islamist insurgency by groups linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda.
But this appears to be at a risk now with the latest political situation in the country, believed to be tilting towards Russia for aid.
With four takeovers in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso during the last two years, all of which have come amid frustrations about growing insecurity, and the two countries having turned increasingly towards Russia as an ally, the fear is that the latest addition of the coupist, General Abdourahamane Tujani, who wasthe presidential guard chief, may encourage some more West African countries to go the way of military rule.
This is expected to come under the pretext of poor governance and discontent with the way Islamist threats were being handled and subsequently seeking support from Russia and making West Africa the new battleground for the growing multi-polar battle already in Ukraine and threatening Taiwan.
Supporters of the junta have already burnt French flags and attacked the French embassy in Niger’s capital, Niamey, prompting police to fire volleys of tear gas in response.
Head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had welcomed the coup in Niger, and said his forces were available to restore order. Though Kremlin had also noted that the situation in Niger was “cause for serious concern” and called for a swift return to constitutional order but it was believed to be supportive of the coup plotters.
As it stands, the planned military expedition by ECOWAS might be on hold for now, but one thing is certain, the country might be pressured by sanctions imposed by European Union and ECOWAS.
Already, both the EU and France had backed ECOWAS’ response, suspending their own financial support, while the U.S. has threatened to do same.
“The EU and Niger share deep ties developed over decades. The unacceptable attack on the democratically elected government puts these ties in jeopardy,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
After days of turmoil, the International Monetary Fund, said it was closely monitoring developments in Niger. But the IMF has not yet taken any specific actions in response to the coup, and has yet to disburse a $131.5 million loan to Niger that was approved on July 5.
The regional central bank has, meanwhile, cancelled Niger’s planned 30 billion CFA ($51 million) bond issuance, scheduled for Monday in the West African regional debt market, following sanctions.
The military might find it difficult to get to Niger, but definitely the financial war has begun and it would be a tough task for the government of already poor Niger to hold on.
However, if it chose to hand in, hunger and starvation may role in and the lot that would suffer are the already impoverished citizens of the country.
Conversely, Nigeria cannot be truly free from the Niger question as hungry visitors might cross over. In addition to this is that, criminality may also cross over to compound things for a country already under the shackles of insecurity.
‘Plan to Invade Niger Unpopular, Needs Rethink’
Foreign Affairs experts, including Mr Joe Keshi and Paul Ejime yesterday maintained that the planned invasion of Niger Republic spearheaded by the Nigerian-led coalition remains unpopular, urging the main players to have a rethink.
Speaking during a virtual meeting titled: “Niger Republic, Threat of War and ECOWAS Geopolitics”, put together by NewsBand Television, Keshi, a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pointed out that rather than pander to foreign governments, Nigeria must take such decisions in its own interest.
“Why on earth would the president leave the issues of integration, the issues of economic development within the region, the issues of poverty within the region, the issues of insecurity, particularly in this area, and in his acceptance speech, declare that we will not tolerate coups anymore.
“And, unfortunately and ironically, less than two or three weeks after, he is confronted with a coup and is now obligated to act the script he has created for himself,” he queried.
He stated that a new twist has now been introduced into the entire Niger Republic issue as the northern part of Nigeria has rejected the confrontation in all its entirety.
“The Nigerian factor has even been introduced into it. The North-east is now saying, they are not going to accept any intervention because they are saying that for obvious cultural and religious affinity, these are our brothers. We will not align with military action,” Keshi stated.
The foreign affairs expert stated that it was surprising that Nigeria, which waspreparing for the confrontation has not started withdrawing its citizens from the country, whereas foreign nations had already started doing so.
“As we speak, France, the United States, Germany and a number of these European countries have pulled out a large number of their citizens in Niger. We are about to attack Niger, have we even pulled out our citizens?
“Were we aware that our citizens are there before we took some of the decisions that we were giving them seven days. So, when you begin to look at all these factors, you see that this was a blunder that was set to happen, and if it does happen, unfortunately, it will blow in the faces of Nigerians,” he added.
Keshi maintained that in the past, such efforts by the regional coalition had been left to Nigeria to shoulder after a while.
“Virtually everybody abandoned ECOMOG to Nigeria to bear the burden. Some of those today, calling the president and assuring him that we will back you, they were among those who sabotaged us in Liberia and Sierra Leone and made it difficult for us,” he argued.
On his part, Ejime, a Global Affairs Analyst and Specialist on Strategic Communications, Media, Governance Issues and Elections, argued that Africa must not equate elections with democracy, stressing that some African leaders were personalising governance.
“The problem is that in the name of running a democracy, the system has been personalised. It has been abused. It’s not enough to hold elections. Election does not equate to democracy . It comes with a lot of things. It’s a process. It’s not an end game. So, you have to accompany that with rule of law with respect to your constitution and human rights.
“Now, some of them have come into the so-called tenure elongation. We are changing the constitutions around in a bizarre way, and then controlling the legislature and then the judiciary at the same time. That is not democracy and that is why some people say that perhaps, what we have are civilian governments and not democracy.
“So, it is the disposition of these leaders that has now led to the rape of democracy, because democracy is not the problem. Democracy has not failed, I think it is the operators and politicians that have failed,” he argued.
Eight Leading Northern CSOs Caution against Sanctions, Military Action
Eight leading civil society organisations in the North have cautioned ECOWAS against economic sanctions and military action in the efforts to restore democratic governance in Niger Republic.
In a letter dated August 5, 2023 and addressed to President Bola Tinubu as ECOWAS chairman, the group maintained that economic sanctions and military actions could have a devastating effect on citizens of Niger and neighbouring countries.
The CSOs, in a yesterday in Kaduna, said the proposed military intervention or economic sanctions against military coup was not only legally deficient, but would also exacerbate the crisis and inflict further suffering on Nigeriens and the wider region.
The letter was signed by Kabiru S. Chafe, (Arewa Research and Development Project); Abubakar Siddique Mohammed (Centre for Democratic Development, Research and Training); Doshiya Barwa Aboy (Jam’iyyar Matan Arewa); Hashim Tom Maiyashi (Joint Action Committee of Northern Youth Associations) among others.
“We the undersigned members of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) based in Northern Nigeria, have critically analysed the proposed military intervention and/or economic sanctions on Niger Republic by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in response to the military coup and subsequent refusal by the military junta to return power to the deposed President.
“We acknowledge that the political situation in Niger Republic poses a significant threat to growth of democracy in West Africa. However, we firmly believe that the proposed military intervention or economic sanctions as a response to the military coup is not only legally deficient but will also practically exacerbate the crisis and inflict further suffering on the innocent people in Niger Republic and the wider region.
“This would further undermine the future of democracy and peaceful co-existence in Niger Republic and the West African sub region. We recognise that ECOWAS has proposed mechanisms and legal frameworks that have been put in place to respond to political crises, including military coups, within its member states.
“It is in the light of the above and due consideration of the political situation in Niger Republic, that we are putting forward our carefully considered position on the matter for your urgent attention and consideration.”
The CSOs maintained that a military response to the political crisis could result in armed confrontations, indiscriminate attacks, and potential war crimes.
“The already vulnerable civilian population would be at greater risk of becoming victims of violence, leading to a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the region. Furthermore, Niger Republic’s political crisis has the potential to spill over into neighbouring countries, impacting regional security and stability.
“Any military intervention or economic sanctions imposed by ECOWAS may lead to increased cross-border conflicts and intensify existing security challenges in the West African region. A peaceful resolution to the crisis is vital to ensure regional cooperation and collective efforts towards lasting stability,” they said.