from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA, (CAJ News) – THE way the situation in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is fluid amid the fallout over Niger, the country is in a race against time to reinstate its president.
Or, plans of a military intervention if the coup is not reversed, is a ticking time bomb in a region that is emerging the most volatile in the continent.
The apprehension in and around Niger, the country at the heart of the Sahel, can be termed a multifaceted rebellion. It is more than merely the Presidential Guard toppling President Mohamed Bazoum.
It is an unprecedented crisis that has degenerated into a junta defying ECOWAS, especially the threat of military intervention if Bazoum is not reinstated.
ECOWAS is never hesitant to suspend member states that topple presidents. Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali can attest.
Now, the warning by the military governments of Burkina Faso and Mali that any military intervention in Niger will be a declaration of war against them, stokes the flames in an already dire situation.
The developments not only test the might of the 15-member ECOWAS. It is a huge setback to the mantra of the African Union (AU) to “silence the guns” in the continent.
Another theme of rebellion is that it represents the latest revolution by a former colony against France, which is increasingly becoming unpopular among its former subjects in the Francophone region.
West Africa’s largest landlocked country, a nation of some 27 million people, Niger plunged into its current crisis on July 26 when Bazoum (63), in power since 2021, was overthrown.
Two days later, General Abdourahamane Tchiani proclaimed himself as the de facto head of state, after the fifth coup to befall Niger.
Reports indicate before the coup, Bazoum was about to dismiss Tchiani as relations between the pair had deteriorated.
In an address to Nigeriens, the de facto leader accused the now-toppled president of attempts to cover up the socioeconomic, political and security crises in the country.
At the time of publishing, the deposed leader was still in detention at the Presidential Palace.
While he has been in communication with global leaders, his last message to Nigeriens was via a Tweet on July 27.
“The hard-won achievements will be safeguarded. All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom will see to it,” it read.
ECOWAS is lauded as the African Union’s (AU’S) regional economic community (REC) that is most forthright when dealing with errant member states.
The region is increasingly synonymous with coups with the one in Niger coming hot on the heels of similar takeovers between 2020 and 2022 in Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso.
While Guinea has not been suspended, ECOWAS maintained its forthright stance, at a time fellow RECs in Africa were denounced for “quiet diplomacy”, not openly criticizing member states, let alone expel.
On Sunday, ECOWAS gave the military leaders a seven-day ultimatum to reinstate Bazoum.
In the event, the authorities’ demands are not met within one week, ECOWAS warned it would take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in Niger.
“Such measures may include the use of force,” read a communiqué.
Antony Blinken, United States Secretary of State who was in Niger in March, lauded this as “strong leadership” by ECOWAS.
On the eve of the meeting the military leaders had through a spokesperson cautioned, “We want to once more remind ECOWAS or any other adventurer of our firm determination to defend our homeland.”
Indeed, the Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff (CCDS) of (ECOWAS) was to resume a meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, from Wednesday to Thursday on the political situation.
The warning by fellow coup leaders in Burkina Faso and Mali against a military intervention in Niger is a disturbing dimension to an already volatile situation.
“Any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali,” they warned, adding that such a move could result in “disastrous consequences” that “could destabilise the entire region,” they stated in a message broadcast across the two countries.
Nigerian politician, Femi Fani-Kayode, described the warning by the military leaders as “a pitiful and nonsensical threat from two pitiful and nonsensical unelected Governments headed by tin pot military dictators.”
He is from the All Progressives Party President Bola Tinubu, who is ECOWAS chairperson.
The insecurity and poverty in Niger were always going to trigger a coup.
The irony is that being one of the richest countries in the deposit of the much-sought after uranium, it is rated the second-most poorest country in the world. It is classified among “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” (HIPC).
There is also growing resentment towards France in Niger and other former French colonies in the region.
The French Embassy in the capital Niamey has been attacked by some citizens marching in support of the coup.
“Long Live Russia. Down with France,” they chanted.
Similar attacks of French facilities were experienced during the coup in Burkina Faso and anti-French demonstrations in Senegal previously.
It looks likely Niger, if the military remains in control, will follow the example of Burkina Faso and Mali by ordering the French to leave. Mali has a base in Niger.
Niger, could, like its new-found allies, look to Russia for security.
The recent developments have prompted France to evacuate its citizens, from Tuesday.
The situation has developed into a tit-for-tat between France and Niger.
France cut all financial aid to the former colony following the coup. Niger has reportedly banned exports of uranium and gold to France.
The anger is that while colonialism by the French ended in the 1960s, France retained economic and political influence. This is seen as destabilising domestic economies and a threat to democracy.
Niger gained independence in 1960. Bazoum’s election marked the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history.
Interestingly, Thursday is Niger’s Independence Day.
The day is celebrated yearly on August 3.
It therefore remains to be seen how this one will pan out.
– CAJ News