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Nigeria’s dilemma as ECOWAS threatens war against Niger’s junta

GIFT HABIB examines ECOWAS threats and sanctions on Niger Republic after the military takeover of the government and Nigeria’s dilemma of fighting a neighbouring countrySince 2020, armed forces have shortened democratically elected governments in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Sudan without severe outcomes. The coup in Niger Republic has raised serious concerns about regional stability and democratic principles in West Africa. Niger brings the number of unconstitutional regimes to six on the continent.Four of the affected countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali and the Niger Republic – fall within the Economic Community of West African States, a bloc of 15 sovereign states created in 1975.

Niger, a significant uranium producer and a key Western ally in the fight against Islamist militants in West Africa’s Sahel region, was thrown into a coup on July 26, 2023, when the democratically elected President Mohammed Bazoum was detained by some military officers, led by Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani.

The military takeover is the fifth successful coup in the West African nation’s history since it gained independence from France in 1960, with other unsuccessful attempts in between. Many supporters of the coup chanted pro-Russian slogans. Thousands of people took to the streets of Niger’s capital, Niamey, in a peaceful solidarity walk, backing the coup.

In a television broadcast, 10 officers, led by Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane, said the National Council of the State Guard of Niger Republic decided to “put an end to the regime you are familiar with.” He claimed the military seized power because of insecurity and the mismanagement of the country’s economy.

This development drew condemnation from the international community, particularly the United Nations, the African Union, and ECOWAS. On July 30, the ECOWAS Chairman, President Bola Tinubu, slammed a battery of sanctions against the junta and gave them a week’s ultimatum to restore Bazoum to office or face military action. ECOWAS also closed all land and air borders between member countries and Niger and suspended all commercial and financial transactions with the junta.

According to a 2023 Nigeria Security Report by Beacon Consulting, a security risk management and intelligence consulting company, the coup brought to the fore the issue of maladministration and its consequences, including military interventions in West Africa. The firm said the development also triggered a discourse on the international relations principle of non-interference in internal matters of sovereign countries and the defence of democracy.

The report further noted that the “political situation in Niger engendered tension within the broader west-African region. Given the ongoing standoff between ECOWAS leadership and the Nigerien military government, there is a realistic possibility of an armed confrontation breaking out in Niger. There are also risks of a humanitarian crisis in Niger, which may impact neighbouring countries.”

On August 3, ECOWAS sent a three-man delegation to the country, which left the following day, failing to secure the return to power of Niger’s elected government. The delegation was led by a former Nigerian Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, who was scheduled to meet the coup leader, Abdourahamane Tchani, aka Omar, to present the bloc’s demands.

However, the coup leaders on August 3 announced that they were ending the mandates of ambassadors to four countries, as they faced international pressure to restore Bazoum.

On August 4, Nigeria urged the international community to remain resolute in its support for the ECOWAS stance to return the country to democratic rule. The Federal Government expressed concern that the success of the coup in Niger would significantly dampen ECOWAS’ reputation, especially if the country joined the ranks of others that were governed by unconstitutional leaders.

President Tinubu on August 4 wrote to lawmakers in Nigeria, seeking their support for the sanctions and military action. His letter included a reference to a “military build-up and deployment of personnel”.

Meanwhile, Bazoum appealed for an end to the coup, stressing that it reversed the security and prosperity his administration worked hard to achieve since he was elected in 2021. Describing himself as a “hostage” at the time of writing the letter, Bazoum warned of the expansion of military rule in the Sahel region if Niger was to follow in Mali and Burkina Faso’s footsteps.

Omolewa

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