War looms in Niger as ECOWAS deadline expires on Sunday

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The ultimatum issued to Niger Republic military leaders to restore sacked President Mohamed Bazoum to power expires tomorrow raising fears of war between Niger’s military and those of neighbouring countries.

ECOWAS defence chiefs yesterday said all is set for a military intervention in Niger Republic even as they harped on a comprehensive approach that encompasses political, security and diplomatic dimensions in addressing the situation, reports Saturday Tribune.

The Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff (CDS) of ECOWAS countries made this known at the end of their three-day Extra Ordinary Meeting in Abuja.

ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah, while speaking on the outcome of the meeting commended the military chiefs for taking time to produce a concept of operation for an eventual military intervention to restore constitutional order in Niger.

Musah said that all the elements that would go into any intervention had been worked out and were being refined, including the timing, resources needed and how, where and when to deploy such force.

He said that ECOWAS being a rule-based institution was determined to put an end to the military coup contagion in the region.

“But first, we are giving diplomacy every chance to succeed and there have been multiple approaches to the military Junta in Niger.

“The results of whatever has been achieved here will be presented very soon to the Heads of Central Government who will have the last say as to what we are going to do with regard to the situation in the Republic of Niger, provided that all diplomatic overtures do not yield result.

“So I want to, through this medium also appeal to the military in Niger to give peace a chance, and then think about their populations and do the right thing by immediately restoring constitutional order in their country.

“That is our message to them and if they don’t, then we will make them hand over to civilian authorities and that is the determination of ECOWAS and we want to send that message clearly across to all of them,” he said.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Dr Ibrahim Kana, said that Nigeria was committed to restoring democracy in Niger, but said military option would be the last resort.

“Military option is the last option but the president has directed us, the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces of Nigeria to come together with other ECOWAS members,” he said.

Earlier, Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff and President of the committee, General Christopher Musa, had commended ECOWAS for standing firm for democracy, adding that the militaries of the member countries were firmly in support of their stand.

He said that the committee collectively recognised the gravity of the situation in Niger and the urgent need for a well coordinated response.

Musa added that they also examined the immediate implication of the coup and its potential ripple effects across the ECOWAS region.

“We have also deliberated on the broader implication for democracy, peace and stability in West Africa and pleased to note that our discussions have yielded valuable insights and actionable recommendations.

“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 effectively address the crisis and prevent a recurrence in the future.

“Democracy is what we stand for and democracy is what we will sustain,” he said.

Musa said the military chiefs agreed that there was no alternative democratic principles and rule of law in the region, adding that the coup in Niger represented blatant disregard for the fundamental principles that underpin regional integration and stability.

“We must condemn such action and demonstrate our unwavering commitment to democracy,” he said, adding that regional security architecture should be strengthened to enhance collective response to security challenges.

According him, the meeting recognised the fact that the coup in Niger highlighted the fragility of the region.

“We must enhance intelligence sharing, joint training exercises and capacity building initiative among our defence and security forces to effectively combat threats to our collective security and enhance interoperability.

“We must intensify our diplomatic efforts to engage with all relevant stakeholders.

“Dialogue and negotiations should be at the forefront of our approach in resolving the crisis in the Republic of Niger.

“We must engage the transitional authorities, civil society, organisation and all the key actors to foster an inclusive and peaceful transition process,” he said.

The CDS said the meeting urged member states to hasten the implementation of the recommendations and translate them into tangible actions for quick solutions to the situation in Niger.

“Let us seize this opportunity to make a lasting impact and ensure that the Republic of Niger and the entire region can progress on the path of democracy, peace, and stability.

“I urge you all to prioritise the implementation of 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,” he added.

Countries represented at the meeting included Togo, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Ghana, Gambia, Cote Devoir, Cape Verde and Benin while Niger, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso were absent.

The Nigerian Customs also yesterday closed all borders with Niger Republic.

Niger cuts ties with France

The new military junta, led by former presidential guard commander, Abdourahamane Tiani, has revoked military cooperation pacts with former colonial power, France, as neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso did after their coups.

Paris shrugged that off, saying on Friday that though it had seen the statement by “some Nigerien army men”, it only recognised legitimate authorities. French officials also said that Niger’s ambassador to Paris was still in place, after the junta said it had ended her post.

France has between 1,000-1,500 troops in Niger, supported by drones and warplanes, helping battle groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel region. The United States, Germany and Italy also have troops stationed in Niger.

Detained at the presidential residence in Niger’s capital Niamey, Bazoum, 63, who was elected in 2021, said in his first remarks since the coup that he was a hostage and in need of U.S. and international help.

“If it (the coup) succeeds, it will have devastating consequences for our country, our region and the entire world,” he wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece, backing ECOWAS’ economic and travel sanctions.

Russia: Interference in Niger by non-regional actors like U.S. is unlikely to help

Meanwhile, Russia, according to Reuters, said yesterday that any interference from non-regional powers such as the United States in Niger was unlikely to improve the situation there.

Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was responding to a question about a call from Niger’s ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, for the United States and the entire international community to intervene to restore constitutional order in his country.

“It is unlikely that the intervention of non-regional forces is capable of changing the situation for the better,” Peskov told reporters.

“…We are monitoring the situation very closely, we are concerned about the tension in Niger, and we continue to favour a swift return to constitutional normality without endangering human lives,” he said.

Niger’s regional and Western partners, including former colonial power France and the United States, have imposed sweeping sanctions on Niger in an effort to pressure the coup leaders to restore constitutional order after Bazoum’s ouster – the seventh coup in West and Central Africa since 2020.

But junta leader Abdourahamane Tiani, the former head of Niger’s presidential guard, has said he will not back down.

Tiani has the support of fellow juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso and also of Russia’s private mercenary Wagner group, which has fighters in Mali and Central African Republic.

In a Washington Post opinion piece, President Bazoum wrote: “With an open invitation from the coup plotters and their regional allies, the entire central Sahel region could fall to Russian influence via the Wagner Group, whose brutal terrorism has been on full display in Ukraine.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, last week welcomed the coup in Niger, and said his forces were available to restore order.

Food prices soar after sanctions on coup-hit Niger

Reuters reported yesterday that shoppers in Niger’s coup-hit capital Niamey face soaring prices for basic foods since the military takeover triggered trade sanctions from West African neighbours.

At one rain-drenched market, customer Ibou Kane said a sack of rice had gone up by more than a third to around 15,000 CFA francs ($25) since the coup prompted the ECOWAS economic and political bloc to close borders and sever commercial ties.

Frankly, I’ve felt it in my pocket. And right now … we’re all stocking up – Kane said.

Coup leader Abdourahamane Tiani, who ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, has said foreign pressure will make coming weeks and months difficult for all Nigeriens, and called for unity.

There was no obvious panic-buying at Yantala market, but vendors and shoppers were all feeling the pinch. Cooking oil, too, was up to 33,000 CFA a can from 22,000 a few days before.

Standing by deep tubs of grains, merchant Boubacar Salou said he supported the junta›s rallying call.

“We mustn’t create panic now. Because this affects us all … It’s up to us to show that we are Nigeriens and that we must help those around us, and above all help the new government,” he said.

The closure of borders by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) poses a particular threat to landlocked and impoverished Niger. Even before the coup, around 3.3 million of Niger›s 26 million people were facing acute food shortages as a hunger crisis grips parts of the region.

AUTOCRATIC JUNTA

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and Nigerien Association for Defence of Human Rights urged ECOWAS to reconsider to avoid worsening civilian hardships.

“We are deeply concerned about the consequences of these sanctions, especially their impacts on the supply of essential food products, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, petroleum products, and electricity,” said Sita Adamou, head of the Niger group.

“These measures have already begun to affect the Nigerien population, who are regularly facing food and health difficulties.”

From detention in the presidential palace, Bazoum also weighed in, writing in a Washington Post opinion article that Niger faced chaos from the coup, by encouraging Islamist insurgents and pressuring the local economy.

“These measures (sanctions) are already demonstrating what a future would look like under an autocratic junta with no vision or reliable allies,” he wrote.

“The price of rice rose by 40 percent between Sunday and Tuesday, and some neighbourhoods have begun to report shortages of goods and electricity.”

Exacerbating the squeeze, various Western nations have already cut aid to Niger, which relies on foreign assistance for 40% of its budget. And the regional central bank cancelled a planned 30 billion CFA bond issuance earlier this week.

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