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Pressure mounts on ECOWAS against use of force in Niger

Amina Alhassan, Abdullateef Salau, Idowu Isamotu, Dalhatu Liman, Abuja & Abdullateef Aliyu, Lagos   More Nigerians and groups have joined the league of prominent citizens…

Amina Alhassan, Abdullateef Salau, Idowu Isamotu, Dalhatu Liman, Abuja & Abdullateef Aliyu, Lagos

 

More Nigerians and groups have joined the league of prominent citizens in advising the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the dangers of using military might to suppress the coup in Niger Republic.

They said dialogue remained the best way out of the impasse, insisting that deploying troops to fight the military junta would rather compound security, social and economic challenges in Nigeria, Niger and other neighbouring countries.

The Ummah Movement, with headquarters at the National Islamic Centre, Dogarawa, Zaria, said it was wrong to use force to bring back the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum who was toppled by his guards.

The group said it was “deeply worried about the reactions trailing the ouster of the civilian government in Niger Republic. We caution against rash sanctions such as cutting off electricity supply to Niger and any form of military action by ECOWAS.

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“Rather, diplomatic pressure, dialogue and soft power should be applied to rollback the coup that appears to have originated in a palace power tussle.

“Given Nigeria’s dire economic situation, our persistent insecurity threats, the danger of split in ECOWAS and to avoid playing into the hands of the enemies of African unity and prosperity, we urge President Tinubu to defer to wisdom and diplomacy to achieve return to normalcy in Niger Republic.”

Also, the Northern Senators Forum has cautioned ECOWAS, under the leadership of President Bola Tinubu, against the use of military force in restoring democracy in Niger Republic.

The senators, under the leadership of Senator Abdul Ahmad Ningi (Bauchi), however, called for political and diplomatic means to restore democratic government in that country.

The forum, in a statement by its spokesperson, Suleiman A. Kawu Sumaila, cautioned that military force would cause the death of many innocent citizens in Niger Republic and seven Nigerian states that share border with that country.

This video frame grab image obtained by AFP from ORTN – Télé Sahel on July 26, 2023 shows Colonel Major Amadou Abdramane (C), spokesperson for the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) speaking during a televised statement. – Soldiers claimed on July 26, 2023 to have overthrown the government of Niger President Mohamed Bazoum in a statement read out on national television, after a day in which the leader was detained in his official residence. (Photo by – / ORTN – Télé Sahel / AFP)

The statement read, “We take exception to the use of military force until other avenues as mentioned above are exhausted as the consequences will be casualties among the innocent citizens who go about their daily business.

“Besides, about seven northern states that share border with Niger Republic, namely, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Zamfara, Jigawa, Yobe and Borno will be negatively affected.

“There is serious implication for our country if military force is used without exhausting all diplomatic channels.”

An Islamic preacher in Kano, Dr Muhammad Sani Umar Rijiyar Lemo, in a video clip widely shared on social media Friday, warned Tinubu against leading Nigeria to invade Niger.

Rijiyar Lemo said the bond between Nigeria and Niger Republic had gone beyond just being neighbours but that of brotherhood.

He said any military incursion would further add insult to the injury to myriad socio-economic challenges in the Sahel region, advising ECOWAS to find a peaceful means of resolving the issues.

“Everyone knows that war, especially at this moment, comes with several consequences. We won’t know how and when it ends.

“Now, the world is polarised, with every country alienated to certain powers-that-be, and Niger is rich with huge uranium deposits most sought after by these powers. They have interests there,” he said.

Similarly, a former deputy national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, yesterday asked Tinubu to think twice before declaring war on Niger Republic.

In a letter he personally wrote to the president in his position as “a Nigerian, a retired General in the Nigerian military, a patriot and a war tactician,” George stated that it is better to continue the diplomatic channel instead of embarking on a “needless war.”

He warned that adopting the military approach could result in the collapse of ECOWAS.

According to him, Tinubu must be circumspect in his actions because he cannot trust the other countries pressuring him to go to war with Niger.

“In Nigeria today, there is no food, no financial power to buy fuel, no light, no money. Nigerians are psychologically stranded and people are really going through a lot. So, I don’t know what our going to Niger Republic with full military power would achieve.

“We should think twice before entering another country militarily. Don’t start what you cannot finish. Niger is one of the largest (land border) countries in the world and one of the poorest. What exactly do we gain if we go to war in Niger? So that people can praise us as a defender of democracy? When people are dying at home, do we need that type of commendation from anybody?

“Also, some countries, such as Algeria, Libya, Chad, Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali share borders with the Niger Republic. Can we trust these countries to support us militarily and otherwise in case of war with Niger Republic?” he asked.

Also speaking, an associate professor in the University of Abuja, Abubakar Kari, said, “Deploying troops or taking any kind of military action against the Niger coupists will be hasty, precipitate and unwise. I don’t believe that ECOWAS has exhausted all diplomatic and peaceful means of resolving the problem. I also don’t believe that Nigerians, including the military, are in support of military deployment in Niger at a time armed non-state actors of all descriptions (Boko Haram, neo-Biafra secessionists, bandits, robbers, and so on) have almost overstretched our security forces.

“We are already fighting too many wars. I equally don’t believe that our economy is healthy enough to enable and sustain a military campaign. Rather than approve military deployment to Niger, the Senate should direct that our response to the Niger crisis should shift from unnecessary sabre-rattling, zero-sum posture and war-mongering rhetoric to constructive engagement with the putschists and other interested parties toward an amicable resolution. The regime of sanctions imposed should be allowed to sink in, and more considered if necessary.”

Protests against Nigeria 

Similarly, some aggrieved residents of Niger Republic have staged a protest against President Tinubu who chairs the ECOWAS.

In a viral video on Friday, people were seen chanting anti-Tinubu songs.

They also wielded placards that bore critical messages about the Nigerian leader.

Tinubu seeks Senate’s clearance for action

In another development yesterday, President Tinubu informed the National Assembly about ECOWAS’ proposed military action and other sanctions against the Niger coupists.

He stated this in an official communication read by Senate President Godswill Akpabio at plenary.

He said that in a bid to restore peace, ECOWAS convened a meeting and came out with a communiqué that agreed on closure and monitoring of all land borders with Niger Republic and reactivating of the border drilling exercise.

Other measures include “Cutting off electricity supply to Niger Republic; mobilising international support for the implementation of the provisions of the ECOWAS communiqué; preventing the operation of commercial and special flights into and from Niger Republic; blockade of goods in transit to Niger, especially from Lagos and eastern seaports; embarking on sensitisation of Nigerians and Nigeriens on the imperative of these actions, particularly via the social media; military buildup and deployment of personnel for military intervention to enforce compliance of the military junta in Niger should they remain recalcitrant.”

We’ll give diplomacy a chance, says ECOWAS security c’ttee

However, hours after Tinubu’s letter to the Senate, the security committee of the ECOWAS, comprising military chiefs of some West African countries, said they would give diplomacy a chance in Niger over the current activities of the junta in the country.

The chiefs of defence staff from Togo, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Cote’Divoire, Cabo Verde and Republic of Benin stated this at the end of their two-day high-powered delegation meeting.

The meeting, which started on Wednesday and chaired by the president of ECOWAS Military Chiefs at Defence Headquarters in Abuja, Gen Christopher Musa, was shunned by the soldiers from Mali, Niger, Guinea and Burkina Faso.

Reading the communiqué from the meeting to journalists, Gen Musa said they resolved to intensify diplomatic efforts to engage with all relevant stakeholders and ensure that dialogue and negotiation is at the forefront of the approach to resolve the crisis in Republic of Niger.

Musa said, “Throughout our discussions, we 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.

“I am 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 can effectively address the crisis and prevent a recurrence in the future.”

He said they agreed to “intensify our diplomatic efforts to engage with all relevant stakeholders. Dialogue and negotiation should be at the forefront of our approach in resolving the crisis in Republic of Niger.”

Also speaking, the Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, ECOWAS, Ambassador Abdel-Fatau Musah, said the Authority of Heads of State of ECOWAS was committed to the eradication of all forms of unconstitutional takeover of power in the sub region.

Coup plotters deny Abdulsalami, Sultan entry, ‘discussed’ at airport 

Amid the diplomatic row, Daily Trust Saturday reports that former Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Saad Abubakar, were denied entry into Niamey on arrival on Thursday after President Tinubu mandated them to have a discussion with the Nigerien coup plotters.

Diplomatic sources said they were restricted to the airport only, where they had a discussion with low ranking members of the military junta.

Those familiar with the matter described the development as “embarrassing and an affront” to Nigeria, considering the personalities dispatched by President Tinubu.

Both Abdulsalami and the Sultan are highly regarded at home and abroad. While the former is seen as the architect of Nigeria’s new found democracy when he handed over power to former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, the latter is unarguably the leader of the Muslims in Nigeria and highly regarded in Niger, which also has Muslims as the majority.

It was learnt that there was no serious commitment from the coup plotters during the meeting.

One of our diplomatic source said, “The ECOWAS delegation of Abdulsalami Abubakar and the Sultan of Sokoto were not allowed to leave the airport in Niamey when they arrived there yesterday (Thursday). Up to about 11pm they were limited to the airport. The picture in the social media was at the airport where they met in a small room with some representatives of the coup leaders.”

Another source said the emissaries had to return to Nigeria overnight without any tangible commitment as the coup plotters few hours later cut diplomatic ties with Nigeria and others.

“If it is true that Tinubu/ECOWAS special delegation to Niger was restricted to the airport and was received by low-rank officers,  that amounts to a well aimed, deliberate and monumental humiliation of Nigeria,” said Dr Kari of the University of Abuja.

“It also means that the mission itself may well have been a diplomatic fiasco. It seems the Niger putschists seized the moment to send a message: that they could not be intimidated; that they would not let go the reins of power easily; and that they are ready for a showdown,” he said.

Coupists cuts ties with Nigeria, Togo, France, US

Much earlier yesterday, the military junta in Niger Republic cut off ties with Nigeria, Togo, France and the United States of America.

The junta under Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani said, “The functions of the extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassadors of the Republic of Niger” to France, Nigeria, Togo and the United States are terminated,” Radio France International quoted one of the putschists to have said on national television.

Also, French media companies RFI (Radio France Internationale) and FRANCE 24 have been interrupted in the country.

Broadcasts by the two companies had been inaccessible in Niger since Thursday afternoon, according to AFP journalists. Their signals were cut “on the instructions of the new military authorities,” a senior official told the AFP on condition of anonymity.

Last week’s coup has sparked anti-French protests in Niger, a former French colony.

RFI and FRANCE 24 have condemned the suspension of their broadcasts in Niger.

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