*Nigerian leader weighs options
*UN, EU, AU tighten the noose on military leaders
*Russia’s Wagner group signals support for coup plotters
Ejiofor Alike in Lagos and Michael Olugbode in Abuja
Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), President Bola Tinubu, will today in Abuja meet with the leaders of the sub-regional body on how to restore democracy in Republic of Niger just as the United Nations (UN) Security Council members have called for the immediate and unconditional release of Niger’s democratically elected President Mohammed Bazoum.
The European Union (EU) has also said it is suspending financial support and cooperation on security with Niger following this week’s military coup.
On its part, the African Union (AU) has called on the coup plotters to return to their barracks.
But while the international community, including many African states, have condemned the coup in Niger, Russian mercenary leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has hailed the military takeover, promising that his Wagner group could help.
In a long message posted to social media, Prigozhin blamed the situation in Niger on the legacy of colonialism and alleged that Western nations were sponsoring terrorist groups in the country.
Niger was once a French colony and, before this week’s putsch, it had been one of the few democracies in the region.
The country, one of the poorest in the world but which also holds some of its biggest uranium deposits, declared full independence from former colonial ruler, France in 1960.
Prigozhin said that his private military company, Wagner, was capable of dealing with situations like that playing out in Niamey, the Nigerien capital.
Hundreds of Wagner contractors are in neighbouring Mali at the invitation of the country’s military junta, to confront an Islamist insurgency that is strongest in the area where the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger meet.
“What happened in Niger has been brewing for years,” Prigozhin said.
“The former colonisers are trying to keep the people of African countries in check. In order to keep them in check, the former colonisers are filling these countries with terrorists and various bandit formations. Thus, creating a colossal security crisis.”
For fear of a possible spillover of violence from neighbouring Mali, where armed groups have been gaining ground following the withdrawal of French and other European forces, about 2,000 UN/EU troops on military mission are currently stationed in Niger.
Meanwhile, President Tinubu is also said to be weighing a number options to force the coup plotters to return power to President Bazoum.
Some of the options, it was learnt, include direct military interventions and severe sanctions, including border closure and economic blockade.
The Nigerian leader is said to be considering mobilising ECOWAS leaders to close their borders with Niger to deny the new military leaders access to weapons, food and other basic amenities, particularly neighbouring countries such as Republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana.
To the North, the country has borders with Libya which has been torn apart by war.
In its reaction to the military coup in Niger, the UN Security Council members, in a statement, underscored the need to protect President Bazoum, his family and members of his government.
The demand to release the President of Niger was earlier voiced by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres and other UN top officials.
The Security Council members expressed concern over the negative impact of unconstitutional changes of government in the region, increase in terrorist activities and the dire socio-economic situation.
The UN Security council members also underlined their regret over the developments in Niger, which undermine efforts at consolidating the institutions of governance and peace in that country.
The Council expressed support for the efforts of the Economic Community of West African states (ECOWAS), the African Union and the United Nations.
Reiterating support for efforts to reverse unconstitutional government changes, the Council backed ECOWAS and the African Union in strengthening governance and normative frameworks.
In solidarity with the people of Niger, the Council emphasised the importance of protecting civilians and providing humanitarian assistance during this challenging time.
EU also called on the coup plotters to vacate office and return government to democratically-elected representatives, insisting that the government they formed would never be recognised.
The EU also announced its readiness to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to impose severe sanctions on Niger should the coup plotters not hand back power to duly elected officials.
The EU, in a statement issued yesterday by its High Representative, Josep Borrell said: “The EU does not recognise and will not recognise the authorities resulting from the putsch in Niger. President Bazoum was democratically elected; he is and therefore remains the only legitimate President of Niger.”
Borrell asked the coup plotters to release President Bazoum and members of his family unconditionally and without delay.
“His (Bazoum) release must be unconditional and without delay. The EU holds the putschists responsible for his safety and that of his family.”
According to its website, the EU has allocated 503 million euros ($554million) from its budget to improve governance, education and sustainable growth in Niger over the 2021-2024 period.
“In addition to the immediate cessation of budget support, all cooperation actions in the domain of security are suspended indefinitely with immediate effect,” EU foreign policy chief Borrell said in the statement.
The EU High Representative said: “The announcement by the putschists of the suspension of the constitution and the dissolution of democratic institutions weakens the state and the people of Niger, whose peace, stability, and security must be preserved.
“The European Union reiterates its very clear calls for the complete restoration, without delay, of constitutional order and fully associates itself with the declarations of ECOWAS and its African and international partners in this regard.”
He disclosed: “In coordination with the President of the European Council, I will continue this weekend the numerous contacts already underway to achieve this result. And we stand ready to support future ECOWAS decisions, including the adoption of sanctions.”
He said: “This unacceptable attack on the integrity of Niger’s republican institutions will not remain without consequences for the partnership and cooperation which binds the European Union and Niger, in all different aspects. In this regard, in addition to the immediate cessation of budget support, all cooperation actions in the security field are suspended sine die, with immediate effect.”
Meanwhile, the African Union also demanded the military in Niger “return to their barracks and restore constitutional authority” within 15 days since it grabbed power.
The AU’s Peace and Security Council “demands the military personnel to immediately and unconditionally return to their barracks and restore constitutional authority, within a maximum period of fifteen (15) days”, it said in a communique following a meeting at the weekend on the Niger coup.
The group said it “condemns in the strongest terms possible” the overthrow of the elected government, and expressed deep concern over the “alarming resurgence” of military coups in Africa.