*Directs France Ambassador to leave Niamey within 48 hours
Bennett Oghifo in Lagos and Michael Olugbode in Abuja
Niger Republic’s junta leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani has signed two orders authorising the defense and security forces of Burkina Faso and Mali to intervene on Nigerien territory in the event of an attack by the standby forces of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
This was disclosed on Thursday after a meeting of the three allies’ foreign ministers who met in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, to discuss “boosting cooperation on security and other joint issues.”
The Junta has also ordered France Ambassador, Sylvain Itte, to leave Niamey within 48 hours.
Soldiers from the Presidential Guard had on July 26 deposed President Mohamed Bazoum, thus truncating the constitutional political leadership in the West African country. Two days later, the soldiers named General Tchiani as the new leader of the country, with Tchiani warning against any foreign military intervention.
After a meeting of ECOWAS Heads of States and Government in Abuja, the bloc directed the deployment of a “standby force” to restore democracy in Niger.
The decision on Thursday by the Junta, authorising the troops of Mali and Burkina Faso to come in and defend Niger in the event of attack by ECOWAS is seen as a possible sign of the coup leaders’ plans to keep resisting regional pressure to stand down.
“The Burkinabe and Malian foreign ministers reiterated their rejection of an armed intervention against the people of Niger which will be considered as a declaration of war,” the ministers said in the statement issued at the end of their meeting.
The main West African bloc ECOWAS has been trying to negotiate with the coup leaders but warned it is ready to explore all measures including the deployment of troops into Niger to restore constitutional order if diplomatic efforts fail.
But Niger’s junta-led neighbours, Mali and Burkina Faso, insist they would back Niger in any conflict with ECOWAS.
The Defence Chiefs of ECOWAS had at a two-day meeting in Accra, Ghana, last week agreed on “D-day” for a possible military intervention to restore civil rule in Niger Republic if diplomatic efforts fail.
The West African army chiefs met to finetune logistics and strategy for a possible use of force in Niger.
Speaking after the Defence Chiefs’ meeting, ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah, said the “D-Day” for the military intervention in Niger Republic had been decided, without disclosing the exact date.
Musah said: “We are ready to go anytime the order is given. The D-Day is also decided. We’ve already agreed and fine-tuned what will be required for the intervention.”
Musah noted that the community was still seeking to engage with the junta peacefully, saying, “As we speak, we are still readying a mediation mission into the country, so we have not shut any door.”
On July 30, ECOWAS, led by Nigeria, decided on sanctions against the military Junta in Niger and gave a week’s ultimatum to them to restore ousted Bazoum to office.
In addition to a one-week ultimatum to restore constitutional order and the suspension of financial transactions with Niger, ECOWAS decreed the freezing of “all service transactions, including energy transactions.”
Orders France Ambassador out of Niamey
The Niger Republic military rulers have given the French ambassador 48 hours to leave Niger, the country’s minister of foreign affairs said in a statement yesterday.
“Faced with the refusal of the French ambassador in Niamey to respond to an invitation from the minister for a meeting yesterday and other actions of the French government contrary to the interests of Niger, the authorities have decided to withdraw their approval of Sylvain Itte and ask him to depart within 48 hours, the statement said.
This decision follows a series of statements and demonstrations hostile toward France since the Nigerien army overthrew President Bazoum, who has since been detained with his family.
The military leaders accuse Paris of wanting to intervene militarily in Niger in order to reinstate Bazoum and claim that ECOWAS is an organisation in the pocket of former regional colonial power France.
France has some 1,500 troops stationed in Niger to aid in fighting jihadist groups that have plagued the country along with the wider Sahel region for years.
ECOWAS: Preparations for Deployment of Intervention Force Continue
Meanwhile, ECOWAS yesterday explained that it was not planning to wage war on Niger and Nigeriens, but that every action it had taken so far was for the good of the people of the troubled country.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Omar Alieu Touray said nothing had yet been done against the interest of Niger.
He said: “We would like to use the opportunity to reassure the good people of Niger Republic that our major concern is for their welfare as we work assiduously to restore civilian rule and political stability in the country, and indeed in the other ECOWAS Member States currently under military rule, in the spirit of solidarity and collective security which is at the heart of our integration agenda.”
Touray lamented: “Coup d’etat is a tragedy for our regional efforts at consolidating democracy after the political crises of the 90’s exemplified by the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Through collective efforts of our community, the region was stabilised and the foundation for democracy and the rule of law restored.
“Indeed, until about three years ago, all leaders in the ECOWAS region were democratically elected. Unfortunately, the ill winds of coups started blowing again recently and the region has experienced three successful coups and two failed coups. The current development in the Republic of Niger adds to the list of attempted coups d’état in the region.
“So, you can understand why the Heads of State and Government have decided that this is one coup too many and resolved that it was time to end the contagion. The situation in the Republic of Niger is particularly unfortunate as it comes at a time the country is doing comparatively well in terms of security and economic growth.”
Justifying the decision on the planned deployment of the standby force, Touray said: “The ECOWAS security architecture, which has informed other security arrangements within and outside the region, is anchored on a number of instruments. These include the 1991 ECOWAS Declaration of Political Principles; the Revised ECOWAS Treaty of 1993, the 1999 ECOWAS Protocol relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security, as well as the 2001 Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
“The deployment of the ECOWAS Standby Force is provided for in the 1999 Mechanism. Specifically, Article 25 expressly stipulates the conditions for the deployment of such a force. Among other conditions, the article provides that the force can be deployed ‘in the event of an overthrow or an attempted overthrow of a democratically elected government.’
“Furthermore, the Supplementary Act of 2012 also provides for sanctions to be invoked against members that fail to honour their obligations to ECOWAS. It also provides for the use of legitimate force in the restoration of constitutional order. Niger Republic is a signatory to all these instruments. Those who challenge the legality of the decision of ECOWAS Heads of State need to do more research.”
He explained that: “In taking its decision of 30th July and 10th August 2023, the Authority of Heads of State and Government was only activating these provisions. Unfortunately, this decision has been taken out of context and repeatedly misrepresented in the media as a declaration of war against Niger Republic or a planned invasion of the country.
“It is even tragic that some influential persons in the Community have promoted this narrative which has been hyped in the social media as the gospel truth. These persons have conveniently ignored the strenuous efforts of the community to engage with the junta to reverse the attempted coup.”
He said: “Nonetheless, preparations continue towards making the force ready for deployment. Consequently, the technical arms of the decision-making organs, which include the Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff have also been directed to prepare the community enforcement mechanism in case it becomes compelling to deploy the force.”