*Mali, Burkina Faso dare ECOWAS, deploy warplanes to Niger
*Ousted President Bazoum will not be harmed, says PM
*Abdulsalami, Sultan-led delegation meet ousted president, coup leaders
*Nigeriens protest in Kano, call for Bazoum’s reinstatement
Festus Akanbi in Lagos, Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja and Ahmad Sorondinki in Kano
The leader of the Niger junta, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, has said the army will hand over power to the civilian government within the next three years.
In a show of solidarity with the junta, Burkina Faso and Mali have deployed warplanes to Niger against possible military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after the defence chiefs of the regional bloc had revealed that they had reached an agreement on a “D-Day” for a military intervention to restore the civil rule in that country.
This is as the new Prime Minister of Niger Republic, Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, has said the coup plotters who overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum during a July 26 coup will not harm the ousted president.
Also, a delegation from ECOWAS led by former Head of State, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) and the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, yesterday, arrived in Niamey, the capital of Niger Republic, where they met with the ousted president and the coup leaders in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to restore constitutional order in the country.
ECOWAS had given the Niger junta a week ultimatum to reinstate President Bazoum or face possible sanctions, including possible military action.
But the coupists had called the bluff of ECOWAS and vowed to resist foreign intervention.
Subsequently, ECOWAS Defence Chiefs were ordered to activate the region’s force for action to restore civil rule in Niger.
Speaking in a televised broadcast last night, General Tchiani said the coup leaders would hand over to a civilian government within three years, adding that within one month, the junta would set up a committee to study and form a new constitution for the country.
Tchiani spoke after meeting with a delegation of the ECOWAS led by the former Nigerian Head of State, General Abdulsalami.
While stressing that Niger does not want to go to war, Tchiani said the county would defend itself if the need arises.
He, however, added that the door for negotiation was still open.
ECOWAS was yet to react to the speech of the junta leader but Abdulsalami is expected to brief the regional bloc on the outcome of the meeting.
The delegation led by Abdulsalami was also received by Niger’s Prime Minister, Zeine, in Niamey, the country’s capital.
The plane carrying the delegation landed in Niamey at about 1p.m. yesterday, a day after the bloc’s military chiefs said they were ready to intervene militarily to reinstate Bazoum.
Abdulsalami was also accompanied by the Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar.
The delegation also met the ousted President Bazoum and the coup leaders in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to restore constitutional order in the country
The meeting was the first-time foreign officials saw the ousted leader in weeks.
“We met Bazoum; we heard from him what was done to him. He told us about the problems he’s facing. We’ll take it to the leaders who sent us here,” said Abdulsalami. “Without doubt, the meeting has opened discussions to lead to a way to resolve this crisis,” he added.
A previous ECOWAS delegation led by Abdulsalami, two weeks ago, tried to meet Bazoum and the coup leader, Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, but was not successful.
The country’s military junta had also, at the last minute, rejected a tripartite peace mission from ECOWAS, the African Union (AU), and the United Nations (UN).
The United States’ acting Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, was also denied permission to meet with Tchiani or with Bazoum, who had been held hostage since the power grab. Instead, Nuland spoke for two hours with other army officers.
Meanwhile, Niger’s national television reported that Mali and Burkina Faso have deployed warplanes to the country to counter ECOWAS’ forces.
“Mali and Burkina Faso turned their commitments into concrete action by deploying warplanes to respond to any attack on Niger,” the report said.
The television station said the military leaders from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger had convened on Friday in Niamey, the Nigerien capital, to decide on “concrete measures” in case ECOWAS chooses to “escalate a war.”
The two countries had warned that any military intervention in Niger would be considered a declaration of war against them.
In a joint statement issued, the governments of the two countries said: “The disastrous consequences of a military intervention in Niger could destabilise the entire region.”
At the end of a two-day meeting of ECOWAS Defence Chiefs in Accra, Ghana’s capital, ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah, stated that “We are ready to go any time the order is given. The D-day is also decided. We’ve already agreed and fine-tuned what will be required for the intervention.”
However, he said the option for diplomacy was still available.
Most of ECOWAS’ 15-member states are prepared to contribute to the joint force, except Cape Verde and those also under military rule – Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea.
Ousted President Bazoum Will Not Be Harmed, Says Niger PM
Meanwhile, the new Prime Minister of Niger Republic, Zeine, has said the coup plotters, who overthrew President Bazoum during a July 26 coup will not harm the ousted president.
Niger’s junta had reportedly told a top US diplomat that they would kill the deposed President, if neighboring countries attempted any military intervention to restore his rule.
The new military leaders had also threatened that they would prosecute Bazoum “for high treason and undermining the internal and external security of Niger”, according to a statement read on national television by Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane.
But the new Prime Minister, Zeine, said the generals will not harm Bazoum.
“Nothing will happen to him, because we don’t have a tradition of violence in Niger,” Zeine, the most senior civilian appointed by the military leaders, told The New York Times in an interview from Dakar on the fate of Bazoum.
Zeine also insisted that the coup leaders had no intention of collaborating with Russia, or with the Kremlin-backed mercenaries of the Wagner group.
The New York Times reported that the coup leaders had cut off water and electricity to Bazoum’s house, where he had been confined.
Zeine, who was appointed Niger’s prime minister on August 7, was also questioned by the Times on the presence of 1,100 American soldiers and 1,500 French soldiers fighting against jihadists in anti-terrorist operations with the local army.
Zeine, a French-trained economist who had served as finance minister in a previous administration, said “the moment will come to review” such military partnerships while praising the “extremely reasonable position” of the White House in trying to resolve the crisis through diplomacy rather than force.
In a related development, a volunteer militia force made up of civilians is also being organised in Niger in response to the potential ECOWAS military intervention.
Recruitment for a civilian militia force called the Volunteers for the Defence of Niger (VDN) was scheduled to commence yesterday in Niamey, the country’s capital.
Volunteers interested in joining VDN would gather at the General Seyni Kountche Stadium, where those older than 18 could be registered.
Similar efforts are also set along the borders of Nigeria and Benin.
It was gathered that the militias will assist the military in various capacities, including armed combat as well as medical care, logistics, technical and engineering support
Nigeriens Protest in Kano, Call for Bazoum’s Reinstatement
In another development, hundreds of Nigerien residents in Kano State yesterday took to the major streets to call for the reinstatement of President Bazoum.
hundreds of Nigerien residents in Kano State, yesterday, took to the major streets to call for the reinstatement of President Bazoum.
The protesters, however, implored ECOWAS to rescind its decision to deploy troops in Niger, stressing that dialogue was the best approach to resolve the conflict.
The protest, which took place at Wapa in the Fagge Local Government Area of the state, was led by Lawalli Mamman Barma.
Commercial activities were brought to a halt along Abbale Street, and Triumph as the protesters carried placards with different inscriptions, condemning the military coup that swept away the democratic dispensation of Niger Republic.
“We are calling on the ECOWAS to peacefully reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum’s democratic government,” the group said.
Barma urged the coupists to unconditionally release President Bazoum, his family members, and all other victims that they allegedly kidnapped during the mutiny.
“We ask without conditions, the release of President Mohamed Bazoum legitimately elected by the sovereign people of Niger, as well as his family and all other kidnapped persons,” Barma said.
He also implored ECOWAS to rescind its decision to deploy troops in Niger, stressing that dialogue was the best approach to resolve the conflict.
The group then commended President Bazoum for his efforts at developing human and capital resources, acknowledging his tireless effort to improve economic and social developments in Niger.