•Major decision expected at Abuja meeting, ex-Kano emir, Sanusi meets junta leader, Tiani
•Nigerien rebels vow to restore deposed President, coup leaders accuse France of fueling crisis
Top diplomats from the United Nations, African Union and the Economic Community of West African States will Thursday (today) storm Abuja, the nation’s capital, to take major decisions at an Extraordinary Summit on the political development in the Niger Republic.
The summit, which is expected to plot the ouster of the junta, will be hosted by the Chairman of the ECOWAS of Heads of States and Government, President Bola Tinubu.
This came as the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs warned the Federal Government and ECOWAS against carrying out a military action in Niger.
The Deputy Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Prof. Salisu Shehu in a statement on Wednesday, warned that sanctions, like the ones imposed by ECOWAS, would be counter-productive and would have “socio-economic negative implications for both Nigerians and Nigeriens especially as we share common history and borders.”
The warning came as a former emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, on Wednesday, met with Tchiani in Niamey to discuss the political impasse which resulted from the overthrow of President Bazoum.
Photos of the two men were circulated on social media but there was no information on the outcome of their meeting.
Also, it could not be ascertained if Sanusi was in Niamey at the instance of President Tinubu.
Sanusi meets Tinubu
Meanwhile, Sanusi also met Tinubu at the Presidential Villa on Wednesday following the ex-emir’s meeting with the junta leader. He however, refused to discuss details of his meeting with the President.
The former emir, who told journalists he was in the Villa to brief Tinubu on the outcome of his meeting with the military leaders of Niger, said he was well received in the landlocked country.
According to him, he went on the peace mission without any directive from the government.
“I came to brief him on the details of my discussions with leaders of Niger. We’ll continue to do our best to bring the two parties together to improve understanding. This is the time for public diplomacy, it’s not a matter that we leave to governments, all Nigerians, all Nigeriens need to be involved to find a solution that works for Africa, a solution that works for Niger that works for Nigeria and a solution that works for humanity”, he said.
Asked if he was a government emissary on the mission, he said “No, I was not sent by the government. Government officials were aware I was going, but it was my personal initiative, using my personal contacts to get there and I will continue to do my best. It is my duty as a leader to do that”.
Meanwhile, Tinubu, as the chairman of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, met with leaders of various Islamic sects in the country, who sought his approval to intervene and negotiate with their counterparts in Niger Republic.
Sheikh Bala Lau of Izalla group and Sheikh Abdurahman Ahmad of Ansar ud Deen, flanked by leaders of other sects, addressed journalists after their meeting with Tinubu.
Sheikh Lau said, “we thank Allah that He gave us the opportunity to meet with Mr. President and the delegation of Ulama from here in Nigeria met with Mr. President on the issue of Niger Republic. We want to find a lasting solution, we want peace and harmony to reign, not only in Nigeria, but in the sub-Saharan region and in globe as well.
“The Ulama advised Mr. President that we want peace and reconciliation. If anything happens between you and your neighbour, the holy Quran commands you to reconcile, so we want reconciliation.
“That’s why we are here and our able leader and President accepted the offer that he wants us to intervene and to talk to our brothers in Niger Republic, the scholars also there on how we can come together and bring a lasting solution to this problem.
However, a former rebel leader and politician in Niger, Rhissa Ag Boula, launched a movement opposing the military government that took power in a July 26 coup, a first sign of internal resistance to army rule in the strategically important Sahel country.
Boula said his new Council of Resistance for the Republic aimed to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum who has been in detention at his residence since the takeover.
However, in line with the resolve to restore constitutional democracy in Niger, the UN, AU and ECOWAS will hold a joint meeting to fashion out a solution to the political impasse in the landlocked country.
A senior diplomat confided in The PUNCH on Wednesday that the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Leonardo Santos Simão, would be at the special session.
‘’The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel is the spokesman on the Niger issue and he is likely to be at the next ECOWAS meeting,’’ the source said on the condition of anonymity.
The junta led by Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani had defiantly refused to yield to entreaties and diplomatic pressure to restore Bazoum to office.
Following the coup, the regional bloc imposed a battery of sanctions on the francophone country to compel the military leaders to reinstate the ousted president.
But the military leaders snubbed a one-week ultimatum to restore democracy issued by ECOWAS and also refused to meet with a delegation led by former military president Abdulsalami Abubakar last Thursday.
On Monday, the junta similarly denied the Acting United States Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland access to the coup leader and Bazoum, who was being held in the presidential palace.
Also, plans by a joint UN, AU, ECOWAS delegation to visit Niamey on Tuesday was aborted after the coup leaders said they were unavailable to meet with the mission.
On Tuesday, Presidential spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, told journalists in Abuja that more sanctions had been imposed on individuals and entities relating with the military junta.
This newspaper gathered that the new sanctions imposed by the Central Bank of Nigeria would prevent Nigerien banks from carrying out financial transactions with their Nigerian counterparts. The restriction also applied to the coupists and their collaborators.
As the opposition to the coup gains momentum, a former Niger rebel, Boula said in a statement Wednesday that his anti-coup movement would reverse the military intervention in his country.
“Niger is the victim of a tragedy orchestrated by people charged with protecting it,” the statement said.
Boula led uprisings by Tuaregs, a nomadic ethnic group in Niger’s desert north, in the 1990s and 2000s.
Like many former rebels, he was integrated into the government under Bazoum and his predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou.
The rebel endorsed ECOWAS and any other international actors seeking to restore constitutional order in Niger, adding that his group would make itself available to the bloc for any useful purpose.
Another CRR member said several Nigerien political figures had joined the group but could not make their allegiance public for safety reasons.
While the extent of support for the CRR is unclear, Boula’s statement will worry the coup leaders given his influence among Tuaregs who control commerce and politics in much of the vast north.
Support from Tuaregs would be key to securing the military government’s control beyond Niamey’s city limits.
However, Reuters reports that a video statement by army spokesman Amadou Abdramane, on Wednesday, provided no evidence to such a claim.
Abdramane accused France of wanting to create an insecure atmosphere to undermine the credibility of the junta.
He said, “What we are seeing is a plan to destabilise our country.” Reuters noted that Paris has denied doing so.
Against the backdrop of the closure of the borders, the acting Comptroller General of Immigration, Caroline Adepoju, on Wednesday stormed the Illela Local Government, Sokoto State, to ascertain the level of compliance at the Illela border post.
Addressing newsmen at the entry post between Nigeria and Niger Republic, the CG expressed happiness with the level of compliance at the border post.
She commended the men and officers at the Illela command as well as other security agencies for their synergy in ensuring the closure of the borders as directed by ECOWAS.
Adepoju noted, “I am here to see the level of compliance here and I must confess that what I saw is commendable as both my personnel and those of other sister security agencies are cooperating perfectly.
“All the land borders between Nigeria and Niger Republic were closed for security reasons and will remain so until the level of security in Niger Republic improves.
“I want to appeal to our host community here in Illela to be patient with the government because the security of lives is very important to the government and we will do everything to protect our people.”
Speaking earlier during a courtesy visit to the Sokoto State Governor, Ahmed Aliyu, the immigration boss commended him for his cooperation with the security agents in the state.
She solicited the support of the governor in terms of logistics and donation of patrol vehicles to the command to enhance their operations.
One of our correspondents observed that movement of vehicles and goods are still prohibited as scores of trailers and trucks were stranded at the border post.
Ex-diplomats warn FG
But commenting on the prospect of military intervention in Niger by the ECOWAS member states, a retired ambassador to Mexico, Ogbole Amedu-Ode, said the economy of border states such as Sokoto, Kano and others might be destabilised, noting that the struggling Nigerian economy would also be put on a war footing.
Amedu-Ode explained, “Any form of military action certainly will have its repercussions. We pray that it will not get to that given the prevailing circumstances of opposition to military intervention in the Niger Republic situation.
“However, if there is any form of military intervention to, as they say, restore democracy to our landlocked neighbour to the north, the immediate consequence is that our national economy will immediately be put on a war footing. This entails mobilising our resources to support the war efforts. For an economy that is already in a tailspin, your conjecture is as good as mine.
‘’The immediate neighbourhood of the war theatre, that is the border states of Sokoto, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Yobe and Borno will be subject to destabilization of their socioeconomic lives. This is against the backdrop of communities that have suffered and are suffering from the destabilizing effects of Boko Haram violence and banditry in the last decade, if not more.
“In raw military terms, if we lead a coalition of ECOWAS forces to attack Niger, they reserve the right to respond accordingly. What is more, we are most contiguous, geographically and demographically, to the theatre of war.”
Speaking on the socio-economic implications of a war with Niger, retired diplomat Rasheed Akinkuolie stated, “There is a long-standing agreement between Niger Republic and Nigeria that Niger republic should not dam the River Niger upstream, so that the Kanji, Shiroro and Jebba dams in Nigeria will not be adversely affected.
“Niger Republic is a landlocked country and most of its exported and imported goods pass through Nigerian territory. Closing the border will severely affect Niger republic and trans-border trade between the two countries.”
An economist and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Uyo, Prof Akpan Ekpo, noted that food inflation would increase in the medium and long term if a war was not averted.
He also maintained that the revenues generated from economic activities would suffer a dip in the Northern states bordering the Niger Republic and advised that the federal government must avert a war.
“The council, therefore, calls on ECOWAS and in particular, the Nigerian Government to retrace their steps in this regard to avoid correcting wrong with another.’’
The body further stated, “While Nigeria spearheads the imposition and heaping of sanctions on Niger, it should be reminded of the thousands of Nigerian refugees to whom Niger provided succour and safe abode for several years now.
‘’This is undoubtedly an act of good neighbourliness, rare hospitality and kindness that should not be reciprocated with measures that would cause disaffection, breed hate and hostility and aggravate the sufferings of the downtrodden people across both sides of the borders.’’
Speaking in the same vein, a body of Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops in West Africa, the Reunion of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa, has warned the ECOWAS and AU leadership that any military intervention in Niger could complicate the situation and recreate the experience of Libya in the sub-region.
The body of clergymen, in a letter signed on Tuesday by its President and Bishop of Agboville, Most. Rev. Alexis Youlo, warned, “We affirm that nothing can justify the creation or facilitation of an environment that is destructive to our people.”
The letter noted that violence does not solve any problem and called for restraint and discernment in managing the situation in Niger.
It said, “We, the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops of the Reunion of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa, after consultation, are deeply concerned by the sub-regional tension linked to the political situation in Niger.
“Faced with the events currently unfolding in our sub-region, it is our moral, spiritual and pastoral duty to address this letter of exhortation to all those involved, directly or indirectly, in the management of this crisis, inviting everyone to show restraint, discernment and responsibility. The lives of the peoples of West Africa are at stake.
“Keeping as our central vision ‘the integrity of the people’ and emphasising respect for human dignity and a high sense of accountability to mankind, history and God the Creator, we affirm that nothing can justify the creation or facilitation of an environment that is destructive to our people.
‘’No individual, national, regional, geopolitical or denominational interest or project should take precedence over the preservation of life, human dignity and the wellbeing of future generations in West Africa and beyond. We, your pastors, are convinced, and the history of peoples teaches us, that violence does not solve any problem, not even the one that triggered it.
Lending its voice, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, has also urged Tinubu to adopt a peaceful approach in handling the crisis in the Republic of Niger.
The group stated this in a statement signed Wednesday by elder statesman and leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum, Chief Edwin Clark, leader of pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, Ayo Afebanjo, President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, President of the Middle Belt Forum, Pogus Bitrus and the National Chairman of PANDEF, Emmanuel Essien.
While flaying the military for toppling a democratically elected government, the forum called for “Concerted efforts to be put in place to ensure that democracy is restored urgently in the Republic of Niger and that the new military leader, Tchani, and his cohorts are made to abdicate the power, which they seized by force.’’
It added, “As important as the restoration of democracy is to Nigeria, the ECOWAS and the global community, we advise President Tinubu to realize that his primary responsibility is to the peace and security of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. All actions of our government should, therefore, focus on how Nigeria can play its roles and obligations without getting stuck in the crisis in Niger.