The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) “has not declared war on the people of Niger nor is there any plan to invade” the country, Dr Omar Touray, President of the ECOWAS Commission told journalists in Abuja, the Nigerian capital on Friday, 25 August.
But he described as “unacceptable,” the 36-month transition plan announced by the Brig.-Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani-led junta to restore constitutional order in Niger.
ECOWAS leaders had at their emergency summit on 30th July given the junta, which toppled elected President Mohamed Bazoum on 26th July, within seven days to reinstate him or face military action.
After the ultimatum had passed and given the junta’s reluctance to engage in negotiations, including its refusal to receive a joint ECOWAS-AU-UN Mission, ECOWAS leaders ordered the activation of the regional Standby Force for possible deployment to Niger.
Subsequently, ECOWAS military chiefs after their last emergency meeting in Ghana on 19 August, announced that a “D-Day” for the force deployment had be decided, with the military only waiting for a go-ahead by regional leaders.
In the interim period, the junta continued to consolidate it’s hold on power with the appointment of a 21-member ministerial cabinet headed by a civilian Prime Minister.
But after receiving the ECOWAS Special Envoy, Nigeria’s former Head of State, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar in Niamey last weekend, the junta said it was ready for dialogue, but went ahead to announce the three-year transition plan, which ECOWAS has now rejected.
The use of military force in Niger is unpopular because of the complexity of the situation, particularly the involvement of France and the U.S., which have military bases and therefore, strategic defence and economic interests in Niger.
ECOWAS sanctions, including border closure, freeze of financial transactions by most member States, and Nigeria’s suspension of electricity supplies to Niger are already biting hard on landlocked Niger’s population.
Food is scare or expensive where available, with hospitals reporting high numbers of avoidable deaths.
Military intervention could worsen the situation with possibility of a catastrophic war and grave humanitarian disaster.
In line with the preference for the diplomatic option over military intervention, the ECOWAS Chairman and Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu on Thursday in Abuja received a group of Muslim Ulamas (scholars), and urged them to continue their back-channel initiatives toward a peaceful resolution of the Niger impasse.
It is expected that a consensus to avoid a possible risky military option could be a transition programme of less than 24 months and Bazoum’s early release from the junta’s detention.
Three other ECOWAS member States – Mali, Guinea Conakry and Burkina Faso – are already under military rule.
The resurgence of military coups or recession of democracy in West Africa is caused largely by governance failures characterised by insecurity and “constitutional, ballot box, human rights and rule of law coups” perpetrated by the political class.