A delegation of Nigerian Islamic scholars traveled to Niamey for meetings with the leaders of the military junta who took power last month. The group says the coup leaders expressed an openness to diplomacy, Reuters reported on Sunday. However, this account has been sharply contradicted by a media spokesperson representing the junta who claimed negotiations with regional countries are impossible unless Niger’s new leadership is recognized.
These statements come after a meeting of defense chiefs from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was postponed indefinitely. The meeting was called to review the “best options” for a military intervention which ECOWAS has previously threatened may be necessary if the overthrown President Mohamed Bazoum is not reinstated.
On Thursday, ECOWAS activated and ordered the deployment of a “standby” force to “restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger.” Current ECOWAS chairman and Nigerian President Bola Tinubu approved the Islamic scholars’ mission to Niamey, in a sign that the bloc may also be holding out for a negotiated settlement. The mission led by Sheikh Abdullahi Bala Lau sat down for several hours of talks with coup leader General Abdourahamane Tiani.
In a statement on Sunday, Lau explained “[Tiani] said their doors were open to explore diplomacy and peace in resolving the matter.” Tiani reportedly stressed the historic ties between Niger and Nigeria, saying “we’re not only neighbors but brothers and sisters who should resolve issues amicably.” The junta has not yet remarked publicly regarding these meetings.
The scholars’ account viscerally differs from statements made over the weekend by Insa Garba Saidou, a local activist who – though not as an official member of the junta – works as a liaison between Niger’s military rulers and claims he maintains direct communication with them. Saidou told the Associated Press on Friday that there will be no dialogue with regional countries unless Tiani is recognized.
“There is only one option, accepting the regime or war,” Saidou said. “It is finished for Bazoum, you must forget about him. It is finished, it is a waste of time trying to restore him. It is not possible,” he said.
Saidou rails “ECOWAS is demanding that (the junta) immediately release President Bazoum and restore him as head of state. Is this a joke?” He continues, “Whether Bazoum resigns or not, he will never be Niger’s president again.”
Bazoum is being held with his wife and son at the presidential palace, where the electricity has been cut for weeks, under conditions said to be having detrimental effects on his family’s health.
Development aid cuts, travel restrictions, and sanctions imposed in response to the coup have damaged the economy and standard of living for civilians living in one of the poorest countries in the world. Moussa Ahmed, food seller in Niamey, told the AP that prices of staple goods such as cooking oil and rice have increased by 20%. Niger relies on Nigeria for as much as 90% of its power, however, Abuja has cut off its electricity supply. As a result, Ahmed is unable to power his shop’s refrigerators.
Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on the Conflicts of Interest podcast. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as Antiwar.com, Counterpunch, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter@FreemansMind96.