Niger rebuffs trilateral delegation from the UN, ECOWAS and African Union as Nigeria plans to send 25,000 strong invasion force
Niger’s junta on Tuesday rejected the latest diplomatic mission from African countries aimed at restoring constitutional order after a July 26 coup, resisting pressure from the United States and the United Nations to come to the negotiating table.
Heads of state from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are preparing for a summit on Thursday to discuss their standoff with the Niger junta, which defied an Aug. 6 deadline to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.
The possibility of military intervention will be discussed, but ECOWAS has said it is a last resort. Nigeria is willing to contribute more than half of the forces needed to restore constitutional order in neighbouring Niger if needed, French radio broadcaster RFI reported on Tuesday, citing a government official.
If the regional alliance opts for military action in Niger, a force of 25,000 troops would be committed, with Nigeria providing the largest number, RFI reported, citing the bloc’s intervention plan. Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who has pledged zero tolerance for coups in the West African region, requested Senate approval for a troop deployment to Niger.
However, lawmakers declined to endorse the mission. While the legislators condemned the coup, they urged Tinubu, who also chairs the ECOWAS authority of heads of state and government, to pursue diplomatic options.
Apart from Nigeria, three other countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Benin – have volunteered to send troops to Niamey.
The African Union (AU) planned to send a joint mission with representatives of the UN and ECOWAS to Niger on Tuesday, but it was denied permission by the junta, which has closed Niger’s airspace, French magazine Jeune Afrique reported.
An AU spokesperson confirmed that a mission had been denied access, while ECOWAS declined to comment.
The junta had already snubbed meetings with a senior U.S. envoy and another ECOWAS delegation that tried to negotiate.
Niger was an important ally for the West after two of its neighbours rejected former colonial power France and turned towards Russia instead.
“There’s no doubt that diplomacy is the best way to resolve this situation,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told French radio station RFI on Tuesday.
He said the United States was backing ECOWAS efforts to restore order. He declined to comment on the future of some 1,100 U.S. troops in Niger, where French, German and Italian troops are also stationed.
The United Nations said Secretary General Antonio Guterres strongly supported mediation efforts by ECOWAS.
U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland flew to Niamey on Monday but was denied permission to meet with coup leader Abdourahamane Tchiani or with Bazoum, who is in detention.
Instead, she spoke for two hours with other army officers.”These conversations were extremely frank and at times quite difficult, because, again, we’re pushing for a negotiated solution… They are quite firm in their view of how they want to proceed, and it does not comport with the Constitution of Niger,” Nuland told reporters.
Last week, ECOWAS sent a mission to Niamey led by Abdulsalami Abubakar, a former military ruler of Nigeria, but Tchiani also refused to see him.
In contrast, Tchiani met on Monday with a joint delegation from Mali and Burkina Faso, both neighbouring countries where the military has seized power from civilians. The juntas there have pledged support for the coup in Niger.
“We will not accept military intervention in Niger. Our survival depends on it,” said Abdoulaye Maiga, a spokesman for Mali’s junta, appearing on Niger state television.
Residents of Niamey who spoke to Reuters were strongly supportive of the coup.”I think it will help us fight terrorism more effectively, and pool our forces,” said resident Abdoul Aziz Mahamane.
Some pro-coup demonstrators in Niamey have held up Russian flags. Residents and fabric vendors said the flags were in fashion.”I’m a fan of the Russian flag, which is why I’ve come today to buy fabrics for the tailor to make me a flag,” said Okacha Abdoul-Aziz. “I like Russia because most African countries are with the Russians.”