Nigerian religious cult leader Primate Elijah Ayodele warns the United States of grave consequences if it invades Niger
A Nigerian cleric, Primate Elijah Ayodele, has warned US President Joe Biden against ordering a military strike in coup-torn Niger, saying that any such “satanic and terrorist move” will attract God’s anger.
Ayodele, the leader of the INRI Evangelical Spiritual Church, made the statement on Wednesday after Niger’s ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, reportedly asked Washington to intervene in defeating the military government that seized power last month.
In a press release published on several local media outlets, the religious leader said, “US involvement is just a means to enslave the people of Niger Republic” and to start a “third world war, which God is against.”
Ayodele insisted that invading the West African country would also “discredit” Biden and destroy his government.
Niger’s new military government has defied regional and international calls to release and reinstate Bazoum, who has been detained since the July 26 coup.
France, Germany, and the US have all cut development aid to Niamey in order to force the coup plotters to restore constitutional order.
Last Thursday, Biden demanded that Bazoum and his family be released immediately, claiming that Nigeriens made him president “through free and fair elections.”
Though the White House has not announced any military action, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stated that Washington supports the efforts of the West African power ECOWAS, which has threatened to use force to restore democratic order in Niger.
Last month’s coup in Niger has raised questions over whether the United States can continue the 1,100-strong military presence in the country that officials and analysts say has been key to fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel region.
Over the past decade, U.S. troops have trained Nigerien forces in counterterrorism and operated two military bases, including one that conducts drone missions against Islamic State and an Al Qaeda affiliate in the region.
The junta revoked military cooperation agreements with France, which has between 1,000 and 1,500 troops in the country.
The United States has not received any request to remove its troops and does not have any indication that it will be forced to do so, said two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
But with the West African regional bloc ECOWAS threatening military intervention and Russia’s Wagner mercenary group offering help to the coup leaders – both of which could pose safety risks for U.S. military personnel – U.S. planners could find themselves contemplating a future without a foothold in a part of Africa facing insurgencies and where the U.S. vies with Russia and China for influence.
“Our drone base in Niger is extremely important in countering terrorism in the region,” one of the U.S. officials said. “If that closed down, it would be a huge blow.”
The Biden administration has not formally labeled the military takeover in Niger a coup, a designation that would limit what security assistance Washington can provide the country.
United States last week paused certain foreign assistance programs for Niger and said on Tuesday that included funding for international military education and training and programs that support Niger’s counterterrorism capabilities. Military training is on hold.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to comment on Tuesday in a BBC interview on the future presence of U.S. troops, who are in Niger with the approval of the ousted government.
The U.S. drone base has grown in importance due to a lack of Western security partners in the region.
The drone base, known as airbase 201, was built near Agadez in central Niger at a cost of more than $100 million. Since 2018, it has been used to target Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), in the Sahel.
Since the coup, U.S. troops are largely staying on their bases and U.S. military flights, including drones, are being individually approved, according to the U.S. officials.
“The only way this mission ends is if the Nigerien government asks us to leave,” the first U.S. official said. “It’s too important for us to abandon.”