The Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, said yesterday in Accra, Ghana, that it will not hesitate to invade the Niger Republic if all efforts to reverse the coup in the country fail.
This came as the German government said it is in support of sanctions imposed on the military junta in the country by the European Union, EU.
It will be recalled that ECOWAS Heads of State and Government had at its second extraordinary summit in Abuja last week, activated its standing force should the junta in Niger refuse to restore to power the ousted president of the country, Mohamed Bazoum.
The threat came as defence chiefs of member states met in the Ghanaian capital to strategise on the next line of action on Niger and discuss details of the standby force. The meeting continues today.
“Let no one be in doubt that if everything else fails, the valiant forces of West Africa…are ready to answer to the call of duty.
“By all means available, constitutional order will be restored in the country,” ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah, said.
He listed past ECOWAS deployments in Sierra Leone, Liberia and elsewhere as examples of readiness for military action.
Musah rejected the accusation that ECOWAS is being manipulated by France or any other outside power.
“What they forget is that ECOWAS is a rules-based organisation. We have our protocols, we have our norms and we are ready to protect them.
“That’s why the Heads of State are saying if push comes to shove, we are going into Niger with our own contingents, own equipment and our own resources to make sure we restore constitutional order. If other democracy-loving partners want to support us, they are welcome,” he said.
‘Cat and mouse game in Niger’
Musah accused the Niger coup leaders of “playing cat-and-mouse” with ECOWAS by refusing to meet with its envoys and seeking justifications for their takeover of power.
He said most of the bloc’s 15 member states are prepared to participate in the standby force that could intervene in Niger, noting, however, that the exceptions are those also under military rule, including Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and tiny Cape Verde.
He criticised the junta’s announcement that it had elements to put Bazoum, who is being detained, on trial for treason.
The United Nations, European Union and ECOWAS have all expressed concern over the conditions of his detention.
“The irony of it is that somebody who is in a hostage situation himself…is being charged with treason. When he committed that high treason is everybody’s guess,” Musah said.
Niger has strategic importance beyond West Africa because of its role as a hub for foreign troops involved in the fight against Islamist insurgents in the Sahel region and its uranium and oil reserves.
Western countries fear the junta could follow the lead of neighbouring Mali, where the military government threw out French troops and instead invited in mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group, which has welcomed the coup in Niger.
There had been very stout opposition from both individuals and groups, especially in Northern Nigeria, against the military invasion of Niger Republic.
Aside from opposition from such groups as the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, Northern Elders Forum, NEF, to military operations in Niger, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, and Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, have also kicked against it.
In Niger’s capital, Niamey, where large crowds have taken part in protests against ECOWAS and in favour of the coup leaders, residents have also rejected the idea of an outside intervention to reinstate the elected president and civilian government.
“I’m not afraid because I know our armed forces are well prepared to deal with any eventuality. ECOWAS is manipulated by foreign powers. When we see the reactions of France since the coup and especially the harshness of ECOWAS I can only think that these are coordinated actions between France and ECOWAS,” said radio technician Omar Yaye.
However, France, Niger’s former colonial ruler, has denied the junta’s accusation that it is seeking to destabilise the country or that it had violated its airspace, insisting on supporting ECOWAS efforts to restore constitutional order.
French troops, along with U.S., German and Italian forces, are present in Niger as part of international efforts to combat Islamist insurgents who have caused thousands of deaths and forced millions to flee their homes over the past decade.
Germany backs EU sanctions against military junta
In a similar development, German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, held talks with African Union Chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and other stakeholders about the coup in Niger yesterday, saying Germany is now backing EU sanctions against the military junta.
In comments posted to X, the social media platform, formerly known as Twitter, the foreign ministry said Baerbock had held the talks with “the goal of re-establishing constitutional order” in Niger.
According to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the German Development Minister, Svenja Schulze, during a visit to Abuja, also met with representatives of ECOWAS.
“After the suspension of development cooperation and security cooperation, we in the EU now want to introduce sanctions against the putschists,” it added.
WFP calls for free flow of aid amid ongoing crisis
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme, WFP, has called for continued “humanitarian and resilience efforts” for Niger’s most vulnerable, in the face of the military power grab.
WFP’s Acting Regional Director for Western Africa, Ms Margot Van der Velden, said in a statement late Wednesday: “Our work is vital for the most vulnerable of Niger and needs to continue.
“Whatever the political situation, continuing our humanitarian and resilience efforts is crucial at these times of crisis.’’
In just the first week of August, WFP delivered life-saving food supplies to 140,000 across the country as well as malnutrition care to 74,000 children.
Van der Velden also called on all stakeholders to “stand firm” in their pledges to support those most in need.
“In these tough times, our focus remains to provide unwavering support to vulnerable communities during the ongoing lean season between harvests,’’ she said.