The Economic Community of West African States has imposed heavier financial sanctions on the Niger junta and entities supporting them including the governments of Mali and Burkina Faso.
The development came after a diplomatic mission by the African Union, ECOWAS, United Nations and the United States to resolve the political impasse in Niger hit a brick wall on Tuesday as the military junta refused to grant audience to the delegations.
The military leaders also snubbed the Acting US Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, and denied her access to the coup leader, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani and ousted President, Muhammed Bazoum, who was being held in the presidential palace.
Some military officers led by Tchiani overthrew Bazoum on July 26 leading to a flurry of sanctions imposed on Niger by ECOWAS to compel them to restore the ousted president to power.
On Tuesday, presidential spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, told journalists in Abuja that more sanctions had been imposed on the individuals and entities relating with the military junta.
The joint AU, ECOWAS and UN delegation planned a trip to Niamey to negotiate with the junta ahead of the Thursday summit of ECOWAS but the military officers denied permission to enter Niger to the delegation, according to a letter circulated on social media whose authenticity was confirmed by a Niger army spokesman.
Announcing the latest round of sanctions in Abuja on Tuesday, Ngelale said the latest prohibition was targeted at individuals and entities relating with the military junta in Niger Republic.
Although he did not go into details, he said the restriction was carried out through the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He stated, “I can also report that following the expiration of the deadline of the ultimatum and standing on the pre-existing consensus position of financial sanctions meted out on the military junta in Niger Republic by the bloc of ECOWAS Heads of State, President Bola Tinubu has ordered an additional slew of financial sanctions through the Central Bank of Nigeria on entities and individuals related to or involved with the military junta in Niger Republic.
“The ECOWAS mandate and ultimatum is not a Nigerian ultimatum. It is not a Nigerian mandate and the office of the President, also serving as the chairman of ECOWAS, seeks to emphasise this point that due to certain domestic and international media coverage, tending toward personalisation of the ECOWAS sub-regional position to his person and our nation individually.
“It is because of this that Mr President has deemed it necessary to state unequivocally that the mandate and ultimatum issued by ECOWAS is that of ECOWAS position. While President Bola Tinubu has assumed the ECOWAS chairmanship, the position of ECOWAS conveys the consensus position of member Heads of State. And a coup will not occur in one’s backyard, without one being particularly aware of it.”
The fresh sanctions by ECOWAS on the Niger Republic apply to Mali and Burkina Faso, a presidency source revealed to The PUNCH on Tuesday.
“They (Burkina Faso and Mali) are included in the ECOWAS sanction. It affects any and every entity that is doing business with the Niger Republic. There is no hidden meaning to that, it’s clear,” the source who didn’t want to be mentioned told our correspondent.
Meanwhile, Ngelale explained that Tinubu had consulted extensively in the past few days following the expiration of the one-week ultimatum issued to the junta to hand over power to the deposed president.
He added, “The President in recent days, particularly following the expiration of the ultimatum given by ECOWAS, has widened consultations internationally but most especially domestically, including interfaces with state governors in Nigeria, who govern states bordering Niger Republic on the various fallouts and outcomes of the unfortunate situation that has unfolded in Niger Republic.
“But President Bola Tinubu wishes to emphasise to this distinguished audience that the response of ECOWAS to the military coup in Niger has been and will remain devoid of ethnic and religious sentiments and considerations.
“The regional bloc is made up of all sub-regional ethnic groups, religious groups, and all other forms of human diversity. And the response of ECOWAS, therefore, represents all of these groups, and not any of these groups individually.”
Reuters reports that the letter said popular anger among Niger’s citizens over sanctions imposed by ECOWAS in response to the coup made it impossible to host the envoys safely and denounced “a climate of threatened aggression against Niger.”
An AU spokesperson confirmed that the mission had been denied access, while ECOWAS declined to comment.
The junta had already snubbed meetings with a senior US envoy and another ECOWAS delegation.
Niger is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium, the most widely used fuel for nuclear energy, adding to its strategic importance.
The UN said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly supported mediation efforts by ECOWAS, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told French radio station RFI that diplomacy was the best way to resolve the situation.
He declined to comment on the future of some 1,100 US troops in Niger, where French, German and Italian troops are also stationed.
Blinken later told the BBC he was worried that Russia’s Wagner mercenaries were taking advantage of the instability in Niger to strengthen their presence in the Sahel.
“I think what happened and what continues to happen in Niger was not instigated by Russia or by Wagner, but they tried to take advantage of it,” he was quoted as saying by the BBC.
Western allies fear that Niger could go the way of Mali, which threw out French troops and UN peacekeepers and invited in mercenaries from the Wagner group after a 2021 coup.
“Every single place that this Wagner group has gone, death, destruction and exploitation have followed,” Blinken told the BBC.
Nuland, who was denied permission to meet both Tchiani and Bazoum in Niamey, told reporters her talks with more junior officers were “frank and difficult” and they had shown little interest in exploring ways to restore democratic order.
Last week, ECOWAS sent a mission to Niamey led by former President Abdulsalami Abubakar, but the coup leaders also refused to see him.
In contrast, Tchiani on Monday met 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.
Alongside the Malian army, fighters presumed to be from Wagner have reportedly carried out a brutal military offensive, executing hundreds of civilians last year, witnesses and rights groups say, charges the army and Wagner denied.
In a new report seen by Reuters on Monday, UN sanctions monitors said they had also used a campaign of sexual violence and other grave human rights abuses to terrorise the population.
However, in furtherance of its resolution, the ECOWAS under the leadership of President Bola Tinubu has imposed fresh sanctions on the junta in Niger.
The regional bloc had earlier given the coupists seven days to reinstate President Bazoum or risk sanctions, including possible military action.
But they called the bluff of ECOWAS and vowed to resist any foreign intervention on their soil.
They further severed ties with Nigeria, Togo, France and the US, and shut down Nigerien airspace indefinitely.
At the end of the ultimatum, the bloc scheduled a meeting for Thursday to review the situation in the West African nation.
Meanwhile, the political situation in Niger has thrown Nigerian refugees in that country into anguish and confusion due to alleged hostilities from their hosts and the hardships resulting from the coup.
Some of the refugees were forced to relocate to Niger from the four northernmost local government areas of Borno State due to the security situation in their communities.
Despite the repatriation of thousands of refugees ahead of the 2023 elections and the postponed census, there are well over 100,000 displaced Nigerians in Diffa and Bosso communities of the Niger Republic, according to the Borno State Emergency Management Agency officials
Before the latest coup in that country, the refugees had been enjoying the hospitality of their hosts who, reportedly, leased out farms to them to grow crops.
Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, was said to have distributed basic supplies to the refugees in Diffa some time ago.
“Our hosts, especially those sympathetic to the coupists, are now hostile to us,” Abdulsalami Ali, a repatriated refugee at Damasak, Borno State, whose family members are refugees in Niger, alleged in a phone chat with The PUNCH.
He noted, “They are angry with Nigerians because of our country’s stance on war with their country over what they say is entirely an affair concerning Niger.
“Now, our relations there are in danger should such hostilities continue and they dare not return home partly because the borders between the two countries have been closed and partly because the coast at home is still not clear with the insurgents still in control of our ancestral communities and unleashing terror.”
Hassan Maina, who stays in the Internally Displaced Persons camp in Damask, explained that all his relations are in Bosso in Niger.
He stated, “Our relations daily complained to us that life is becoming unbearable there (Niger Republic) due to the rising cost of essential items following the closure of the border because virtually all goods sold across the border communities of Niger come from Nigeria.
“So, hardship is mounting on Nigerian refugees, and our ancestral communities (Abadam and Marte LGAs) are not secure due to terror attacks by Boko Haram. However much we want to return home, the military has to issue the clearance to Nigeria and Niger that sufficient security has been restored for our return.”
As the ECOWAS meets on Thursday to weigh the possibility of a military intervention in Niger and other options, residents of the Illela community in Illela Local Government Area of Sokoto State, have clarified that the deployment of troops in the area was meant to combat bandits and terrorists.
A resident, Nuhu Ibrahim, affirmed that the deployment of security personnel within the town was for security reasons.
“I am sure you are aware that here in Illela, we have been battling with security issues due to the consistent attacks from bandits on our people. I am sure the recent security deployment to this place is meant for that purpose and not for any purpose. I can tell you that as of today, there is no movement of security personnel to the border area in Illela” he added.
Also speaking, a commercial motorcyclist, Haruna Yakubu, said Illela town is calm, adding that the people of the state have nothing to fear as both residents of Illela community in Sokoto and the neighbouring Kwani town in Niger Republic still relate like one family.
“We have nothing to fear at all as we are still relating with our brothers and sisters in Kwani town without any rancour whatsoever,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the Arewa Consultative Forum has urged the President to lift all sanctions and restrictions imposed on the Niger Republic following the overthrow of the civilian government by the military junta in that country.
The forum also called for more dialogue with the military junta to prevent a further breakdown of talks following the expiration of the one-week ultimatum handed down by the ECOWAS member states.
The ACF through its Publicity Secretary, Prof Tukur Muhammad-Baba, in a statement in Kaduna on Tuesday, said any attempt to invade Niger Republic would be met with strong opposition from neighbouring countries under military governments.
The ACF in the statement, said, “The Arewa Consultative Forum is calling for the lifting of sanctions against the Niger Republic by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the Economic Community of West African States.
“It is also seeking more dialogue with the military junta to prevent a further breakdown of talks following the expiration of the one-week deadline earlier given to the regime to restore democratic rule in the country.
“The ACF urges President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and ECOWAS to review the situation and restore full dialogue with the Nigerien military junta through the immediate lifting of the economic blockade and other sanctions imposed on the country as a sign of goodwill to facilitate swift dialogue.
“We call on President Tinubu and ECOWAS to revisit their approach to the Niger imbroglio based on concrete realities including the fact that most countries surrounding Niger Republic are not all in the ECOWAS region as Algeria, Libya and Chad may view a potential military aggression as a declaration of war against their borders.
“With Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinean military juntas also declaring support for the Niger coup leaders, the situation calls for caution so as not to further conflagrate the West African region.’’
The ACF commended the Northern Senators Forum for supporting their colleagues in the Senate to reject the use of force against the junta in Niger.
It added, “We strongly call on our government to intensify efforts towards further exploitation of peaceful, political and diplomatic measures to find a solution to the problem. As such, we want the Nigerian government to immediately restore the supply of electricity to the Niger Republic.”
The organization also urged the President to reopen borders with the Niger Republic and allow the free flow of people and goods into and from that country to Nigeria.
“We at the ACF would like to reiterate our condemnation of the coup and demand that the personal safety of President Mohamed Bazoum and members of his government be guaranteed by the coup leaders,” the statement added.
Appraising the expected cost of military intervention in Niger, the Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, has said that any military operation by Nigeria may cost about $2bn annually.
According to him, although ECOWAS’ decision to pressure the military junta in Niger to restore constitutional democracy in that country is a welcome development, there is a need for caution.
He said, “Any contemplation of military intervention should take into account the wider social, economic, welfare and security implications for the countries of the sub-region and their citizens.
“There are far-reaching macroeconomic, trade and security and geopolitical ramifications which should be carefully considered. The risk of high collateral damage is also very high.”
He added that any military intervention would affect both regional trade and security.
The CPPE boss further noted that the financial cost of a military campaign could be quite staggering and unpredictable.
The statement read, “The lesson here is that the cost of military interventions can be very prohibitive. Similar military operations at this time may cost considerably higher, given the inflationary trend over the past 25 years.
“At the very minimum, it would cost Nigeria a minimum of $2bn annually to prosecute a military operation in Niger, taking into account the prevailing geopolitical dynamics in the Sahel.
“It will be difficult to accommodate such a huge financial commitment at this time without putting a serious strain on our fiscal operations and foreign reserves.’’
Yusuf also said that if Nigeria decides to go ahead with a military campaign in Niger, the defence spending may have to increase substantially, possibly by 100 per cent or more, with over 70 per cent of the spending in foreign exchange.
“This is a defining moment for ECOWAS, which calls for rigorous thinking, robust consultation, sound diplomatic judgment, a deep sense of history and an exhaustive evaluation of the many ramifications,” he advised.
In a late night statement on Tuesday, the ECOWAS said it did not go to Niamey as reported by the media.
The statement said, “This is to inform that the ECOWAS-AU-UN Mission to the
Republic of Niger did not take place on Tuesday, 8 August 2023.
“The mission was aborted following a late-night communication from the military authorities in Niger indicating their unavailability to receive the tripartite delegation.
“The planned mission was part of the continued efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the current crisis in Niger.
As per the decision of the ECOWAS Extraordinary Summit held on 30 July 2023, the C
community will continue to deploy all measures in order to restore constitutional order in Niger.”