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Nigeria Senate cautions against Niger military intervention

August 6, 2023

ECOWAS chair Nigeria set a deadline for Sunday for Niger's coup leaders to cede power or face military intervention. But the Senate leader urged President Tinubu to continue diplomatic efforts as the ultimatum neared.

A general view of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff from ECOWAS countries as they deliberate in Abuja, Nigeria on the political unrest in the Republic of Niger on August 2, 2023.
ECOWAS defense ministers announced on Friday a plan for interventionImage: Kola Sulaimon/AFP/Getty Images

Nigeria's Senate advised President Bola Tinubu on Saturday to first look into other options than the use of force in Niger, as a deadline by a West African bloc, under Abuja's leadership, for the coup leaders to reverse their actions was set to expire on Sunday.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) gave Niger's coup leaders until Sunday to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. Late on Friday, the bloc's defense ministers said that they had reached a plan for military action against Niger's junta.

Yet the group has been more quiet since Friday, and some have questioned whether military intervention is indeed likely should the nominal deadline expire. 

In Abuja, meanwhile, Tinubu faced a call for restraint from his own lawmakers.

Deadline nears for Niger junta to reinstate ousted president

What did Nigeria's Senate say?

Senate President Godswill Akpabio told journalists on Saturday the house urged recently-elected President Tinubu, who is also the chairman of ECOWAS, to encourage the bloc to strengthen the political and diplomatic options.

As per Nigeria's constitution, the deployment of armed forces for combat duty outside the borders must be approved by the Senate, unless the president deems national security under "imminent threat or danger."

Advice from senators in northern Nigerian states particularly encouraged exhausting all other options before seeking intervention.

"The consequences will be casualties among the innocent citizens who go about their daily business," Suleiman Kawu Sumaila, spokesman for the Northern Senators Forum, said just after the ECOWAS ultimatum.

Of the northern states, seven share the roughly 1,500 kilometer (900 mile) border with Niger.

Niger junta threatens to respond to 'aggression': Central Africa analyst Oluwole Ojewale speaks to DW

Hopes for reinstating Bazoum

The ECOWAS ultimatum comes in an effort to crack down on military coups, with the Niger military take-over one of several witnessed in the region since 2020.

The Niger military junta, under the leadership of General Abdourahamane Tchiani, warned it would react to any potential military intervention. Neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso, both under junta rule since recent coups, said they would also support Niger against any ECOWAS intervention.

Algeria, which lies in North Africa but is not an ECOWAS member-state, stressed it was against military intervention in Niger.

"We completely and categorically reject military intervention in Niger, and a return to constitutional legitimacy must happen," state TV quoted Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune as saying.

Bazoum's Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, however, remained optimistic about the reinstatement of the civilian government.

New prime minister of Niger, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou.
Niger's Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou remains optimistic regarding Bazoum's reinstatementImage: PNDS Tarayya Partei

"We are still hopeful," Mahamadou told the Reuters news agency. "We expect President Bazoum to be released, reinstated, and all institutions that were allegedly dissolved to be restored in their entirety."

Possibility of extending the deadline?

Meanwhile, analyst Oluwole Ojewale, program coordinator for Central Africa at the Institute for Security Studies in Dakar, told DW he expected the ECOWAS deadline to be extended.

"I envisage a situation in which there will be some leeway for maybe an additional few days, and then if they secure the sufficient legislative support across those countries, then invasion is going to take place," Ojewale said.

Ojewale still said that should ECOWAS proceed with its intervention plans, its chances of success were high, even if Burkina Faso and Mali tried to deliver on their promises to support Niger.

Street view, taken in Maiduguri, Dec. 19, 2022. Maiduguri is the capital of Borno state, located in northeastern Nigeria.
Nigeria is plagued by various domestic security struggles including a northeast insurgencyImage: Florian Gaertner/photothek/IMAGO

Nigeria's military is the largest in West Africa. Its 223,000 troops are 22 times that of Niger's 10,000, and four times that of Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Niger combined, as per World Bank Open Media figures.

However, the West African country is plagued by domestic security struggles. Apart from the insurgency groups in the northeast, Nigeria is also battling organized crime gangs in the center and northwest, and separatist groups in the southeast.

Nigeria under pressure over growing threat from 'bandits'

rmt/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)