Since July 26, Niger has been in the eye of storm after the military toppled an elected President, earning itself sanctions from Ecowas.
But on Thursday, Nigeria President Bola Tinubu, also Ecowas Chair, signalled pursuit of diplomacy after allowing a delegation of clerics to return to Niamey to talk with the junta.
These scholars had been there last week after which they helped relay the junta’s side of the story, including why they had initially rejected talks with Ecowas envoys.
And Abdulsalami Abubakar, a special envoy of Ecowas on Niger’s political impasse, announced Tuesday that a diplomatic solution was within reach over the crisis that has gripped the country.
Abubakar told reporters that the discussion with the military junta had shown positive signs.
“I must say that our visit to Niger has been very fruitful and that it has opened an avenue to start talking, and hopefully, we will get somewhere,” said Abubakar after presenting a report on the situation to President Tinubu.
Abubakar led a special Ecowas delegation on a mission to address the socio-political impasse.
Ecowas has demanded that the junta cede power to the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. The bloc had readied its standby force, warning of intervention.
The AU Peace and Security Council endorsed Ecowas sanctions but rather than say the junta should return power to Bazoum, it said he should be released and military return to the barracks.
This has been interpreted to mean readiness to hold dialogue with the junta, on a possible civilian transition.
But Abubakar said the Ecowas would continue to explore all options in resolving the impasse. In spite of the bloc rejecting a three-year transitional plan by the junta led by Gen Abdourahamane Tchiani, there is now little possibility of military intervention.
This is because the African Union this week asked for a study into the possible impact of a planned military intervention before actual deployment.
Part of the reason is the cultural connections between Niger and Nigeria, as well as existing tradition.
“We strongly urge President Tinubu, as the present Ecowas Chairman, to painstakingly pursue dialogue and diplomacy in resolving the crisis in the Republic of Niger and to exercise restraint and avoid taking any action that could lead to war,” said Mr Falalu Bello, National Chairman of Peoples Redemption Party (PRP).
“War would destabilise the entire Sahelian region and could lead to the spread of violence and instability to other countries in the West African subregion.”
The AU Peace and Security Council endorsed Ecowas sanctions but rather than say the junta should return power to Bazoum, the Council said he should be released and that the military return to the barracks. This has been interpreted to mean readiness to hold dialogue with the junta, on a possible civilian transition.
The Council said it “takes note of the Ecowas’ decision to deploy Standby Force and requests the AU Commission to undertake an assessment of the economic, social and security implications of deploying a Standby Force in Niger and report back to Council.”
The AU, as tradition, suspended Niger from its activities and asked the world to reject the junta.
The Council, chaired by Burundi, had actually sat on August 14. Cameroon, Djibouti, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Congo-Brazzaville, The Gambia, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe are the other current members of the Council whose membership is rotated every two years among members of the African Union.
The Council’s decision of its 168th meeting, however, showed the continental body was unwilling to work with the junta led by Gen Abdourahamane Tchiani in any way.
But it also rejected any “external interference by any actor or any country outside the Continent in the peace and security affairs in Africa including engagements by private military companies in the continent.”
Some Nigerians have outlined the economic implications of engaging in military options to restore democracy in Niger Republic.
Prof Andrew Oyakhire, an economist, said that Nigeria stands to lose $1.3 billion in trade from the border closure with Niger.
Dr Muda Yusuf, founder, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprises (CPPE), said contemplation of military intervention should take into account the wider social, economic, welfare and security implications for the countries of the subregion and their citizens.