Nigerian President Bola Tinubu has written a letter to his country’s Senate, asking its members to back a regional military intervention in neighbouring Niger, where a coup toppled the democratically elected government of Mohamed Bazoum last week.
Local daily The Cable reported on Friday that Tinubu requested for “military buildup and deployment of personnel for military intervention to enforce compliance of the military junta in Niger should they remain recalcitrant”.
Regional powerhouse Nigeria currently holds the rotating presidency of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which imposed sanctions on Niger and on Sunday gave the putschists a week to restore Bazoum to power or risk possible armed intervention.
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Sanctions imposed on Niger by the 15-member ECOWAS include border closures and suspension of all financial and commercial ties with the country. The Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) cancelled a planned 30-billion-CFA-franc ($51m) bond issuance by Niger on Monday.
ECOWAS also dispatched a delegation to Niger – headed by former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar – to negotiate with the soldiers who seized power. But the team left without meeting General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the coup leader.
Meanwhile, Tchiani has said he will not bow to pressure to reinstate Bazoum. He denounced the sanctions as “illegal” and “inhumane” and urged his countrymen to get ready to defend their nation.
ECOWAS has been struggling to contain a democratic backslide in West Africa in the last two years. This has included military takeovers in member states Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea and an attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau.
Tinubu who is yet to appoint ministers for defence and foreign affairs – despite sending a list of 48 ministerial nominees to parliament, is eager to stamp his authority in a region derided as the “coup belt”.
And Nigeria, which has the largest armed forces in the region and has previously contributed the most number of troops to other regional peacekeeping missions, is set to lead any intervention force in Niger.
Western countries have also strongly condemned the July 26 coup. Many of them saw Niger as the last reliable partner in efforts to battle armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) in the Sahel region.
Several Western nations have also cut aid, even though Niger is one of the poorest counties in the world and relies on outside help for nearly half of its annual budget.