Niger’s military government on Tuesday asked West Africa’s regional court to order the lifting of sanctions imposed on the country by its neighbours following a July coup that deposed elected president Mohamed Bazoum.
“There is no sector of the Nigerien society that has not been affected by these sanctions” which have caused in one of the world’s poorest countries, Younkaila Yaye, one of the government’s lawyers, argued at the hearing in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
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After a group of soldiers calling itself the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) toppled Bazoum, a raft of economic sanctions were imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Other countries, including the United States, that had provided aid for health, security and infrastructure needs, also suspended their support.
Until the coup, aid accounted for almost half of Niger’s annual budget. Niger’s neighbours also closed their borders to the country, and more than 70 percent of its electricity, supplied by Nigeria, was cut off. Financial transactions with West African countries were suspended. Niger’s assets in external banks were frozen, and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid were withheld.
The sanctions were the most stringent yet imposed by the regional bloc in an effort to stem the tide of coups in the Sahel. But they have had little or no impact on the ambition of the government, which has consolidated its hold on power while millions in Niger face growing hardship.
At the hearing, the government’s lawyers described the ways the sanctions are hurting Niger: Children are unable to return to school because of limited supplies. Drug stores are running out of supplies. Businesses are shutting down because of rising costs.
Yaye accused ECOWAS of punishing Nigeriens over the coup in ways harsher than it has handled coups in other countries, “especially regarding financial transactions”.
The government asked the court to relax the sanctions pending the final judgement. But ECOWAS protested against their request.
Francois Kanga-Penond, the ECOWAS lawyer, argued that the government is not recognised under the bloc’s protocol and does not have the power to institute such a case in court.
The court adjourned until December 7.
Bazoum, who has been under house arrest since the coup, has asked the same court to order his release and the return of constitutional order. The court is set to rule on November 30.