Who is Omar Tchiani, leader of Niger’s new military government?

The general has been the head of the presidential guards unit since 2015 and a close ally of former President Issoufou.

Supporters of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum gather to show their support for him in Niamey on July 26
Supporters of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum gather to show their support for him in Niamey on July 26, 2023 [AFP]

General Omar Tchiani, commander of Niger’s presidential guards, has appointed himself head of the country’s new military government following the removal from power of President Mohamed Bazoum.

Appearing on state television on Friday, Tchiani said Niger needed to change course to avoid “the gradual and inevitable demise” and thus he and others had decided to intervene.

Amid the uncertainty that followed the coup, many reports had pinpointed him as the man behind the military takeover.

Early on Wednesday, members of the special unit led by Tchiani detained Bazoum within the presidential palace, prompting regional leaders to organise a swift mediation mission to try to prevent a coup.

Hours later, a group of soldiers appeared on the West African nation’s national television claiming to have taken over the presidency.

“The defence and security forces … have decided to put an end to the regime you are familiar with,” said Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane in a statement broadcast on national television, surrounded by nine men in uniform, part of a group which is calling itself the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country.


Abdramane also said all institutions were suspended, land and air borders closed and a curfew was in place.

While Tchiani was not present on TV, he was widely seen as being hugely influential behind the scenes in Wednesday’s events.

So who is Tchiani?

Very little is known about the general, who is reportedly also named Abdourahmane.

Tchiani is from Niger’s western region of Tillaberic- a main recruitment area for the army – and close to the border with Mali.

According to Reuters, he was the first officer on site when a French flight crashed near Bilma in northern Niger in 1989 due to a suitcase bomb explosion. All 170 people on board died.

A former military attache at Niger’s embassy in Germany, he also previously led a battalion in Agadez, once seen as the world’s smuggling capital, regularly leading operations in the Niger desert against traffickers.

In 2011, he was appointed to lead the presidential guards by former President Mahamadou Issoufou, Bazoum’s predecessor. Tchiani remains a close ally of  Issoufou who promoted him to the rank of a general in 2018.

Tchiani reportedly led the unit that blocked an attempted coup in the country in March 2021, when a military unit tried to seize the presidential palace days before Bazoum who had just been elected, was due to be sworn in.

Bazoum’s election marked Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960. Once he took office, he kept the general as head of the presidential guards, a special unit of about 2,000 soldiers.

The motivations behind Tchiani spearheading the coup remain unclear but there were rumours that the deposed president wanted to dismiss him only a few days ago, Paul Melly, Niger expert at the London-based think tank Chatham House, told Al Jazeera.

There was also speculation that this may have been because of the general’s age, who is 62, or suspected discontent among some elements of the army including within the presidential guards.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify these speculations.

Another possible reason, Melly noted, is that Bazoum wanted “to mark himself out as his own man” from Issoufou’s presidency by changing the composition of the presidential guards, including replacing Tchiani.

On Wednesday, after Tchiani’s soldiers detained Bazoum, there were negotiations between him and the general that ultimately failed to yield any results.

Niger Army spokesman Colonel Major Amadou Adramane speaks during an appearance on national television, after President Mohamed Bazoum was held in the presidential palace, in Niamey, Niger, July 26, 2023 in this still image taken from video.
Niger army spokesperson Colonel-Major Amadou Adramane speaks during an appearance on national TV after President Mohamed Bazoum was held in the presidential palace, in Niamey, Niger, July 26, 2023, in this still image taken from video [ORTN via Reuters]

‘We cannot accept it’

Meanwhile, as news of the coup spread on Thursday morning, some politicians called on the population to reject the military takeover.

“There was an attempted coup, but of course, we cannot accept it,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassoumi Massoudou told news network France 24 in an interview.

“We call on all Nigerien democratic patriots to stand up as one to say no to this factious action that tends to set us back decades and block the progress of our country,” he said. He also called for the president’s unconditional release and said talks were ongoing.

A source close to the president who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak about the situation, told The Associated Press news agency that the president has not and will not resign and is safe in his residence.

“The hard-won achievements will be safeguarded. All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom will see to it,” Bazoum said early on Thursday morning on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

It is unclear how much support the coup leaders have from the rest of the security forces, but support for Bazoum among the population and political parties appears strong. In a statement on Wednesday, a group of Nigerien political groups said the situation was “suicidal and anti-republican madness”.

“Our country, faced with insecurity, terrorism and the challenges of underdevelopment, cannot afford to be distracted,” it said.

Source: Al Jazeera