The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Niger’s military junta will begin talks this week, Daily Trust learnt Sunday.
Sources said a date would be fixed after the Nigeria’s Islamic scholars, led by Sheik Bala Lau, Chairman of Jam’atul Izalatu Bida Waikamatu Sunnah, who met with the junta in Niamey, Niger’s capital, on Saturday brief President Bola Tinubu.
The ulamas, according to sources at the Presidency, will brief Tinubu today.
One of the sources said ECOWAS welcomed the readiness of the Niger’s military rulers for dialogue.
The leader of the junta, General Abdourahmane Tchiani, had, at a meeting with the Nigeria’s Islamic clerics, reportedly expressed readiness for dialogue.
A source said President Tinubu “is keen to see progress being made.”
“ECOWAS leaders, in the communiqué after their last meeting, said they are committed to ensuring peaceful end to this problem. So, it is not about the Nigerian Presidency. So, dialogue is welcome. Dialogue was part of the resolutions reached in the last meeting, even when they said standby force should be activated, still they maintained that they were still committed to peaceful resolution of the issue,” the source said.
“I’m not sure when the ulamas are briefing the president, maybe tomorrow (today) because they came back either this morning or last night…But I know if they are not holding a meeting today (yesterday), then definitely they will be seeing him (the president) tomorrow (today)”, the official said.
Another source said the window of dialogue, which ECOWAS leaders had approved, would be activated as soon as the clerics briefed Tinubu and the process would commence immediately.
Since President Mohamed Bazoum was overthrown on July 26, General Tchiani’s regime had shunned several peace overtures.
But during a meeting with the ulamas from Nigeria, Tichani was quoted to have said that doors were open to explore diplomacy and peace in resolving the matter.
In a statement yesterday on behalf of the intervention team, Sheik Lau said his delegation and the military rulers deliberated on several issues, including ECOWAS demand for the reinstatement of Bazoum.
Asked if the discussion for dialogue took place, Lau quoted Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine, the Prime Minister of Niger, appointed by the junta, as saying, “Yes, for sure.
That was exactly what the leader of our country told them, he did not say he was not open to dialogue.”
Zeine was said to have expressed optimism that talks with ECOWAS would take place in the next few days.
‘’We’ve agreed and the leader of our country has given the green light for dialogue. They’ll now go back and inform the Nigerian president what they have heard from us…. we hope in the coming days, they (ECOWAS) will come here to meet us to discuss how the sanctions imposed against us will be lifted,” he said.
‘Why we shunned Abdulsalami delegation’
Sheik Lau said the Niger’s military leaders also disclosed the reason they ignored the delegation led by former Nigeria’s Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar (retd), in an effort to restore the toppled government.
President Tinubu had sent the high-powered team which included Abubakar and the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, to end Niger’s crisis through dialogue.
The delegation, however, returned to Nigeria without getting the attention of the junta.
Sheik Lau quoted the military rulers as saying they were angry when the delegation led by Abubakar came.
Tchiani, who received the clerics with warmth, said it was painful to the coup leaders that the ECOWAS leaders did not hear their side of the matter before issuing an ultimatum to them to quit office.
‘We toppled Bazoum to save Niger, Nigeria’
At the meeting held in Niamey, Tchiani claimed the coup was well intended, saying they struck to starve off an imminent threat that would have affected not only Niger Republic but also Nigeria.
He apologised for not according the team sent by President Tinubu the required attention because they were angry about the ECOWAS ultimatum.
Speaking with journalists in Niamey after the meeting, another member of the intervention team and Chief Missioner of Ansarudeen Society of Nigeria, Sheik Ahmad Abdulrahman, said contrary to reports in some sections of the media, the team was well received by General Tchiani and both parties had fruitful discussions.
“We’ll now go back home and report to President Tinubu what we’ve discussed and press it on him that war is not an option in resolving the matter.
“We believe that war is an ill wind that’ll not blow any good and that peaceful resolution should prevail,” Abdulrahman said.
Military action’ll destabilize Nigeria, NLC cautions ECOWAS
The president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero, Sunday warned that military action would destabilize the entire country, including Northern Nigeria, and cause loss of lives in and out of the battle field.
Ajaero, in a statement, noted that the disadvantages of using force outweighs its benefits, asking ECOWAS to consider Bazoum and his family’s safety.
He asked ECOWAS to listen to well-meaning Nigerians and other stakeholders across different continents not to wage war against the junta.
Ajaero said: “Suspicions are rife that the ECOWAS leadership is trying to pull out of the fire the nut for and on behalf of another or others. While we cannot ascertain the veracity of these claims, ECOWAS must conduct itself in such a manner that its citizens and the world would believe it has a mind of its own.
“Coupled with this, we at the Nigeria Labour Congress have reason to believe that ECOWAS in part is victim of its double standards or discriminatory policies as it was in some instances seen as condoning and even celebrating coups.
“In the extant matter of Niger Republic, we equally do believe that ECOWAS did not exhaust the process of dialogue before beating war drums. The missions to Niamey were seen as an afterthought.
“One of the consequences of weaponising electricity supply to Niger Republic is the right of proportionate responsorial action by way of Niger Republic damming the Niger River with unimaginable effects on our echo system.
“Beyond all this, time has come for us to ask ourselves if we have the economic strength to prosecute this war. Even seasoned Generals do admit that we can often predict the beginning of wars but can seldom tell how they end.
“As we stated at the beginning of this statement, we are advocates of democracy and will do all that is necessary to promote and preserve it.
“However, what will preserve democracy in our territories will not be the threat or use of military force against sovereign nations but the observance of the core values and rules of democracy. It is up to our Presidents or political leaders to do the needful. It is in consideration of these that we join other organisations and respected voices in saying No to war!”
Protest in Katsina for Bazoum’s release
The Coalition of Pro-Democracy Activists in Katsina Sunday staged a protest demanding immediate and unconditional release of Niger’s deposed President Bazoum.
The chairman of the coalition, Bishir Dauda Sabuwar Unguwa, who addressed reporters after the protest, warned the junta not to plunge Niger into a “needless and unwarranted conflict because of their selfish gains.”
He further said, “We demand immediate and unconditional release of President Bazoum. We applaud the ECOWAS for its firm stance in support of democracy and the need to restore constitutional order in Niger.”
Meanwhile, the Katsina-Daura Unity and Progress Forum on Saturday evening described use of force against the Niger’s junta as ill-conceived.
At a press conference in Katsina, the acting president of the forum, Alhaji Tukur Malami, said it would lead to socio-economic and political disruption in the sub-region.
Envoy tasks US on Nigerien president’s freedom
Nigerien Ambassador to the United States, Mamadou Kiari Liman-Tinguiri, yesterday called on his host country to do “everything possible” to free ousted President Bazoum.
Speaking in New York City, the enjoy, who appeared on French broadcaster, France24 News, said, “The detained head of state was democratically elected and to deprive him from food, this is not something acceptable.
“This is inhumane. This is cruel. This shouldn’t be tolerated by any state and by anybody. And I’m calling on the United States to do everything they can to stop this situation.”
Bazoum was visited by his doctor on Saturday amid rising concerns for his health.
Right group decries arrest of anti-junta protesters
The Network of Human Rights group in Niger yesterday decried the mass arrest of those who protested against Bazoum’s continued detention.
Its coordinator, Laoual Sayabou, who called for immediate release of all the detainees. A peacebuilding think tank, Foundation for Peace Professionals, yesterday welcomed dialogue in resolving the Niger’s crisis.
Its Executive Director, Abdulrazaq Hamzat, who is also a former ambassador to the International Human Rights Commission, urged ECOWAS to treat the junta with respect and resolve the crisis, using the subregion’s conflict resolution mechanism.