After weeks of stand-off, tension would appear to be easing between ECOWAS and the Niger coup makers over options for the restoration of constitutional order in that country following the 26 July ouster of elected President Mohamed Bazoum.
The Brig.-Gen. Abdourahamane-led junta had doubled down with reluctance to negotiate, accusing ECOWAS of bad faith in slamming punitive sanctions on Niger and threatening the use of force, without hearing the soldiers’ side of the story.
However, retired General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Nigeria’s former Head of State, who met the junta leaders and deposed President Bazoum at the weekend during his mission as ECOWAS Special envoy, has expressed optimism that “diplomacy will be successful” in resolving the impasse.
I must say that our visit to Niger has been very fruitful and that it has opened an avenue to start talking…,” Gen. Abubakar told journalists in Abuja on Tuesday after briefing Nigeria’s President Bola Amed Tinubu, the ECOWAS current Chairman on the outcome of the mission.
“Hopefully, diplomacy will see the better of this. Nobody wants to go to war, it doesn’t pay anybody, but then again, our leaders have said if all fails and I don’t think all will fail, we’ll get… out of this mess.” Gen. Abubakar said, in reference to ECOWAS’ threat to use force as the last resort to restore constitutional order in Niger.
Gen. Abubakar, whose delegation included the ECOWAS Commission President Omar Touray and Muslim leader, Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, said the coup leaders had “made their points,” which he has conveyed to the ECOWAS Chairman.
ECOWAS has rejected as “provocative and a smokescreen” the junta leaders’ three-year political transition programme, announced after the ECOWAS delegation’s visit.
President Tinubu is now expected to consult with his Heads of State colleagues to decide ECOWAS’ next move.
Meanwhile, the African Union has announced Niger’s suspension from all its activities, saying it will also assess the impact of ECOWAS measures against the junta.
The possibility for the use military force in Niger threatened by ECOWAS is growing unpopular by the day largely because of its potentially dangerous fall-out, such as grave humanitarian consequences in the landlocked poor country where ECOWAS sanctions are already biting hard on the long-suffering population in a politically volatile region.