As efforts to resolve the Niger crisis continue, overtures by the head of the military junta in that West African country, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, to have direct access and discussion with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been outrightly rejected by the Nigerian leader, Empowered Newswire reports.
According to diplomatic sources, consenting to such direct one-on-one talks is both an assault on democratic governance in the region and a disrespect to the still-detained Nigerien President, Mohamed Bazoum.
Sources close to the Niger’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York confirmed that President Tinubu was approached with Tchiani’s request by a group of Muslim Ulamas who had met with him in Abuja about a month after the Niger coup.
The Ulamas conveyed the request of General Abdourahamane Tchiani to have a direct one-on-one interaction with the Nigerian President who is also the Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government as a possible way to resolve the crisis.
In the meeting held in Abuja on August 24, the sources said President Tinubu point blank ruled out any such interaction with the head of an illegal government that came to power through a military Coup toppling a democratically elected government of Niger.
Nigerian government sources also confirmed that indeed President Tinubu’s position is that having a direct interaction with Tchiani would improperly legitimise a coupist whose government is not even recognised by ECOWAS. “The President outrightly rejected the overture, insisting that ECOWAS leaders would be disappointed besides the fact that such an interaction would send the wrong signal about democratic governance in the continent.”
While many in the African diplomatic community especially are of the view that President Tinubu’s rejection of a direct talk with Tchiani at this point would indeed be a bad signal, the impasse over the Niger crisis has persisted without much any ray of hope. Diplomats added that a concerted front among President Tinubu and other ECOWAS leaders remained an imperative in dealing with the military takeover.
But Niger diplomats in New York also argued that sending envoys from the Nigerian government who are themselves former military government beneficiaries to the coupists in Niger is itself a conflicting signal although the Niger military junta eventually interacted with them.
It would be recalled that former head of state General Abdusalami Abubakar and the Sultan of Sokoto His Eminence Sa’ad Muhammad Abubakar had visited Niger to discuss possible resolution on August 19, few days before the Niger Ulamas discussed with President Tinubu. Before the visit to Niger by both Abdusalami and the Sultan, the former head of state had travelled to Niamey but was not able to meet with the leaders of the new military junta.
Later on the 9th of August, Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi released visuals of a successful meeting with the Coup Leaders.
And observers say the emir was successful in his bid to meet with Tchiani and other members of the Military Junta because of his position as the Khalifa of the Tijaniyya Islamic sect, with significant following in Niger. Sanusi was also at the Presidential Villa on the same August 9th. And then the Ulamas visited Aso Rock later in August.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had appointed Nigeria’s former military head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, to lead a delegation to Niger for mediation. And it was also decided that he be accompanied by the Sultan of Sokoto, who is believed to be influential among the Muslim community in Niger just as in Nigeria too.
At the meeting where the Ulamas presented Tchiani’s request to meet Tinubu directly, an idea they also supported the ECOWAS leader according to an Aso Villa statement implored the “delegation of Islamic scholars (Ulamas), who were previously engaged in discussions to facilitate the restoration of constitutional democratic governance in Niger Republic, to expedite progress in their ongoing dialogue with the military junta.”
President Tinubu told the Islamic delegation as reported in the statement “that the military junta must be held accountable for putting the entire people of Niger Republic in jeopardy. They cannot use the gun given to them to protect the sovereignty of the country and turn it against the people of the country,” he said.
According to the official statement from the Presidential Villa the Nigerian President “received a comprehensive briefing on Thursday at the State House in Abuja, from the Ulamas, who were led into the meeting by Sheikh Bala Lau. The briefing followed the Ulamas’ two most recent visits to Niger Republic.”
The statement continued : “The Islamic leaders had informed the President that the military junta was open to deepening dialogue with ECOWAS as more steps are being taken to forestall armed conflict with a more detailed acceptance of the ECOWAS position by Niger military council officials.
“Responding to the delegation of Ulamas, against the backdrop of ethnic rumours peddled by domestic political figures inside and outside of the country, President Tinubu emphasized that he is at the forefront of a peaceful resolution of the crisis, even in the midst of more hawkish individuals urging swifter intervention.
“I am managing a very serious situation. If you take ECOWAS aside, other people will react, those who are outside of our control. I am the one holding those sides back. I am the one holding back ECOWAS.
”Even as of this morning, I have been inundated with phone calls on the readiness of countries with their military force and contributions. However, I told them to wait. I am meeting with the Ulamas and I will get back to you,” the President added.
President Tinubu also pledged at the meeting “that ECOWAS will remain steadfast in its commitment to diplomatically engage with all stakeholders and seek a peaceful resolution to the impasse in Niger Republic.
”I will draw a line in the sand and ask you to make arrangements to go back to Niger Republic