The aftermath of the coup in Niger and the response from the Economic Community of West African States has left many questioning the effectiveness and commitment of the regional bloc.
President Mohammed Bazoum of Niger was removed from office on July 26, 2023, in a bloodless coup led by his presidential guards’ brigade commander. ECOWAS responded swiftly with sanctions and threats of military intervention, but their initial resolve to restore the ousted leader to power seems to have waned.
While ECOWAS initially vowed to use diplomatic efforts to restore constitutional order in Niger, it now appears that they have given up on this approach. The threat of military force to remove the military junta ruling the country has also lost momentum.
Sanctions imposed on the junta have proven to be ineffective. General Abdourahamane Tchiani, who seized power in Niger, has managed to restore power from alternative sources in many parts of the country. This was done after Nigeria, as part of the sanctions, cut off power supply. The failure of this sanction has raised doubts about the effectiveness of ECOWAS in implementing its measures.
Additionally, reports from Nigeria’s border communities suggest that residents in these areas have resorted to smuggling goods into the Niger Republic. The Nigeria Customs Service has been turning a blind eye to these activities, further undermining the impact of the sanctions.
When questioned about the reasons behind the failure to hold the military junta accountable, diplomats and military officials within ECOWAS and the Nigerian government have either deflected responsibility or remained silent. This lack of transparency and accountability raises concerns about the commitment of these institutions to restoring democracy and stability in Niger.
The unravelling of ECOWAS’ response to the Niger coup raises broader questions about the effectiveness of regional bodies in addressing political crises and ensuring adherence to democratic principles. Previously, ECOWAS had been praised for its role in resolving conflicts and promoting democracy in West Africa. However, this recent failure has led to doubts about their willingness and capability to intervene in similar situations in the future.
The situation in Niger has also highlighted the delicate balance between respecting national sovereignty and advocating for democracy. While ECOWAS has a responsibility to protect democracy in the region, it must also navigate the complexities of national politics and the will of the people. Balancing these competing interests is crucial for regional bodies like ECOWAS to maintain their legitimacy and credibility.
Some political analysts have suggested a number of reasons that might be responsible for the lacklustre enthusiasm of ECOWAS leaders over military rule in Niger Republic.
Analysts have opined that the reactions of ECOWAS leaders to the coup appears to not have been thought out and it was emotional. Solidarity protest and the general reaction of the people in the aftermath of the coup was that it was a popular coup.
In Nigeria, for instance, President Bola Tinubu who is the chairman of ECOWAS didn’t enjoy a lot of support for that attempted intervention and faced stiff opposition from the Nigerian lawmakers and the public who believe the country is already overwhelmed by its own internal strife. And of course given that France and the United States of America and other countries that have big interest in the Niger Republic realised that, this time, it would not be in anybody’s interest to start a war in Africa. The war going on between Russia and Ukraine may have deflected the interest of the Western powers from the affairs of Africans.
Furthermore, ECOWAS had on July 30, 2023, rising from an extraordinary session in Abuja presided over by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, resolved to impose several sanctions on Niger over the military coup. The Nigerian leader had however, stated later on that the west African bloc will exhaust all diplomatic options to resolve the standoff.
Omar Touray, president of the ECOWAS commission, said the regional bloc had resolved to close all land and air borders between member countries and Niger, institute an ECOWAS ‘no-fly zone’ on all commercial flights to and from Niger, suspend all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger, freeze all service transactions including energy transactions and deals with all financial institutions, and place a travel ban and an asset freeze on the military officials involved in the coup.
Additionally, on August 4, 2023, President Tinubu wrote the Nigerian Senate seeking backing for military intervention following the expiration of a deadline given to the junta to quit. The Senate, however, rejected the president’s request. Since then, the efforts of the commission slowly started to unravel.
The ECOWAS committee of chiefs of defence staff, after an extraordinary meeting in Abuja, said interventions in the Niger Republic would be affected only if diplomacy failed.
The commissioner for political affairs, conflict and security, ECOWAS, Ambassador Abdel-Fatau Musah, stated this at the extraordinary meeting of the Committee of the Chiefs of Defence Staff (CCDS) of ECOWAS in Abuja.
In attendance were defence chiefs from Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Gambia, Côte D’ivoire, Cape Verde and Senegal.
Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa, said the events of July 26, 2023 in Niger Republic reverberated across the West African borders, affecting all its citizens.
“The recent coup d’état in the Republic of Niger is one event that calls for our collective attention and a united response. We must face the challenges of restoring democratic governance in Niger head-on, drawing on our shared experiences, wisdom, and collective resolve. Our decisions will have far-reaching implications for the ECOWAS region,” he said.
Musa said the ECOWAS, since its establishment, had remained steadfast in its commitment to promoting economic cooperation and regional integration, adding that it had been resolute in its stand against any form of illegal takeover of power, as enshrined in its 2001 Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
Musa acknowledged the multifaceted challenges that lie ahead in carrying out the task. Saying “The task of restoring democratic governance in Niger is fraught with potential hurdles and complications. However, we cannot afford to be hamstrung by these challenges. Instead, we must confront them head-on, drawing upon our shared experiences, wisdom, and the strength of our collective resolve.”
Meanwhile, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) on August 4, 2023 said there was no order from ECOWAS’ heads of state to commence military action against the military junta in Niger Republic. And questions on ECOWAS military plan should be directed to “ECOWAS or ECOWAS Standby Force.
For now, border communities have turned to smuggling, since the closure of the Illela land border, as part of ECOWAS sanctions slammed on the Nigerien military junta that ousted President Mohammed Bazoum elected government, has changed the socio-economic life of Illela, Sokoto State, Nigeria.
Many residents of Illela have alluded to the fact that life had been rough and tough for them since the closure of the border as all business activities that depended on free movement of goods and persons across the border were completely grounded.
The border closure had brought commercial activities to a complete halt around the border town. The familial ties and inter-dependence of the border communities have further worsened the situation. But as the border closure dragged on many residents have resorted to smuggling as the political standoff dragged on for months.
Upon further investigation Illela, no doubt, has really roared back to life, with border residents, travellers, traders and smugglers carrying on their activities with less hassles from security agencies on both sides.
Movement across the border is now through the numerous illegal and porous routes. Residents have adopted survival strategies to overcome the lull in commercial activities imposed due to the border closure.
The security patrols established for the border posts remain helpless and cannot do much because the illegal and porous routes around the Illela border are countless.
The situation has remained similar with various border communities with security officials turning a blind eye amidst reports of some security officials capitalising on their situation to extort the people