Niger is facing a tense situation as the deadline set by the Economic Community of West African States for the reversal of the recent coup expires. The leaders of the coup have reacted by closing the country’s airspace, citing the threat of military intervention from neighboring countries. This move has further escalated tensions in the already volatile region.
The coup, which took place on July 26th, marked the seventh instance of political upheaval in West and Central Africa in just three years. The coup leaders, known as the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), have gained substantial support from their followers, as tens of thousands of coup supporters gathered in the capital city, Niamey, to show their allegiance.
The ultimatum issued by ECOWAS demanded the reinstatement of deposed President Mohamed Bazoum. Failure to comply with this demand could result in military intervention. However, the CNSP has rejected the ultimatum and instead opted to close Niger’s airspace, citing fears of foreign intervention. The CNSP spokesman, Amadou Abdramane, revealed that neighboring countries had deployed forces in preparation for a potential military intervention.
“In the face of the threat of intervention, which is becoming clearer through the preparation of neighboring countries, Niger’s airspace is closed from this day on Sunday … for all aircraft until further notice,” Abdramane stated during a national television broadcast. He further emphasized the readiness of Niger’s armed forces and defense and security forces to protect the country’s territorial integrity.
The closure of Niger’s airspace has not only heightened tensions between the CNSP and ECOWAS but has also raised concerns about the impact on the country’s economy. The closure will undoubtedly disrupt domestic and international travel, as well as the transportation of goods. Niger, already one of the poorest areas in the world, cannot afford further economic setbacks.
ECOWAS has condemned the recent coup in Niger and has taken decisive actions in response. The regional bloc has imposed severe economic and travel sanctions on the country, including cutting off Niger’s power supply. This move is part of ECOWAS’s efforts to pressure the coup leaders into releasing and reinstating the detained leader by Sunday.
The defense chiefs of the member states of ECOWAS have agreed on a possible military action plan. They have determined when and where to strike if the detained leader is not released and reinstated by the Sunday deadline. However, ECOWAS has not disclosed its next steps or the exact time on Sunday when the deadline will expire.
The Nigerian military’s decision to close the country’s airspace has been seen as a complete rejection of ECOWAS’s demands. This action shows that the coup leaders are not willing to take any risks. The regional bloc is closely monitoring the situation and all eyes are on ECOWAS’s next move. ECOWAS has repeatedly stated that it will explore all possible avenues to resolve the crisis and will only resort to military intervention as a last resort.
There is a growing concern that the situation in Niger could escalate into a regional conflict. People are also worried that armed groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda could take advantage of the chaos in the region. The threat of a regional war is pushing West African countries to take sides. Nigeria, Senegal, and Ivory Coast have expressed their willingness to send troops. However, the Nigerian Senate has raised concerns and pushed back against President Bola Tinubu’s request for deployment approval. They have urged him to consider non-military options.
Retired Colonel Festus Aboagye, a security consultant to the African Union and the United Nations, said on Sunday that the success of ECOWAS’s plan depended on Nigeria’s ability to deploy its troops.
“The political timelines would be completely different from the military timelines. So what the politicians have stated, that is the ultimatum that lapses today, is not necessarily the D-day or the day that the military initiates hostilities,” he said.
“In West Africa, Nigeria is everything. And it dates back to ECOWAS interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone, under the banner of ECOMOG [Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group].”
“Nigeria is a key player. It is a regional or sub-regional engine. But its Senate has not approved the request from the president of Nigeria for it to intervene in Niger,” he said.
Still, Aboagye noted that in 2017, then-Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari deployed troops to The Gambia, without obtaining the legislature’s approval. That deployment resulted in the removal of The Gambia’s then-President Yahya Jammeh, who at the time was refusing to hand over power to election winner Adama Barrow.