President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has turned down a request from the leader of the military junta that seized power in Niger, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, to have a direct dialogue with him.
Vanguard reported that Tinubu, who is also the chairman of the regional bloc ECOWAS, said that meeting with Tchiani would be an insult to democracy and a disregard for the legitimate president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, who is still in detention.
Sources at the Niger’s United Nations mission in New York said that Tinubu was approached by a group of Muslim scholars (Ulamas) who had met with Tchiani in Niamey and conveyed his desire to talk to him personally as a way to resolve the crisis.
The sources said that Tinubu rejected the proposal in a meeting with the Ulamas in Abuja on August 24, stating that ECOWAS does not recognise the coup regime and that such a meeting would send a wrong message about democratic governance in Africa.
“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,” one of the sources said.
The Niger crisis has remained unresolved despite several diplomatic efforts by ECOWAS and other actors. Some observers have suggested that Tinubu and other ECOWAS leaders should present a united front against the coup and maintain pressure on the junta to restore constitutional order.
However, some Niger diplomats in New York have also questioned the credibility of some of the Nigerian envoys sent to Niger, who are former military rulers themselves. They argued that this could be seen as a tacit endorsement of the coup by Nigeria.
Among those who have visited Niger to mediate are former head of state General Abdusalami Abubakar and Sultan of Sokoto Sa’ad Muhammad Abubakar, who went there on August 19. They met with Tchiani and other members of the junta after an earlier attempt by Abdusalami was unsuccessful.
Another prominent Nigerian who met with the coup leaders was Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who is the leader of the Tijaniyya Islamic sect with many followers in Niger. He released pictures of his meeting with Tchiani on August 9, the same day he visited Tinubu at the presidential villa. The Ulamas also met with Tinubu later in August.
ECOWAS had appointed Abdusalami to lead a delegation to Niger for mediation and he was accompanied by the Sultan of Sokoto, who is also influential among the Muslim community in Niger.
At the meeting where Tinubu rejected Tchiani’s request, he urged the Ulamas to “use their influence to persuade General Tchiani and his collaborators to respect their commitment to hand over power to a democratically elected government within 18 months.”