Niger: Opposition seek ECOWAS intervention in President’s hold on power

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Opposition parties in Niger have not said their last word just yet. They intend to make ECOWAS officials, who met Monday in Abuja for a special meeting on Niger, react. They want the Community to level economic sanctions against the Nigerien government after they organized a referendum August 4 to enable Mamadou Tandja run for a third term against the advice of the regional authority.

Faced with maltreatments by President of Niger, Mamadou Tandja, who has stepped up hostilities, the opposition have chosen to change their tactics. Their decision to go to Abuja, Nigeria, to make their voices heard beyond the borders of their country, is no coincidence. Monday, members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met for an extraordinary meeting on the situation in Niger. It was an opportunity for civil society stakeholders to ask the group to echo their demands and end the political crisis in their country as they had done for Guinea.

In 2008, the economic community suspended Guinea’s membership and succeeded to restore order in the western African country. The opposition has demanded that ECOWAS act with “firmness” and take “strong measures” against the Nigerien government. “We believe (Nigerien civil society, e.d.), Niger should be issued a minimum penalty as dictated by Article 45 (2) of the Protocol on Democracy and Governance, namely the suspension of a country from all ECOWAS deliberations. These sanctions could also be complimented with paragraph 2 of Article 23 of the Constitution, which provides for measures to suspend ties with States in the areas of transport and communications… against any Member State that does not comply with the decisions and policies of the organization,” read a letter to top ECOWAS officials. The opposition hope the sanctions would undermine the Nigerien economy and hasten the fall of Mamadou Tandja.

A return to constitutional order

According to the document, the demand for the suspension of Niger from ECOWAS is due to the “constitutional referendum” that took place on August 4. The referendum, which allows the head of the government of Niger to seek a third term, was highly criticized by ECOWAS. In order to crumble the aspirations of the Nigerien Head of State, members of advocacy organizations for democracy have demanded “the reinstatement of the Constitutional Court”, which was dissolved for challenging Mamadou Tandja’s referendum proposal. They also requested “the organization of general elections and legislative elections in December 2009” as well as the “release of all those arrested”. Several journalists and politicians are languishing in Nigerien prisons for taking part in anti-referendum protest marches.

An event organized by the opposition in the Nigerian capital, Saturday, was brutally suppressed by the police. “They used tear gas and batons. Several people were wounded, whilst fifty arrests, including 16 in Niamey, five in Tawa and 11 in Tillabery, were made,” said Ali Idrissa, deputy director of a private television channel, Dunya TV, who was present at the scene. “Small groups attempting to join the protest,” he said, “were intercepted by armed forces”. Mamane Wada, Secretary General of the United Front for the safeguard of democratic gains in Niger (FUSAD), whose president Marou Amadou is still in custody, and MP Soumana Sanda, from Seini Oumarou’s party (former Prime Minister of Niger), were also arrested.

The conlusion of the Abuja meeting would play an important role in the outcome of the political crisis in Niger. Last July, ECOWAS warned the President of Niger, Mamadou Tandja on the illegitimacy of his proposed referendum to no avail. A month on, opposition arrests in the country have hit an all time high. But whether or not the economic community would sanction Niger and exclude the western African country from its proceedings… time will tell.

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