Niger President Mohamed Bazoum is being detained by members of the Presidential Guard, who have been given an “ultimatum” by the army, a source close to Bazoum said on Wednesday.
Disgruntled members of the guard sealed off access to the president’s residence and offices, and after talks broke down “refused to release the president,” the source said, adding: “The army has given them an ultimatum.”
In a message on Twitter, the president’s office said “elements of the Presidential Guard (PG) had a fit of temper… (and) tried unsuccessfully to gain the support of the national armed forces and the national guard.”
“The army and national guard are ready to attack the elements of the PG who are involved in this fit of temper if they do not return to a better disposition,” the presidency said.
“The president and his family are well,” it added.
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, chair of regional body ECOWAS, has released a statement, saying: “The ECOWAS leadership will not accept any action that impedes the smooth functioning of legitimate authority in Niger or any part of West Africa”.
“I am in close consultation with other leaders in our region, and we shall protect our hard-earned democracy in line with the universally acceptable principle of constitutionalism,” said Tinubu.
Bazoum, a close ally of France, was democratically elected in 2021, taking the helm of one of Africa’s poorest and most coup-prone countries.
The landlocked West African state is one of the most unstable nations in the world, experiencing four coups since independence from France in 1960 as well as numerous other attempts on power.
Access was blocked off to Bazoum’s official home and offices in the presidential complex in Niamey, although there was no abnormal military deployment or sounds of gunfire in the area, and traffic was normal, an AFP journalist saw.
An MP with Bazoum’s PNDS party earlier said: “I spoke to the president and to friends who are ministers (and) they are fine.”
The country’s last coup occurred in February 2010, overthrowing then president Mamadou Tandja.
However, there was an attempted putsch on March 31, 2021, just two days before Bazoum’s inauguration, according to a security source at the time.
Several people were arrested, including the suspected ringleader, an air force captain named Sani Gourouza.
He was arrested in neighbouring Benin and handed over to the Niger authorities.
Ousmane Cisse, a former interior minister under a military government of transition that ran from 2010-2011, was later detained for his suspected role in the attempted coup.
A second bid to oust Bazoum occurred in March this year “while the president… was in Turkey”, according to a Niger official, who said an arrest was made.
The authorities have never commented publicly on the incident.
In January 2018, nine soldiers and a civilian were sentenced by a military court to jail terms ranging from five to 15 years for having attempted to topple Bazoum’s predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou, in 2015.
Those convicted included General Souleymane Salou, a former army chief of staff and a member of the junta that had forced out Tandja in 2010.
Poverty and jihadism
Lying in the heart of the Sahel, Niger is two-thirds desert and persistently ranks at the bottom, or near it, in the UN’s Human Development Index, a benchmark of prosperity.
It has a surging population of 22.4 million, driven by a birthrate averaging seven children per woman.
The country is struggling with two jihadist campaigns — one in the southwest, which swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015, and the other in the southeast, involving jihadists based in northeastern Nigeria.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes, stoking a humanitarian crisis and further straining the economy.
Niger’s military has received training and logistical support from the United States and France, which have military bases there.
The country is also the hub of France’s anti-jihadist operations in the Sahel, which were reconfigured after French forces quit Mali and Burkina Faso following political bust-ups with those countries.
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