• Italy seeks extension of ECOWAS deadline
• Airlines face longer flights, disruptions across Africa as Niger shuts airspace
• Middle Belt Forum, African workers warn Tinubu, reject military operation
Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have scheduled an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the crisis in Niger Republic. ECOWAS made the announcement yesterday, a day after its deadline to the military junta in Niger to reinstate the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.
The military government is bracing for a response from ECOWAS after ignoring its deadline to reinstate Bazoum or face the threat of military intervention.
In a statement by the secretariat, the summit will be held in Abuja, the ECOWAS headquarters.
“President Bola Tinubu, president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and chairman of the authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of the ECOWAS leaders, will be considering and discussing the political situation and recent developments in Niger during the summit,” the organisation said.
Recall that ECOWAS had met in Abuja on July 30, where a seven-day deadline was issued for the Niger junta to reinstate Bazoum or risk sanctions, including possible military intervention, but the junta severed ties with Nigeria and some other countries sympathetic to Bazoum’s cause, rather than reinstate the deposed Niger leader.
The military regime, which declared their Commander, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the new head of state, vowed not to bow to outside pressure. It also warned against foreign intervention, vowing to defend the territorial integrity of Niger.
On Friday, military chiefs of some West African countries said they had agreed on a plan for possible military intervention in the event push for a diplomatic solution failed. The chiefs of defence staff from Togo, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cabo Verde and the Republic of Benin held the meeting in Abuja.
ECOWAS had last week sent a high-powered delegation to broker peace with the coupists but their representatives met with the team led by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd).
The coup leaders have not issued any statement on the deadline yet. However, Italy has called on ECOWAS to prolong the timeframe for the reinstallation of the deposed president, who remains detained. This counsel was offered yesterday by Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani.
“The only way is the diplomatic one. I hope that the ultimatum of ECOWAS, which expired last night (Sunday), will be extended today (Monday),” he said.
Due to concerns of potential military involvement from ECOWAS, Niger shut down its airspace starting Sunday. Prior to this, numerous supporters of the junta gathered at a stadium in Niamey, the capital, showing their approval of the decision to resist external demands for stepping down by Sunday, subsequent to the seizure of power on July 26.
European carriers have reported disruptions and suspended flights across the African continent on Monday after Niger’s military government closed its airspace.
The disruption adds to a band of African airspace facing geopolitical disruptions, including Libya and Sudan, with some flights facing up to 1,000km (620 miles) in detours.
“The closure of Niger’s airspace dramatically widens the area over which most commercial flights between Europe and southern Africa cannot fly,” tracking service, Flightradar24, said.
Air France has suspended flights to and from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Bamako in Mali until August 11, the company said on Monday, with longer flight times expected in the West African region.
A spokesperson added that Air France expects longer flight times from sub-Saharan hub airports and that flights between Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and Accra in Ghana were set to operate non-stop.
But aviation analyst, James Halstead said airlines would mostly have to find alternative routes and difficulties should be limited given the small number of African air connections.
“I’m not sure this is a huge disruption. It will affect routes from Europe to Nigeria and South Africa and probably from the Gulf to Ethiopia to West Africa,” he said.
Spokespeople for Lufthansa and Brussels Airlines said that flight times could be between one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half hours longer for rerouted flights.
In an emailed statement to Reuters, British Airways said it “apologised to those customers affected for the disruption to their journeys”, and said it was working hard to get them on their way again as quickly as possible.
MEANWHILE, the Middle Belt Forum, yesterday, cautioned President Tinubu and ECOWAS to shelve any plan to declare war on Niger. The forum in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Dr. Isuwa Dogo, specifically cautioned President Tinubu not to drag Nigeria into unnecessary war with Niger and other West Africa states that have indicated interest to support the coupists. It rather urged Mr President to focus more on the humongous economic challenges facing Nigeria and Nigerians.
In a similar vein, a chieftain of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State, Dr. Adetokunbo Pearse, also said any war Tinubu declares on Niger Republic is tantamount to the former Lagos governor declaring war against the Northern part of Nigeria.
According to him, “there are many Hausa who have intermingled with Niger and Nigeria and they see themselves as one. It does not make sense for us to go into war now when our economy is in abject comatose.
“Anyone in a position of authority, who does not realise that weighty issues of survival or destruction must be approached with caution, will eventually self-destruct!”
ALSO, African workers under the aegis of the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) have urged ECOWAS to refrain from deploying the military to Niger in its bid to restore democratic rule. General Secretary of the regional body, Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, who stated this yesterday, insisted that its position is without prejudice to its earlier opposition to the military takeover in Niger.
He said: “ITUC-Africa condemned earlier the unconstitutional and undemocratic change of power in Niger when the Presidential Guard of that country declared martial law after deposing the president. We reiterate our commitment to constitutionality and democracy.”
However, ITUC-Africa maintained that it is worried by the ECOWAS ultimatum and threat to intervene militarily to restore the deposed president to power.
Its words: “We wish to state categorically and unambiguously that African workers reject a military option in solving this political impasse in Niger. We call on ECOWAS, rather than mobilising for military deployment, to engineer and engage in a robust and swift diplomatic and political move to resolve the crisis.”
According to ITUC-Africa, the security situation in the Sahel region in the past years, and its observations suggest that the security situation remains dire, fluid and problematic, adding, “the cocktail of extremists, terrorists and insurgents has continued to pose real threats to lives and livelihoods. Thousands of people and workers have been killed, children kidnapped, schools destroyed, and farmers have been forced to quit their farms. These attacks partly account for why the countries in the Sahel region account for high rates of poverty, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), out-of-school children and violent civilian deaths.”