Church leaders in West Africa have urged their governments not to succumb to pressure from the US and France and send troops into Niger to restore the civilian government following a military coup,
On 26 July 2023, presidential guard commander General Abdourahamane Tchiani led a military coup against President Mohamed Bazoum. Last month’s putsch was the fifth military coup d’état since the country gained independence from France in 1960. The coup was condemned by the United States, France and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS,) which has threatened military intervention against the junta.
A meeting of the heads of ECOWAS on 30 July 2023 gave the coup leaders one week to reinstall President Bazoum or face economic sanctions and military intervention. After the deadline passed, ECOWAS ordered a mobilization of its armed forces on 10 August. Eleven of the 15 member states of ECOWAS have have pledged to contribute troops in the event of an ECOWAS-led military intervention, while the military juntas of Burkina Faso and Mali threatened to join the military intervention on Niger’s side if it were to ever be launched. A military coup on 30 August 2023 in Gabon is likely to see an additional state drop out of the alliance against the Nigerien junta.
The Archbishop of Enugu Province of the Church of Nigeria the Most Rev. Emmanuel Chukwuma told reporters he had warned Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu not to cave in under pressure from the United States and intervene in Niger.
On 22 August 2023 the archbishop said: “The Niger Republic coup happened because of corruption and life becoming so difficult for the people. That led to an intervention by the army. The people rejoiced about that.”
“Now, rather than fighting corruption and condemning the evil act of the Nigerien President, they are fighting the coup d’etat. It is wrong. I think this has shown that ECOWAS leaders themselves are corrupt and they don’t see anything wrong in corruption,” the archbishop said according to the Vanguard newspaper.
“Worse things are happening in ECOWAS countries than what is happening in Niger but because there is some sort of corruption even in the military, they are not planning for intervention.
“Nigerians today are passing through a difficult time. They are suffering but they have enough patience. I think the time has come for us to say enough is enough.
“I am very happy that many people are condemning going to Niger for war. Nigeria at this time needs intervention to bring succour in this country because people are suffering.
“If the government can’t do that, God will come down one day and intervene on our behalf and there will be confusion. There is a need for a revolution in Nigeria. Nigeria is due for a revolution for things to go better because things are becoming worse.”
The former archbishop of West Africa, the Most Rev. Daniel Yinka Sarfo of Ghana, urged West Africa leaders to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. On 17 August 2023 Archbishop Sarfo told Silver FM the best way forward was to engage in “jaw, jaw” rather than “war, war”.
The former military officer was not optimistic that military force would solve a political crisis. Military rule was never the best option, he observed.
The Catholic bishops conferences of West Africa have also called for a diplomatic solution to the Niger crisis, Agenzia Fides reported. On the eve of a meeting in Abuja on 7 August 2023, the bishops released a statement saying:
“In view of the events happening in our sub-region, it is our moral, spiritual and pastoral duty to address this letter of appeal to all the actors involved – directly or indirectly – in the management of this crisis, to urge everyone to exercise moderation, discernment and responsibility. The life of our West African peoples is at stake, the Catholic Bishops of West African countries underline, and their statement joins those of the Episcopal Conferences of Nigeria, and Burkina Faso and Niger.”
“We, your pastors, firmly believe – and the history of peoples teaches us this – that violence solves no problems, not even the ones that caused it to explode in the first place. We affirm and insist with the ECOWAS and the African Union, to affirm that at the moment, any military interventions in Niger would complicate the situation of the people of Niger and the sub-region, rather than bring them solutions”. “Terrorism already has its macabre tribute of widows, orphans, of the displaced, the starving, the maimed, etc. Populations don’t expect regional and African institutions to add to that” the statement concluded.