Former Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II said both Nigerians and Nigeriens should help solve the crisis. Photo: Others

By Abdulwasiu Hassan

The coup d’état in Niger is turning out to be a test of patience and perseverance for the democratic ecosystem, with regional blocs like the African Union, ECOWAS and the European Union forced to fall back on Plan B.

The coup leaders have remained adamant in the face of appeals, pressure and even threats of military action aimed at ensuring they relinquish power.

The baton has now passed to non-state actors such as traditional and religious leaders to help end the status quo after the conventional diplomatic efforts by regional bodies proved more difficult.

The religious and traditional leaders from Nigeria are teaming up with their counterparts in Niger to try to mediate.

The former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, was able to meet the leader of Niger's military junta that wrested the reins, Abdourahmane Tchiani, on August 9, a day after the junta denied representatives of the AU, UN and ECOWAS permission to land in the country.

Before that, ECOWAS had deployed President Patrice Talon of the Republic of Benin, the former military head of state of Nigeria, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the president general of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Nigeria, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar, to talk to the Niger junta. The junta promptly rebuffed the overture.

While Sanusi II, who is also the Khalifa of the Tijjaniya order in Nigeria, was meeting the head of the military in Niger, Nigeria's President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was giving leaders of Islamic associations in his country permission to mediate in the crisis in Niger.

Nigerian Islamic scholars said their mission was successful. Photo: Actu Niger media

"Interventions are ongoing, and we will continue to do our best to bring the two parties together to improve understanding. This is a time for public diplomacy. It is not a matter that we will leave to government," Sanusi II told reporters in Abuja after giving the Nigerian President feedback about his trip to Niger.

Early breakthrough

"All Nigerians, and everyone in Niger, need to be involved in finding a solution that works for Africa, a solution that works for Niger, and one that works for humanity," he said.

On Saturday, Niger's military junta said it was open to dialogue with the West African regional bloc ECOWAS. This is the first time the coup leaders have signalled an open door for talks with the regional body.

It followed a visit by a delegation of influential Islamic scholars from neighbouring Nigeria who met with the junta leader General Abdourahmane Tchiani in Niamey.

Niger's Prime Minister appointed by the junta, Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine, told reporters in Niamey that General Tchiani has given the green light for talks with ECOWAS.

Asked whether the junta was ready to dialogue with ECOWAS, the Prime Minister replied: ‘’Yes, for sure. That was exactly what the leader of our country told them, he did not say he was not open to dialogue.’’

‘’We have agreed and the leader of our country has given the green light for dialogue. They will now go back and inform the Nigerian President what they have heard from us.... we hope in the coming days, they (ECOWAS) will come here to meet us to discuss how the sanctions imposed against us will be lifted,’’ he said.

The coup leaders in Niger say they were open to dialogue to ECOWAS. Photo: Others

The PM described the ECOWAS sanctions, which have started to cause hardship, as ''an injustice'' and that they were contrary to the rules of the bloc. He however, said lifting the sanctions was not a precondition for talks.

Leader of the Islamic scholars' delegation, Sheikh Abdullahi Bala Lau, told journalists that they were in Niger on a ''reconciliation mission.'' He said they told the junta leader that dialogue was important to resolve the crisis.

Sheikh Lau said before their trip to Niger, they had told Nigerian President Bola Tinubu who is also the head of ECOWAS that the use of force to reverse the coup was not appropriate.

The Islamic scholar said their mission to Niamey was ''successful'' in reference to securing a commitment to dialogue from the junta. He however, said they did not meet ousted President Mohamed Bazoum because it was not part of their mission.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who is currently the chairman of West African bloc ECOWAS, had approved the mediation effort by the religious leaders.

Though they have no any constitutionally specified political role, traditional and religious leaders are powerful in swaying public opinion.

Shared history

Niger, like northern Nigeria, is a Muslim-majority country where Hausa, the lingua franca of its neighbour, is just as widely spoken.

Most people in northern Nigeria and Niger share the same religion, culture and language Photo: Reuters

Parts of Niger and northern Nigeria used to comprise a swathe of pre-colonial Hausa land that included states under the Sokoto caliphate as well as ones that were out of it.

The British colonial machinery took over most of what was under the Sokoto caliphate, while the French controlled the rest.

After independence, each part of the Hausa land adopted the lingua franca of their respective colonial masters, the English and French, as their official languages.

The language divide, however, couldn't sever the religious and social relationships between the two communities.

Religious bridge

All of this perhaps explain why traditional and religious leaders seem to be having such an influence in terms of efforts to resolve the Niger crisis.

Prof Sani Fagge of the department of political science at Bayero University Kano thinks the Niger coup could become a catalyst in underscoring the importance of the so-called traditional leadership.

“If you look at Nigeria and Niger, they are the same people. They were one people before colonialism. So, there is a shared respect for the traditional and religious leadership. We are going to see them have a bigger impact than formal governance," he told TRT Afrika.

But Dr Aminu Hayatu of the same University thinks the reason why the military appears to be listening to the traditional leadership is because the latter aren't issuing the kind of threats about military intervention made by ECOWAS.

Ecowas had threatened to use force as 'last resort' to reverse Niger's coup. Photo: Others

"The traditional rulers being non-state actors are a very good rallying point for these diplomatic talks to take place," he said.

“It is not that the military junta is listening to the traditional leaders more than the democratic regimes in Africa or ECOWAS. But the approach of the traditional rulers is an alternative to the use of force. The junta sees them as partners in progress and peace talkers who can actually be listened to."


Since both traditional and religious leaders have started making efforts to mediate in the crisis, the question on the lips of observers is: How far can they go in resolving the conflict?

While some believe they can resolve the issue, others are not that optimistic.

Prof Fagge, for one, thinks that given the influence of traditional rulers and religious leaders in both countries, they can help resolve the crisis, provided they are given full support.

"I think this (the new mediation effort) will help calm the situation...The reason why the team of Abdulsalami and the Sultan got a cold reception was because ECOWAS was threatening in its tone. Otherwise, the Sultan is very respectfully acknowledged in Nigeria and Niger," he said.

An ECOWAS-appointed team led by former Nigerian head of state Abdulsalami Abubakar was denied access to junta leader Tchiani.  Photo: Others

Dr Hayatu, however, cautions that diplomacy through traditional and religious leaders cannot have an immediate solution, as many people are expecting.

"You have to understand that it is not only about talks. The traditional rulers could engage in talks with these military leaders, but it doesn’t mean that the latter are going to relinquish power. There is no indication that that can happen anytime soon," he told TRT Afrika.

"Even if it is going to happen, the first challenge will be to convince them to start a fresh electoral process in Niger so that the reins can be returned to a democratically elected government."

According to Dr Hayatu, the only option on the table for the traditional rulers to present to the military junta is not about relinquishing power, as some would want to assume. The option is to continue engaging with the junta politically, and convince them to later hold elections.

TRT Afrika