The door may have opened for a peaceful resolution of the standoff between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Niger Republic military junta.
Junta leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani has succumbed to economic pressures and threats of military action by the regional body.
He had rejected previous peace efforts and rebuffed offers for talks by delegations.
On July 26, ECOWAS sent President Patrice Talon of Benin Republic to Niamey, the capital of Niger, to address the hostage situation involving deposed President Mohamed Bazoum.
But Talon was not even allowed to land.
Tchiani also refused to meet the delegations sent by the Chairman of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
The high-powered delegation was made up of former Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and Sultan of Sokoto Sa’ad Abubakar.
The junta leader, however, hosted former Emir of Kano, Mohammad Sanusi, who went on mediation in a personal capacity. Sanusi returned to Abuja to brief President Tinubu.
What transpired at the meeting with the coup leader was not disclosed.
Last Thursday, the junta got a stern warning from ECOWAS to reinstate President Bazoum or face military action.
The sub-regional body, at its second successive extraordinary meeting, put its standby force on red alert.
The meeting came almost a week after the expiration of a one-week ultimatum to the junta to quit office and restore democratic rule.But Tchiani reconsidered his position at the weekend.
He spoke when he met with Nigeria’s Intervention Team, comprising prominent Islamic scholars led by the National Chairman of Jama’atu Izalatil Bid’ah Wa Iqamatus Sunnah (JIBWIS), Sheikh Bala Lau. Tchiani apologised for refusing to meet the earlier emissaries.
The body of Ulammas (Islamic scholars) had met with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu last Thursday and had offered to intervene.
According to a statement by Sheikh Lau, Tchiani told the Ulammas that the junta’s doors were open for dialogue.
It reads: “Nigeria’s Intervention Team comprising prominent Islamic scholars in the country at the weekend met with the coup leaders in Niger where both parties agreed to intensify the option of dialogue in resolving the political crisis in that country.”
“The Islamic Ulammas led by Sheik Bala Lau met with General Abdourahmane Tchiani for several hours in Niger’s capital Niamey during which they deliberated on all the issues, including the demand by ECOWAS leaders that former President Bazoum be reinstated.”
“Bala Lau, who is the National Chairman of Jamatul Izalatu Bida Waikamatu Sunnah, said the clerics were in Niger on behalf of President Bola Tinubu who accepted their request to intervene.
“Sheik Lau said the team had earlier told President Tinubu who is also the Chairman of Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government that their position is that the political impasse in Niger be resolved through dialogue.
“He, therefore, told General Tchiani that the visit to Niger was to engage in constructive dialogue to encourage him and other military leaders behind the coup to toe the path of peace instead of war to resolve the crisis.”
“Responding, General Tchiani, who accorded the team a warm reception, welcomed their intervention. He said their doors were open to explore diplomacy and peace in resolving the matter.”
“General Tchiani, however, said it was painful to the coup leaders that the ECOWAS leaders did not hear their side of the matter before issuing an ultimatum to them to quit office.
“He claimed the coup was well intended, stating that they struck to stave off an imminent threat that would have affected not only the Niger Republic but also Nigeria.”
“He also apologized for not according the team sent by President Tinubu, led by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), the required attention because they were angry about the ECOWAS ultimatum.”
“While tracing the historical ties between the two nations, he said the Niger Republic and Nigeria were not only neighbours but brothers and sisters who should resolve issues amicably.”
The junta’s change of stance came as the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) slammed viral reports that the Armed Forces received a coup request.
A statement on Sunday by the Director, Defence Information, Brig.-Gen. Tukur Gusau, said the military believed such false claims came from those who do not mean well for the country.
He said: “The Defence Headquarters is concerned about false and disturbing social media reports twisted to state that the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) received a request to effect a change of leadership in the country.