This is not the kind of climate in which a newly elected president wants to start his term. Two days before his inauguration as Niger’s new president, scheduled for Friday 2 April, Mohamed Bazoum saw a handful of military personnel attempt to seize power by force. The failed coup was attributed to an air force unit based in the area of the airport in Niamey. Soldiers in three heavily armed vehicles crossed the city from east to west without attracting attention, and reached the presidential palace in the Plateau district in the centre of the capital.
The alleged mastermind of the attempted putsch is a captain in charge of security at the Niamey Air Force: Sani Saley Gourouza. According to several sources, the officer, who is on the run, is highly sought after, while some fifteen of his alleged accomplices have already been arrested.
In Niger, this umpteenth attempt coup in a country that has seen no less than four successful putsches in sixty years of independence raises serious questions. How did an anonymous junior officer come up with the idea of a coup de force in a country that is preparing, for the first time in its history, to see power pass from one elected president to another? How, in a country where the presidency is supposed to be protected by a powerful presidential guard, did a captain with limited military resources come up with such a plan?
“The political climate has undoubtedly favoured the idea of a coup among these soldiers,” explained Nigerien journalist and political analyst, Aksar. It is not the newly elected president, Mohamed Bazoum who is being targeted but his predecessor and ally, Mahamadou Issoufou. The ten years the latter has spent in power have produced many discontents, because of his methods of managing the state and power. This failed putsch attempt would be the armed expression of the anger of many Nigeriens against the incumbent president Issoufou,” Aksar added.
Did Captain Gourouza act alone, without the agreement of more senior officers or allies within other army units, or was he simply the armed wing of some of the political opponents of the Issoufou-Bazoum duo, some of whom have still not accepted the transfer of power between the two men?
“The hypothesis of a solitary act seems, in my opinion, a bit fragile. That of a plan with the participation of other units seems likely to me, otherwise it was completely suicidal to want to take power with only three vehicles while the presidential palace that was the target was guarded by a powerful elite force,” said Moussa Aksar.
Does the journalist fear that this “unfortunate episode, which inaugurates Bazoum’s first steps at the head of Niger” will lead to a witch hunt?
“Unlike Issoufou who is known for his reactions dictated by emotions or feelings, Bazoum is very thoughtful. It is difficult to see him falling into the trap of suspicion and settling of scores,” the analyst concluded.