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A woman walks across a quiet road in Niamey, Niger on 8 August. (AFP or licensors)
THE aftermath of the military coup on July 26, 2023, in Niger has sparked a united stance among Catholic Bishops in West Africa, who vehemently oppose a military solution to the crisis. Amid growing tensions, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) issued an ultimatum, demanding the reinstatement of President Mohamed Bazoum by August 7, 2023. However, the military leaders of Niger defied the ultimatum, and the deadline has passed without compliance.
In response to the unfolding situation, Amadou Abdramane, spokesperson for the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, announced the closure of Niger’s airspace and reassured the nation of the security forces’ readiness to defend the country. Abdramane called on the people of Niger to stand behind the new military leadership.
As the standoff continues, ECOWAS leaders are set to convene on Thursday to determine their next course of action, leaving the continent anxiously awaiting their decision.
Leading voices within the Catholic Bishops Conference of West Africa have raised a collective voice against military intervention, advocating for peaceful resolution instead.
Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, implored ECOWAS to refrain from resorting to war. He earnestly urged President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Nigeria and ECOWAS Chair to dissuade the heads of states from pursuing military intervention. Archbishop Ugorji stressed the need to avert impending bloodshed and dire consequences that may follow.
Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of Burkina Faso echoed these sentiments, expressing solidarity with the Bishops of Niger. He conveyed the collective concern of the Bishops Conference of Burkina-Niger regarding the potential pitfalls of a military solution.
Reflecting on the dire consequences of past military interventions, Bishop Alexis Touably Youlo of Côte d’Ivoire and President of the Reunion of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA) highlighted the importance of restraint and discernment. He cautioned against repeating the errors of the past and urged ECOWAS and the African Union to consider the well-being and protection of West African lives.
‘Any military intervention in Niger at this time would complicate the situation…more than it would provide solutions,’ the Vatican News quoted Bishop Youlo as saying.
Recognising the gravity of the situation, Bishop Benoît Comlan Messan Alowonou of Togo rallied fellow parish priests for a triduum of prayers from August 8 to 10, 2023, seeking divine intervention and guidance for Niger and its people.
Despite the looming uncertainty, life in Niamey, Niger’s capital, seems relatively calm according to Fr. Lambi Lokolwa, a Missionary of Africa. He reported that while a coup had occurred, there had been no bloodshed, and the city’s residents continue their daily routines. However, concerns about the threat of war persist, as the military has vowed to defend against foreign intervention.
Additionally, Nigeria has enforced sanctions by cutting electricity supply to Niger, further exacerbating challenges for the citizens, including soaring prices of goods.
Fr. Lokolwa shared the prevailing sentiment, ‘We are praying to God that ECOWAS will not send its troops here because there has been a coup without bloodshed…there will be war in the city, which is what frightens our Christians and people.’
As West Africa’s Catholic Bishops stand united in their rejection of military intervention, the region braces for critical decisions that could shape the path ahead for Niger and its people.