Coup fears as troops seal off Niger president’s office, residence

Members of Niger’s Presidential Guard sealed off the residence and offices of President Mohamed Bazoum on Wednesday, a source close to Bazoum said, describing the move as a “fit of temper” by the elite troops and that “talks” were underway.

The landlocked West African state is one of the most unstable nations in the world, experiencing four coups since independence from France in 1960 as well as numerous other attempts on power.

Access was blocked off to Bazoum’s official home and offices in the presidential complex in Niamey, although there was no abnormal military deployment or sounds of gunfire in the area, and traffic was normal, an AFP journalist saw.

“It’s a fit of temper by the Presidential Guard but talks are underway with the president,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The president is fine, he’s safe and sound,” the source said. “He and his family are at the residence.”

The reason for the guards’ behaviour and what was being discussed in the talks were not given.

An MP with Bazoum’s PNDS party said: “I spoke to the president and to friends who are ministers (and) they are fine.”

Bazoum, who was democratically elected in 2021, is a close ally of France.

The country’s last coup occurred in February 2010, overthrowing then-president Mamadou Tandja.

However, there was an attempted coup just days before Bazoum’s inauguration in April 2021, according to a security source at the time.

Several people were arrested, including the suspected ringleader, an air force captain named Sani Gourouza.

He was arrested in neighbouring Benin and handed over to the Niger authorities.

Ousmane Cisse, a former interior minister under a military government of transition that ran from 2010-2011, was detained in April 2022 for his suspected role.

He was acquitted in February this year, but five others, including Gourouza, were jailed for 20 years.

A second bid to oust Bazoum occurred in March this year “while the president… was in Turkey”, according to a Niger official, who said an arrest was made.

The authorities have never commented publicly on the incident.

In January 2018, nine soldiers and a civilian were sentenced by a military court to jail terms ranging from five to 15 years for having attempted to topple Bazoum’s predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou, in 2015.

Those convicted included General Souleymane Salou, a former army chief of staff and a member of the junta that had forced out Tandja in 2010.

Lying in the heart of the Sahel, Niger is two-thirds desert and persistently ranks at the bottom, or near it, in the UN’s Human Development Index, a benchmark of prosperity.

It has a surging population of 22.4 million, driven by a birth rate averaging seven children per woman.

The country is struggling with two jihadist campaigns — one in the southwest, which swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015, and the other in the southeast, involving jihadists based in northeastern Nigeria.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes, stoking a humanitarian crisis and further straining the economy.

Niger’s military has received training and logistical support from the United States and France, which have military bases there.

The country is also the hub of France’s anti-jihadist operations in the Sahel, which were reconfigured after French forces quit Mali and Burkina Faso following political bust-ups with those countries.