Nigerian religious leaders arrived in Niger on Saturday to meet members of the military who seized power last month, sources close to the regime and the delegation told AFP.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine received the delegation at the capital’s Diori Hamani airport, Niger’s ANP press agency reported.
The delegation is made up of Muslim religious leaders, and headed by Sheikh Bala Lau, leader of the Izala Salafist movement in Nigeria, ANP reported.
A source close to the delegation told AFP the group had left on their mediation mission with the consent of Nigerian leader Bola Tinubu, who is currently president of West African bloc ECOWAS.
“The clerical delegation is currently in Niamey on the mandate of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to douse tension created by the prospect of military intervention by ECOWAS,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The clerics are in Niamey to explain to the junta leaders that Nigeria is not fighting Niger and that the decisions taken on Niger are not Nigeria’s but those of ECOWAS as a regional bloc,” the source said.
Lau had earlier in the week led a delegation of clerics who met with Tinubu in his office in Nigeria’s capital where the mission was discussed, the source said.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has approved the deployment of a “standby force to restore constitutional order” in Niger as soon as possible.
But a crisis meeting set to take place on Saturday to address the coup, which saw President Mohamed Bazoum deposed by members of his guard on July 26, was suspended indefinitely.
ECOWAS has yet to provide details on the force or a timetable for action, and the leaders have emphasized they still want a peaceful solution.
After the coup, the bloc gave the military leaders a deadline of last Sunday to reinstate Bazoum, who is being held at the presidential palace in Niamey, or face the potential use of force.
So far the coup leaders have remained defiant, and the ultimatum passed without action.
The threat of a military intervention has proved highly divisive among ECOWAS members and other African nations wary of sparking a conflict with an unpredictable outcome.
— Jackson Hinkle 🇺🇸 (@jacksonhinklle) August 12, 2023
An attempt this week to send a joint team of ECOWAS, UN, and African Union representatives to Niamey was rejected by the coup leaders.