A woman walks across a quiet road in Niamey, Niger on 8 August. A woman walks across a quiet road in Niamey, Niger on 8 August.  (AFP or licensors)

West African Bishops against possible military intervention in Niger.

Following the military coup of 26 July 2023 in Niger the Catholic Bishops in West Africa have expressed their concern for peace while rejecting the armed solution.

Serge Zihalirwa Boroto, M.Afr. - Vatican City.

In an ultimatum, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened to intervene militarily in Niger if the new military leaders of that country did not reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum by 7 August 2023. The military in Niger reacted with defiance, and the deadline has since passed.

Amadou Abdramane, a Nigerien Air Force officer who has served as the spokesperson of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland since the July 2023 coup d'état announced the closing of the air space of Niger and said the security forces are ready to defend the country. He called upon the people of Niger to rally behind the new military leaders.

The West African bloc ECOWAS now says its leaders will meet on Thursday to determine the next course of action. Until then, a continent waits in trepidation.

A resounding no to war from Catholic Bishops

Many voices of West Africa’s Catholic Bishops followed each other to say no to military intervention.

Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, the Archbishop of Owerri, Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), begged the President of Nigeria and Chair of ECOWAS, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, “to dissuade ECOWAS Heads of States to resist the temptation of going to war against the coup plotters.” He went on saying: “We beg them to stop the imminent bloodshed that will trail the military intervention.”

Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré the Bishop of Dori in Burkina Faso and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Burkina-Niger, sent a message of solidarity and communion to the Bishops of Niger. He expressed concern about the military solution, indicating the Bishops’ opposition.

Lessons from the intervention in Libya

“Indeed, how can we fail to be concerned when the spectre of war appears in the solutions envisaged as a way out of the crisis, bringing to mind the possibility of a ‘second Libya’? The disastrous consequences of that country’s destabilisation continue to inflict terrible suffering on the people of the Sahel,” he said.

In a letter of appeal for restraint and discernment in the management of the socio-political situation of Niger, Bishop Alexis Touably Youlo of the Diocese of Agboville, Côte d’Ivoire and President of the Reunion of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA) expressed his concern about the lack of protection for lives of the people of West Africa.

“We affirm and insist to ECOWAS and the African Union that any military intervention in Niger at this time would complicate the situation of the people of Niger, and of the sub-region, more than it would provide solutions,” he said.

Earlier on, the President of RECOWA sent a message inviting all the Bishops of the RECOWA to pray for the situation in Niger. Following this invitation, Bishop Benoît Comlan Messan Alowonou of the Diocese Kpalimé and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Togo called upon all parish priests to organise “a triduum of prayers in all parishes of all dioceses, on 8, 9 and 10 August 2023.”

What is life like in Niger this week?

When contacted by Vatican News, Fr Lambi Lokolwa, a Missionary of Africa working in a parish in Niamey, said despite the fears of possible war, Nigerien were carrying on with life as best as they could.

 “As far as the situation in Niamey is concerned, everything is calm. There was a coup, but there was no bloodshed. In Niamey, people continue to go about their business. After the coup, the military introduced a curfew, which was lifted three days ago. Sunday, I went to celebrate Mass about 9 km from here, just after the airport. And whenever you are in town, you don’t feel that there has been a coup,” said Fr Lokolwa.

For Fr Lokolwa, the biggest concern is the fear caused by the threat of war. He said the army has vowed to defend itself from foreign military intervention. 

Nigeria has cut its electricity supply to Niger in line with the sanctions imposed by the West African neighbours.

Fr Lokolwa cited electricity and soaring prices of goods on the market of Niger as the other challenges citizens are grappling with.

“We are praying to God that ECOWAS will not send its troops here because there has been a coup without bloodshed, but if ECOWAS decides to send its troops, the people of Niger will not allow themselves to be pushed around and then there will be war in the city, which is what is frightens our Christians and people,” said the priest of Niamey.

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09 August 2023, 12:07