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Niger’s Outgoing President Warns Against ‘Fiddling’ With Constitution

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Niger is battling two jihadist insurgencies and a population explosion and, by a key UN benchmark, is the poorest nation in the world.
But its outgoing president says he is deeply proud that the country is breaking new ground as a democracy, despite its woes.
President Mahamadou Issoufou is to hand on the baton after two constitutional terms in office — a peaceful electoral transition that is a first for Niger and a rarity in Africa.
“This is the first time in 60 years that there will be a transition from one democratically-elected president (in Niger) to another who is democratically elected,” Issoufou told AFP in an interview.
“We are building a democratic tradition.”
In the past year, Guinea and Ivory Coast have been shaken by violence after presidents oversaw constitution changes enabling them to seek extra time in office.
Elections are also upcoming in Uganda and the Republic of Congo, where constitutional tweaks have helped veteran leaders stay in power.
But Issoufou said he was firmly against such moves.
“We can’t make strong institutions by fiddling with constitutions, by changing the rules of the game while it’s being played,” he said.
“The adventure of a third term… would have weakened the institutions that we are building.”
Issoufou has gained high marks abroad, especially from former colonial power France, for overseeing a peaceful handover in a country whose post-independence history is studded with coups.
The favoured candidate to win the presidential runoff on February 21 is Mohamed Bazoum, 60, Issoufou’s right-hand man and anointed successor.
He has benefitted from the state apparatus during his campaign, while others have complained that under Issoufou activists have been repeatedly arrested and demonstrations banned.
But Issoufou swept aside such complaints.
“Democracy is freedom and order,” he said. “There is no democracy without order, just as there is no democracy without freedom.”
– Sahel jihadism –
Niger is struggling with two jihadist campaigns — a five-year-old offensive in the west on the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, and a decade-old insurgency in the southeast on the border with Nigeria.
Hundreds of lives have been lost, nearly half a million people have fled their homes, and devastating damage has been inflicted. Last weekend, 105 civilians were massacred in two western villages.
Issoufou said jihadism in the Sahel posed a far wider threat and called for an “international coalition” to combat it.
“The whole Sahel is infested” by armed Islamists, Issoufou warned.
“Security is a worldwide public good. What happens in the Sahel concerns the rest of the world. If terrorism manages to establish a foothold in Africa, it will gain a footing in Europe.”
For now, France and the United States have bases in Niger, which has also joined four other struggling Sahel countries in an anti-jihad coalition.
In his final months in office, Issoufou has set plans to double the size of the armed forces over the next five years — a major economic ask for a country ranked poorest in the world in the UN’s 189-nation Human Development Index.
Issoufou puts his faith in the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), founded in 2018 and symbolically launched on January 1 after delays caused by the Covid pandemic.
The free trade zone will “create the biggest market in the world with 1.2 billion consumers”, he said. “It will put an end to the balkanised (regional) markets Africa has known, which have been at the root of the failure of many industrial policies because markets are too restricted.”
“Afro-pessimism is behind us,” he declared, calling for “ambitious policies (and) the deepening of certain values, especially democracy and human rights.”
– ‘There’s life after power’ –
The president also voiced optimism about his efforts to stem Niger’s population crisis.
But he cautioned the work took time to bear fruit, as it required the education of girls as well as awareness programmes, enlisting the help of religious and traditional leaders.
Niger’s population is expanding at 3.9 percent a year, the highest in the world, and each Nigerien woman has 7.6 children on average.
At independence in 1960, Niger had three million inhabitants, which has risen to 23 million today and on current trends could reach 70 million in 2050.
“Demographic growth has eaten away a good part of our economic growth,” Issoufou said. “We have to keep young girls in school until the age of 16 to avoid early marriages and pregnancies.”
Asked to assess his record, Issoufou smiled. “I’m proud overall. I have kept the promises I made to the Nigerien people. I will continue to be at the helm until April 2, but there’s no void ahead — there’s life after power.”
* AFP

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UN offers to help catch Mali jihadists behind amputations

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UN peacekeepers in Mali on Thursday offered to help bring to justice jihadists behind the amputation of suspected thieves’ hands and feet, an apparent revival of a practice that had all but vanished.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, local sources in Tin-Hama in eastern Mali said armed men drummed up a crowd on May 2, a market day, and cut the right hands and left feet off three men they paraded as thieves.

The gunmen are believed to have belonged to Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), one of the main jihadist groups active in the Sahel region, the UN’s Minusma force said in a statement.

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“This kind of corporal punishment carried out by armed groups outside of any legal order is a serious infringement of human rights,” Minusma chief El-Ghassim Wade said.

UN forces stand ready to “support continuing enquiries by Malian authorities to fight impunity and ensure that the perpetrators of these acts are brought to justice,” he added.

Minusma also said it was deploying “significant security resources in the affected areas to step up protection of populations”.

The amputations “recall the horrors of the 2012 crisis” when jihadists and Touareg rebels took control of much of Mali’s north, the UN statement added.

At the time, various jihadist groups conducted public amputations, stonings, floggings and executions in major northern cities under their hardline interpretation of Islamic law.

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Since 2012, jihadist insurgents have spread across Mali’s centre and into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, with thousands killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in the violence.

UN, African and French forces have failed to put an end to the insurgency.

Unidentified men killed one soldier when they attacked a Malian anti-terrorist unit near Tominian in the country’s centre late Wednesday, while the troops killed three of the assailants, a security official said on condition of anonymity.

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IPOB backs new directive by Cameroon’s Anglophone separatist leader

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PHOTO: Protesters with the flag of "Ambazonia"

Nigerian Biafra separatist group— Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), has backed the May 20 directive to “stay at home” from Cameroon’s Anglophone separatist leader, Dr Cho Ayaba.

Ayaba, the leader of Ambazonia, ordered a lockdown on May 20, 2021 in the English-speaking region of Cameroon, saying it was to mark the day that Cameroonian government forces began killing civilians in the region.

“The Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, under the global command of our Leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, hereby, directs all Biafrans living in Ambazobia to fully comply with the directive. Biafra and Ambazobia share a lot in common, and we are prepared to give them all the necessary support and solidarity in their struggle for independence,” said IPOB in a statement issued on Monday.

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The Biafra group, in the statement signed by its spokesperson, Emma Powerful, further said, it “urge all Biafrans living in Ambazobia to close shop on May 20, and remain indoors in full compliance with the sit-at-home order by the leader of our sister country. We equally advise all Biafrans intending to travel to Ambazonia on that day to shelve the trip until after the exercise. Biafra and Ambazobia have enjoyed a robust relationship in our struggle for self determination.

“Ambazobia has adopted 20th of May every year in honour of the victims of the genocidal killings in Ambazonia by the terrorist Republic of Cameroun. This was the day the Paul Biya-led murderous regime in Camaroun launched military onslaught and occupation of Ambazonia.

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“The genocidal killing was however, challenged four years ago through stiff resistance and great sacrifices by patriotic Ambazonians. Consequently, the people of Ambazonia have decided to henceforth, observe 20th of May as a day to commemorate the Resistance and defeat of their enemy, the Cameroonian forces.

“We equally note with delight, the directive by the leadership of the Ambazonian liberation movement to all Ambazonians, to observe May 31 Biafra Remembrance Day sit-at-home order in honour of our fallen heroes. This show of solidarity between both countries is amazing, and will be sustained until and even after our independence is realised. Both countries shall continue to explore other opportunities to promote peaceful cooperation and regional security and economic advancement.”

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Eid: Buhari asks Nigerians to pray against insecurity

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Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday called on citizens to unite and pray against the insecurity ravaging the country.

The president made the appeal in a message to Muslims around the world as they marked Eid Al Fitr after the completion of a month of fasting.

According to Garba Shehu, the president’s senior special assistant on media and publicity, he said;“Unity and solidarity among all citizens, Muslims and Christians are imperative especially at a time when our country is faced with multiple challenges which are surmountable only when we come together as one.

“It is important that we remember how we share, through our faiths, common bonds that should serve to unite us and not allow ourselves to succumb to those who seek to divide us, using our two great religions, for their own selfish advantages.

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“We should jointly pray against the tragic incidents of kidnapping and banditry and the desperate quest for political power expressed through blackmail against the existence of our country as a united entity.

“We must resist the temptation to retreat into our communities. I urge our political and religious leaders as well as traditional rulers to encourage our citizens to turn towards one another in love and compassion.”

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