On Tuesday 8 March, Niger’s opposition coalition disclosed that its jailed candidate Hama Amadou will boycott the run-off race against incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou.
In a dramatic announcement on Tuesday, the opposition’s Seini Oumarou disclosed that “the political opposition untied by COPA 2016 has decided to withdraw from the electoral process under way (and) demand that its representatives withdraw from (national electoral commission) CENI.” Oumarou further complained of “unfair treatment between the two candidates.” He also stated that “there has been no official announcement by the Constitutional Court of the final results of the first round,” adding that the duration of the second-round campaign has been cut from 21 to 10 days in violation of the constitution. The announcement comes as the government has insisted that it will press ahead with the ballot, which is expected to hand the incumbent a second term in office.
During the first round of voting on 21 February, Issoufou, 64, won 48.43 percent of the vote, while his nearest challenger, Amadou, who has been in prison since November 2015 on shadowy baby-trafficking charges that he maintains were concocted, took 17.73 percent. Amadou was forced to campaign from behind bars during the first round and the Court of Cassation must rule on whether to go ahead with his trial, which is due to occur on 23 March, three days after the run-off ballot in the country. The opposition coalition COPA 2016 has accused the government of fraud in the first round, and the official final results of the election have not been announced. A cabinet statement, which was read on state television late on Monday, indicated that the Constitutional Court was holding back the definitive first-round results. The government maintains that the election was “free and transparent,” while the African Union (AU), which sent observers, disclosed that it was generally satisfied with the organization of the vote, despite logistical glitches and delays. While there has so far been no comment from the electoral commission, the government has insisted that the second round would go ahead despite the opposition’s withdrawal. The second-round of voting is due to take place on 20 March.
According to provisional results that were released on Friday 26 February, incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou fell short of an outright majority in the 21 February election, effectively meaning that he now faces a run-off against jailed opposition leader Hama Amadou. Issoufou will bid for a second term on 20 March.
His opponent, a former prime minister, came in second with 17.8 percent compared to Issoufou’s 48.4 percent. The National Electoral Commission has disclosed that turnout was nearly 67 percent. Amadou has been in prison since November 2015 on charges relating to baby-trafficking. He has maintained that he is innocent and a victim of political repression. Critics have reported that Amadou’s imprisonment is part of a crackdown by the Nigerien government over the election season. The government however has stated that it respects the law and that such criticisms are politically motivated.
Following the announcement of the election results, Issoufou congratulated the people of Niger for the peaceful election. Speaking to journalists, he stated, “I also salute my adversaries in the first round and congratulate them for the quality of the debate.”
A coalition of four parties agreed before the election to back the candidate that came second in a bid to defeat Issoufou. Those parties gained a cumulative vote of about 38 percent, through it was unclear which side had an advantage ahead of the second round or how Amadou would campaign from prison.
On Tuesday, 23 February, opposition parties in Niger rejected initial results from the country’s presidential election, held on 21 February, which showed incumbent Mahamadou Issoufou in the lead. The opposition has called the results fraudulent.
Provisional results released from twenty of the country’s 308 municipalities indicate that Issoufou has so far garnered 40.18 percent of the vote, more than 10 percentage points ahead of his closest rival. Despite claims by the authorities that the vote met “international standards,” Amadou Boubacar Cisse, an election candidate and spokesman for the Coalition for Change group of opposition parties has stated “these results are completely contrary to what was expressed at the ballot box.” The opposition has also accused the Nigerien government of voter intimidation and warned of false results.
On 21 February, Niger closed its land borders and increased security for the election, with on the ground sources reporting that security forces patrolled the cities and villages in case of unrest or militant attacks. Some voters disclosed Sunday that they had never experienced such a tense election. While there were few reports of trouble, security sources did indicate that unidentified armed men attacked two electoral commission vehicles in a rural area about 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of the capital city.
Voting on Sunday ended at 7 PM (1800 GMT) after a day of steady turnout, with those voters still queuing allowed to cast their ballots after that time. Voting in the country’s presidential and legislative elections was extended for a second day on Monday, 22 February, in areas where logistical problems prevented the polls from taking place the previous day. Polls on Monday were open in four of the eight regions: the northeastern Tahoua region, and Zinder, Diffa and Tillaberi, in the east, southwest and west respectively. A total of 7.5 million people were eligible to vote across the country. Late on Monday, the heads of observation missions, including the African Union (AU) reported that the 21 February elections took place “in a calm and serene environment.”
In the months leading up to the Niger’s presidential and legislative elections, the climate across the country has been made tense by Islamic extremist and complaints about a crackdown on dissent. For more than a year, the southeastern region of Niger has been targeted by cross-border raids carried out by Nigerian-based extremist group Boko Haram. The attacks and heightened threat have prompted officials to impose a state of emergency in the affected region. Recent high-profile attack carried out by al-Qaeda’s North African branch, AQIM, in the capital of neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso have further raised fears that the Nigerien capital, Niamey, could be a target.
Further adding to the tensions is that government critics have accused the president of silencing opponents in a bid to stay in office. Critics point to a recent number of arrests of opposition politicians, journalists and a singer who released a song that was critical of incumbent president Issoufou.
On Monday (8 February), African forces began a US-led counter-terrorism training programme in Senegal, which is aimed at what a US commander said were rising signs of collaboration between Islamist groups across northern Africa and the Sahel region.
The annual “Flintlock” exercises began only weeks after an attack in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou, which left thirty people dead. The assault on the hotel used by foreigners raised concerns that militants were expanding from a stronghold in northern Mali, towards stable, Western allies, such as Senegal. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters claimed responsibility for the attack, which is just one of several increasingly bold regional strikes that have occurred in the Sahel region. Speaking to reporters on Monday, US Commander for Special Operations Command Africa Brigadier General Donald Bolduc indicated that increased collaboration between militant groups effectively meant that they have been able to strengthen and strike harder in the region. According to General Bolduc, “we have watched that collaboration manifest itself with ISIS becoming more effective in North Africa, Boko Haram becoming more deadly in the Lake Chad Basin (and) AQIM adopting asymmetrical attacks…against urban infrastructure.” He further noted that cooperation has increased as the so-called Islamic State (IS/ISIS) group exploited a power vacuum in Libya to expand its self-declared caliphate, which takes up large areas in Syria and Iraq. He added that “we know in Libya that they (AQIM and ISIS) are working more closely together. Its more than just influence, they (AQIM) are really taking direction from them.” He also stressed the importance of regional cooperation and intelligence-sharing, adding that the United States would help Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria set up a joint intelligence center by the middle of next year. The US already supports a regional task force against Nigerian-based terrorist group Boko Haram. However not all security experts agree that there are emerging alliances between Islamist militant groups, with some arguing that competition between groups has led o more attacks.
This year’s programme, which opened on a dusty airstrip in Senegal’s central city of Thies, involves around 1,700 mostly African special operation forces. Western partners are also participating in the programme, including forces from France and Germany, which are amongst more than thirty countries that are participating. The attacks in Ouagadougou, coupled with a hotel attack in the Malian capital of Bamako in November 2015, have led to a greater emphasis on preparing for urban attacks this year through training to increase cooperation between police and military forces. At the request of African partners, this year’s exercises will also include anti-Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) training. The programme, which has been an annual event since 2005, will run from 8 February until 29. Some exercises will also be held in Mauritania.
Last week, an African Union (AU) official reported that funding for a multinational force to combat Boko Haram’s deadly Islamist insurgency in West and Central Africa remains well short of its target.
In comments made shortly after a meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss funding, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council disclosed that so far, including Nigeria, Switzerland and France, have pledged about US $250 million to fund the 8,700-strong regional force. According to Orlando Bama, communications officer for the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, the US $250 million includes both previous pledges and those made during Monday’s conference. That effectively covers just over a third of the US $700 million budget that was announced for the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) last year.
The task force, which is to be made up of regional African militaries, has yet to mobilize. Instead, national armies are tackling Boko Haram individually, however they often cannot follow the insurgency across the region’s long, porous borders. Regional armies from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria mounted an offensive against the insurgents last year, which ousted them from many positions in northern Nigeria. The United States has also sent troops to supply intelligence and other assistance, however progress has been slow, with Boko Haram continuing to have the capabilities to launch deadly attacks both inside Nigeria, as well as in the Lake Chad Basin.
Monday’s talks come after the militant group’s latest attack, which killed at least 65 people in northeastern Nigeria on Saturday.