Niamey:First Signs of a Hard Line

Opposition activist Marou Amadou was arrested MondayWhile reporters continue to carefully attribute the title “Coup d’Etat” to leaders of Niger’s opposition, events of the last 24 hours make it hard to spin the current situation in any other way.

The last day saw the first arrest of an opposition leader (Marou Amadou, left), the “liquidation” of the Constitutional Court, the closure of a main opposition media outlet, and a carefully staged press release from the Ministry of Defense.

In particular, the closure of the Constitutional Court is in no way within the 1999 constitution. Last night’s statement announcing the “abrogation of the appointments” of each of the court’s seven judges stated that “les dispositions des articles 104, 105, 106 et 107 de la Constitution du 09 août 1999 sont temporairement suspendues.” According, supposedly, to Article 53 of the Constitution, which nowhere gives any body the right to suspend other parts of the document.

Article 53

After consulting with the Prime Minister, the President of the National Assembly, the President of the Constitutional Court and the President of the Supreme Court, the President of the Republic shall take exceptional measures when the institutions of the Republic, the nation’s independence, its territorial integrity or the execution of international obligations are threatened by a grave and immediate danger and when the normal functioning of Constitutional public powers has been interrupted. He shall report to the nation regarding any such exceptional measures. If the National Assembly is not in session, it shall reconvene without need of sanction. Such exceptional measures must be inspired by the desire to assure to constitutionally granted public authorities those means of accomplishing their mission within the shortest period of time. In no case shall the National Assembly be dissolved during the exercise of exceptional powers. The National Assembly shall assess by an absolute majority of its members the duration of the exercise of exceptional powers and shall terminate it in case of abuse.

Article 105

The members of the Constitutional Court are inviolable during the duration of their mandate. They may not be questioned or detained without the authorization of the Constitutional Court, except in case of flagrant offence (“sauf cas de flagrant délit”) In case the President of the Constitutional Court can be held for no more than 48 hours.

Article 113

Any person involved in a court case may query the constitutionality of a law before any court of law by exceptional remedy. The latter must defer its ruling until the decision of the Constitutional Court, a decision that must be reached within thirty days. A clause declared unconstitutional on the basis of the above paragraph is null and void by right. The ruling of the Constitutional Court instituting this unconstitutionality is published in the Government Gazette in accordance with the emergency procedure.

Article 115

No appeal can be made against the decrees of the Constitutional Court. They are binding on the government and all administrative, civil, military and legal authorities.

So any argument that these are constitutional means is a fiction.

As if this wasn’t enough, the publishing of the last statement by the mass opposition group FDD (Front de Défense de la Démocratie) has led to the first arrest of opponents. Marou Amadou, long time Human Rights campaigner, journalist, head of the anti-Tandja group Fusad, (Front uni pour la sauvegarde des acquis démocratiques), and spokesman for main opposition coalition of parties, unions, and collectives, was arrested Monday night. He read the FDD statement that called on public officials to obey Article 13 of the Constitution which demands they not carry out unlawful orders, on opposition Dounia TV. The radio/TV station, close to the supporters of former PM Hama Amadou and a longtime irritant to Tandja’s people, was then indefinately shut down by the government.

In a press conference later Albadé Abouba, the Minister of the Interior, hinted darkly that the entire opposition front may be outlawed. “To my knowledge, according to the Constitution, the Charter of Political Parties, and the laws regulating associations, it is not legal the form such an organization for purely political activities”, said the minister, noting the make up of the front, which contains over sixty trades unions, political parties, and human rights groups. “All these, they can’t dress themselves in a [false] legality and then accuse others of acting as illegally as they are.”

Despite this, the FDD has called a general strike for Wednesday, and political groups are to hold a mass rally on Saturday. It’s hard to see that arresting leaders would do anything but inflame tensions. And perhaps that’s what some of Tandja’s cronies want.

Finally a carefully worded statement out of the Ministry of Defense (whose chief was the only of the eight CDS-RAHAMA members not to step down from the government last week) was released in the name of the Armed Forces of Niger (FAN). In it they criticized anyone calling on them to take sides and said they would play no part in the crisis. Except that they will follow the Presidents orders. Or so the statement says. Some are interpreting this as how deeply in Tandja’s pocket the military brass are. One might also argue, if this really was drafted by the government for the military spokesman to read, that this is one more abuse of the kind that brought on the 74 coup. But that coup was a long time coming and followed a decade of misrule and backroom humiliations. Any general on the take over the last ten years must know that they’ve tied their fate to Tandja, at least for the moment.

They might be reminded that dictators can never retire in their own nations, and their passing becomes dangerous for their past supporters.

ALSO: The French Diplomatic Ministry has this lukewarm condemnation of Tandja’s taking power, though they don’t use the Coup word. I’ve seen nothing from the US or Canada. Jean Ping made an emergency visit to Niamey on Monday, ahead of an AU meeting in Libya Wednesday. Wednesday, with the strike in Niamey and AU statements on his behavior could be a bad day for Tandja, though one he should weather. It will be the pressure that’s put on those who have to carry out his orders which will decide this, and that may be weeks in coming to a head.

Other links, including some thoughtful and up to date opinion pieces from African observers:

UPDATE: 8:40 GMT. A report says main opposition leader, former Prime Minister, and head of the IS affiliate PNDS-Tarayya party,  Mahamadou Issoufou, has been arrested.

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