This is a first sign of relaxation, after more than five months of an inflexible standoff waged by the military regime in Niamey against the president it overthrew. Monday January 8, General Abdourahamane Tiani, self-proclaimed president following the July 26, 2023 coup d’état in Niger, agreed to release Salem Bazoum, the son of Mohamed Bazoum, “on a humanitarian basis”, reported in a communicated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Togo, mediating country in this crisis.

The 22-year-old student, who had been sequestered since the putsch in the presidential palace of Niamey with his father and mother, Haziza Bazoum, arrived Monday evening in Lomé, the Togolese capital. His parents remain captive of the soldiers of General Tiani’s presidential guard. In images broadcast by RTN, national television, Salem Bazoum appeared in good health, alongside Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine and the head of Togolese diplomacy Robert Dussey, responsible for returning to Lomé with the young man.

A few hours earlier, the leak on social networks of a “certificate of provisional release” concerning him, emanating from the Nigerien military court, had surprised those close to the former presidential family. Sources close to him claimed to know nothing about this release and “not to be able to contact Salem”. On the document, the son of the deposed president was described as being “charged with conspiracy aimed at undermining the authority or security of the State”, which his relatives were unaware of. “This indictment was fabricated at the last minute by the military justice system to legitimize his detention,” denounces a Nigerien judicial source close to Mohamed Bazoum.

“A form of blackmail”

On December 15, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), contacted by the Bazoum family’s lawyers three months earlier, ordered their immediate release, describing their detention as ‘arbitrary. A decision that was not followed through on. “We never stopped his son and his wife from leaving. It was Bazoum who refused to allow them to be released without him,” assures an advisor to the transitional government. Several members of the ousted president’s entourage confirm that the latter in fact opposed their release as long as the necessary guarantees concerning their security, once free, had not been obtained from their jailers. “Mr. Bazoum feared that they would then use a form of blackmail on them in order to obtain his resignation, which he still refuses to sign,” slips one of his relatives.

After months of blockage, the release of Salem Bazoum was finally obtained through Togo, which had been appointed official mediator alongside Sierra Leone on December 10 by ECOWAS during a summit of the regional body organized in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. The only mediator to have managed to gain the trust of the military regime, Lomé, who has always had a conciliatory position towards Abdourahamane Tiani, engaged in discreet negotiations the day after the putsch.

Neither the threat of a regional military intervention agitated as soon as the coup d’état occurred by neighboring heads of state – since postponed indefinitely – nor the heavy sanctions imposed by ECOWAS (territorial and economic embargo, trade sanctions and suspension of the country’s electricity supply) nor the multiple attempts at mediation initiated by the regional body, Algeria, the United States or even Chad, had until then made it possible to make the junta bend.

Breaking the deadlock

To break the deadlock, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé and his minister Robert Dussey continued to increase the number of back and forth trips between Lomé and Niamey. “Faure was still in Niger last week to get the Bazoums out and obtain sanctions relief,” says an advisor to the former president. Shortages of basic foodstuffs, rising inflation, difficulty paying civil servants despite a drastic 40% reduction in the state budget, lack of liquidity in banks, daily power cuts, inability of the state to finance itself on regional markets: after five months of maintaining this heavy regime of restrictions as best they could, the military authorities found themselves on the verge of economic asphyxiation and ended up giving up ballast in the hope of a reduction in sanctions.

ECOWAS opened the way for their relaxation at its December 10 summit, conditioning it on the goodwill of the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP, the decision-making body of the junta) to operate a “short transition”. leading to a return of civilians to power and the release of the former presidential family. Could the West African body loosen the screws in the coming weeks even though Mohamed Bazoum and his wife remain prisoners and no agenda for a return to constitutional order has yet been announced by the junta ?

Togolese emissaries from ECOWAS could return to Niamey soon. According to RTN, they were asked to return “if possible, as early as this week.” A letter from Niger’s prime minister dated January 5, however, requested that their visit be postponed until the end of the month, justifying his request with “the very busy schedule…due to preparations for the inclusive national dialogue.” The latter is supposed to pave the way for the holding of a national forum, announced by the junta for October and the only body capable, according to it, of determining the duration of the transition, which will not exceed three years, had simply promised General Tiani in August. But since then, the forum has been delayed. No date has been set by the authorities.