Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images
Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum, seen here on May 2, 2022, is held captive by soldiers at the presidential palace in Niamey.
Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum said Thursday that he is being held hostage by the country’s military as he warned in a Washington Post op-ed that the junta’s takeover could have “devastating consequences” for the region, where Russian mercenaries have established a foothold.
Bazoum, democratically elected two years ago, has been detained by soldiers at the presidential palace in the capital Niamey since last Wednesdaywhen the military launched a coup that has been condemned by the United States and other Western nations and brought threats of military intervention from a bloc of West African countries.
“I am writing this as a hostage,” Bazoum wrote in the Washington Post. “Niger is under attack from a military junta that is trying to overthrow our democracy, and I am just one of hundreds of citizens who have been arbitrarily and illegally imprisoned.”
The upheaval in Niger has thrown the region – already marked by coups and militant extremism – into renewed limbo with Western countries in an urgent attempt to evacuate their citizens and diplomats.
Bazoum wrote that this “coup launched against my government by a faction of the military on July 26 has no justification whatsoever” and could have “devastating consequences for our country, our region and the whole world.”
“The coup plotters falsely claim that they acted to protect Niger’s security,” he wrote. “They claim that our war against jihadist terrorists is failing and that my economic and social governance, including partnerships with the United States and Europe, have harmed our country.”
Instead, Bazoum wrote, the security situation had “improved dramatically” in Niger since he came to power, working with the partnerships the junta opposes.
Bazoum also warned that foreign aid makes up 40% of the national budget – and it would not be delivered if the coup succeeds.
CNN has not been able to independently confirm the conditions under which Bazoum is being held at his home.
But the ousted leader is “very determined, very optimistic” despite being under house arrest, his former adviser Idrissa Waziri told CNN by phone Thursday.
Waziri, who is based in France, told CNN that Bazoum is currently under house arrest at his residence with his wife and son, and says he has been in close contact.
“They tried to break his morale,” Waziri said, claiming that Bazoum’s residence is surrounded by armored military vehicles, the access gates are chained shut and the electricity supply has been temporarily cut off.
Waziri claimed that around 130 officials of the elected government had been arrested in recent days. He added that many others are hiding from the coup organizers.
Waziri told CNN that when Bazoum decided to keep General Abdourahamane Tiani as head of the presidential guard after his election, Bazoum believed Tiani would show him the same level of loyalty he had shown his predecessor.
Tiani led the coup that toppled the Sahel nation’s elected government last week.
In the Washington Post article, Bazoum argued that Niger’s security situation is “significantly better” than neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, where an Islamist insurgency has entrenched itself in an area where the three countries’ borders meet.
Bazoum also warned of growing Russian influence in the Sahel region.
Hundreds of contractors from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group are stationed in Mali at the invitation of its military junta, which – along with Burkina Faso’s military-backed government – has supported the coup in Niger.
“Instead of addressing security issues by strengthening their own capacity, they hire criminal Russian mercenaries like the Wagner group at the expense of the rights and dignity of their people,” Bazoum wrote, referring to Mali’s junta.
One of the Nigerian coup leaders, General Salifou Mody, visited Mali on Wednesday, according to the Malian presidency, raising fears of a potential alliance with Wagner.
“With an open invitation from the coup plotters and their regional allies, the entire central Sahel region could fall under Russian influence via the Wagner group,” Bazoum wrote.
The ousted president called on the United States and the international community to “help us restore our constitutional order,” adding: “The people of Nigeria will never forget your support at this crucial moment in our history.”
On Thursday, US President Joe Biden called for immediate release by Bazoum in a statement commemorating Niger’s Independence Day.
The United States has had troops in Niger for about a decade, mostly advising and training Nigerian forces in counterterrorism efforts.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. General Patrick Ryder told a media briefing Thursday that US forces in the West African country continue to work with Nigerian forces not “associated with this seizure of the president” to keep the US bases operating.
The U.S. Department of Defense recently said there is no change in the U.S. military posture in Niger as the U.S. Embassy evacuates non-emergency personnel and family members.