Mr Sanusi said he was not representing the Nigerian government or ECOWAS in Niger.
On Wednesday, pictures of the deposed emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, and the leader of the junta in the Niger Republic, Abdrahmane Tchiani, surfaced online.
Mr Sanusi was accompanied by the sultan of Damagaram, from Zinder in Niger, Aboubakar Oumarou.
Me Oumarou is one of the most influential traditional rulers in the Niger Republic.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Niger after its presidential guards toppled the government of Mohamed Bazoum and announced Mr Tchiani as the country’s new leader.
The sanctions include shutting down all borders by Nigeria and cutting off electricity supply to Niger.
The one-week deadline given to the junta to reinstate Mr Bazoum expired last Sunday but ECOWAS has yet to use military action to remove the junta in Niger as it threatened.
Burkina Faso and Mali, also ruled by military juntas vowed to deploy troops to help the junta in Niger stay in power if ECOWAS decided to go ahead with its threat.
The meeting between Mr Sanusi and Mr Tchiani came as a surprise to many analysts because up until the photos surfaced online, the junta has turned down requests by countries and organisations to meet the coup leader.
Only the Chadian leader, Mahamat Deby, met Mr Tchiani in the early days of the coup.
Over the last few weeks, regional and international communities have tried to convince Mr Tchiani’s junta to reinstate Mr Bazoum who is still being held at the Presidential palace.
An ECOWAS delegation led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, and a former military head of state, Abdulsalam Abubakar were said to have been kept at the airport without meeting the coup leaders.
Last Monday, the United States Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland was in Niger but did not get to meet Mr Tchiani.
Ms Nuland said she spoke extensively with some military leaders but the intended meeting with the head of the junta did not happen.
On Tuesday, the coup leaders also refused to meet a combined delegation from the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
A PREMIUM TIMES report noted that despite official communication from the delegation notifying the Niger Republic of the intention to visit the country to discuss, the coup leaders didn’t allow the meeting to take place.
They said the postponement of the meeting was inevitable.
“While reiterating their readiness to engage in discussions with delegations or emissaries concerning the situation in Niger, as indicated to the mission led by the former President of Nigeria, Abdulsalami Abubakar, the current context of anger and revolt of the populations following the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS, does not allow to welcome the said delegation in the required serenity and security,” the report quoted a memo.
Why I went to Niger
Addressing journalists at the Presidential Villa in Abuja hours after his return from Niger, Mr Sanusi said he was in the country to discuss possible ways of solving the crisis.
He said he was not sent by the federal government or ECOWAS. However, he said some government officials were aware of his trip.
“No, I was not sent by the government. The government officials were aware but it was my personal initiative, using my personal contact to get there and I’ll continue to do my best. It’s my duty as a leader to do that,” Mr Sanusi said.
Mr Sanusi has maintained relationships with two influential traditional rulers in Niger Republic; the Sultan of Damagaram (Zinder) and Sarkin Katsina of Maradi, even after his dethronement.
While it’s not known whether previous delegations made efforts to include local traditional rulers from Niger in their quest for an audience with Mr Tchiani, Mr Sanusi has now achieved a feat which will perhaps serve as a pointer to future envoys.
Mr Oumarou leads the third largest city in the country only second to Niamey, the capital city and Maradi. His appearance in the pictures validated the belief that he was in Mr Sanusi’s entourage.
Traditional leaders in Niger, which shares an expanse border with northern Nigeria, are revered as in Northern Nigeria. As one of the most influential leaders in the country, Mr Oumarou could have facilitated Mr Sanusi’s visit.
“Sanusi possibly learnt from the mistakes made by the earlier envoys, though I don’t know whether he (Mr Sanusi) was sent by the federal government or not, but he learnt from the mistakes of the Sultan-led delegation and others and decided to use cultural links with Dangane.
“Damagaram emirate is influential in Niger Republic. And it (Damagaram) has a close relationship with the Kano emirate. So being a former emir and a prince from Kano, he used that influence. There was no way the junta leaders would not have listened to the Sultan of Damagaram due to his status in the country,” Baba – Bala Katsina, a social historian told PREMIUM TIMES.
Another factor that might have played to Mr Sanusi’s advantage is his position as the leader of the Tijjaniya sect in Nigeria. The sect was founded by the late Islamic scholar, Ibrahim Nyass.
The sect has several followers in the Niger Republic, as in Nigeria. Mr Sanusi might have used his influence as the leader of the sect in Nigeria to facilitate the meeting with the leader of the junta.
So far, the Niger coup leaders seem to be enjoying popular support and adherents of the popular sect might not be happy if the request of one of their leaders to mediate with the junta was turned down.
“Sanusi is a spiritual leader in West Africa for instance. And in Niger Republic, we know that Tijjaniya and Kadiriyya sect’s followers are in large numbers. The junta leaders might have felt obliged to respect Sanusi because of his status which will naturally make the sect followers admire them (coup leaders) more,” Kabir Yandaki, the head of the Department of Political Science at Ummaru Musa Yar’adua University Katsina told PREMIUM TIMES.
A personal initiative
Another reason the head of the junta might have decided to meet Mr Sanusi was that he was pursuing a personal initiative and not being prodded by the Nigerian government of leaders of ECOWAS.
He said himself that he was not an envoy of the federal government or the ECOWAS.
“The pledge by Burkina Faso and Mali as well the presumed availability of the Wagner group, coup leaders believe they would have nothing to fear from the ECOWAS and so decided not to receive any of the regional or international delegations.
“The threat of force and sanctions imposed on the country has emboldened Mr Tchiani and the other coup leaders more.
“The Sultan’s led delegation didn’t make internal connections in the Niger Republic. Besides, you know it was in the early days of the coup when sentiments were high.
“The harsh words used by the ECOWAS complicated the situation. The Sultan’s delegation went there (Niger Republic) in the name of ECOWAS so, it’s only natural for the coup plotters not to listen to them because of the image of the president (Mr Tinubu) the coup leaders have in their minds. But Sanusi on the other hand went on his own to seek a way to discuss with them. They could have agreed to listen to him because they might felt he was not there to give them conditions,” Mr Katsina said.
Against military might
When ECOWAS gave the junta in the Niger Republic a week’s deadline to relinquish power or be removed by force, Mr Sanusi, a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, was among influential people from northern Nigeria who opposed the idea.
“They would be more comfortable discussing with Sanusi because he was among those who didn’t support the use of force against the Niger Republic seen as brothers and sisters in northern Nigeria. So, they might have felt Sanusi wouldn’t support the use of force or any harsh decision against them,” Mr Yandaki said.
Mr Sanusi reportedly briefed Mr Tinubu about his visit to Niger Wednesday night.
Now many analysts are wondering if the visit of the deposed emir to the junta leader of Niger will yield fruit where previous negotiations led by several international organisations have failed.