Following the removal from power of Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum on Wednesday, General Omar Tchiani, commander of the presidential guards, has been pinpointed by many local reports as the man behind the coup.
Early on Wednesday, members of the special unit led by Tchiani detained Bazoum within the presidential palace, prompting regional leaders to organise a swift mediation mission to try to prevent a coup.
Hours later, a group of soldiers appeared on the West African nation’s national television claiming to have taken over the presidency.
“The defence and security forces … have decided to put an end to the regime you are familiar with,” said Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane in a statement broadcast on national television, surrounded by nine men in uniform, part of a group which is calling itself the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country.
Abdramane also said all institutions were suspended, land and air borders closed and a curfew was in place.
While Tchiani was not present on TV, he is widely seen as being hugely influential behind the scenes in Wednesday’s events.
So who is Tchiani?
Very little is known about the general, who is reportedly also named Abdourahmane.
According to APA news agency reports, Tchiani is from Niger’s western region of Tillaberi, a main recruitment area for the army.
He has been heading the presidential guards since 2015 and was a close ally of former President Mahamadou Issoufou – the politician who led the country until 2021.
Ironically, he led the unit that blocked an attempted coup in the country in March 2021, when a military unit tried to seize the presidential palace days before Bazoum who had just been elected, was due to be sworn in.
Barzoum’s election marked Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960. Once he took office, he kept the general as head of the presidential guards, a special unit of about 2,000 soldiers.
The motivations behind Tchiani spearheading the coup remain unclear but there were rumours that the deposed president wanted to dismiss him only a few days ago, Paul Melly, Niger expert at the London-based think tank Chatham House, told Al Jazeera.
There was also speculation that this may have been because of the general’s age, who is 62, or suspected discontent among some elements of the army including within the presidential guards.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify these speculations.
Another possible reason, Melly noted, is that Bazoum wanted “to mark himself out as his own man” from Issoufou’s presidency by changing the composition of the presidential guards, including replacing Tchiani.
On Wednesday, after Tchiani’s soldiers detained Bazoum, there were negotiations between him and the general that ultimately failed to yield any results.
According to local reports, Tchiani could be appointed head of a transitional military council within a few hours, a claim Al Jazeera could also not verify.
‘We cannot accept it’
Meanwhile, as news of the coup spread on Thursday morning, some politicians called on the population to reject the military takeover.
“There was an attempted coup, but of course, we cannot accept it,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassoumi Massoudou told news network France 24 in an interview.
“We call on all Nigerien democratic patriots to stand up as one to say no to this factious action that tends to set us back decades and block the progress of our country,” he said. He also called for the president’s unconditional release and said talks were ongoing.
A source close to the president who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak about the situation, told The Associated Press news agency that the president has not and will not resign and is safe in his residence.
“The hard-won achievements will be safeguarded. All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom will see to it,” Bazoum said early on Thursday morning on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
It is unclear how much support the coup leaders have from the rest of the security forces, but support for Bazoum among the population and political parties appears strong. In a statement on Wednesday, a group of Nigerien political groups said the situation was “suicidal and anti-republican madness”.
“Our country, faced with insecurity, terrorism and the challenges of underdevelopment, cannot afford to be distracted,” it said.