Coup in Niger Republic: Nigeria must observe ‘C’ Caution

By Olufemi Ogunleye

49 years ago, precisely 15 April 1974, I was ordered out of my beat as Daily Times Correspondent in Kano by my editor, Segun Osoba, as he then was, to proceed to Niamey in Niger Republic, to report the first military insurrection which had o ertthrown the first post-colonial government of the country.

Malam Haroun Adamu the political editor of the Daily Times who also, by coincidence was in Kano that morning, joined me in the exploratory journey in a commandeered Daily Times Peugeot van that had brought Newspapers from Lagos and took us through Kano-Gusau-Sokoto into Niamey. We arrived Niamey at midnight into the hands of the Nigerien soldiers and gendarmerie who were superintending the imposed curfew.

Our wit to display the picture of Nigeria’s Head of Stste, General Yakubu Gowon and free gift of copies of Daily Times Newspapers to the soldiers earned us the ‘laissez-passer’ that took us to the Nigeria’s Mission where we were hosted by the Ambassador, Alhaji Sani Kotangora.

For records Alhaji Sanni Kotangora was a former broadcaster in the Nigerian Broadcsstin Service now known as Radio Nigeria, and he became a reservoir of first-hand information on the rumbles at the locus in quo (the Presidential Palace) since his residence was within the observatory distance.

Hamani Diori (6 June, 1916- 23 April, 1989) was the first President of the Republic of Niger. As a Pan Africanist, leader of the Rassemblement Demo ratique African (RDA), he was appointed President of the land-locked former French colonized West African country on November 10, 1960 when the country gained independence. For 14 years, thereafter, President Hamani Diori, held the sway of power with a one-party governance nomenclature, but opening his hands of friendship and Solidarity to the big brother nation, Nigeria, without distancing himself from the colonial masters France.

The coupists led by Lieutenant Colonel Senyi Kountche, accused Diori and his ministers of misappropriating stocks of food aid and consolidating power by making himself ministers of foreign and defence affairs among other allegations. Hadjia Aissa Diori, the country’s first lady, was specifically accused of living in affluence beyond the economic capability of the country.
While President Diori was arrested and detained, his wife, Aissa Diori, an epitome of beauty with poise of glamour, fell victim of the fire power of the military gun in the Presidential Palace when they struck in the wee hour of the day. Aissa’s death was very emotional particularly as she was killed in the presence of her aged mother, Madame Aishat, who had come from their ciuntry-home, Togon, to felicitate with the President’s family.

This reporter with Sunday Olusola, Daily Times ace photographer, were the only privileged newsmen in the world, accorded permission to visit Madame Aishat and the burial space for the first lady in Togon village, some hundred kilometer south of Niamey. Front page lead of Daily Times edition of Thursday April 25, 1974 headlined “How Diori’s wife died in the coup – Bereaved mum speaks” with a kicker – on-the-spot-account by Timesman Femi Ogunleye, accredits this report.

The present Nigerian government must be circumspect in her approach to the current situation in Niger Republic. Despite the friendliness of Nigeria at a time when money was not our problem but how to spend it (apology to our General Yakubu Gowon) and the foreign alignment policy of Niger Republic, no external intervention in the 1974 coup in the country materialised. Hamani Diori was released from detention in 1980 but remained under house arrest until 1987. He died in exile in Morocco on 23 April 1989 at 72.

One of the first exclusive stories that came to.my knowledge while in Niamey was the refusal of Colonel Senyi Kountche to allow Libya, with whom Niger Repuic had had a defense. pact, to exercise the letter of the pact by coming to assist the country at the time of needs. Diplomatic sources had hinted that the Libya deputy prime minister, Major Jalud had finalised arrangement to invade Niger purportedly to help in quelling the military putsch with a view to restoring Hamani Diori, in response to the terms of the defense pact between both countries but Lt. Col. Seyni Kountche was quoted to have rejected Libya’s move with an affirmation that “this is our internal affairs that requires no external intervention”.
I wonder if Nigeria can learn a lesson!

Olufemi Ogunleye is a veteran journalist and traditional ruler of Akinale town in Owu Kingdom of Egbaland. He write this features from his palace

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