After keeping a low profile for decades, Abdourahamane Tchiani, leader of the coup in Niger and self-declared head of the transitional council, has become the focus of the media.
Commander of the presidential guard
Tchiani, who is known in Niger as the commander of the presidential guard, emerged from behind detained Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum to declare himself head of the so-called National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), despite the lack of recognition by most countries and international bodies, including the United States.
The United States demanded the return of the elected president, stating that his overthrow would endanger Niger and stop US military aid to this poor, strategically located country.
“We remind those who are trying to seize power by force that the removal of democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum will jeopardize the United States’ significant cooperation with the government of Niger,” John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters at the White House.
“The military takeover may prompt the United States to stop security and other cooperation with the government of Niger,” he added.
According to those close to President Bazoum who spoke to AFP, relations between General Tchiani and the president deteriorated months ago, and Bazoum had recently expressed his desire to replace Tchiani as the head of the presidential guard.
Deterioration of relationship between the president and his guard
Tchiani was loyal to the former president, Mahamadou Issoufou, who appointed him commander of the presidential guard during his two presidential terms from 2011-2021.
According to those close to Bazoum who spoke to AFP, relations between the two men deteriorated months ago.
The general rarely attended official ceremonies and activities of the president, as he was mostly represented by his deputy, Colonel Ibroh Amadou Bacharou, who was also a supporter of the coup.
Tchiani hails from Filingue, an arid region about 200 km northeast of the capital, Niamey, in the Tillaberi region, which has been the scene of a series of attacks by extremist groups for years.
Tchiani has controlled the presidential guard since 2011, and he was promoted to the rank of general in 2018 by former President Issoufou.
Prior to that, he had held the position of military attaché at the Nigerien embassy in Germany.
He joined the Nigerien army in 1985 and served in United Nations peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Sudan, according to the New York Times.
He was accused of participating in a coup attempt in 2015 but denied any involvement and eventually remained close to Issoufou, who promoted him to general in 2018 and held power until 2021, when Bazoum took office.
Tchiani’s critics assert that he is “controversial” within the army, while his supporters claim that he is “a strong and popular man among the nearly 700 members of his unit.”
His name has been the subject of controversy since the failed 2015 coup against former President Issoufou, who then gave him sweeping powers, fearing that he might be overthrown by army officers.
For his contribution to thwarting several coup attempts between 2021 and 2022, according to the authorities, Bazoum re-appointed him to his position as head of the presidential guard, but the relationship between them was not good, according to numerous testimonies reported by AFP.
The magazine Jeune Afrique said that Tchiani is not a man who achieves consensus, as army officers criticize him for his rapid rise and his access to the presidential guard for a decade.
It is noteworthy that identical reports confirm that Tchiani’s coup against Bazoum was due to the latter’s intention to replace him as head of the presidential guard. However, in his first television appearance since the announcement of the detention of the president and his family, Tchiani cited the security situation in the country to justify the coup.
The African News Agency (ANA) confirmed the existence of a “false presidential decision” circulated by military circles pointing to the replacement of Tchiani by another commander, which precipitated the general’s coup against the detained president.