Tens of thousands of Nigeriens on Sunday took to the streets of their capital city, Niamey, to protest against President Mamadou Tandja’s moves of changing the constitution through a referendum and staying longer in office. The immense crowd was composed of adult men and women, young and old people.
They represented almost all the political formations of the opposition and the civil society.
The peaceful march commenced about 10H00 GMT near a roundabout in central Niamey called Trésor. The quietly singing and slow-moving crowd – almost like that of a funeral procession, drifted along, passing the high court building and converging at “Concertation”, a vast square in front of the national assembly building, AFP said.
Although cool in nature and action, the protesters’ placards sent tough messages: “The tazartché (continuity) will never happen; to hell with your referendum; Niger doesn’t belong to you and your family; you will walk through our dead bodies to achieve your dreams; no to constitutional disorder.”
Addressing the crowd from a makeshift stage of empty metal barrels, the president of FDD (an opposition party), Mahamadou Issoufou, criticized President Tandja’s decision of refusing to step down at the end of his second term as stipulated by the constitution.
“It’s a primitive and backward intention that will not only destroy democracy but also the country itself. The Nigerien people have been betrayed, the constitution has been squashed, but we can’t allow this to get to its end,” Issoufou yelled with a raised fist at an excited crowd.
He invited the CENI (National Independent Electoral Commission) to obey the ruling of the Supreme Court, which barred it from organising the disputed referendum.
Issoufou also urged every other opposition party to unite with them and form a common front against President Tandja.
But Tandja seems not to be relenting to pressures. After dissolving the parliament and Supreme Court, he gave orders to CENI to organise the referendum slated for 4 August.
The international community, notably the U.S., France and the European Union, has condemned President Tandja’s plans and has asked him to reconsider his decision.
Tandja was elected to office in 1999 and re-elected for a second and final term in 2004, which expires late this year. Niger’s constitution allows only two terms for a president.
But the president’s supporters say he brought economic growth to the poor nation and therefore deserves a third term to consolidate this prosperity.