General Abdourahamane Tiani made the remarks in a televised address to the nation on Saturday night, saying neither coup leaders nor “the Nigerien people want war and remain open to dialogue.”
He, however, warned, “If an aggression were to be undertaken against us, it would not be the walk in the park that some believe.”
“ECOWAS is getting ready to attack Niger by setting up an occupying army in collaboration with a foreign army,” Tiani said without saying which country he meant.
In the meantime, the coup leader added that the junta pursues its own agenda and would launch a national dialogue to consult on a transition back to democracy, which “should last no longer than three years.”
“Our ambition is not to confiscate power,” Tiani added.
Coup leaders toppled Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, following which the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened to use force if the coup leaders refused to return Bazoum to power.
The bloc reiterated the threat on Friday, saying an undisclosed “D-Day” had been agreed for possible military intervention in Niger.
ECOWAS delegation meets with junta leader, former president
Earlier on Saturday, an ECOWAS delegation arrived in Niger’s capital city of Niamey for, what it called, a final diplomatic push before deciding on whether to take military action.
The delegation was met at the airport by the junta-appointed prime minister and was also allowed to meet with Bazoum, in a sign of openness to negotiations on the part of the coup leaders.
The group that flew to Niger was led by Nigeria’s former military leader, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and included ECOWAS commission president, Omar Touray, an ECOWAS source said while speaking on condition of anonymity.
Nigerian presidential spokesperson Abdulaziz Abdulaziz posted a photo of the delegation’s meeting with Bazoum.
“After meeting …. (junta leader) General Abdoulrahmane Tiani, the ECOWAS delegation in Niger has also visited President Mohamed Bazoum this evening,” he wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, without sharing any details on the outcome of the talks.
Thousands volunteer to support junta
Separately on Saturday, thousands of the junta’s supporters gathered at a stadium in Niamey, where the crowding caused the postponement of an unofficial census of civilian volunteers for non-military roles if ECOWAS actually resorted to force.
Thousands of mostly young men gathered outside the stadium hours before the scheduled start time of the event. The gathering has been seen by observers as a sign of the strong support in some quarters of Niger’s society for the junta.
“In all our calculations and our understandings, we never thought we could mobilize (this number of people),” said Younoussa Hima, co-organizer of the initiative dubbed “The Mobilization of Young People for the Fatherland.”
Organizers of the recruitment drive said they did not intend to sign up volunteers for the army, but their goal was to gather a list of people willing to lend their civilian skills in case ECOWAS attacked.
This is not the first time Nigeriens have come out in force to display support for the coup leaders and voice rejection of the country’s Western-backed authorities.
Earlier this month, thousands of people surrounded a French military base in the capital, protesting against years of military intervention by the European country in the West African nation.
Protesters rallied near the army base on the outskirts of Niamey, shouting, “Down with France, down with ECOWAS,” and saying that the regional bloc was being “manipulated by France.”
The junta leaders have also moved to repeal a number of military agreements signed with France.