By Paul Ejime
The clashes on Wednesday followed Niger former President Mahamane Ousmane’s claims that he won Sunday’s presidential run-off vote.
He rejected official results announced Tuesday by the national Electoral Commission, CENI, which declared his rival, former foreign minister Mohamed Bazoum the winner.
CENI said Bazoum, 61, won the election with 55.75% of the vote against Ousmane’s 44.25%.
But following the rejection of the the official result by Ousmane, 71, his supporters staged street protests in the capital Niamey erecting barricades and clashing with riot police who tried to disperse them.
Ousmane alleges that there were irregularities in the polls, and that he actually won.
He and Bazoum hail from Zinder, some 870-km east of Niamey and less than 250-km to neighbouring Nigeria’s northern City of Kano.
However, there is no love lost between both Niger politicians. Their latest open rivalry could worsen a simmering racial conflict in the country of 24 million people with diverse ethnicity.
Ousmane’s majority Fulani supporters claim that Bazoum from the minority Arab stock hails from Libya. The Arabs claim they are marginalized.
Niger constitutional court is expected to certify the official results of the disputed election in a few days’ time.
Sunday’s vote, which followed the inconclusive December 27 first round balloting, was marred by two bomb attacks by anti-government militant groups that killed at least eight people, mainly polling officials in the Southeast and Southwestern regions.
The polls were expected to usher the first peaceful transfer of power in the politically restive Sahelian nation.
But the street protests and bomb attacks have only heightened political tensions in a country already plagued by abject poverty, unemployment, climate change devastation, political instability, terrorism and insurrections by militant groups linked to Al Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram from Nigeria.
Bazoum is the anointed candidate of out-going President Mamadou Issoufou, both of the ruling PNDS party.
But the fact that the party failed to win an absolute majority in Niger’s 171-seat parliament, means it would require collaboration with other parties to govern. The Niger tensions only add to the many troubles of regional economic grouping, ECOWAS, facing unresolved political crises in Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, amid perennial socio-economic challenges compounded by a raging Covid-19 pandemic and fresh Ebola outbreak.