Deji Elumoye and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders are to hold a virtual summit today to find a way forward on the military take-over of Mali.
The sub-regional body had yesterday ordered a blockade of the country to force the coupists, led by an army colonel, Assimi Goita, to stand down, even as it, along with Nigeria, has called for the immediate activation of the ECOWAS Standby Force.
ECOWAS resolved to close all land and air borders, as well as to stop all economic, trade and financial flows and transactions between ECOWAS member-states and Mali, while calling on all partners to do the same.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse were arrested by rebel soldiers on Tuesday after weeks of unrest.
Keita, whose government had been beset by months of protests over economic stagnation, corruption and a brutal Islamist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives, later announced early yesterday that he had resigned to avoid “bloodshed.”
“If it pleased certain elements of our military to decide this should end with their intervention, do I really have a choice?
“(I must) submit to it, because I don’t want any bloodshed,” the ousted 75-year-old president said in a television broadcast.
The coup’s leaders appeared on television hours later to pledge a political transition and new elections within a “reasonable time.”
The sub-regional body has, however, suspended Mali from the organisation over the ousting of Keita.
The ECOWAS Commission in a communiqué dated August 18, but released yesterday, said the seizure of power was likely to have a negative impact on peace and stability in Mali and in the sub-region.
It condemned the overthrow of Kéita’s democratically elected government and denied any kind of legitimacy to the military, while also demanding the immediate reinstatement of the constitutional order.
In the communiqué, ECOWAS said: “Requests the immediate activation of the ECOWAS Standby Force; demands the immediate implementation of sanctions against all putschists and their partners and collaborators; decides to dispatch a high-level delegation to ensure an immediate return to constitutional order.”
Nigeria condemned the coup d’état.
Its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, who tweeted from his verified Twitter handle yesterday, demanded the immediate and unconditional restoration of constitutional order.
He said: “The Nigerian government unequivocally condemns the coup d’état that took place in Mali yesterday [Tuesday] and demands the immediate and unconditional restoration of constitutional order. We welcome the urgent activation of the ECOWAS Standby force.”
Malian Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Ismael Wague, said he and his fellow officers had “decided to take responsibility in front of the people and of history.”
UN Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, demanded the “immediate and unconditional release” of Keita and Cisse.
The United States and France also released separate statements voicing deep concern about the turn of events and urged against regime change.
French President Emmanuel Macron, according to his office, condemned the mutiny and said he supported mediation efforts to resolve the crisis by other West African states.
The US envoy to the region, Mr. Peter Pham, joined the calls for restraint and echoed its opposition to any “extra-constitutional” change.
Jubilant crowds have, however, gathered in the capital to cheer the rebels as they took over the government of the Sahelian nation.
A former deputy president of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who is also a former speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament condemned the military coup.
Ekweremadu noted that Mali was strategic in the war against insurgency, adding that political instability in the West African nation portended dire consequences for West Africa and the Sahel region.
He tweeted that the military intervention could contaminate other democracies in the sub-region if not resisted by the international community.
Despite the widespread condemnation of the coup, Goita announced yesterday that he had taken over the reins of government as the head of the rebel National Committee for the Salvation of the People.