In the Niger republic, human rights abuses, suppression of the free press, and free expression of all sorts, arbitrary arrest and condemnation of political opponents have become too common.
These wrongful operations and manipulations of justice have affected me personally in different ways. First and foremost, no citizen likes to see his/her country in such a dreadful situation. Second, my brother, the Army Lieutenant Ousmane Hambali has fallen victim to those political malpractices.
In 2010, Ousmane, six other limitary officers, and some civilians were arrested and accused of an attempted military coup. Our family and friends stood up to this injustice in every legal way possible. Lawyers are put to work and human rights organizations stood up to find the truth of that matter. Investigations were launched to delve to the depth of that matter and find the truth.
My brother’s case was dismissed precipitously, and his military ranks and position were restored. He was transferred from his initial position at the presidential guards’ command to the region of Agadez as Zone Commander.
His freedom did not last long as he was again accused of complicity to overthrow the government in 2011. He was dissociated from any reality of life and confined to the depth of the desert of Agadez in the extreme North of the country over 950 km away from Niamey but that did not prevent him from receiving a second accusation. Ousmane was again arrested and incarcerated with the same people being tortured physically and mentally since 2010.
From that time, they did not see the outside world until they were taken to court in 2015 to receive their sentences. At their trial, the jury did not find enough evidence to inculpate them, but they still went ahead and declared themselves incompetent to handle the case. “Incompetent”! this horrible word we are all trying to distance ourselves from? If the judges associate themselves just to stay away from that case, the stakes are then clearly high to the sky.
I have been hearing these kinds of self-declarations in courthouses, but I honestly do not still comprehend them. I know it is legal to do that but when the jury acts that way, I understand that there is something questionable going on. There is a clear under-statement laid right there. The judges are yearning to do their job, but the intense pressure leaves them no choice other than to find the best possible way to withdraw from that scenario.
Subsequently, all charges against Ousmane Hambali and the others were dropped. They enjoyed temporary freedom until shockingly, 2016 when the case resurfaced out of nowhere. By then Ousmane was tired of the treatments and frustrations he was undergoing. He decided to move to Ivory Coast in West Africa to have some peace with his wife and two kids. That will also not long as appallingly the case resurfaced from the blue in January 2017. They were again accused of the same offenses they were acquitted of in 2016. Ousmane was lured back to Niger just to be terribly welcome. He and all the alleged military coup plotters were arrested.
To add insult to injury, my brother was again charged with a third felony while he was in prison. He was alleged of conspiring to destabilize the regime in circumstances that are not clear to date. The justice department was up to that point in time struggling to keep its credibility despite the heavily mounting pressure. The legal process was not advancing in the regime’s way. Then on Friday, September 22nd, 2017 an unknown armed group which are not identified until this date struck on the prison in which my brother was being held in the locality of Tera at more than 150km west of Niamey the capital.
The assailants were armed with heavy weapons and it was so clear that Ousmane’s cell was their target. However, under such a condition the prisoners and the guards cannot stay cool and calm. The ruckus and confusion created a huge stampede then overwhelming chaos took over the scene. As an experienced and well-groomed in survival techniques military officer, my brother found his way out of that peril. He found a place to hide but with no food, no water, and no safety.
When everything was clear, the regime announced that the assailant came to liberate Ousmane and he is gone. He was therefore declared as a threat to national security. At that point, human rights organizations and lawyers openly declared the event as a plot to end Ousmane’s life and they got strong public support which most probably protected him from the evil intent.
Amazingly my brother returned on his own and was immediately taken in until Friday, January 26th, 2018 when all the accused received sentences ranging from 15 to 20 years in prison without any possibility of parole since there is nothing like parole in Niger judicial system. One may wonder why all these are happening in a country like Niger. The unfortunate answer is that those things are happening to carry out a harsh crackdown on political opposition with justification and innocent person whose victimization can help will be considered a valuable collateral victim.
This drama originated from a strong desire to crush the opposition forever. His excellency Hama Amadou, a potential rival of president Muhamadou Issoufou was accused of corruption and embezzlement of public fund since 2007 by the former president Tandja Mamadou. Tandja was ousted out of power in 2010 by a military junta and immediately an electoral process was engaged. That is where rivalry sprung between Hama Amadou the opposition leader and Muhamadou Issoufou of the ruling president.
With all the irregularities of elections in Africa applied, Issoufou narrowly won and figured how much it is to him to have a free Hama Amadou around him. So, he brought back those same charges put on Hama by Tandja’s regime and added child trafficking to it. Hama was then thrown into prison till President Issoufou assured success in the second term. Hama was then sent to Europe for medical care because his health was deteriorating fast in prison. The rulers of Niger also know that if Hama leaves, he will not return. That was a good way to get rid of him.
I, Boubacar Hambali, as ranking member of Democratic Party of Niger for African Federation which is the opposition party lead by His excellency Hama Amadou and with my brother Ousmane Hambali accused of attempted military overthrow have no ill-wish for anyone in Niger or abroad. I am just using the media to help spread these stories of the malevolent acts of a government of a state. Casting it across the world may help in one way or another.
I am also calling on the people in power and the entire political class of Niger to come back to common sense and just do what will advance our dear country. I hope this regime will free all political prisoners and create durable peace and tranquility in a country that has suffered so much.
Being in the opposition does not make us enemies of a country or its citizens. We are also citizens and we love that country with all our hearts, but we are not sure what will happen to us the next minute. We hold this uncertainty with good reasons.
My brother Ousmane is an example of how becoming an unlucky innocent victim is easy in Niger. He is not in politics by any means. Nevertheless, he was forcefully linked to the opposition because a lot of our family members belong to the opposition.
There is no glory in turning against one another. We have different views of the world and different views on almost every matter, but does that justify destabilizing our dear country? There is nothing good in that, no growth, and no advantage of any type in that havoc we are creating with the illusion of building political benefits.
We can rethink and reconcile and join forces to edify ourselves and our nation.
Boubacar Hambali can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org