Mixed views on constitution controversy

Responses were mixed in Niger to union leaders’ call for a 24-hour work stoppage on 1 July to protest a planned constitutional referendum to allow President Mamadou Tandja to remain in power.

President Tandja, who had insisted he would step down after his constitutionally mandated two terms, in recent weeks has not acknowledged a ruling by the country’s highest court deeming illegal a change to the article limiting presidential terms.

On the day of the declared strike, taxis were plentiful even as markets were emptier than usual by mid-day in the capital Niamey.

Halidou Djibo, a student at Abdou Moumouni University, told IRIN the referendum is inevitable. “The proof is the dissolution of the constitutional court, which did not go along with his calls [for the referendum]. The new court will be under his control and do all he requests.”

The country’s highest court ruled the referendum was illegal three times before President Tandja de facto dissolved the court by decree on 29 June. The president suspended articles stipulating how members are nominated and the length of their terms.

Niamey business owner Djibrilla Yayé told IRIN he is ready to fight for the rule of law. “One cannot govern for 10 years and [then] want to change the laws in order to stay in power for eternity.”

But Moussa Ismaïla, a businessman from the northern business hub Agadez, discounted criticism that changing the constitution would be unconstitutional. “What is a democracy? Is it not the will of the people? If the majority of us want him to continue, we vote yes. If people do not want him to stay in power, they vote no and he leaves.”

Donor governments have called for Niger’s leaders to respect constitutional order.