General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the chief of Niger’s powerful presidential guard who took power after a military coup, is an army veteran who has foiled similar uprisings in the restive West African nation.
Tchiani, 59, has shunned the limelight despite a stellar military career which saw him lead the elite 700-member unit from 2011 up until now.
“He is not well known outside military circles. He is a man in the background, powerful,” said Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, a researcher with the International Crisis Group think tank.
On Friday, Tchiani declared himself leader after staging a takeover that began on Wednesday when his presidential guards seized President Mohamed Bazoum and sequestered him in the presidential palace.
Niger is an extremely poor nation but with vast uranium deposits. It has suffered four coups since independence from France in 1960 and several other failed putsch attempts and is currently in the throes of jihadist violence like its neighbours.
Bazoum — a key ally of the West in fighting militancy in sub-Saharan Africa — was the first elected leader to succeed another since independence.
Tchiani is a staunch ally of former president Mahamadou Issoufou, Bazoum’s predecessor, who appointed him head of the presidential guards in 2011.
Bazoum kept him in the job after taking over from Issoufou, who served two terms, but relations between them deteriorated in the past months, according to sources close to Bazoum.
They told AFP that Bazoum had been considering replacing Tchiani as the head of the presidential guard.
Tchiani meanwhile began shunning “official ceremonies and activities” of the president and sent his deputy Colonel Ibroh Amadou Bacharou, also a member of the new junta, to represent him, a source close to Bazoum said.
‘Brave’ And ‘Popular’
Another source close to the deposed leader said Tchiani’s replacement was due to be decided at a cabinet meeting this month.
Tchiani is originally from Filingue, an arid zone about 200 kilometres (125 miles) northwest of the capital Niamey.
He has served in missions by the United Nations and West African regional bloc ECOWAS in Ivory Coast as well as in Sudan.
Filingue lies in the volatile Tillaberi region which has been repeatedly attacked for nearly eight years by insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group as well as jihadists from neighbouring Nigeria.
The vast area, roughly the size of South Korea, has around 150,000 internally displaced people, according to the United Nations.
Tchiani’s critics say he is a controversial figure but those close to him describe him as “brave” and “popular”.
“How could he have led his men in the putsch if they didn’t have confidence in him?” said Issa Abdou, a figure in civil society.
A government official said Tchiani, under Issoufou’s orders, had “transformed the presidential guard into a powerful machine equipped with sophisticated weapons”.
Tchiani has in the past quashed several coup bids, notably in 2021 and 2022.
“General Tiani is an officer who has proven himself on the ground,” said former soldier Amadou Bounty Diallo.
The new junta comprises senior officers, including Salifou Mody, the former chief of staff of the armed forces who was sacked in April.