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.
In his 50s, Tchiani has shunned the limelight despite a stellar military career that saw him lead the elite 700-member unit from 2011 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 abysmally poor nation but has vast deposits of uranium. It has suffered four coups since independence from France in 1960 along with several other failed putsch attempts. It is currently in the throes of jihadist violence like its neighbors.
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 Tchiani in the job after taking over from Issoufou, who served two terms, but relations between the general and Bazoum deteriorated in past months, according to sources close to the ousted leader.
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.
Another source close to the deposed leader said Tchiani’s replacement was due to be decided at a Cabinet meeting last Monday.
Tchiani is originally from Filingue, an arid zone about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northwest of the capital, Niamey.
It lies in the volatile Tillaberi region, which has borne the brunt of jihadist attacks in past years.
Tillaberi has been repeatedly attacked for nearly eight years by insurgents linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group as well as jihadists from neighboring 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 Tchiani is an officer who has proven himself on the ground,” said former soldier Amadou Bounty Diallo.
Senior officers, including Salifou Mody, the former chief of staff of the armed forces who was sacked in April, are part of the new junta.