Niger : une manne pétrolière très convoitée

C’est un conseil des ministres bien particulier qui aurait dû se tenir le 27 juillet dernier à Niamey. Juste avant qu’une junte ne vienne bouleverser le cours de l’histoire en renversant le président nigérien Mohamed Bazoum. Coincidence ou pas, ce jour-là, le gouvernement de ce pays sahélien aurait dû approuver un décret stratégique, qui aurait pu permettre la création d’une nouvelle société, PetroNiger, dont l’objectif aurait été de gérer les ressources pétrolières du pays.

Did this project contribute to hastening the downfall of the regime? Was it perceived by the coup plotters as the ultimate gesture of taking control of a lucrative sector that could have harmed them or their sponsors? In Mohamed Bazoum’s circle, this scenario leaves little doubt. “Oil is not the sole motive for the coup, but it is one of the essential levers,” says a close advisor to the president, clearly pointing out the responsibilities of former President Mahamadou Issoufou’s camp (2011-2021).

Although he denies it, he is now suspected of playing a role in the coup led by General Abdourahamane Tiani. He was the one who appointed the current strongman of the junta as head of the presidential guard. After the election of Mohamed Bazoum, with whom he has politically aligned for thirty years, his son Sani Mahamadou Issoufou, known as Abba, was promoted to Minister of Oil, Mines, and Renewable Energies, before being stripped of the portfolio of renewable energies in early 2022. There is a certain continuity.

During his two terms as the leader of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou had control over Sonidep, the Nigerien oil company. “It’s an open secret that Sonidep has always been the slush fund for all political parties, not just the PNDS [the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, founded in 1990 by Mahamadou Issoufou],” says a member of civil society who has investigated these cases. This is evidenced by the numerous instances of massive fraud and embezzlement that have been repeatedly denounced by the high authority for fighting corruption. Currently, the company’s debt is said to exceed $200 million.

This lack of governance is even more concerning considering that Niger was preparing, at the time of the coup, to undergo an economic transformation through the exportation of its black gold. Until now, the country’s oil production has remained modest, around 20,000 barrels per day, with half of it being sufficient for domestic consumption since 2011, while the rest was exported to neighboring countries including Nigeria. However, new discoveries in 2013 have hinted at a different future.

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