Authorities in Niger will attempt to evacuate to a hospital in the capital jailed opposition leader Hama Amadou, who will face off against President Mahamadou Issoufou in a Sunday run-off election, due to health issues, a government official said late on Monday. Amadou, a former president of parliament speaker, was jailed in November in connection with a baby-trafficking scandal but finished second to Issoufou in the first round of polling last month. He denies the charges against him and says they are politically motivated. His supporters claim he has suffered from ill health during the time he has been jailed in the town of Filingue, around 180 km (112 miles) northeast of the capital Niamey.
Niger will hold concurrent presidential and legislative elections Feb. 21. Although Jan. 30 marked the official start of campaigning for the presidential candidates, drama has surrounded the race for months. A string of government arrests, including those of five journalists and nine suspected coup plotters, has tested rule of law. Presidential contender Hama Amadou was seized Nov. 14 on charges of baby trafficking. His supporters subsequently joined violent demonstrations and posted a graphic photo of a dead protester on Facebook. Some commenters warned that the photo was a fake meant to smear incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou as he runs for reelection. Singer Hamsou Garba, who publicly supports Amadou, was just released after spending 10 days in jail. One of Garba’s recent songs critiqued Issoufou’s government and called for him to have the same fate of former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who was voted out of office last year. She was accused of inciting civil disobedience.
Hama Amadou, a major opposition figure in Niger and a presidential candidate, has declared himself a political prisoner, his lawyer said on Wednesday, meaning he is now likely to spend time leading up to the February polls in jail. Amadou was one of 15 candidates approved by the constitutional court to stand in presidential elections. His lawyer, speaking on a private television station, said Amadou made the decision after the appeals court turned down his plea to be released. “We will not seek an appeal. We will no longer ask for conditional release,” said Souley Oumarou, the candidate’s lawyer. “Our client considers this no longer to be a judicial affair, but a political affair.”
Hama Amadou, a major opposition figure approved to stand in Niger’s February elections just two days ago, failed on Monday in an attempt to gain release from prison in a plea to the country’s appeals court. President Mahamadou Issoufou, a key Western ally in the fight against Islamist militancy in the fragile Sahara region, is expected to win a second term; but critics accuse him of becoming increasingly authoritarian, especially after uncovering what he described as an aborted coup in December. Amadou, a one-time ally to the president, was jailed in November for alleged complicity in a baby trafficking ring upon return from a year-long exile. He has publicly denied the charges, which he says are politically motivated.