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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Niger gripped by 'Sultangate'
Sultan of Zinder
The Sultan of Zinder is challenging his removal
By Allis Moss

The controversy over the sacking of the Sultan of Zinder, the highest of Niger's traditional chiefs, has been dubbed by the country's press as Sultangate.

The 'Alternative' newspaper compared its impact on the West African nation to that which the Monica Lewinsky affair had on the United States.

Sultan of Zinder
Head of Niger's traditional chiefs
Religious leader
Non-hereditary, voted in by chiefs and elders
Non-political but influential

The title is not hereditary and has for the past 20 years belonged to Aboubacar Oumarou Sanda, a man who combined the roles of traditional potentate with modern businessman.

Mr Sanda imports petrol and cars and is said to have strong business links with Europe, northern Nigeria and Brunei.

But this July, he was controversially replaced as Sultan by Elhadj Mamadou Moustapha, a 59-year-old former policeman.

Several accusations against the sacked Sultan formed the basis of his dismissal: plotting a coup, involvement in killings and abductions, cocaine trafficking, receiving stolen cars and dealing in counterfeit money.

More recently, a charge of introducing immoral behaviour into Zinder was added: It is a weighty charge, as the position of Sultan carries responsibilities of religious leadership in a country that is 95 % Muslim.

Sultan 'clean'

Last week, Niger's independent newspaper, The Republican, devoted the core of its editorial to a photocopied statement from Niamey's head of police saying there was no evidence to support the charges against the former Sultan and that he was "clean".

A BBC correspondent in Niamey says the police report suggested that jealousy may have been behind the toppling of Mr Sanda.

The former Sultan's friend and supporter, Harouna Daouda, said that the accusations were first made in a petition submitted to the president of Niger by a rival faction in Mr Sanda's own family.

"In Africa this sort of thing is normal because everybody wants to be a chief," said Mr Daouda.

"It's all a personal problem, I know because I come from Zinder. They tried to get rid of the Sultan before in 1992. He has been expecting something like this to happen for some time."

'Prompt action'

According to reports, the Sultan was stripped of his title before police had investigated the charges against him.

They says Interior Minister Maman Mamzo, said in a news conference that it was his duty to act promptly on the serious accusations made against the former Sultan in the petition.

The family members who signed the petition against Mr Sanda have since thanked the government for appointing a new Sultan.

But whether the second Sultan will still be in his post at the end of next month is unclear.

Even when the Palace at Zinder was denuded of its contents ahead of the new Sultan's arrival, down to the windows and doors, there was a dispute - as to whether looters were responsible or Mr Sanda's possessions were simply being moved, as would now seem to be the case, to another residence.

Correspondents say some supporters of the former Sultan are urging resistance in Zinder itself and have even called for its independence.

But Mr Douda said: "We do not want to provoke the government. We tell them we want the courts to resolve the problem. We hope Mr Sanda will be reinstated then. But we don't know what the government will do with the second Sultan. For us, Mr Sanda is still Sultan."

Lawyers for Aboubacar Oumarou Sanda present their appeal to Niger's Supreme Court in August.

See also:

02 Sep 00 | Middle East
Niger bills Gaddafi for hospitality
26 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Niger
10 May 01 | Africa
Timeline: Niger
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