By JONATHAN NDA-ISAIAH and INNOCENT ODOH with agency report
There is a looming crisis in the Republic of Chad following the sudden death of the country’s president, Idriss Deby, as his son – a 37-year-old four-star general Mahamat Idriss Deby – was named as the head of a military council that will take over power rather that the head of parliament as the constitution stipulates.
The world was yesterday stunned by the death of Chadian President Deby, who was reportedly shot at the battlefront with rebels and died of his injuries shortly after, putting his country in uncertainty especially after he was presumed to have won election for a sixth term in office.
The late president had gone to the frontlines, several hundred kilometres north of the capital N’Djamena, at the weekend to visit troops battling rebels belonging to a group calling itself FACT (the Front for Change and Concord in Chad).
Meanwhile, the government has been dissolved and Mr Deby’s 37-year-old son Mahamat Kaka, a four-star general, has been named interim president, a move experts consider unconstitutional, saying the speaker of parliament should take over when a sitting president dies before organising elections.
Meanwhile the military in Chad has announced that elections will be held in 18 months’ time following the death of President Déby but there are uncertainty beclouding this as many think it might be a step to enthrone Deby’s son through unconstitutional means.
Chadian political scientist and professor at the University of Ndjamena, Evariste Ngarlem Toldé, told BBC Afrique that the announcement that a military council will take power following the death of the president amounts to a coup.
“This is a coup d’état. This is not provided for by the texts. So it is an anti-constitutional regime.
“Our fundamental law provides that in case of vacancy of power, it is the president of the National Assembly who should lead in the interim until the new elections. This transitional military council has no place. So for me, it is a coup d’état.”
Nigerian public intellectual and expert in international relations, Katch Ononuju, told LEADERSHIP yesterday that it appears Deby had been killed by those sympathetic to the Boko Haram terrorists in the Sahel region, warning that it has “wider security implications for the region”.
“Deby looks like somebody who was against their Boko Haram intentions. He was always leading the war against the Boko Haram, so you can understand that the killing may have a wide implication, not just issues with Chad but within the region,” he said.
About a year ago, Déby led an operation where 1,000 Boko Haram fighters were reportedly killed.
Deby, a French-trained officer and pilot, had headed the army during the 1980s under the regime of President Hissène Habré, before the two fell out.
He fled the country, ending up in Libya where he did a deal with Col Muammar Gaddafi – a Habré foe – who helped him launch his rebellion in return for information about CIA operations in Chad.
Déby came to power in 1990 when he toppled President Hissène Habré in coup and had since remained in power.
A state funeral is to take place on Friday.
Buhari, World leaders mourn Deby
Leading the mourners from the African continent, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said that Deby’s death will create a big vacuum in the war against Boko Haram as the late Chadian president was at the forefront among those who gave the terrorist group serious bashing in recent times.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement issued yesterday by his media aide Garba Shehu, expressed sadness over “the sudden and tragic death of President Idriss Deby of Chad at the front lines fighting against rebel soldiers.”
President Buhari said: “I’m deeply shocked and devastated by the sudden death of Idriss Deby on the battlefront to defend the sovereignty of his country.”
According to the President, “the late Deby had played a very active role in our regional joint collaboration in the military campaign against the Boko Haram terrorists.”
President Buhari described the late Chadian leader “as a friend of Nigeria who had enthusiastically lent his hand in our efforts to defeat the murderous Boko Haram terrorists that have posed grave security challenges not only for Nigeria, but also our African neighbours, particularly Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic.”
He added that “the death of Deby will surely create a big vacuum in the efforts to jointly confront the Boko Haram terrorists and the Islamic State West Africa Province.”
While condoling with the people of Chad and their new leader, President Buhari called for greater collaboration to defeat the terrorists.
Cameroonian President Paul Biya in his tribute described Deby’s death as “an immense loss for Chad, central Africa and the continent” which he had served “tirelessly”. He also sent his condolences to Mr Déby’s widow, First Lady Hinda Déby.
Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania are part of a combat force known as the G5 Sahel which – alongside French forces – has been fighting Islamist militants in the expansive desert Sahel region.
A senior Sudanese military official Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo sent his condolences to Chadians, and praised President Déby for the “great role” he played in strengthening relations between Sudan and Chad.
Dagolo, known by his nickname Hemeti, said people will remember Déby for his contribution to serving the African continent.
The head of the African Union Moussa Faki Mahamat, a former Chadian prime minister, said he was saddened by Deby’s death, sending his condolences to his family.
“It is with great dismay and deep emotion that I learned of the death today of President Idriss Deby Itno,” said Faki, who was Chad’s prime minister from 2003 to 2005.
He called Deby a “great statesman and recognised military leader. I extend my sincere condolences to the Chadian people and his family”.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in his tribute to Chad’s late president, called him a “brave friend” and “a great soldier,” according to Reuters which quoted the president’s office.
Mr Macron also said Chad needs stability and peaceful transition, news agency AFP reports.
France’s defence minister also mourned the loss of President Derby, calling him a “key ally” in the fight against militants in the Sahel, AFP news agency reports.
After a new transitional military council led by one of Deby’s sons pledged to hold elections in 18 months, French Foreign Minister Le Drian warned that the delay should be “limited”.
The US offered its “sincere condolences” to the people of Chad on the death of Deby.
“We condemn recent violence and loss of life in Chad,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement.
“We support a peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution.”
The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, expressed his condolences to the family, and to the Chadian authorities and people.
“The EU calls on all relevant actors to act responsibly, the immediate priority being the stability of the country and the region,” Borrell said.
Meanwhile, European Council President Charles Michel said that “the stability, the security and the [territorial] integrity of the country have to be preserved.”
Volkan Bozkir, president of the UN general assembly, tweeted his “most sincere condolences”.
In neighbouring Mali, also in the throes of a transitional military rule, interim President Bah Ndaw voiced “deep sadness” over the news of Deby’s “brutal death”.
He called it “a heavy loss, not only for Chad for which he made the greatest sacrifice, but for the Sahel region and for Africa,” where the two countries have been allies against threats posed by armed groups.
With his “engagement and vision he contributed to a stronger and united Africa”.
In an official statement, President Mohamed Bazoum and the government in neighbouring Niger hailed Deby’s “personal engagement in the fight against terrorism and for stabilising the Sahel-Sahara region”.
The statement also reassured the Chadian people of Niger’s “commitment to work together with them for the peace and stability of the G5 Sahel States and the States bordering Lake Chad”.
Senegal’s President Macky Sall honoured Deby’s “memory and contribution to stability in the Sahel”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed his condolences on Twitter, praising Deby’s “bold leadership and his historic decision to renew Chad’s relationship with Israel”.