Niger leader proposes unity govt after re-election

Niamey (AFP) - Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou, re-elected for a second term in a controversial weekend poll, on Wednesday proposed forming a unity government with the opposition which boycotted the vote.

"I am ready to put in place a government of national unity with the opposition in order to face the threats facing the people of Niger," he said in an interview with AFP.

"There is not just a security challenge, there are other challenges including economic and social development. All these challenges need a sacred union."

Issoufou won 92 percent of the vote in Sunday's run-off election in the impoverished but uranium-rich West African country, which was marred by low turnout in the face of the opposition boycott.

His sole challenger Hama Amadou, imprisoned since November on shadowy baby trafficking charges, was flown to France for medical treatment just days before the second round.

The electoral commission said Amadou won just seven percent of the ballots cast.

- 'Jolt of energy' -

Issoufou, who took office in 2011, campaigned on pledges to bring prosperity to the country and vowed to prevent further attacks by jihadists in its vast remote north, and Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists to the south.

"The security challenge requires a national jolt of energy and needs all Nigeriens to pull together, including those from the opposition," Issoufou told AFP.

"We need a broad front so we can respond to the concerns and aspirations of our people," he said.

"I am prepared to discuss and debate with everyone, with political parties -- from the majority or the opposition -- and with civil society."

Issoufou, who is due to be sworn in early next month, warned that nations such as Niger were "fragile" and faced serious threats to their security.

"It's an historic moment. We must not underestimate the grave threat against our country's very existence as a nation.

"We are determined to organise ourselves, to unite, to equip our security forces, to pool our resources with neighbouring countries and beyond.... This is a global threat that requires a global response."

He said there was nothing "contradictory" about pursuing security at the same time as development in a country where 76 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.

"Experience has proved that the three things are linked -- security, development and democracy."

- 'Nothing without security' -

Issoufou said it had been a mistake to "disengage" from security issues as part of structural programmes by organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

"That was an mistake. The proof today -- our countries are too weak to defend themselves, any development is impossible.

"Because if there is no security, there is no agriculture, no infrastructure. Nothing can be achieved without security. Investing in security is not throwing money out of the window as one might have thought in the 1980s and 1990s."

Referring to Niger's latest ranking in the Human Development Index, he also pledged to continue efforts to improve agriculture, food, education, health and access to water.

Niger holds the lowest place on the comprehensive Human Development Index drawn up each year by the UN Development Programme.

"We are making progress with a six percent average growth rate over the past five years. My goal is to reach seven percent during my term in office.

And he pledged to double from five to 10 years the average time Nigeriens attend school, ensuring that the "maximum number of Nigeriens go to school and stay there for the maximum length of time".