Former PM Hana Amadou of Niger

LAGOS, Nigeria––Reports from Niger says the country’s main opposition leader and former premier Hama Amadou on Wednesday lost an appeal against a one-year jail term for baby smuggling, legal sources said.

The trial is a long-running political saga in the Sahel country, with Amadou’s lawyers arguing that the prosecution seeks to sideline President Mahamadou Issoufou’s biggest rival.

Amadou who lives in France was tried and convicted in absentia. Sources say the former PM  would have to return to Niger in order to serve his sentence.

He is among a group of around 20 people, including one of his wives, who in March 2017 received one-year terms for allegedly smuggling babies from Nigeria via Benin to wealthy couples in Niger.

The former prime minister nicknamed “the Phoenix” for his political comebacks — challenged Issoufou in Niger’s presidential elections in 2016.

During his return from exile, he was arrested on November 14, 2015, and was forced to campaign for the presidency while in prison.

He was freed on medical grounds on March 16, 2016, four days before the second round of the voting, and flew to France.

Issoufou went on to win with 92 percent of the run-off ballot. With the opposition boycotting the election, Amadou only got seven percent of the vote.

Constitutional lawyer Amadou Boubacar confirmed that under Nigerien law, Amadou was now barred from elective office.

“His appeal has been rejected, which means that his conviction is definitive,” Boubacar said.

Adding, “Unless and until he is declared innocent, he will not be entitled to vote or run for office.”