Prof. MK Othman
I must continue to beat the drum of peace as heinous fire is threatening my neighborhood, Niger republic. The Nigeria-Niger border has seven states – Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe, and Borno covering a distance of 1,608 km. Firing one shot in Niger will massively inject colossal wave of refugees into these states and escalate gigantic fire arms and ammunitions in the hands of non-state actors for nefarious activities. Is the restoration of President Mohamed Bazoum to power worth igniting the calamitous action of war in the West African Sub-region? Whose interest is ECOWAS trying to protect?
As mentioned last week, democracy is the best form of government for the people by the people and of the people. Democracy is an evolutionary process, nurtured over time requiring inclusiveness, collective ownership, and self-belonging. Even in Nigeria, we cannot boast of entrenching a democracy as long as vote-buying and selling significantly count in our democratic elections. How many of our elected representatives at both executives and legislatures came to power without the monetary inducement of the electorates? Why don’t we work to perfect our democratic process instead of intervening internal affairs of another country? In any case, the coup in Niger was the fourth in Francophone countries of Africa in recent years and may not be the last as long as the neo-colonial policies of France are being implemented many decades after their independence.
As said in this column last week, coup d’état is a bad omen to any country, no matter the situation. It is an aberration, retrogressive and should be done with in the 21st century. The Niger coup is the most retrogressive as there are no tangible reasons why the coup was staged. The lust for power and survival were the major motivation for the coup as reasons for it were merely concocted after the deeds were done. Evidently, President Bazoum was working hard to stabilize the country and liberate it from the shackles of France neo-colonization policies.
Niger is a landlocked country with a high cost of living estimated to be $1016, which is 61% higher than living in Nigeria. The country has 41% of the total population living in extreme poverty, and 40% of the state budget consists of foreign aid. Due to conflicts in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria, Niger is also dealing with an influx of refugees. No doubt, the coup has brought an economic stagnation and the untold hardship visiting the Nigeriens.
Now, there are two major forces in the conflicts which have produced a stalemated situation that needs careful handling before degenerating into cyst pool of explosively ravaging flame in the region. The coup plotters are stabilizing, painting the coup as a kind of revolution, attracting support of the citizens while holding Bazoum as a bargaining chip. Their future is bleak for the junta as more than 40% of Niger annual budget is financed through dependency on foreign supports. With closure of borders and termination of the foreign supports from EU and America, it will be difficult for them to survive the heat. Their pretense of being revolutionaries is a big joke because General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the leader of the junta who declared himself head of state was the head of Niger’s presidential guard during former president Mahamadou Issoufou and continued with Bazoum. The hands of Wagner, the Russian private military contractor is believed to be in support of the coup plotters and by extension the junta has a blessing of Russia. Will that help Niger out of economic doldrum? This is doubtful, rather Niger will be a testing ground for the newly manufactured weapons, which will exacerbate the lingering security situation. There are several insurgent groups operating in the northern part of Niger, such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates, as well as Boko Haram.
ECOWAS as the regional bloc and major force in the conflicts made a strategic mistake by giving a one-week ultimatum to the junta to comply and warned it would take all measures necessary – including force – to restore constitutional order. The ultimatum lapsed with the junta being more deviant, which made ECOWAS leaders gather for another meeting. At the end of the meeting, the ECOWAS leaders noted that “all diplomatic efforts made by ECOWAS, in resolving the crisis have been defiantly repelled by the military leadership of the Republic of Niger.” They also took “note of the expiration of the one-week ultimatum given for the restoration of constitutional order in the Republic of Niger.” Adding that
“the Committee of the Chief of defense staff to activate the ECOWAS standby force with all its elements immediately.” They also ordered “the deployment of the ECOWAS standby force to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger.” Furthermore, they ordered “enforce all measures, in particular, border closures, and strict travel bans and assets freeze on all persons or groups of individuals whose actions hinder all peaceful efforts aimed at ensuring the smooth and complete restoration of constitutional order.” A day after the second warning by the ECOWAS, Russia warned that military intervention in Niger would lead to a “protracted confrontation” implying that Russia will not be a spectator in case of ECOWAS military intervention. Already, the junta is securing military support from Mali and Guinea, fellow coup plotters.
These last two weeks muscle-flexing by both parties is setting to ignite possible military action against Niger, which will be highly consequential in the region and particularly Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.
It is in Nigeria’s best interest not to allow the military intervention to take place in Niger. Today, Nigerians are under severe economic hardship and the country is deep neck indebted and cannot afford additional expenditure through military action against a neighboring country. What is the best option?
ECOWAS should continue with economic sanction against the junta, with suspension of aids, economic blockage and diplomatic approach will make the junta come to the negotiation table. As part of give and take, the junta must set a maximum of one year transition program to the civil rule. Bozoum should be released and be allowed to participate in the political dispensation, if so wishes. Boarders should be opened and economic sanction lifted.