Nigeria and the Niger Crisis

 Amid daunting security challenges and grievous living conditions at home, Nigerians have counselled the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government against resorting to military action in resolving the internal crisis in the Niger Republic. Gboyega Akinsanmi writes that the United States is now thinking differently

A seven-day ultimatum, which the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government gave Niger’s military regime to restore constitutional order, elapsed last Sunday. Yet, the military regime has not reinstated the country’s deposed leader, President Mohammed Bazoum. It has also resisted nearly all diplomatic measures aimed at restoring constitutionalism and stability to the Sahel country.

 With the expiration of the ultimatum and the insistence of the putschists to hold on to political power, the Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority and President of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu has been taking diverse decisive measures in response to Niger’s political impasse and in line with his country’s commitment to the ECOWAS Protocols and Treaty. 

Amid this impasse, Tinubu sought the support of the Senate to deploy military force consistent with the resolutions of the ECOWAS Authority. The Senate opposed the proposal, but rather canvassed intensification of diplomatic responses to the Niger crisis, which its members largely agreed, could further erode democratic institutions in the sub-region.

 Obviously, the proposal introduced another dimension to the high-spirited conversation about the Niger crisis. To be specific, the proposal elicited a barrage of questions that bothered much on the need to focus on domestic policies rather than regional issues, which most Nigerians believed, not just secondary, but also external to them. 

One of such questions directly relates to the right of Niger nationals to freely choose a system of government they want. Why then should ECOWAS insist on restoring Bazoum if Nigeriens prefer the coupists? Such questions indeed call for serious concern, especially at a time when putschists are gradually returning to politics in the sub-region in contradiction to all treaties ratified by all sovereign states.

 The ratification of regional and sub-regional treaties does not exclude Niger Republic. Under Article of ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, for instance, all member states agreed to embrace at all times constitutional convergence principles. In specific terms, as stipulated in Article 1(b), they agreed that every accession to power “must be made through free, fair and transparent elections.”

Under Article 3, also, the Constitutive Act of the African Union entrenched an array of provisions that embrace democracy and reject military dictatorship. Specifically, Article 3(g) mandated its signatories “to promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance” as opposed to authoritarian regimes.

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Consistent with these articles, it is a settled argument that no African country – whether in the Sahel or on the Atlantic – can embrace dictatorship again. Like its counterparts, Niger ratified these agreements, and they are binding on the country. Likewise, all African states are averse to unconstitutional ascension to the seat of power, to which they all agreed due to decades of economic stagnation, political instability and human rights violations they experienced under military rules.

 Beyond asking questions about the right of Niger nationals to freely determine how they want to be governed, Nigerians are equally averse to Tinubu’s proposal for military intervention on three grounds. First, a section of Nigerians emphasised the need to resolve diverse internal challenges rather than funding a war, which they believed, would further complicate their scathing economic conditions.

In this respect, they challenged Tinubu to adopt policies that would end the country’s gnawing fiscal crises; initiate more comprehensive reforms that would reduce inflation rate from 22.79 per cent to single digit; implement programmes that would crash unemployment rate from 40.6 per cent to single digit and introduce socio-economic measures that would de-escalate internal instability nationwide.

Another section of Nigerians faulted the proposal on the grounds that the cost of military intervention is not just about financial, but also collateral. Like the case of Liberia, they observed that Nigeria bore more than 70 per cent of the ECOMOG operations mainly because other members of ECOWAS obviously lacked wherewithal to fund and prosecute military operations when the need arises. 

 Nigeria, as recently revealed by former Chief of Defence Staff, General Leo Irabor (rtd), committed no fewer than $8 billion to end two separate civil wars that devastated Liberia first from 1989 to 1997 and second from 1999 to 2003. This cost did not include over 1,000 lives that were decimated during Nigeria’s military operations to restore peace and stability to the West African country.

 Lastly, northern political elite and religious leaders offered an entirely different perspective to the proposal, which apparently was predicated on ethnic identity and geographical contiguity. This sentiment was largely shared by the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Northern Senators Forum, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) and Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA). Among others, these bodies consciously rejected military action in the Niger Republic.

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 Niger Republic, as most northern leaders have observed, is an extension of their primordial territories. At least, seven of the core northern states directly share boundaries with Niger from Kebbi in the North-west to Borno in the North-east. The states include Borno, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara, covering a vast distance of over 1,100 kilometres.

Apart from geographical contiguity, most northerners equally share common religious, cultural and ethnic heritage with their kinsmen in the Niger Republic. Currently, as archival records revealed, Hausa constitutes 53.1 per cent of its population, Zarma 21.2 per cent, Fulani 6.5 per cent and Kanuri 5.9 per cent. The strong affinity they share with Nigeriens came to the fore when President Muhammadu Buhari revealed plans to live in Daura and Niamey.

 For northerners, as former Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf, recently pointed out, any attempt to invade Niger by ECOWAS in the guise of “safeguarding democracy”, will be a declaration of war on Northern Nigeria and its people. 

 This line of argument is obviously a high point that not only weakens Tinubu’s proposal for military intervention, but also eclipses the future of democracy in West Africa. It also emboldens Niger’s military regime under General Abdourahmane Tchiani to close the country’s airspace; deny the representatives of AU, ECOWAS and UN on a peace mission access to the Sahel country and blatantly refuse the US envoy entry.

 Amid these complications, the US revealed that it might be forced into military action if the military regime refused to restore constitutional order. In a teleconference last Tuesday, the Deputy Secretary of State, Ms. Victoria Nuland, mulled this option, but claimed that the US would monitor and observe all diplomatic responses initiated by AU, ECOWAS and UN to the end before resorting to such an option.

 However, with the intervention of the 14th Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, there seems to be cautious optimism again. For Nigeria, military action has lost its traction due to stiff opposition at home. Unlike before, diplomacy has gained wider support at the just concluded meeting of the ECOWAS Authority.

On its part too, Niger’s military regime has equally opened its doors to dialogue and negotiation, obviously at the regional and sub-regional level. But in whose terms? And at what cost? Probably, answers to these questions will begin to unfold in the coming weeks. 

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