By Nnanke Harry Willie
The unfolding debacle for ECOWAS, led by Nigeria, is a self-inflicted sore that could become cancerous and lead to paralysis of Nigeria and the the region if we do not begin to apply the age-long African wisdom and brotherhood rather than the bravado and barbaric tendencies of the invaders from the West.
Palpable tension and hardship that has been foisted on the nation and the ECOWAS region since a group of army officers ousted Niger President, Mohamed Bazoum has been made much worse by the threat of a forceful, military attack by ECOWAS to reinstate Bazoum and restore democracy in the Uranium-rich country.
This declaration of a possible war against the junta has been followed up with economic sanctions and a disconnection from power supply by Nigeria (despite long-standing treaties to that effect). Meanwhile, Nigeria is legally responsible for about 70% of the electricity needs of Niger.
In addition, a standby ECOWAS force is being hurriedly put together.
On the other side of the spectrum are fellow ECOWAS members, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea who have declared their solidarity with the coupists and denounced ECOWAS sanctions. Algeria has also denounced any military action against Niger. This is what a perfect storm looks like!
The Junta in Niger is, meanwhile, digging in and it appears unlikely that it will be ousted anytime soon, at least not by forceful means as they have received massive support of Nigerien citizens who see them as liberators and heroes. They have also gone ahead to form a government.
They have also returned the unsavoury favors to Nigeria and other aggressive neighbours and the West by instituting ‘No-Fly zone’ across its air space and alienating ECOWAS and the West from trying to reach a rapprochement.
A military intervention in Niger to oust coupists and defend democracy is as superfluous as it can get. It is a project that will serve Nigeria and other ECOWAS members no good. The beneficiaries will be those behind the scenes: the West and Russia!
Unfortunately, the strategy of making far-reaching pronouncements without fully analyzing and preparing the mechanics for achieving set objectives and inflicting minimal pain seems to have yet again been employed by the ECOWAS chairman, Bola Tinubu.
Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu is apparently still brimming with ‘unputdownable’ courage since he took the oath of office at Eagle square, Abuja on May 29. Indeed, in his own words, he has been “possessed with courage”.
It is no longer news that Tinubu went off-script, and off-plans, to remove fuel subsidy with immediate effect in his first few minutes in office. On his first foreign trip, Tinubu had told the Nigerian community in Paris: “When I got to the podium, I was possessed with courage, and I said, ‘subsidy is gone’”.
Just like that!
While Nigerians were still trying to understand what just hit them, and grapple with the new reality, President Tinubu, again was possessed with even more courage and he floated Nigeria’s currency – the Naira, and thus technically devalued Nigeria’s currency by about 100%.
Since then, Nigerians have been thrown into debilitating economic quagmire, unfathomable pain and anguish. Meanwhile, 10 weeks after, Tinubu’s government is still thinking up strategies to provide succour and a lifeline to millions of citizens drowning in tears, sorrow and hunger. A classic case of putting the egg before the Hen.
Companies are not left out as they try desperately to get much more Naira to pay for enough dollars for letters of credit that they had started processing before the sudden devaluation of the Naira.
Discerning Nigerians could not help but notice that President Tinubu’s decisions on the fuel subsidy removal and the devaluation of the Naira met with deafening applause from the Bretton Woods institutions and the West. They amplified the ‘courageousness’ of President Tinubu and have been goading him on to squeeze even more taxes out of the people.
The summary here is that Nigeria, and indeed other ECOWAS member-countries, have enough problems of their own and should thus stay laser-focused on solving their internal problems. They should thus tackle the Nigerien debacle without any recourse to war!
There is little doubt that the West is at the heart of ECOWAS crusade. France, UK, the EU and the US have strategic interests in Niger and will do everything, perhaps anything, to maintain their foothold in Niger. China and Russia also have eyes for Nigerien minerals and strategic location and will love to dominate that space.
Indeed, Russia has through its official mercenary group Wagner expressed support and solidarity with the new junta and they have been warmly received by Nigerien citizens. Invariably, Tinubu, through ECOWAS, is playing into the treacherous hands of the West.
This is because, unless wisdom prevails, Niger will soon be the new battleground for the superpowers. That is, this will be a proxy war between NATO and Russia. Nigeria and ECOWAS will do well not to serve as pawns in their war.
ECOWAS chairman, President Bola Tinubu will do well to lead his brother-presidents to beat a retreat and go back to diplomatic options to find a solution to the Nigerien challenge. It was a poor strategy to have started the process by issuing threats of war.
It gets even more suspicious as President Tinubu is suddenly the blue-eyed boy of the West. Sudden calls from Kamala Harris to Tinubu and high level diplomatic engagements by France and the UK are by no means coincidental. They are obviously encouraging him to continue to be ‘courageous’. This is, however, courage that Tinubu does not need.
Nigeria will bear the brunt if indeed any military attack on Niger is consummated as was the case in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Presently, Nigeria and Nigerians are not economically, psychologically, spiritually, and technically ready for a war. Worse-still a war that is meant to ‘’fight for democracy” when Nigeria’s own democracy is indeed on shaky ground is spurious and unacceptable.
The question in town is “why is military coup so reprehensible to ECOWAS leaders when a good number of them are beneficiaries of electoral and constitutional coups?” People are equally concerned that the sudden sense of urgency as well as the gust and burst of energy of ECOWAS presidents have been missing in more critical issues of lack of good governance, famine as well as insurgency which has led to a huge number of displaced persons.
Indeed, as of March 2022, the Federal Commissioner for the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, (NCFRMI), Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, said there were about 300,000 Nigerians taking refuge in the Republic of Niger! It is feared that they could become soft targets as anger against Nigeria could be vented on them.
Presently, there is palpable fear and frustration in communities along the over 1,500-kilometre-long border which covers seven states: Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, Jigawa, Zamfara, Yobe and Borno, are being felt by residents of these communities. A war in Niger will worsen the security plight of Nigerians in these states almost immediately.
Tinubu and ECOWAS leaders should look at Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Venezuela, Somalia and Libya and take heed that military interventions by external governments, especially the West, to enthrone democracy have not only failed but led to prolonged strife, untold hardship, avoidable deaths and catastrophe in the respective countries.
It is heart-warming that the Senate has taken a stand against going to war in Niger. Nigerians are clearly against any war in Niger. President Tinubu should use that window among others to walk back his talk about military invasion of Niger. Our military should rather be better mobilised to deal with, and end insurgency and banditry ravaging the country rather than stretch them thin and expose us further.
Tinubu should apply more wisdom and less “courage” going forward. As we say in Africa, “A word is enough for the wise!”
Willie is Publisher/Editor-in-Chief BRANDPOWER magazine