WITHIN three weeks of becoming President, Bola Tinubu ignited a roasting of Nigeria’s economy; within a month of becoming the Chairman of ECOWAS, he is leading the 48-year-old sub-regional group towards war and disintegration. Commendably, the National Assembly has rejected Tinubu’s request for parliamentary backing for military adventure in Niger Republic. It should go further and withhold approval for any action that puts Nigerians and the country’s interests at risk.
Tinubu had sent a letter last week to the Senate seeking its support for a raft of sanctions jointly agreed with other member countries, and “military build-up and deployment of personnel for military intervention to enforce compliance of the military junta in Niger should they remain recalcitrant.” The NASS should enthusiastically support all realistic economic, diplomatic, and cultural sanctions; but it should stand firmly by its mature refusal to authorise military action.
Tinubu constantly wields a wrecking ball; without strenuous scrutiny, sober reflection, and the consequences, he plunges headlong into drastic decisions, with disruptive and negative results, and with unpredictable outcomes.
His instant dismantling of the petrol subsidy at his inauguration a month ahead of schedule, and devaluation of the naira triggered unprecedented inflation, poverty, and job losses.
Elected chair of ECOWAS at its 63rd ordinary session on July 9, and confronted with a coup in Niger Republic 16 days later, he shifted to over-drive.
Truly, the events in Niamey are unpalatable and should be resisted by all lovers of freedom and democracy worldwide by all lawful means. ECOWAS has the primary responsibility to push back against what UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, calls an epidemic of military coups in West Africa.
The regional bloc has been doing this. In May 2021, it suspended Mali after its second military coup in nine months. In September that year, it suspended Guinea after soldiers toppled the civilian government; last January, Burkina Faso was also suspended when soldiers overthrew the government. All three were slammed with economic and diplomatic sanctions.
ECOWAS has been more militant with Niger’s coup plotters. Sanctions were swiftly imposed. Land borders with it have been closed, communications severed, trade suspended and national assets of the landlocked country in member states frozen. Nigeria cut off the electricity it supplies to Niger. As this accounts for over 70 per cent of that country’s consumption, this is a hard blow.
ECOWAS is also coordinating with the United Nations, and the European Union, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, who in pursuit of their self-interests, oppose the takeover in Niger Republic.
But Tinubu and ECOWAS are going overboard by their precipitate threat of military force to restore Mohamed Bazoum to power. The seven-day ultimatum it gave the junta to release him from detention expired on Sunday. Defence chiefs of the bloc met on Saturday ostensibly to coordinate military plans.
For Nigeria especially, it is foolhardy contemplating any large-scale foreign military deployment beyond the small contingents contributed to peacekeeping missions around the world.
First, Nigeria, which already provides over 70 per cent of ECOWAS funding, will bear the brunt both in material and human resources. But the country is broke, spending 96.6 per cent of its revenue servicing debts.
The Nigerian military is overstretched, apart from being deployed in all the 36 states; it is struggling to overcome a 14-year-old Islamic insurgency, and bandits, Fulani militants and separatists in the South-East. Short of repelling an incursion into Nigerian territory, it is reckless to commit troops to any foreign campaign.
Yes, on paper, the odds may favour Nigeria; its active-duty military personnel of 135,000, 36th strongest worldwide, and fourth in Africa, and $3 billion defence budget, according to Global Fire Power rankings, outperform Niger’s active personnel strength of 13,000, $287 million defence budget and 25th place ranking among Africa’s militaries.
But take into consideration Niger’s 1,608-kilometre border with Nigeria, its hosting of 200,000 Nigerian refugees, and its crucial cooperation in the war against Islamic insurgents and bandits who occupy their joint borderlands.
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Northern groups have rightly reminded Tinubu that any war with Niger will impact Nigerian communities. Seven Northern states – Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe and Borno – share borders with that country. All are under attack from bandits and terrorists. Niger Republic can simply grant insurgents safe havens from which to operate as its proxies. They will become undefeatable. Idi Amin’s rash invasion of Tanzania in 1978 ended in the retreat of the Ugandan army with Tanzanian troops and rebels in a pursuit that ended in Kampala and the overthrow of the bloodthirsty dictator.
Niger is neither Sierra Leone nor Liberia where Nigerian-led ECOWAS troops dislodged rebels to pave the way for elected governments in the 1990s. Apart from being thousands of kilometres away from Nigeria, those were virtually failed states, carved up among warlords. ECOWAS’ peace-enforcement therefore succeeded, helped by a grateful and welcoming populace. Television footage however shows some support for Niger’s coup plotters.
The threat by the juntas in Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali to join forces with the Niger regime is not idle; Russia, through its formidable Wagner Group mercenary army could funnel arms, funds personnel to bog down any ECOWAS force, as part of its proxy contest with the West.
Every general knows, and recent experience confirms it, that you only know when you start a war; you cannot predict its duration or outcome. Russia’s Vladimir Putin expected his “special military operation” to subdue Ukraine within two weeks; 18 months, and thousands of Russian casualties later, Kiev is taking the war to the enemy. The US-led coalition expelled the Taliban from power within a few weeks of invading in 2001; but 20 years and $2.3 trillion of US taxpayers’ money, later, the allies beat a humiliating retreat.
With the West, especially France, desperate to regain its influence in the Sahel riding on ECOWAS’ back, Nigeria is ill-advised to become another pawn in the international death struggle between the world’s major powers. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya and Ukraine provide stark examples of what becomes of states and regions that provide the playgrounds for Great Power proxy wars.
Foreign policy is driven by national self-interest. The US withheld approval for long in Nigeria’s bid to purchase Super Tucano military aircraft citing rights violations; but it gives $3.75 billion in military and security aid annually to Israel despite its racist and human rights abuses of Palestinians. It gives $1.3 billion to Egypt despite that regime’s trampling on democracy and human rights, and it ignores Saudi Arabia’s atrocities, all in furtherance of its vital interests.
France swiftly endorsed the coup that upturned the constitution and brought Chad’s Mahamat Deby to power in 2021, while it still seeks to retain the access of French companies to Niger’s uranium, which provides 5.0 per cent of the world’s supply.
Tinubu’s proposed misadventure coincides with an intractable economic downturn and massive insecurity at home. Nigerians are experiencing unprecedented hardship, and many more are going hungry. The naira is falling faster, and factory closures, job losses are real.
He should pay attention to Nigerians instead of his eagerness to win the approval of the West. About 555 Nigerians have been killed and 267 others kidnapped since he took office says an NGO, Global Rights. Nigeria is ranked 15th most fragile country out of 197.
Tinubu has been ensconced in Abuja and finds it more convenient to travel abroad rather than visit traumatised communities at home. Despite its threats, Nigeria has, unlike France, UK, and US, not evacuated its nationals from Niger.
No one has invaded Myanmar since its widely condemned coup in 2021; Nigeria indeed has a strong interest in stability and democracy in Niger, but certainly not via a military incursion.
Tinubu is a loose cannon. He takes incautious actions bereft of critical analyses, proactive plans, and war-gaming. Reports say even ECOWAS military chiefs were not initially carried along while its political leaders were threatening war.
ECOWAS has survived much stress since its founding in 1975 but has held together. Tinubu’s leadership should not splinter it.
Instead, diplomacy and sanctions should be tightened, and even this, with an eye on the ball. Nigeria has mutual economic and security arrangements with Niger, and the River Niger flows through Niger to reach Nigeria’s dams.
The NASS should maintain its stand forcefully: namely that it will strongly support realistic economic, political, and diplomatic action by the Nigerian government and ECOWAS to isolate and overthrow the Niger Republic junta, but also emphatically, that military invasion will not be contemplated. ,
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