Let me dispense with any political correctness and say it loud and clearly that, any attempt to invade Niger Republic by a Nigerian led ECOWAS Army in the guise of “safeguarding democracy”, will be a declaration of war on northern Nigeria and its people because we are the ones that will bear the full brunt of this misguided war. We in the region will not support any act of unprovoked aggression against Niger Republic under any pretense.
We in the north are tired of wars, we have been at war with Boko Haram for 14 years and for 9 years with Bandits and kidnappers. Thousands of our people continue to be killed and kidnapped while millions have been displaced from their ancestral homes, including the 300,000 that have sought refuge as IDPs in Niger Republic. Our economy, education, infrastructure and social fabrique have all been devastated. How can we support any foreign war when our house is on fire?
At a time when Nigeria is facing the worst insecurity of our lifetime with nauseating corruption, bad governance, youth unemployment and drug abuse, discontent of the citizenry, excruciating poverty brought about by chaotic economic policies, a military invasion of Niger Republic will be reckless with grave consequences beyond the subregion.
Instead of starting a new war, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should channel all his energy on finding ways to stop the bloodshed in our land by ending the wars on Boko Haram and Banditry as soon as possible, reconcile warring communities, resettle all IDPs and rebuild our communities and the region’s economy.
Niger Republic is a landlocked country with a total area of 1,267,000 km². Northern Nigeria shares with it a vast 1,100km long border stretching along Nigeria’s entire Northwesterly to the Northeasterly border. The seven northern states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe, and Borno share a common religious, cultural and ethnic (Zabarmawas, Hausas, Fulanis and Kanuris) heritage with their kinsmen in Niger.
The conditions that led to the recent pandemic of military coups in the ECOWAS subregion are unfortunately present in all 15 member countries. Military coups though unacceptable and retrogressive, will continue to be a looming danger to democratic governments in the region as long as the political class continue to ignore the sufferings of their people and keep on perpetuating corruption, bad governance, flawed electoral processes, impunity that push their people deeper into poverty, hopelessness and worsening insecurity.
The Coup in Niger resulted from ethnic and geopolitical power play. The ethnic dimension is that the Zabarmawas (Zarmas) who are the second largest ethnic group (22%) after the Hausas (53%), have always dominated the military and power since independence in 1960. Military coups mostly happen each time anyone from the other ethnic groups (Hausa, Fulani, Touareg or Arab) are in power. Mohammed Bazoum is an Arab ethnic group (0.4%).
Resource control and proxy war between Russia and NATO are the geopolitical factors that are in play here. Niger is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium which is widely used for nuclear energy radiation, cancer therapy and in nuclear weapons.
In spite of its rich mineral resources, Niger remains one of the poorest countries in the world, it has been plagued by recurrent droughts, worsening climate change and the presence of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram. France has been exploiting the country’s rich mineral resources with little or no benefit to the country or its people.
Another natural resource in play is Nigerian Gas which is to be transported through the Trans Sahara Gas pipeline from Warri, Nigeria, and end in Hassi R’Mel, Algeria, where it would connect to existing pipelines leading to Europe. Europe sees this project as a potential opportunity to diversify its gas sources as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues.
America and its NATO partners are unsettled by Russia’s inroad into Africa through the Wagner Group which is already deployed to African countries like Libya, Sudan, Mozambique, Madagascar, Central African Republic, and Mali, focusing principally on protecting the ruling elites and critical infrastructures. As payment, Wagner’s boss Prigozhin receives exclusive rights to mining minerals such as Gold.
The ECOWAS has literally declared war on Niger Republic by imposing biting economic sanctions on a country heavily dependent on foreign aid, it has ordered closure of borders with member states and imposed a no-flight zone hoping to curb the junta’s influence and hinder any potential allies from providing aerial support. The junta has also been given a week’s ultimatum starting from July 31, 2022 to vacate power or face military action.
Nigeria has unilaterally terminated the treaty between the 2 countries signed in the 60s for Nigeria to provide electricity to Niger in exchange that it will not obstruct the flow of water to the country’s hydroelectric Dams in Jebba, Kainji. This treaty has ensured that Nigeria supplied 70% Niger’s electricity. Today, Niamey, the capital city is in darkness.
While many leaders of African Francophone countries are severing ties with their colonial masters France, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in his desperate desire to gain international legitimacy for his government, is blindly dragging Nigeria into the dangerous waters of the proxy war between Russia and NATO without consulting with or seeking the consent of the people or their elected representatives.
1. ECOWAS should take off the table any threat of military action against Niger Republic because it will not achieve the desired goal.
2. Embark on a sincere, well thought through diplomatic option.
3. Nigeriens should be allowed and supported to decide what they want for themselves.
4. The Military Junta should be pressured to give clear time of transition back to democratic rule as soon as possible.
5. Nigeria should restore electricity supply to Niger Republic in accordance with the bilateral agreement.
6. Foreign Aid which accounts for 40% of Niger’s annual budget should be restored to prevent it from falling into Russia’s embrace.
7. The Trans Sahara Gas Pipeline Project should continue as contractually agreed.
8. ECOWAS should insist on good governance, reduction in corruption and the respect for constituted institutions among member nations.
7. Finally, I call on all men and women of goodwill particularly northern elders, traditional rulers, clerics, academics, the media, elected representatives, Labour organizations, businesses leaders, student unions, women organizations and civil society organizations to say no to Nigeria being dragged into this proxy war between Russia and NATO.
Yusuf is a Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation.