Photos emerged on Wednesday of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, with Abdourahmane Tchiani, the leader of the Niger junta.
Sanusi, the 14th Emir of Kano and Khalifa of the Tijaniyya Islamic sect in Nigeria, met Tchiani in company with Aboubacar Sanda Oumarou, the Emir of Damagaram, Niger Republic’s third largest city.
Sanusi meets Tichani
The meeting came after the military leadership of the junta gave short shrift to the previous ones with representatives of the African Union, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and a top US diplomat. The putschists had refused to dialogue with Abdulsalam Abubakar, Nigeria’s former head of state, and Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto. They had also refused to yield to Victoria Nuland, the acting US deputy secretary of state.
It was learnt that Sanusi was able to get an audience with Tchiani and his men because of several ties to the country, including his role as the Khalifa of the Tijaniyya Islamic sect.
Niger has a large Quadiriya and a large Tijaniyya population.
“Sanusi, as leader of the Tijaniyya movement in Nigeria, was mobilised by Islamic leaders and supported by the Federal Government to engage with the junta,” a former intelligence officer in Nigeria said.
“The junta had shown a lot more willingness to engage with him, especially as the northern Islamic religious leadership had loudly telegraphed their rejection of any invasion of Niger.”
The former intel expert suggested that there is a growing belief among the junta that there might not be an invasion.
“So they are comfortable talking to those who have made it clear to the Federal Government that war against fellow Muslims and Hausas is unnecessary,” he said.
The Tijanniya sect is a Sufi Islamic order, originating in the Maghreb but now more widespread in West Africa, particularly in Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Niger, Chad, Ghana, Nigeria, and some parts of Sudan.
Sanusi was appointed the Nigerian leader of the sect in March 2021. The Emir of Damagaran was among those who attended Sanusi’s turbaning at the time.
Earlier on Wednesday, President Bola Tinubu met with an association of Muslim Ulemas over the Niger political crises. Ulema is a body of Muslim scholars who are recognised as having specialist knowledge of Islamic sacred law and theology.
Sanusi, along with other Nigerians of northern background including Aliko Dangote, chairman and founder of Dangote Group, are known to frequently visit Niger Republic, with family and economic ties to the country.
Analysts believe Sanusi’s relationship with the country is just one of the soft powers that Nigeria and ECOWAS could use to prevent a war between both countries.
“I’ve read expert and novice takes on the Nigerien crisis highlighting factors from France to US, Russia, China, Sahel instability. This suggests that Nigeria is deploying an understated tool in its soft power box: primordial ties with its neighbours,” Deji Olatoye, a Lagos-based lawyer, said.
Niger Republic is one of Nigeria’s neighbours on the northern border. The Hausa ethnic group, which makes up more than 50 percent of the country’s population, is also one of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria. The Fulani ethnic group in Niger who make up about six percent of the country’s population also have very close cultural and family relationships with the Fulanis in Nigeria.
Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s former president, belongs to the Fulani ethnic group, while his mother was of Hausa ancestry with roots in Niger.
“I can’t wait to go home to Daura… and if they make any noise to disturb me in Daura, I will leave for the Niger Republic,” Buhari had said at his last Sallah celebration as president earlier this year.
Daura is Buhari’s hometown in one of the states sharing borders with Niger in northern Nigeria.
Nigeria has such soft powers across Africa. Some of the country’s major languages, which are cultural vehicles, are spoken well beyond its borders on every side. Like Hausa and Fulfulde to the North, Yoruba is spoken widely beyond Nigeria’s border to the west in countries like Benin Republic, Togo and Sierra Leone. At the recent celebration of Benin Republic’s 63rd independence, a viral video of an oratory artist performing in Yoruba went viral on Twitter in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, Catholic Bishops in West Africa have counselled ECOWAS leaders against military intervention in Niger. They cited the example of Libya as what could go wrong with such intervention.
The Reunion of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa has urged the Authority of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government to restrain from the use of force to restore the constitutional regime in the country.
They expressed their concerns in a two-page letter addressed to the President of ECOWAS, Heads of State of ECOWAS, and the Transitional Authorities in Niger on August 7, calling for dialogue and reconciliation rather than belligerence and military response.
“Keeping as our central vision the integrity of the people and emphasising respect for human dignity and a high sense of accountability to mankind, history, and God the Creator, we affirm that nothing can justify the creation or facilitation of an environment that is destructive to our people,” the clergymen said.
“We, your pastors, are convinced, and the history of people teaches us that violence does not solve any problem, not even the one that triggered it. We affirm that any military intervention in Niger at this time would complicate the situation of the people of Niger and the sub-region more than it would provide solutions,” the Catholic bishops of West Africa said in their letter to the sub-regional leaders.
“Terrorism already has a macabre toll of widows, orphans, displaced persons, the hungry, the maimed and so on. People are not expecting the regional, African and other institutions to add to this toll,” they added.