• Saturday, December 09, 2023
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ECOWAS – Niger crisis: Diplomatic channels more desirable

The toll of Niger coup on West African trade

Diplomacy is listening to what the other guy needs. Preserving your own position, but listening to the other guy. You have to develop relationships with other people so when the tough times come, you can work together – General Colin Powell Former Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff of the United States of America

Niger, Nigeria’s northern neighbour is one of the poorest countries in the world. The economy is concentrated around subsistence agriculture and pastoralism, with some export agriculture in the less arid south, and export of raw materials, including uranium ore which have attracted some plenty European interest in the country.

The country faces challenges to development due to its landlocked position, desert terrain, low literacy rate, jihadist insurgencies and the world’s highest fertility rates due to birth control not being used and the resulting rapid population growth. In other words our northern neighbour is problem waiting to happen.

Since independence, Nigeriens have lived under five constitutions and three periods of military rule. After the military coup in 2010, Niger became a multi-party state. A majority of the population lives in rural areas.

Domino effect of Mali and Guinea

Military strategist usually talk of domino effect in their planning. It is generally believed that the military governments in Mali and Guinea trigger the coup in Niamey. On 26 July 2023, a coup d’état occurred in Niger when the country’s presidential guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum, and presidential guard commander general Abdourahamane Tchiani proclaimed himself the leader of a new military junta. Presidential guard forces closed the country’s borders, suspended state institutions, and declared a curfew.

This was the fifth military coup d’état since the country gained independence from France in 1960, and the first since 2010.The coup was widely condemned by the international community and by the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, which is currently considering military intervention in the country, leading to the 2023 Nigerien crisis.

The Big Regional powers:

Watchers in the diplomatic community have come to an unwritten assumption that the big regional powers on the continent are Egypt in the north, Kenya in the east , Republic of South Africa in the South and Nigeria in the west. So the Nigerien matter is automatically assumed a Nigerian problem to solve as the leader in the ECOWAS region.

But the big question is all about the readiness of Nigeria for ECOMOG 3. ECOMOG 1 & 2 drained our national resources, caused the loss of senior generals and some well respected journalists.

Nigeria generously prosecuted the ECOMOG programme in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 90s. We singlehandedly provided the money , men and materials for the war and the senior commanders were mainly Nigerians. Good experience for our military but big hole in our national treasury. The war finance also became a cesspool of corruption in the army and amongst contractors. The military of course denied it all and that episode in our national history has been rested.

Everything would come back again with this brewing jamboree to Niamey. This writer thinks we must not rush into Niger to be disgraced. We lack the appetite for this war , we lack the resources for this war and most Nigerians are against it.

According to Barrister Roland Arabome Managing Director of Polls and Ratings attacking Niger will be like slapping one’s face in order to kill a fly that perched on it. Nigeria will get a bloody nose from it. It is irrelevant if our war machine is 100 times more than that beleaguered country’s. As a matter of fact, with the presence of Russia’s Wagner Group, a well-oiled group of mercenaries, it won’t even be a walk-over for the Nigerian troops.

The many years of neglect of the Nigerian army under various service chiefs that allegedly pocketed very handsome portions of defence budgets and leaving the foot soldiers to their own fate, will only now play up when their mettle is challenged.

No one will win if hostilities degenerate to gun battles. President Bola Tinubu is being too hasty in this matter. It was Chief Pete Edochie that is credited to have made the statement that: “It is when a mosquito perches on the testicles that man realises it is not in every case that you handle offense with violence. At that moment, he’ll choose to use diplomacy.”

Nigeria must find a solution within the UN or AU system. We have hardly explored solid diplomatic channels before talking of war. It’s easy to go to war but difficult to get out of it. America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan is there for all to learn from.

Read also: Airfares to Europe, US seen jumping on Niger Republic’s airspace closure

Sabre-Rattling or Serious Talk

Meanwhile President Bola Tinubu has written to the National Assembly about ECOWAS proposed military action and other sanctions against coupists in Niger Republic. Tinubu stated this in an official communication addressed to the Senate and read at plenary by President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, on Friday 4 August 2023.

The letter read, “Following the unfortunate political situation in Niger Republic culminating in the overthrow of its President, ECOWAS under my leadership condemned the coup in its entirety and resolved to seek the return of the democratically elected govt. In a bid to restore peace, ECOWAS convened a meeting and came out with a communique.

The Sanctions

Closure and monitoring of all land borders with Niger Republic and reactivating of the border drilling exercise.“Cutting off Electricity supply to Niger Republic. Mobilizing international support for the implementation of the provisions of the ECOWAS communique. Preventing the operation of commercial and special flights into and from Niger Republic.

“Blockade of goods in transit to Niger especially from Lagos and eastern seaports Embarking on sensitization of Nigerians and Nigerians on the imperative of these actions particularly via social media. Military build up and deployment of personnel for military intervention to enforce compliance of the military junta in Niger should they remain recalcitrant.”

The big question on the lips of stakeholders on this side of the border is the rationale for the rush. Why can’t we allow the sanctions to take effect? Why can’t we seek additional sanctions on the regime from outside Africa? Whilst the AU called for the return to barracks of the coupists in two weeks ECOWAS under Tinubu gave a seven day ultimatum. Team ECOWAS should provide a face saving escape for these men or they would be sucked in by Wagner group and that would mean Vladimir Putin on our doorsteps. That has socio political and economic implication that would be discussed in another article later. Rogue Russians on our doorsteps could be a double edged sword that we must be weary of.

The northern elders , the Senate , State Governors, Students Unions and market associstions are all united in their advise to the President not to be in rush to go to war.

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” . Nigeria must be careful don’t rubbish your regional powers house credentials.

Says Barrack Hussein Obama ‘In a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy”

Michael A. Umogun is a Chartered Marketer with interest in public policy