BusinessDay
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Between Nigeria and Niger Republic: Where does Buhari’s interest lie?

President Muhammadu Buhari’s excessive romance with Niger Republic under the guise of promoting the policy of “Africa as the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy” has continued to attract public dissent, displeasure and indignation.

Since his emergence as the President of Nigeria in 2015, President Buhari has overwhelmingly opened Nigeria’s financial vault into providing strategic infrastructural development for the Nigerian neighbours, despite the nation’s poor financial standing.

The projects executed in the last seven years include a $2billion standard gauge railway project the Nigerian government is constructing from Kano to Maradi in Niger Republic, a project President Muhammadu Buhari flagged off in February, 2021.

The project, which was awarded to a Portuguese Construction Company, Mota-Engil, involve the construction of 284 kilometres standard-gauge line with 12 stations from Kano in northern Nigeria to Maradi in landlocked Niger Republic.

The project was funded through an external loan of $4.054b, approved by the National Assembly, in 2018.

The Nigerian leader had informed the National Assembly, in the letter, dated August 24, 2021, that the projects to be executed in the six geopolitical zones of the country, including Kano to Maridin, listed in the 2018-2021 Federal Government Borrowing Plan, would be financed through sovereign loans from the World Bank, French Development Agency, EXIM Bank International Fund for Agricultural Development, Credit Suisse Group and Standard Chattered/China Export and Credit in the total sum of $4,054,476,863 and €710m (839m) and grant components of $125m.

In July 2018, Nigeria and Niger Republic agreed to collaborate to construct an oil pipeline and refinery.

They agreed that while the proposed refinery will be located in Katsina State, northern Nigeria, crude supply will be through the pipeline from Niger Republic’s oilfields in the Ténéré desert.

The MoU for the two projects, which are expected to cost about $2billion, was signed by the two countries’ energy ministers and witnessed by Buhari and his counterpart from the Republic of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.

In November 2020, the Nigerian government, through the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, headed by President Buhari himself, signed a $2b refinery project to import fuel from Niger Republic, a country that only joined the league of oil-producing countries in 2012.

The Ministry of Petroleum Resources in justifying the MoU stated that the Soraz Refinery in Zinder, Niger Republic, has an installed capacity to produce 20,000 barrels per day while the country’s domestic requirement was just 5000 barrels per day, thereby resulting in a surplus of 15,000 barrels per day.

Timipre Sylva, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, said: “Nigerians should be proud that we are doing that to encourage sub-regional trade because we have been talking about sub-regional trade for a long time, and this is how it should be between neighbouring countries. Niger should import from us what we have, and we should import from Niger what they have. Let us encourage intra-regional trade, and this is one good example of trading within West Africa.”

For him, the development should be seen as a means of encouraging intra-regional trade, rather than seeing it as an embarrassment for Nigeria.

To the chagrin of many Nigerians, the President continues to doled out the country’s scarce resources like a “Father Christmas.”

This is happening despite the harsh economic situation Nigeria is facing, especially including the ongoing strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, dwindling revenue, high debt to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as well as high level of insecurity.

On the 27th of February, 2020, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved N29.2 billion for the construction of two roads linking two Northern states to the border of Niger Republic.

Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola said he had presented memorandum of understanding (MoU) to FEC for approval to construct a 46 kilometre road from Balle in Sokoto State to Niger Republic border at the cost of N9.5 billion.

According to Fashola, “The Ministry of Works and Housing presented one memorandum for the award of roads. The first is Balle – Kurdulla -Niger Republic border road in Sokoto. It’s in favour of Messrs North Sea Limited joint venture with Caesar Engineering at N9. 576 million to be completed in 24 months. The road is 46 kilometres.

“The second one is for Kunya – Niger Republic border phase II, in Jigawa State at N19. 763.567 billion.

The 50-kilometre road was described as “critical to execute our mandate under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan and ministerial mandate,” according to Fashola.

He added that the project would also enhance cross-border business activities, especially on the back of “African Continental Free Trade Agreement and the markets in that area of the country do a lot of trade across borders. So, this is a good boost for business as well.”

President Buhari last Wednesday was also reported to have directed the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed to release the sum of N1.14billion for the purchase of 10 Land Cruiser Jeeps, to the government of Niger Republic.

The approval, BusinessDay gathered was based on the requests for supports by the government of Niger Republic.

The vehicles, it was gathered, would “assist the country in the transportation and movement of VIPs, high-ranking officials, top government functionaries and visitors scheduled for official visit to Niger at this time of its nascent democracy, with all its attendant consequences on their collective and individual security and safety of lives and property.”

BusinessDay also gathered that the ministry ordered Kaura Motors Nig. Ltd. to supply the vehicle under the direct procurement method, in line with section 10 A and B of the Public Procurement Act 2007, because of the urgency of the matter.

Kaura Motors Nigeria Limited is an incorporated auto dealers based in Kaduna State and was registered on the 19th of August, 1985, with Registration Number 75140.

The company’s Directors include Mahmuda Sambo and Lyman Usman, while Fred Fred Ogidi is the company secretary.

The company’s current status is unknown. Its registered office address is NY.8, Kagoro Close, Express way, Kaduna.

Justifying the projects, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed said the President reserves the right to approve the projects, which she said was in “Nigeria’s interest.”

She also added that “this is not the first time the country is providing such interventions to her neighbours.”

According to her, “Let me just say that overtime, Nigeria has had to support its neighbours, especially the immediate neighbours to enhance their capacity to secure their countries as it relates to us. This is not the first time that Nigeria had assisted Niger Republic, Cameroon or Chad.

“The President makes an assessment as to what is required based on the request of their Presidents. Such requests are approved and interventions are provided.

“It is to enhance their capacity to protect their countries, as it relates to security and also to Nigeria.”

She added that “Nigerians have the rights to ask questions,” but said: “The President has the responsibility to make an assessment of what is in the best interest of the country and I cannot question the decision myself.

“I have said this is not the first time and that Nigeria as a country has provided an intervention to our neighbours. It is in the best interest of Nigeria to do so.”

Several Nigerians, including organisations, who are incensed by the action of the Nigerian government, have continued to lampoon the Buhari administration

The New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) condemned the use of N1.14b to purchase the cars for Niger Republic, under the guise of fighting insecurity.

Agbo Major, the party’s National Publicity Secretary, in a statement made available to BusinessDay, noted that Nigerians live in fear of the ubiquitous, rampaging terrorists who attack citizens at their homes, farmlands, highways, railways, airports, offices and security facilities.

According to him, “Nigerians now sleep with one-eye open ready to escape terrorists’ onslaughts.”

The party believes that “This is not the time to play Father Christmas or Big Brother Africa as charity begins at home. National interest supersedes parochial sentiments when the nation is under siege and its territorial integrity violated with impunity by terrorists, insurgents, bandits and militants as if there is no constituted government in place.

“ASUU has been on strike for months due to Federal Government’s inability to meet its demands combined with the free fall of the naira that has crippled businesses, we now have a growing army of redundant and unemployed youths who can be enticed and recruited to join criminal activities.”

Read also: ASUU: Reactions as Buhari’s ultimatum to education minister elapses

According to him, “That is why Nigerians in one accord demand for a new Nigeria which only NNPP can provide; a Nigeria free from terrorism, carnage, fear and poverty.”

He therefore, urged Nigerians to join hands with the party and its “presidential candidate, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and his running mate, Bishop Isaac Idahosa in the quest for a strong, virile, united, progressive, prosperous and equitable democratic nation, adding that “We are all in it together.”

Debo Ologunagba, spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said he was not surprised at the act by the current government, adding that “Every policy of the present administration, from exchange rate, to reactions to the ASUU strike and other economic policies has been anti-Nigerians.”

The PDP chieftain further said that the policy was in no way made to benefit Nigeria, adding that “it tells you the level of prioritisation of our national interest. My appeal is for Nigerians to go get their Permanent Voters Cards, ahead of the 2023 general election and vote out bad governance.”

Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani), executive director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), described the action as “laughable.”

He stated that it is another proof of the obvious disconnect between President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigerians.

According to him, “It is laughable; because, the people you are giving the vehicles to, do not live the kind of false lives our leaders are living here.”

In its newsletter circulated on Friday, August 5, 2022, EnoughisEnough (EiE), a non-governmental organisation,
expressed concern that President Buhari seemed to have misplaced priorities.

The group said: “It is no news that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has confirmed its N1.14billion giveaway to the Republic of Niger. The money was to aid Niger in the acquisition of some operational vehicles.”

EiE also noted with concern that despite the worsening insecurity in-country, the President appears to have solution to security challenges for other nations.

Nigeria’s debt servicing is higher than our revenue, ASUU is on strike, kidnapped train victims are still held captive, 102 #ChibokGirls are still in captivity since 2014, and nowhere in Nigeria can be declared safe. Yet Buhari has been delivering speeches on how to tackle insecurity in other countries.
What kind of fake life is this?”

Farooq Kperogi, a scholar and public affairs analyst, while reacting to the development, said: “Many Nigerians are understandably angry and are asking why Buhari seems to have more loyalty to Niger Republic than he does to Nigeria. Well, here is what I wrote about that in my June 12, 2021, column titled ‘Making Sense of Buhari’s Nonsense Now Senseless.’

“Or take his justification for building a railway in Niger Republic while most parts of Nigeria are devoid of basic transportational infrastructure. ‘I have first cousins in Niger,’ he said. ‘There are Kanuris, there are Hausas, there are Fulanis in Niger Republic just as there are Yorubas in Benin Republic and so on. You can’t absolutely cut them off.’

“In which world does this make sense? So, he isn’t building infrastructure in Benin Republic, Cameroon, and Chad because he has no cousins there? And, perhaps, he hasn’t built infrastructure in other parts of Nigeria because he has no cousins there?

Buhari is supposed to be ‘president’ of Nigeria. It is to Nigeria and its constituents that he owes allegiance, not his cousins and kinfolk in another country. It is borderline treasonable to deprive a country you lead of its resources and wealth in order to develop another in which you’re not even a legal citizen just because a part of your ancestry is traceable to that country.”

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