The world was taken by surprise on July 26, when military officers in Niger Republic toppled the democratically elected government of President Mohammed Bazoum.
That same night, the soldiers took over the state television and announced a successful coup operation in that landlocked African country.
Close watchers of unfolding events at the sub-region were not entirely surprised by the coup in Niger for a number of reasons. One of which is the growing popularity of coups in countries sharing borders with Niger, namely Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali. In these countries, the military cheered on by citizens, had overthrown elected governments and taken over power!
The popularity of the military is not unconnected to the peculiar brand of democracy being practiced in the region by the political class. In elections, votes of the people do not count while incumbents tend to brazenly rig themselves back to power even where they have become extremely unpopular!
Even some presidents who have exhausted the maximum term limits and tenures allowed by law, they still go ahead to amend the constitution to elongate their tenures in office! Such lawless acts create animosity thus creating an environment that the military often steps in to avert instability and insecurity!
Add to this mix, the widespread corruption in the sub-region which has caused enormous poverty in the general population while those in power are seen living lavishly and opulent at the expense of the citizenry.
Thus, while ECOWAS is calling for the restoration of the outed president, the citizens of Niger are dancing in the streets in support of the coup plotters! These rulers tend to be very far from their own people! As the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is calling for the restoration of democracy, the long suffering people of Niger were pouring on the streets celebrating their ‘liberation’ from the hegemony of France and Mohammed Bazoum.
Interestingly, it was as if the Nigerian leader, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had premonition of the latest coup in the sub-region. Recall that shortly after Tinubu emerged as the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) he had warned that West African nations would no longer tolerate violent seizures of power in the sub-region.
It was therefore no surprise that ECOWAS led by Nigeria’s president Tinubu was talking tough in reaction to the coup in Niger Republic. The West African leaders in a meeting in Abuja threatened military action against the junta if President Mohamed Bazoum is not reinstated!
“In the event, the authority demands are not met within one week. ECOWAS will take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force,” said Dr. Omar Alieu, President of ECOWAS. The hardline ECOWAS posture is seen as a prompting by the West in furtherance of their economic exploitation of Niger Republic!
The sentiment on the streets is decidedly anti-west prompting concerns that Niger could pivot towards Russia. In Niamey, some of the protesters outside the French embassy chanted “Long live Russia”, “Long live Putin” and “Down with France”. Neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso which have both experienced army takeovers both moved closer to Russia after their own coups.
The African Union also issued a 15-day ultimatum to the junta in Niger to reinstall the country’s democratically elected government just as the U.S. and the European Union threatened sanctions against the regime.
In its meeting 48 hours after the coup, the African Union Peace and Security Council said it was concerned by the “alarming resurgence” of coups that undermine democracy and stability on the continent. It asked the soldiers to “return immediately and unconditionally to their barracks and restore constitutional authority, within a maximum of fifteen (15) days.”
With ECOWAS giving the military junta one week ultimatum to leave power while the African Union gave the same junta 15 days ultimatum it was clear that there was no synergy between ECOWAS and African Union on how to address the military takeover in Niger. In fact, an expert in international relations and former director general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and former minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi blamed South Africa for the lack of coordination between ECOWAS and AU, alleging that South Africa instigated the disregard of ECOWAS because South Africa claimed that Nigerian leader, Tinubu has questionable legitimacy and as such is in no position to spearhead any intervention in Niger. Professor Akinyemi made this assertion in a viral video interview he had with Arise TV.
Despite the lack of coordination between AU and ECOWAS, it did not stop the Military Chiefs of ECOWAS countries from meeting in Abuja to “work on military strategy.” As the military chiefs were meeting, the French were also allegedly putting pressure on Nigerian leader to hasten action on Niger.
Benjamin Augé, a Nigeria specialist and researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), told one of the most influential newspapers in France, Le Monde that “Tinubu’s credibility will depend on what he can do in Niger” which was a clear indication of what France wants from Tinubu on the Niger crisis.
“His (Tinubu) credibility, even from a domestic political point of view, will depend on what he manages to do after the coup in Niger. He has been under a great deal of pressure since the end of gasoline subsidies in his country in June. Tinubu has taken a very firm stance against the coup leaders. Drastic economic sanctions have been put in place. But if the junta in Niamey, the capital of Niger, doesn’t falter and he finally gives up the military option, this leaves him with few ways out of the situation,” Benjamin Augé told Le Monde.
In furtherance of the military force option, Tinubu on Friday wrote a letter to the country’s Senate, seeking support from the Senate for military intervention in Niger. Tinubu requested for Senate concordance for “military buildup and deployment of personnel for military intervention to enforce compliance of the military junta in Niger should they remain recalcitrant.”
Unfortunately for France, ECOWAS and President Bola Tinubu, the Senate turned down the war declaration request. The Senate asked the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other leaders of the region to tread softly in addressing the political quagmire in Niger Republic.
Rising from a closed-door session that lasted close to two hours to discuss the letter written to the Senate on Friday by President Bola Tinubu on the decisions taken by the regional body, the Senate asked ECOWAS to strengthen political and diplomatic options and other means to resolve the political compass in the Niger Republic.
The position of the Senate was also in tandem with the resolution of the Northern Senators Forum who opposed military action in Niger, reminding ECOWAS and Tinubu that Niger shares borders with seven states in Northern Nigeria that would be negatively impacted in any war with the Niger Republic. Similarly, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) as well as the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) insisted that the best option is to use diplomatic and economic sanctions to force the junta out of power rather than military force.
From the reactions across the country most Nigerians do not want the country to go to war to enforce democracy in foreign land when our own democracy is not quite on solid ground!
Besides, it’s the opinion of the majority of Nigerians that Nigeria should not create an opportunity for proxy war between Russia and the West in our backyard, the end of which we may never know.
Let the Nigeriens solve their internal problem as they see fit. Now, they are celebrating the military, but in a few months or years they may desire an elected government.
Let us not drink Panadol over Niger’s headache, especially as we have terminal cancer (corruption, poverty and insecurity etc) harassing our country and making us a laughing stock in the comity of nations.
But one thing is clear, Nigerians are united in rejecting a military intervention in Niger that would cost Nigerian lives. The Senate has spoken, the Northern states that border Niger have spoken, and the generality of Nigerians have spoken via social media.
As a constitutional democracy, the president is duty bound to respect the wishes of Nigerians and let Nigeriens carry their own cross. After all both America and France have bases there. They are better equipped and better placed to fight there, not us!
As we say in slang, for now, let us face our front.