I don’t like wars. But I don’t mind wars if they are in defence of a people’s essence. Remember how Horatio defended the bridge of River Tiber in the days of ancient Rome? The book, “Lays of Ancient Rome”, preserved the narrative for posterity: “To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late; And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his gods.”
It is easier to win an economic war of blockade with starvation as a weapon than to physically conquer and take over the physical territory of a people mobilised to defend their ancestral land. Patriotic fervour knows no limits. Throughout history, against all odds, suicidal Davids have been known to rout celebrated Goliaths. Even folktales, in imitation of real human life, cast various small animals in heroic roles. Thus were born the legends of the Tortoise, Ant, Fox, Spider, among others.
Say what you will about the recent Abdourahamane Tchiani-led military coup which toppled the government of President Mohamed Bazoum in Niger Republic, you can’t love the Nigerien more than he loves himself. Democracy is sweet on paper. It is peddled by colonialists who hide under its umbrella to oil their new machine of subjugation— neo-colonialism. The same colonialists who enslaved our people for hundreds of years are still insistent that they know what system of government is best for us, even when such system only serves their purposes.
Democracy, true democracy, is good; no doubt. But when a democratic government is seen as perpetuating penury and serving only the interests of the former colonialists, can we in good conscience blame the long-suffering people who now prefer to go back to their vomit of khakistocracy (thank you, Ikhenemho Okomilo) than continue with the diet of ‘democratic’ vinegar served by their imperial oppressors.
Niger Republic is the second poorest country on the planet with 80% of the population without access to electricity. The country is endowed with some of the world’s most precious resources, especially uranium, which is used to power France’s nuclear power plants which generated 361 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2021, accounting for 68% of the country’s annual electricity generation. Meanwhile, the Nigerien population wallows in darkness.
Anyone who has been critically studying the situation in many West African countries will not be surprised by the Nigerien coup. Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Guinea had all witnessed military coups largely because of bad governance. The problem has always been that the Western colonialists have always been on the side of the oppressors. An oppressive African leader only needs to satisfy the greed of the colonialists to be celebrated as a ‘democrat’, even if he has reduced his people to mere bones.
If I had a choice, I would always prefer democracy to military dictatorship. In our younger days, we fought autocracy to a standstill. However, over time, we realised that our definition of democracy was different from that of the colonialists. Imagine, the same people who celebrate the gloriousness of the Saudi and UAE monarchies because of petrodollars are the very people condemning such tendencies in Africa.
For decades since the end of colonialism, France has maintained a vice grip on the jugular of African nations by insisting on the payment of colonial debts. For several years, I have written in condemnation of this crime and predicted that someday, African nations will break the chains of economic servitude tying them down.
In my piece, “Franco-Haram, C’est L’esclavage!” published in Daily Trust of March 26, 2018, I quoted President Jacques Chirac who famously said that, “Without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power”. So, they know!
France has been described as “a model post-colonial parasite” because it continues to impose an economic cum political yoke on former colonies long after flag Independence. The political elites are Frenchified and acquiesce to the demands of France easily. If they refuse, they are toppled like Sylvanus Olympio, Patrice Lumumba and Thomas Sankara. France has a history of bestial ruthlessness in Africa, their pretences to civility notwithstanding.
Former French colonies in Africa are therefore doomed unless they exit the iniquitous French system designed to ensure generational penury. Niger’s coup leaders have latched on to this fact to whip up support among the people. And they have succeeded in no small measure. The people of Niger are now saying that anyone against their ‘revolution’ will have to contend with all the 25 million of them. And that is bad news for ECOWAS which, only last week through its Chairman, Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, issued a one-week ultimatum to the military boys to pack their bags and run out of town before they are chased out by ECOWAS forces.
Political watchers have been asking where ECOWAS was when earlier coups happened in the sub-region.
Ecowas never threatened to use force to restore civil rule when Mali had a military coup, Burkina Faso also had a military coup and ECOWAS looked the other way. Why is Niger Republic different? The Sahel region comprises Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria. Among them, the following have military regimes: Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Chad. So, new entrant Niger is not walking alone.
Burkina Faso and Mali, have taken the unusual step of declaring that foreign military intervention in neighbouring Niger would be considered a declaration of war against them too. Russia has played into the anti-West sentiments now raging in Niger by framing itself to African nations as a country that never colonised the continent. Russia has been offering its hands of fellowship to vulnerable African nations, using backroom channels to suggest mercenary alternatives such as the notorious mercenary group, Wagner. Already, Mali has welcomed up to 1,000 fighters from the Wagner Group. This has emboldened Niger’s Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani to warn against foreign meddling and military intervention in his country.
ECOWAS should heed the unsolicited advice of the coupists. Ideally, we should all be buying and selling democracy, but the brand of democracy on offer is a neo-colonial chain that tethers generations of Africans to French subjugation. Issuing an ultimatum to coupists at a time the generality of the people were dancing in celebration was a mistake. But the dispatch of Nigeria’s former head of state, General Abdulsalam Abubakar and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, to negotiate with the coupists was a step in the right direction.
Of course, ECOWAS cannot be seen to be supporting military coups, but then we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. Nigeria may be the big brother in Africa, but big brother also has his own big headaches. We have no business adding the domestic problems of our neighbours to our current basket of woes. If ECOWAS declares war on Niger, you can bet that most of the money and the men to wage the war will be provided by Nigeria. Considering that we have five states bordering Niger, namely Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa and Yobe, it will be a civil war of sorts. That will be a godsend to Boko Haram and the other terrorist organisations in the Sahel region.
Liberian President George Weah shares some wise words: “As long as ECOWAS tolerates institutional coups that allow lifetime presidencies, and fraudulent declaration of election results, manipulation of judicial announcements there will always be military coups. And we cannot condemn military coups when we do not condemn those who carry out institutional coups. ECOWAS should work for the interest of our peoples”.
What ECOWAS should do to help the sub-region is insist on the inviolability of the rule of law and good governance in all member states. Without good governance, the coup in Niger will not (Indeed, cannot) be the last.
I want us to look at the positive side of the undemocratic development in Niger. As big brothers, Isn’t this a good time to discuss with our Nigerien brothers and other West Africans how to kick out the French permanently by repudiating all unfair colonial economic ‘agreements’? Can’t we also seize the opportunity to encourage them to shun Putin and his Wagner dogs of war instead of replacing one monster with another? And isn’t it about time we built our regional common market, common defence force and ECO-currency to weld our economies and destinies together? And who says we must be puppets of either the East or the West? Why can’t we dare to be ourselves?
Let’s employ diplomacy with the Niger Republic instead of the present ‘gra-gra’. Aren’t you hearing a refrain of Fela’s ‘Palava’ in the background? “When trouble sleep yanga go wake am…”