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Niger coup: Beyond military interventions by ECOWAS

LEADERS of West African countries rose from a meeting last Thursday in Abuja reaffirming sanctions taken against Niger Republic and the coup leaders following the sacking on July 26, 2023, of the democratic government in that country. They also insisted on military intervention to restore democratic government if the coupists remained adamant. 

They doubled down on their earlier resolution after reviewing happenings since penultimate Sunday when the one-week ultimatum issued to the junta lapsed. Their reason is that all diplomatic efforts made by ECOWAS in resolving the crisis have met a brick wall mounted by the military adventurers led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani.

To show determination, leaders of the sub-regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), directed the Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff to immediately activate the sub-regional standby force. They also ordered the deployment of the standby force to restore constitutional order in Niger. So far, the junta has remained defiant and still holding the deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, hostage. Tchiani had rebuffed official delegations from Nigeria, ECOWAS, the African Union, the United States of America, and the United Nations, but is now said to have agreed to talk.

Already, some member states have started enforcement of agreed sanctions including border closures, strict travel bans, and asset freeze on all persons or groups of individuals whose actions hinder peaceful efforts aimed at ensuring the smooth and complete restoration of constitutional order in that country.

Although the coup in Niger has been roundly condemned across Africa and some Western countries, the option of military intervention in the severely impoverished Sahel country does not seem to be popular among the ordinary folks, civil society organizations, ethnic cleavages, and religious organizations across the region who point to wider implications, including impending refugee challenges and straining of age-long political and cultural ties among the citizens and governments of ECOWAS members countries. 

Calls have been made to the Nigerian government in particular to tread softly on the military expedition given the historical, political, economic and religious ties between both countries built over centuries, and particularly because of shared common boundaries in a zone already seized with security challenges. The Nigerian Senate promptly denied the president the authority to deploy troops for the planned mission. Because of a series of opposition at home, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu urged ECOWAS to prioritise diplomatic overtures in dealing with the situation in Niger.

However, insisting on military intervention should diplomatic efforts fail in restoring democracy in the otherwise rich but poor country, leaders of the sub-region might be seeking to stem the wave of military incursions into political governance and the gradual relegation of democracy in countries within the region, particularly along its northern borders. Already, the new wave has almost divided the region into northern and sub-Sahara zones with Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso blazing the trail. 

Naija Times does not also think ECOWAS should be quick in deploying troops in Mali because of the obvious implications should the junta remain adamant and the situation escalates into a full-blown regional conflagration, especially given the posture of other neighbouring countries that are opposed to military action. Some have backed out of the sanctions while some have kept their borders open in defiance of the ECOWAS resolution. 

Beyond the recent situation in Niger and the move to arrest further spread of the coup virus in the region, there are some critical issues that the regional body should ponder over if a long-term solution is to be achieved. The first should be why military coup has suddenly become popular in the region. It should find out the trigger and deal with it otherwise the situation might continue and the region may eventually run out of enforcement steam.

There is also the need to find out why former French colonies are rebelling against France. Could it be as a result of the impact of the strangulating treaties they entered into with the colonial master or the interests by other powerful countries in its economic assets? Most importantly, the regional body should unravel why all the countries currently ruled by the military are contiguous to one another. In Niger specifically, could Bazoum’s brand of politics have been responsible for his ouster. He is from the minority Arab tribe and had reportedly declined to run an inclusive government to the chagrin of the majority Fulani, Zabarama and Hausa tribes, as well as the other minority groups.

Questions are also being asked why the sub-regional body did not intervene in the case of Mali and Burkina Faso that preceded the Niger incident; and why Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Chad swiftly opposed military intervention in the Nigerien situation. ECOWAS should seek to answer these questions.

The body has been severally advised to beware of fighting a proxy war for imperialists and neo-colonialists with vested interests in the troubled zone. Could it be a power game over uranium by Russia, the United States and France? It should interrogate why African Union, the USA and the UN including its security council, were not proactive about the happenings in the region but are now quick to endorse ECOWAS planned action. ECOWAS must also find out why China and Russia have remained largely silent, except for a recent warning from the latter against military intervention in the Niger crisis. 

Caution has been recommended from several quarters, including governors of Nigerian states sharing a common border with Niger, against hurried military action by ECOWAS as failure might signal not just the disintegration of the sub-regional body but an escalation of insecurity and refugee challenges in sub-Sahara Africa. With the closure of the common border between Nigeria and Niger and the imposition of sanctions, the joint border security with the two countries has been imperilled. This has the tendency of escalating the Boko Haram insurgency, AQIM terrorism in the Sahel zone and refugee/IDP situation in the sub-region.

On the economic front, the suspension of aid and technical assistance by many foreign countries and the World Bank might hurt Niger in the short term but Nigeria stands to lose on some strategic agreements and investments. Energy security is threatened, as cutting off power in Niger by Nigeria could result in the former sabotaging power generation along the River Niger channel. The Nigeria-Morocco-Europe gas pipeline is also threatened as well as the trans-African rail project with the Kano-Maradi rail project. The action of the junta in blocking Niger’s airspace is already having a serious impact on aviation security regionally, continentally and internationally. 

Furthermore, the situation is likely to affect food supply and road transportation, and in the process perpetuate trade crisis as more than 1000 trucks with goods worth more than N350 million are currently stranded at the border between Nigeria and Niger. It is a sure recipe for serious economic crisis. More so, Nigeria’s fragile economy at the moment cannot support an external war as the country is currency battling internal insurgency and violent crimes.  

Par-adventure ECOWAS proceeds with its military agenda Nigeria is likely to bear the brunt of almost solely funding the expedition and battling the containment of the fallouts. That is why Nigeria must be very careful in pushing and, or leading a military intervention. As President Tinubu rightly suggested, ECOWAS must prioritise diplomatic negotiations and dialogue as the bedrock of its approach to the Nigerien debacle while pursuing its desire for democracy, human rights and the well-being of the people of the troubled Niger Republic and the ECOWAS sub-region. This is more so as the leaders of the junta are said to be disposed to dialogue.  

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