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I would recommend a very robust diplomatic strategy that focuses on weakening the regime in Niger internally, to the extent that it stands down, but without losing face… The reported appointment, by President Bola Tinubu, of former Nigerian Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar, an experienced international mediator, and the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, to negotiate with the Niger junta is a step in the right direction
As a Nigerian citizen, I am concerned about the situation in Niger and its implications for our country. I would advise the government of Nigeria to be very cautious. Yes, Nigeria’s natural leadership role in West Africa means we can’t take a back seat in the unfolding crisis. But we are not well positioned now, internally, to drive a military intervention to restore democracy in Niger. That’s because we have great challenges at home at the moment. Our own security, democracy and economy are under threat. Foreign policy and power projection are best anchored on domestic strength and stability.
A military intervention in Niger would be resisted and considered by the new military junta there as an invasion and it may be backed by Russia/China, Mali and Burkina Faso. It could get very messy and protracted, despite how small and militarily weak Niger appears at first sight, in comparison to Nigeria and a combined ECOWAS military force. It could turn out like Russia’s invasion of “small” Ukraine or even (in the Nigerian internal context) former Head of State Yakubu Gowon’s “police action” in response to the Eastern Region’s declaration of secession as the Republic of Biafra in 1967. The Federal Government’s response was supposed to secure a military defeat of Biafra in a matter of weeks. However the reality was that of a full blown civil war that lasted two-and-a-half years, leaving three million people dead.
Can our economy carry the inevitable cost of an intervention in Niger? Or will it be financed through debt? Have we defeated Boko Haram and sundry other terrorists at home first? Given that Niger shares borders with Nigeria across seven states, the reality of potentially destabilising mass refugee movements into our country, not to talk of a possible “invasion” of Nigeria by terrorists from the Sahel region under the pretext of being refugees, are not distant possibilities in a scenario of military intervention in Niger by ECOWAS, which would actually be a Nigerian military-led operation.
Niger and the coup there, along with developments in other Sahel countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso, are part of a global power game of chess. It looks like a second scramble for Africa is taking place. In international relations, wise nations weigh their national interests side-by-side their collective multilateral obligations.
The “international community” is an aspirational phrase that hides the reality that world politics plays out in an “anarchical society” (apologies to the late Oxford University international relations scholar Hedley Bull) of nation-states each advancing its strategic interests via international cooperation in multilateral organisations. It is often the dining table at which African countries get eaten for lunch by the great and medium powers. If we had done the right things, Nigeria should have become a certified medium power like Turkey, Brazil or South Korea by now. A big population of 200 million mostly poor and long-misgoverned people is not the equivalent of a real “demographic power”. Altering this reality for the better is our number one priority. We must not become a pawn in a global power game that carries the risk of a further destabilisation of our already troubled country.
Every effort, economic and diplomatic, must be made to pressure the junta in Niger to return power to the democratically elected government. In consideration of our own national interest, a military intervention must be an absolutely last option for Nigeria, given our own present domestic fragility. These are not the days of our ECOMOG actions in Sierra Leone and Liberia, or even of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s successful threat of military intervention in São Tomé. We are weaker, and far less internally cohesive today, than in those years. The pains to Nigerians created by the inevitable removal of petrol/forex subsidies, and the threats of nationwide strikes by labour movements, make this an inauspicious time for foreign military adventures.
I would recommend a very robust diplomatic strategy that focuses on weakening the regime in Niger internally, to the extent that it stands down, but without losing face. This can only be based on Niger’s internal political, ethnic, economic and other factors, but it can be done. The reported appointment, by President Bola Tinubu, of former Nigerian Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar, an experienced international mediator, and the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, to negotiate with the Niger junta is a step in the right direction.
Of course, it’s quite possible that Nigeria and ECOWAS intervenes with soldiers and topples the Niger junta quickly. Nigeria’s “mojo” will be boosted. That’s an IF, however, and then only if Russia and the Wagner group of mercenaries (or China) do not militarily back the junta covertly. If no world power backs them, then it would be easier to restore democracy there. But that is what intelligence and diplomacy must ascertain, and prevent, for a military intervention to work.
The return of coups in Africa’s Sahel region is a legitimate concern, and the leaders of ECOWAS and the African Union should take a strong stand against the trend. But to counter the menace more effectively, we must address its root causes: the failures of several African countries to defeat terrorism and secure their territorial integrity, a reluctance to abide by the real ethos of democracy, and a failure to provide good, effective governance. These are the real points of departure.
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