Niger Coup: Time To Prioritise Diplomacy Over Guns (1)


By Adadareporters

“The agreements between the States of West Africa do not authorise military intervention to restore a regime or organise a counter-coup.” – Blaise Compaore.

Slightly over a week ago, i.e. on July 26, the Presidential Guard in the Niger Republic swiftly and successfully staged a coup, removing President Mohammed Bazoum from office. The latter was replaced by the Head of the Guard, Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, a day or two later. Simple, you may say, except that sometimes, simple comes with complications.

In a normal coup situation that we are all familiar with, mutinous soldiers seize the head of government or kill him in the small hours; they proceed to make a national broadcast upon daybreak, explaining why they struck; they then suspend the constitution, dissolve parliament, ban political parties, shut radio/TV stations as well as close all the airspace and all the land/sea borders. Then, after a few days of consolidation, the coup leaders form a government and re-open the land/sea borders plus the airspace and Radio/TV stations. Life, thereafter, returns to normal.

Although Niger is not new to coups, having witnessed five coups before, the latest coup there has some complications and reverberations.

Like the Nigerien coup of April 6, 1999, Bazoum was toppled by the Presidential Guard, headed then by Major Daouda Malam Wanke, who proceeded to take over. But where incumbent President Ibrahim Mainasara was gunned down, Bazoum escaped death and has only been detained. And while even countries opposed to the coup are usually diplomatic in their opposition, the anti-coup rhetoric, in this case, has been loud and fierce.

There has also been the threat of a military invasion if the putschists fail to restore President Bazoum to power in seven days! That’s from Nigeria/ECOWAS.

This has a parallel with the Sierra Leonian coup of May 25, 1997, led by Major Johnny Paul Koroma. The coup toppled the elected government of Ahmed Tejan Kabah. And when Koroma and co did not heed the one-week ultimatum by Gen. Sani Abacha, Nigeria unilaterally began shelling Freetown on June 2, 1997.

As we read this, a military option is on the table in order to force the Gen. Tchiani-led junta to restore Bazoum to power – the ultimatum given to the coupists having elapsed on Sunday.

It is strange indeed that President Bola Tinubu (current ECOWAS Chairman), who was then a pro-democracy activist and was hounded out of Nigeria by Gen. Sani Abacha (ECOWAS Chairman then), is today, using the general’s same template in Niger!

The only difference is that where Abacha consulted his counterparts only when the mission ran into troubled waters, Tinubu started with consultations. However, both the times and the dynamics are different. For example, as a maximum dictator, Gen. Abacha owed Nigerians no explanation. The economy was robust. Plus, there were no super-power shadows hanging over Sierra Leone in 1997.

This was why, even though ECOMOG (which gave ECOWAS muscle) had its drawbacks, no one doubted its indigenous motivations as a home-grown solution to an indigenous problem.

The same cannot be said of this looming catastrophe. The ECOWAS of 2023 is not the ECOWAS of 1975, 1990 or even 1997 when Nigeria could throw her weight around as the swashbuckling “Giant of Africa.”

For starters, Nigeria suffers no loss in the coup in her Northern neighbour, Niger. It is France that suffers losses: halted Uranium exports, loss of face, annulled treaties, diminished sphere of influence etc.

In a case of history repeating itself, national pride and Uranium are at the centre of the latest coup…just as was the case nearly 50 years ago when the Independence Leader, Hamani Diori, was toppled. That was on 15th April 1974, and the soldiers were led by Col. Seyni Kountche.

There were abiding whispers that the coup was an instance of the French, who resented Diori’s assertiveness and his refusal to grant French firms unhindered access to Niger’s vast Uranium wealth. Whether it’s 1974 or 2023, Uranium has remained a troubling constant.

To France, we can add the United States. Both countries ostensibly want to be seen as combating terrorist groups in the Sahel, but they are obviously safeguarding NATO’s strategic interests in the area – their common enemy being the upbeat Russian Bear.

But both France and the US have active military bases there in Niger. So, why won’t France and the US use their soldiers there to restore a preferred puppet to power and, in so doing, reconnect the rudely ruptured parasitic cord?

Why will Nigeria be reportedly recruited to mobilise Africans to fight a battle for neo-colonial France and imperialist NATO? Why will Nigeria be drawn into a Francophone feud, on the one hand, and super-power rivalry, on the other hand, without any strategic interest – be it political, geo-political, economic or diplomatic? What is Nigeria’s strategic interest in Niger that the coup there has threatened?

It may appear bizarre, but under the immediate-past APC government of President Muhammadu Buhari, Niger Republic became the centre-piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy.

With an obsession with all things Niger, the Buhari government spent billions of Dollars constructing roads and railways to Niger, even at the expense of some communities in Nigeria. The question now is: Why will a succeeding APC government, which has willingly pledged itself to Continuity, wish to go back there and start destroying the very infrastructure we built? Why?

Nigeriens have identified with the APC in the past, especially in the presidential elections. Is this how the APC plans to repay the multi-purpose goodwill of the Nigerien people?

ECOWAS is an economic grouping; and not a political union like the European Union (EU). So, how has a change of government in Niger affected our trade or economic relations with that landlocked country? Did the putschists threaten to pull Niger out of ECOWAS? Did the junta close our embassy in Niamey? And is the new government harassing Nigerians living in Niger?

If one is not mistaken, both the AU and ECOWAS operate on the protocols of non-interference in the internal affairs of member-states. Do the continental and regional protocols now permit interference in the internal affairs of other member-states, including military intervention?

If so, then the AU or ECOWAS forgot or failed to militarily intervene in Egypt, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad and Sudan as the case may be when their soldiers seized power. This could be grounds to charge the continental and regional bodies with such sins as dereliction of duty, partiality, favouritism, cherry-picking, selective indignation or somnambulism.

If not, why Niger? Is it the case of Nigeria/ECOWAS hitting on soft targets or is it because Niger is a very poor country, with small military budgets and a correspondingly small army? If not, what differentiates the coup in Niger from those in countries like Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea etc?

Or, is the planned military mission President Tinubu’s ploy to seek Western validation and shore up his legitimacy? Or is it, as it’s being rumoured in some places, an attempt to distract attention from domestic challenges or even create the basis to declare a state of emergency here; thereby aborting the ongoing judicial/democratic process?

My imagination cannot run so wild, but I find it stupefying that a government suffering from a gross legitimacy crisis, and one that is further challenged on the security, political and economic fronts, can be prioritising the invasion of a non-hostile neighbour instead of putting its house in order first.

Now, unforeseen complications are developing. In the North, many Nigerians see Niger as an extension of Northern Nigeria, with kith and kin strewn across the border. Declaring war on Niger is, invariably, declaring war on the Hausas, the Fulanis, Kanuris etc across the border.

And outside Nigeria, some member-states like Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso are singing a different tune from Camp Nigeria. In fact, Guinea has not only sided with the new rulers in Niamey, but it has also pejoratively advised ECOWAS to “come to its senses!”

Chad, itself under the military, has objected to a military solution. Already, Algeria, which shares the longest border with Niger, has voiced her objection to a military solution.

So, President Tinubu’s hasty military threat has succeeded in doing only one thing, i.e. bringing the sharp cleavages in the regional bloc to the fore. And it does not look like there will be diplomatic support from Egypt, Libya or Sudan for obvious reasons.

President Abdel Fattah el Sisi himself came to power via a military coup; Libya has no central government to deal with or lobby for support; and Sudan is seriously haemorrhaging from the unforeseen fallouts of a coup inside a coup. It does not get messier.

People are asking many questions, but they are not getting ready answers. For instance, if a coup is the sudden, illegal and irregular seizure of power or the retention of same via undemocratic tactics, why is the Nigeria-led ECOWAS only concerned about military coups?

And what about the institutional/electoral coups that deodorise criminality and legitimise vote fraud, thereby facilitating the rise and rule of minority parties?

(To be continued).

Written by Imobo-Tswam, a public affairs analyst, from Abuja.


Adadainfo is an online newspaper reporting Nigerian news. Email: Phone: 08071790941

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