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Monday, May 27, 2024

Niger Coup: Time To Prioritise Diplomacy Over Guns (2)

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

Today, we conclude the two-part commentary on the recent coup d’état in Niger and the unfolding drama, reverberations, complications and implications there.

As I write this, there is news that ECOWAS has mobilised regional troops for the invasion of Niger, any moment from now.

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

And what too about the constitutional coups that enable sit-tight incumbents to routinely assault the constitutions of their respective countries in order to elongate their presidential tenures i.e. the illegal constitutional amendments that remove term limits, thus paving the way for the untenured rule of political dinosaurs?

Among AU, but particularly ECOWAS- member-states, are beneficiaries of these varieties of coups – be they military, institutional/electoral or constitutional. And they sit in judgement over the Nigerien coupists!

To execute one form of coup successfully against the people and turn round to accuse the successful executors of another form of coup is patently dishonest, to say the least.

Coup-makers may have a different code of ethics – it’s possible. However, among ordinary thieves, there is something called Honour: it undergirds the umbilicus known generally in professional circles as esprit de corps!

So, why will Nigeria go to Niger to fight a proxy war for France and the US (read NATO)? This is a question that the Federal Government will do well to answer. But there are many more.

Hasn’t France’s name been whispered, even if occasionally, in connection with some of the foreign interests allegedly funding the intractable Boko Haram menace in Nigeria’s North-East? Is it amnesia that makes us stoically mask our displeasure and drives us to want to fight a costly war on her behalf, so she may recover her lost uranium market?

Right now, the Tinubu-led APC government has removed subsidies on petroleum products. And expectedly, the policy has triggered waves of pain and suffering across the country.

The government’s response has been a dubious call for “sacrifice” and “understanding.” And I call it dubious with every sense of responsibility. Let’s look at this.

On July 3, 2023, the President, most insensitively, stormed Lagos state, in a grand homecoming, with a convoy that ran into nearly a hundred vehicles, mostly fuel-guzzling SUVs! With fuel above N500 per litre, we can do the Math and gauge the sympathy/empathy level of the government.

As the convoy sped past the paved roads, the VIPs pretended not to see the thousands of sun-baked or rain-soaked Lagosians trekking and trudging in the sun: hapless, helpless and hopeless!

This was because the ill-thought-out policy of subsidy removal has triggered astronomical fare-hikes; and Nigerians, impoverished by nearly a decade of APC’s stultifying economics, have taken to trekking as an alternative means of transportation.

Furthermore, the President has just announced a bloated 48-member cabinet in this recessed economy. This is besides the legion of presidential aides whose numbers will keep escalating.

The advertised essence of the subsidy removal is to save Trillions of Naira for development. Does the APC-Federal Government now plan to fritter away the subsidy savings/accruals on a needless war in Niger, knowing from precedent that Nigeria will bear the war-burden almost exclusively?

If Niger is so strategic to France or even the US, why won’t they commit their citizens, who are already on the ground there, to do the fighting? After all, the US, for instance, has travelled half across the world to protect democracy and her strategic interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, Viet-Nam, Korea etc. Or are their citizens now too precious for battle just because African leaders are willing to blight the flower of their youth on the twin-altars of crooked politics and cannibal capitalism?

And since the cost of this proxy war was not appropriated for – is the APC planning to take new loans so as to enable it to prosecute this war?

Well, thankfully, the National Assembly has differed with the President and his advisers on the military option, preferring diplomacy. Other eminent Nigerians like Alh. Atiku Abubakar, the PDP Presidential Candidate; the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Mohammad Sa’ad Abubakar III and other stakeholders have all sided with the Senate.

Virtually everyone, outside ECOWAS as well as France and the US, nobody wants a military intervention in Niger. With this, if the Federal Government does not back down, there must be something of strategic importance about the military expedition that we have not yet been told. And Nigerians deserve to know.

All said and done, the lessons have been learned, hopefully. The quick seven-day ultimatum to the coupists was ill-advised. Mr President may be versed in diplomacy, but on that day when diplomacy was in demand, he did not speak the language of diplomacy. He got it wrong.

How Nigerians wish their Commander-in-Chief had shown leadership and given the same ultimatum to Boko Haram terrorists, killer herdsmen and the blood-thirsty bandits that have made life hellish for Nigerians, especially in states like Benue, Plateau, Kaduna and Zamfara which continue to bleed and bury the dead.

Insecurity is a big challenge in much of the West-African sub-region: Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ghana, Togo, Benin etc are all victims.

Would it not have been comforting if the President had, upon the assumption of office, summoned a meeting of security chiefs in the bloc to brainstorm ways of collectively ridding the region of all forms of terrorism, including associated banditry, piracy, kidnappings, human trafficking etc?

It does not speak too well of the government and its vision that when it assembled ECOWAS defence chiefs – it was not to deliberate on collectively combating criminality in the region, but to plan the invasion of a friendly member-state and at the speculated behest of a foreign power!

This is a diplomatic fiasco. And we must not elevate it to a military disaster. Many Nigerians believe the President could have done better with more quality advice.

They believe if the President had the full complement of a cabinet by now, with the Defence Minister, National Security Adviser and the National Security Council offering him quality options/alternatives, he would not box himself into such a tight corner.

For sure, he would not give a hasty ultimatum to heady coup plotters or threaten radical generals with a military invasion – no matter the motivations or actuations! Even if such options were on the table – they would be under wraps while diplomatic efforts drove the process.

As it is, just as in the case of subsidy removal, the President was ill-advised to put the cart before the horse – he issued his ultimatums before sending a high-powered delegation to hold dialogue with the putschists.

Had the President’s handlers been more thorough, he would have acted with more foresight and circumspection; thus, sparing our respected national assets the indignity lavishly visited upon them by Nigerien generals in Niamey.
It is, therefore, time to thrash the military measure and concentrate on the diplomatic and political options. Ultimately, Niger will sort herself out. As of now, the coup is an internal affair; we will only escalate and internationalise it with our ill-advised and ill-fated intervention.

The President, as ECOWAS Chairman, should, as a matter of urgency, call for an Extra-Ordinary Meeting of the regional leaders here in Abuja. Top on the agenda should be free passage for the deposed president and his family. Next should be a constructive engagement with Niger’s new leaders about a workable transition programme so that Niger returns to constitutional rule within the shortest possible time.

The earlier the emergency meeting holds, the better so that the cleavages within the bloc don’t widen beyond what it now obtains. If Nigeria means to save ECOWAS, it must stop its bullying attitude.

The young revolutionaries can still be on the same page with Nigeria and ECOWAS, but it cannot be via bullying, intimidation and arm-twisting as in the case of sanctions, including power cuts.

Gen. (Dr.) Yakubu Gowon is still alive. He may be the last surviving Founding Father of ECOWAS. He, himself, survived a military coup and went on to live his life to the full. Jack Gowon is living proof that there is life after power, even for one displaced from the palace via a military coup.

If he is strong enough and willing, let the President make him a special envoy, first to Niamey, and then to Bamako, Ouagadougou, Conakry etc. ECOWAS must not die or splinter into factions under your watch.

Already, what may be termed a Coup Belt has taken shape in the continent, starting with Guinea from the Sahel all the way to Sudan in the East. With ECOWAS sharply divided, if the President does not move fast enough to save the regional bloc, the Coup Belt may form another alliance and begin to scout for revolutionary members!

With Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger annulling decades-old treaties and Wagner (read Russia) casting lustful glances in the direction, nothing is impossible. We don’t really want the Wagner Group so close.

President Tinubu, the time for the right action is now. The window is closing. And tomorrow may be too late.

By Simon Imobo-Tswam

Mr. Imobo-Tsawam is a public affairs commentator, from Abuja. He can be reached via Simonpita2008@gmail.com

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