By Owei Lakemfa
The new military rulers in Niger Republic, the country which marked independence day on Thursday, August 3, 2023 have a Sunday ultimatum from the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS. It is that they give up power and restore elected President Mohammed Bazoum to power or face serious measures, including possible invasion.
ECOWAS also imposed sanctions, including border closures, a no-fly zone and the freezing of Nigerien assets. The options seem to be that if former Presidential Guard head, General Abdourahamane Tchiani and his boys do not give up power by that day, ECOWAS would either add more sanctions and pressure, or invade Niger. The issues are, however, not as straight forward; there are many complications, including foreign interests.
As for war, you can only know its beginning, not how it will end; the logic of war is that it has no logic except death and destruction. For instance, ECOWAS can invade Niger only to also be faced by the armies of Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Algeria.
Nigerian soldiers can be sent into Niger, only to find out that they are essentially continuing France’s unholy wars of occupation, domination, exploitation, theft and assassination of uncooperative leaders in Africa.
The new leaders in Niger accuse France of planning to invade the country because they have asked French troops to leave the country. France has refused to either confirm or deny the allegation but it will be logical for France to want to hold on to Niger after its troops have been kicked out of Mali and Burkina Faso. Those expulsions leave France with only two major military bases: Niger and Chad. In comparison with these, the other French military bases in Africa such as Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Senegal and Gabon, are small.
While ECOWAS motives may be pure, its signals can sometimes be confusing. For instance, the envoy it sent to Niger is Chadian coup plotter, General Mahamat Idriss Deby from Chad, a country that is not even a member of ECOWAS. Mahamat was seven when his father, Idris Deby overthrew the Chadian government. In preparing Mahamat to take over the Chadian government, Deby made his son a General at 26. Deby transitioned into an ‘elected’ president with a constitution.
When he died on April 19, 2021, constitutionally, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Haroun Kabadi was to act as President for 40 days after which fresh elections were to be held. But Mahamat next day overthrew the government, sacked the executive, dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution. The international custodians of democracy generally gave a nod to the coup. France was more direct. Its Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said the coup was justified on the basis of security, adding that overthrowing democracy in Chad was acceptable as: “There are exceptional circumstances.”
Big Brother Nigeria also supported the Chadian coup. Its then Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Jideofor Onyeama, said Nigeria supported the coup because it does not want a power vacuum. Then Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari followed up by inviting Mahamat to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja where the young General in uniform with military boots thudding the floor, was given a red carpet. Buhari assured him: “We will help you in all ways we can.”
So, what is the logic in anti-coup ECOWAS sending a coup plotter to meet a fellow coup plotter in neigbouring Niger? Is it to set a thief to catch a thief or in the hope that General Mahamat would take advantage of esprit de corps to persuade the Nigerien military to restore constitutional rule; the very thing he has for two years refused to do in Chad? The reason why the Chadian military would not allow democracy of the ballot box is because it is controlled by a tiny ethnic group, the Zaghawa or Beri, which is one per cent of the population but has been in power for the past 33 years.
While the motives of ECOWAS might be pure, those of some of its leaders at the meeting may not be. For instance, President Alassane Dramane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire whose dedication to France is not in doubt, is in his third term in office when the country’s constitution provides for a maximum two terms.
Another ECOWAS leader is Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe who has been in power for 18 years now. When his father, former Sergeant Gnassingbe Eyadema died on February 5, 2005 after 37 years in power, Faure overthrew the elected Togolese government.
He was in power for 20 days before installing a puppet, Bonfoh Abass in office for 68 days, after which he returned to power. Can the son of a coup plotter, and a coup plotter in his own right, really be against coups?
Those who advocate the immediate invasion of Niger may be oblivious of the fact that President Bazoum, his family and some officials of the Niger administration are being held by the coup plotters; or would they be mere collateral damage?
In my analysis, were there to be an invasion, Nigeria will play a lead role. Yet, its military is bogged down by secessionist violence in the South-East, terrorists in the North-East, armed militia storming through the Middle Belt and bandits rampaging throughout the country, especially in Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara and Niger states. So, would it be wise to pull out troops from this same military and send them into Niger with which we share a 1,000-kilometre border?
In any case, should an heavily indebted Nigeria, unable to maintain vital subsidies for its populace, spend resources sending and maintaining troops in a foreign country? If the money comes from other countries, at what costs and what guarantees? On the other hand, the invasion of Niger can be sourced to Chad, whose French-backed military is essentially mercenary which has fought in countries like Mali and the Central African Republic, and can source troops from its Zaghawa kith and kin in Darfur, Sudan.
Also, before we invade Niger, let us think through some basic facts. First, the coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are said to be in response to Islamic jihadist movements. These terrorist movements have their ancestry in the Mujahedeen created by the Unites States and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda grew out of that Mujahdeen.
Then the West with its Gulf allies created the Islamic State, ISIS, which spilled out of control, spreading terrorism to various countries, including Mali where the Nigeria Boko Haram members were trained, financed and armed. Yet, another vital link. The West bombed Ghadafi and his government out of existence turning Libya not just into a basket case, but also the source of free arms and itinerant terrorists.
Before we invade Niger, let us pause and think. Dacor (Okay?)