Nigerians have opposed the decision of West African governments under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to mobilise a coalition of military troops for a possible invasion of member-nation Niger.
On July 26, Nigerien soldiers unseated the country’s elected president, Mohamed Bazoum and held him hostage. Two days after the military takeover, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the commander of the Nigerien presidential guard, named himself as the new leader.
The coup generated tensions between Niger’s new military regime and neighbouring nations.
Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, who also chairs ECOWAS, condemned the coup and called for the immediate release of the detained Bazoum “without any condition”.
President Tinubu conveyed the resolve of West African leaders to defend democracy in Niger. “The ECOWAS leadership will not accept any action that impedes the smooth functioning of legitimate authority in Niger or any part of West Africa,” the Nigerian President said in a statement, July 26, hours after news of the coup made headlines.
ECOWAS subsequently imposed harsh sanctions against Niger, including a no-fly zone and border closures. It also gave the Tchiani-led military government a one-week ultimatum to reinstate Bazoum, by August 6, or risk military intervention. To further mount pressure on the coup leaders, Nigeria, which supplies 70 per cent of Niger’s electricity, cut off the power supply, plunging the nation into darkness.
Yet, General Tchiani refused to bow to pressure.
In a televised address on August 2, the self-appointed new leader of Niger described the ECOWAS-issued sanctions as “illegal, unfair, inhuman and unprecedented.” He went ahead to say that the junta “rejects these sanctions altogether and refuses to give in to any threats, wherever they come from. We refuse any interference in the internal affairs of Niger”.
With the expiration of the seven-day ultimatum last Sunday and the defiance of the coup plotters, the leaders of ECOWAS’ member-states met in Abuja on August 10 to chart a clear path out of the crisis in Niger. They resolved to “activate the ECOWAS Standby Force with all its elements immediately”, should the calls for a peaceful restoration of democracy continue to be ignored and no action to that effect taken by the Nigerien junta.
However, the decision of the regional leaders does not sit well with many Nigerians.
Nigeria’s lawmaker Orji Uzor Kalu said via a tweet that “Fighting a war in Niger Republic is not necessary as no one is sure of the sponsors and how it would end.” Kalu added: “Niger Republic is at our backyard and Nigeria should not join ECOWAS’ plan of military invasion…No Nigerian soldier deserves to die in another country because of war.”
The Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, Middle Belt Forum, MBF, and the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, who have all waded into the matter favoured non-military and diplomatic measures.
Archbishop Daniel Okoh, the President of CAN, in a statement issued August 10, urged “His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to remain on the path of dialogue and avoid any form of military intervention or measures that would create enmity between the good people of Nigeria and Niger.”
“We believe that peaceful resolution of conflict is vital for the progress and well-being of our nations and our people,” Archbishop Okoh stressed.
CNG, in a statement by its spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, warned against “unnecessary escalation of the situation by the unsolicited intervention of the international community and other dubious foreign interests.”
The group also called “on the leaders of the coup in the Niger Republic to discard their rigid stance and unhelpful show of bravado and embrace all diplomatic overtures in order to reach a peaceful and bloodless resolution of the matter, keeping in mind that threats and conflicts have very little or no utility value.”
The MBF, on its own, asked President Tinubu “to tread carefully.”
“The present times call for caution and statesmanship in dealing with the little smoke of insurrection blowing across the Niger Republic,” Isuwa Dogo, MBF’s national publicity secretary said in a statement.
“Understanding the intricate relationship between Niger and Nigeria makes it imperative for President Tinubu and ECOWAS to tread carefully. As it stands, Nigeria should never allow itself to plunge into an avoidable war.”
Meanwhile, the African Union, European Union and the United States government have backed ECOWAS’ efforts to push the coup leaders to relinquish power and free Bazoum.
While it is unclear when the military troops will be deployed and which member-states of ECOWAS will participate in the intervention, Niger’s junta have threatened to kill deposed President Bazoum if neighbouring countries attempted any military intervention to restore his rule, Associated Press, AP, reports.