Saturday, 2nd December 2023

Niger: The sounds, the signals and the noises

By Tim Akano
12 August 2023   |   3:45 am
Ask President Barack Obama, he will confirm to you: ultimatums are serious business. Obama got his fingers burnt in Syria, causing the scar on his index finger to become raised and lumpy. The noun ultimatum has Latin roots meaning “final”. Despite ECOWAS’s “final” warning, Abdourahamane Tichiani remains the President of the National Council for the…

ECOWAS Chiefs of Defense Staff after their meeting in Abuja recently

Ask President Barack Obama, he will confirm to you: ultimatums are serious business. Obama got his fingers burnt in Syria, causing the scar on his index finger to become raised and lumpy.

The noun ultimatum has Latin roots meaning “final”. Despite ECOWAS’s “final” warning, Abdourahamane Tichiani remains the President of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), a military junta established following a coup that overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, 2023.

ECOWAS, no, sorry, Nigeria, is in the midst of the blackest storm: scary sounds, conflicting signals and disturbing noises. Sounds are used to communicate, warn, navigate and entertain, while signal is the meaningful information that a country or an organisation is actually trying to detect, but noise, on the other hand, is the random, unwanted or unpleasant sound that interferes with the signals. Therefore, all noises are sounds but not all sounds are noises. Moreover, signals can be sound and it can also be noise.

Success in foreign policy, therefore, to a considerable extent, depends on critical thinking and analytical capacity of the leaders to separate the noises from the sounds to receive accurate signals that will shape foreign policy choices. This requires scientific knowledge, know-how, experience, serenity and self-knowledge; all these seem to be missing in the way ECOWAS and Nigeria are handling the Niger republic imbroglio.

ECOWAS didn’t take into cognisance before issuing her ultimatum the signal-to-noise ratio vis-a-vis the sound-to-noise ratio in Niger republic.

Now that the information ecosystem has been corrupted with misinformation, disinformation and irrelevant information, accurate thinking is more difficult. And any decision arrived at based on ego, gut feeling and external inducement rather than considered thought and data-driven is fraught with a welter of crises.

At this juncture, let us make a short excursion to the forest of facts and data in order to seek the truth.

Truth 1: There is no intelligent reason for the Nigeria-led ECOWAS to have issued a military threat and a seven-day ultimatum to a sovereign country, when Nigeria’s and ECOWAS core interests were not significantly threatened by the junta that uprooted democracy next door. Niger has no military pact with ECOWAS but it does with France. Therefore, Niger is more of France’s headache than Nigeria’s. However, instead of France swallowing Panadol for her headache, France seemed to have hypnotised Nigeria (no be juju be that!) to take the Panadol on her behalf.

Meanwhile, the umbrella body that joins Niger and Nigeria together is economic (ECOWAS) and not military (MCOWAS). Besides, Niger is an independent country under two authorities only: God and France! Assuming the National Assembly approved the C-in-C request for kinetic action against Niger, which law or authority would Nigeria have invoked to justify its invasion of Niger republic? UN? ECOWAS? Nigeria? France? Or who? Whereas under the 11 Colonial Agreements between Niger and France, there was nothing for Nigeria and everything for France.

Coup leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani (middle) receiving cheers from supporters as thousands gather in Niger’s capital to say NO to foreign intervention aimed at toppling the country’s new military junta…yesterday.

Agreement one says: France has the exclusive right to deploy troops and intervene militarily to defend its interests in Niger. Two, priority rights to French interests and companies in public procurement and public tenders. Three, France owns the right of first refusal on any natural resources discovered in Niger. Four, exclusive right to provide military equipment and train military officers of the Niger republic. Five, Niger to renounce any military alliance with other countries unless authorised by France in writing. Six, Niger has the obligation to ally with France in the event of war or global crises, and seven, the obligation to use French CFA FRANC in Niger as a national currency.

Against the above background, a Nigeria-led ECOWAS kinetic action in Niger republic will lead to the balkanisation of ECOWAS, wholesale ruination of Nigeria’s malnourished economy, provide justification for the murderous Wagner Group to distract Nigeria by instigating a civil war. Besides, it will lead to complications in Nigeria’s international relations with Russia and China.

Truth 2: No country invades another country on behalf of another country without doing a cost-benefit analysis. Case study: Israel’s invasion of the Suez Canal at the instance of Britain and France. In 1956, both France and Britain had a beef with Egypt. They approached Israel, a sworn enemy of Egypt, to start a fight with Egypt. On October 29, 1956, Israel initiated the hostilities when it invaded Gaza and the Sinai, then on October 30, Israel moved to the Suez Canal zone. Israel ignored the UN/U.S. ultimatum while the British and French troops were busy trying to take control of the Canal Zone. Lessons: All the four major actors in the Suez Canal war had a clear core interest to protect or project or an IoU to settle.

For instance, the war marked the dramatic end of British and French influence in the region; America emerged as the most influential power in the Middle East from then till today. On the part of Israel, she needed technical support from France (which she got) in building her secret nuclear capability without which Israel’s antagonistic neighbouring countries would not have allowed her to settle down to build her nation in peace. Even then, the same France still turned against Israel from the 1970s.

Chairperson of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (L) interacts with President of ECOWAS Commission Omar Touray (R), during the ECOWAS Head of States and Government extraordinary session in Abuja, on August 10, 2023. West African leaders came together Thursday for an emergency summit on the coup in Niger, whose new military rulers have defied an ultimatum — backed by the threat of force — to restore the elected president and pressed ahead with appointing a new government. (Photo by KOLA SULAIMON / AFP)

Now, back to Nigeria and Niger: What are the benefits of the proposed invasion of Niger to Nigeria vis-à-vis the cost? What has France and America and EU promised Nigeria in exchange for the blood of the Nigeria military officers that would have been wasted? What is Nigeria’s exit plan? What is the measure of success?

Truth 3: Don’t draw a red line when you don’t intend to enforce it or when you lack power to enforce it if and when the red line is crossed. Case study: Syria civil war. In 2012, President Obama in his melodious, sonorous voice declared on CNN: “The use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces would be crossing a ‘red line’ requiring American military intervention.” Exactly a year later in 2013, President Bashar Assad did just that, firing rockets filled with sarin gas into towns around Damascus, killing an estimated 1,400 civilians – mostly children and women.

On September 10, 2013, President Obama in his national broadcast sorrowfully made a passionate appeal on why U.S. intervention would be in the best interest of the nation and the world. “If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons… over time our troops would again face the prospect of chemical weapons on the battle field.”

The Senate, including members of his party, was not sold to military intervention. Obama quietly backed down; he blinked first. Russia saw the lacuna; the maverick President Putin, who was too eager to flex his muscle globally, took advantage of Obama’s weakness and became a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East till today.

America’s influence in the Middle East has been dwindling ever since while Russia keeps rising. President Assad is still in power while Obama’s presidency is history. History is a bitch; we must not allow it to repeat itself in ECOWAS, Nigeria and BAT’s presidency!

Truth 4: Eighty per cent of past invasions were commercially oriented. Case study: America in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was no weapon of mass destruction anywhere in those two countries; they were 100 per cent commercial wars over the control of oil and uranium, sponsored by America Military Industrial Complex (MIC). Britain, France, Portugal and Italy invasions of Africa and Asia were all motivated by commerce, not altruistic. Here are the economic facts about Niger: She is at the bottom of the class regarding poverty index with a GDP of about $15 billion in 2022, GDP per capita of $545, 75 per cent of the total export of Niger is uranium, and others include gold, onion, beans and meat.

Niger’s three major export partners are: France (about 60 per cent), U.S., and Switzerland. In 2021, Nigeria’s export to Niger was $180 million, while Niger exports was $56.8 million. About 50 per cent of Niger citizens are categorised as multidimensional poor. Regarding Niger’s import trading partners, the top three are: China, France, and India. The long and short of it is that, economically speaking, it does not make sense for Nigeria to dabble into the internal affairs of Niger. At the same time, it is also not in the strategic interest of Nigeria for Niger to go up in flames because of the refugees’ problems.

Sixty two per cent of the citizens of Niger are Hausa/Fulani; while 55.4 per cent speak Hausa, 8.5 per cent speak Fulfulde. Therefore, if Niger implodes, the population of North West and North East will swell by nothing less than 10 million people, which will dangerously further alter the already problematic Nigeria demographics composition.

Truth 5: A leopard can’t change its spots.  France kidnapped ‘Eco Currency’, which was supposed to be the West Africa single/common currency. Case study: In a big economic club like the European Union, the big elephant in the room (Germany) always benefits most. France robbed Nigeria of reaping the full benefits of ECOWAS. Here’s why:  On December 21, 2019, France through her placeholder, the most loyal poodle in West Africa, Alasane Quattara, the Ivory Coast president kidnapped the West Africa currency that was to be launched in 2020 for the 15 countries.

In his press conference in Abidjan, President Macron and Quattara announced that the eight francophone West Africa countries using CFA Franc currency would adopt ECO as their new currency in 2020. The announcement was made on the day ECOWAS was meeting for the final adoption of ECO currency for the entire 15 ECOWAS countries against 2020. The French coup broke the 30-year old struggle by ECOWAS to have a single/common currency to promote intra West Africa trade. France pulled the rug off Nigeria’s feet by taking over the responsibility of establishing and equally printing the new currency. France was to attach the ECO to Euro, aligning it with her colonial exploitative interest. Nigeria lost a big opportunity with the death of ECO under France’s custody. Twice beaten! Nigeria can only trust France at her own peril.

Truth 6: Imperialism, not democracy, drives the West in all their invasions. Case studies: America, UK and France. There are dozens of countries that reject western democracy yet they are best friends of the West: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. Moreover, America was involved in overthrowing regimes in the Philippines, Korea, East China, Africa and parts of Europe. All America’s invasions were influenced sorely by her core interest and not democracy. France had sponsored more coups in Africa than any other country. The question is: Why is Nigeria crying more than the bereaved in Niger republic? Whose feeding bottle did the junta steal – definitely not Nigeria’s feeding bottle?

Truth 7: A strong domestic economy is a sine-qua-non for effective foreign relations and power projection. Case study: China. For the past 78 years, China has stayed focused pursuing the principle of peaceful rise. Despite the fact that she has beef with Taiwan, Russia, Japan and India, she is determined to build the world’s strongest economy before confronting all her former tormentors’ one after the other and retrieve all the territories stolen from her in order to achieve her final dream of Greater China. China intends to collect Taiwan back; she intends to collect 910,000km2 of land presently under Russia (the size of Nigeria landmass) called Manchuria, the disputed Senkaku Islands in Japan and McMahon Line in India, among others. Germany and Japan after WW2 focused 100 per cent on transforming their societies; they distanced themselves from getting involved in unnecessary wars and the results are what we are seeing today. As for America, even the blind can see that the sky is getting dark because of her gunboat diplomacy.

Conclusion: Unarguably, the handling of the Niger republic thunderstorm is lacking in rigour, logic, critical and strategic thinking, and this gap must be quickly fixed by PBAT before it becomes endemic which may precipitate a systemic failure.

Some ingredients seem to be missing in PBAT “kitchen- cabinet”. To add freshness and sweetness to his “soup”, it requires onion, tomatoes, curry, dried basil, ground paprika, crayfish, turmeric, ginger and pepper. But right now, PBAT soup is too peppery; he needs to shop for those missing ingredients – talents!

The roads not travelled
I can clearly identified five distinct roads available for Nigeria and ECOWAS on July 26, 2023, when the coup was announced.

Niger Republic Coup

Road A1: Dove Diplomacy: The ECOWAS president could have released his presidential jet for three African presidents to visit Niamey within 24 hours of the coup broadcast (before ECOWAS issued its strong public condemnation) with a view to negotiating with the Head of the junta and obtain his firm commitment to visit Abuja to meet with the president within one week of the coup to jointly seek for a peaceful resolution of the Niger question and agree on the timeline when democracy will be back.

Road A2: Chameleon Diplomacy: Pull the rug off the feet of the junta by cutting a “sweet corn soup” irresistible deal with the Wagner Group. For bad, Wagner is a factor and a reality in Africa’s stability today and even tomorrow. A non-state actor controlling several African countries indirectly. What money cannot do, more money will do. Stealthily work for a regime change in partnership with France and America that would return Niger to democracy within 90 days, on the other hand. Multiplying a negative by a negative is always a positive, not only mathematically but even, diplomatically.

Road A3: Cash Down Diplomacy (CDP): Working out a robust severance package of between $10- $20 million and bullet proof Lexus 570 machines, the type we used in sending forth some people in Nigeria 60 days ago, could also have done the magic for the “Big Boys” in Niamey. We can go to bed with the junta on a “short time” basis or into a “marriage”. Israel, America and the West are the masters of cash-at-hand-back-for-bed diplomacy!
Road A4: Hire Purchase Diplomacy (HPD): Our Boys in Niamey can be assisted to transmute to civilian regime and be on Nigeria’s permanent payroll, the way America, Britain, France and Israel secretly have “placeholder presidents” globally. This is “marriage of convenience”.

Road A5: Gunboat Diplomacy (GBD): This is the last option, the most expensive and the least desirable. Saudi Arabia went to Yemen, it was a colossal failure, ditto America in Libya, Syria, etc. According to Brown university’s Costs of War Project, the U.S. had spent over $2.2 trillion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as at 2019, besides leading to the death of 7000 American troops and 177,000 military men from the two invaded countries, not to mention the number of American ally’s troops that died and thousands that got wounded for life.

Drawing a red line on the sand within five minutes of the coup’s announcement is garrulous while a new ultimatum as suggested by Italy, after the first ultimatum fell flat, is preposterous. To remain on the “list of veritable solution providers”, ECOWAS should have done her homework by separating the noises from the sounds in order to get the right signals on which to base her “final” decision after intense critical thinking and logical reasoning. Cutting off the supply of electricity to the Niger Republic can be counterproductive and further compound the situation. What if the Niger republic damns the consequences and dams river Niger with the support of Russia? What then becomes of our Kainji Dam?

River Nile is Africa’s next biggest inferno on the horizon. Ethiopia and Egypt are secretly preparing for a final showdown over the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam by the former on River Nile, which the latter sees as posing existential threats. No Nile, no Egypt, no River Niger, no Nigeria!

Score line: It is game on. Niger two, ECOWAS zero! But, where there is a will, there is a way. I can see a window of opportunity opening. Anything kinetic action can do, peace and serenity can do better.

• Akano sent in this article through