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Tinubu’s Niger Republic debacle

By Alade Rotimi-John
20 August 2023   |   3:42 am
The past three weeks or so saw Niamey, Niger Republic’s main city and administration capital come, metaphorically speaking, within frightening range of siege guns.

[FILE] President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (GCFR) joins other Head of Governments for the 63rd ordinary session of Authority of ECOWAS heads of state and government in the capital city Bissau, republic of Guinea Bissau… PHOTO: Twitter/DOlusegun

The past three weeks or so saw Niamey, Niger Republic’s main city and administration capital come, metaphorically speaking, within frightening range of siege guns. The Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) would not brook the peremptory termination of civil order or the knee-jerk imposition of military rule which had taken place in a constituent member state. It summoned its military high command to mobilise in readiness for a probable war against Niger in the event of a feared continued intransigence of the Nigeriene coupists beyond Sunday 6th August, 2023. The war is to restore civil rule and return deposed President Mohammed Bazoum to power. It is also to warn prospective coupists within the sub-region of the danger and futility of the enterprise of coup plotting. Yet even as the war looms, Nigerians of all political persuasions and particularly so the northern Nigerian political establishment have taken vigorous exception to ECOWAS’ insistence to prosecute a war in Niger for entrenching “democratic culture” in West Africa without due consideration for the social and ethno-religious dimensions of the ensuing conflict. ECOWAS mthemay also have ignored or failed to appreciate a probable internationalisation of the bush fire it wants to ignite. Across West Africa, many influential voices have mounted forceful opposition to a war whose prosecutors have not exhausted the diplomatic option available to.

President George Weah of Sierra Leone has brandished a telling perspective which appears to be at the core of a sincere search for solution to the spectre of coup plotting that is ravaging West Africa or that may well be foreshadowing a new geo-political tapestry. To safeguard democracy in West Africa, Weah has warned that as long as ECOWAS tolerates institutional coups that allow life-time presidencies, fraudulent declaration of election results or the manipulation of judicial pronouncements there will always be military coups. In a rare demonstration of political acerbity – uncommon among politicians – Weah matter-of-factly warned about the hypocrisy of condemning military coups even as institutional coup makers are courted or embraced. It is pretentious, Weah has observed, to give red-carpet reception to the violators of our institutional order on one hand and condemn the military repudiation of such abuses on the other.

Even as Islam as a religion is known to have reached West Africa sometime between the 12th and 15th centuries, the Hausa language has been its main medium. Over this long period of Islamic penetration, there gradually emerged in Hausaland a learned class of people who developed a system of learning which it spread across West Africa particularly the Sahel. As a lingua franca spoken with varying modifications over most parts of Sahel West Africa, the peoples of the sub-region share a common affinity in the Hausa language and in Islam. Tinubu’s preparation for war in Niger Republic has not appeared to have taken into account the pervasive affinity in language, religion and customs among the people inhabiting the artificail boundaries of Nigeria and Niger. The hoopla that followed the threatened Nigeria-led military offensive against Niger was not unexpected by students of the political and other histories of the Sahel. It is strange that the Nigerian government appears to be ignorant or oblivious of this nimble historico-political sentiment. It is further strange still that diplomacy which has been recognised worldwide as nothing more or less than tactfully applying common sense, did not find itself a ready tool in the hands of the drivers of a fangled enthronement of democracy in the ECOWAS territory. The shared values of the people of Niger and Nigeria are noted to include a sharp but quiet sense of fellowship and fellow-feeling, a consuming respect for filial relationship and an extraordinary facility for discerning the salient points of an argument in favour of commonality of interests. Both Nigerians and Nigerienes have discerned as a mad adventure the attempt to stoke a war situation in Niger. Keen watchers of both sides could hardly ignore the sense of contentment which the people felt in having a common position against an emerging oppressor. The people of Niger are obviously unanimous and enthused in their welcome of the political development in their country. ECOWAS led by Nigeria is perceived as a self- interested intruder or interloper.

Even as social experience is the primary source of history, the threatened Niger war appears alluring only to the Nigerian presidency as it offers it the greatest opportunity for the display of upturned heroism in the light of the popular perception of illegitimacy that has dogged its inauguration as a government. The people have come to see the prosecution of the war for what it is. The condemnatory position of the people regarding the war attests to their understanding of the poor quality of the leadership provided by the ruling political elite in Nigeria particularly in a pervasive situation of objective tension. The government appears ideologically confused as it seems unable to differentiate between the real interests of the people of Nigeria and those of an overweening imperialist agency whose business men and bureaucrats are enamoured by their projected personal or corporate gains from the war.

The probable intensification of the conflict is suggested to be beyond the ken of the present promoters of the war even as international, diplomatic and business interests have been aroused by a merchandising sense respecting a projected basket of spoils of war. The impending grave situation can only produce an amoral world in which all that matters or in which the value placed on the people will be that they are the canon fodder for the prosecution of the war. The prosecutors of this belligerence appear to have ignored the vote of no confidence passed on them by the people regarding the material, psychological or emotional cost of the war. A number of contradictions that will be thrown up will include a situation in which many will die daily from the enemy’s bullets and in which excruciating hunger will be the portion of many. Political opportunists, on the other hand, will make money from the war budget appropriations. The immorality immanent in the co- existence of abundant wealth alongside miserable poverty will be lamentable.

For the Tinubu presidency, it is not facile to note that it has proscribed its freedom as a government of a sovereign nation. Tinubu even as chair of ECOWAS may have privately opposed some of the policies of ECOWAS. He may have disapproved the open abuse of the charter of non- interference in the internal affairs of ECOWAS member states. He has however failed to demonstrate his personal conviction, if any.

The realisation that the Nigerian people are implacably opposed to ECOWAS’ abuse of the clause of non-interference may have been central to his carefully-chosen words about diplomacy being yet “an option on the table”. The Nigerian presidency is established to be absolutely dedicated to Nigeria’s national interests. It is suggested here that Tinubu by his prattling in the Republic of Niger’s matter appears to be placing more premium on his headship of ECOWAS than on his presidency at home. Tinubu ought to have resisted ECOWAS’ effort to stampede him into taking a precipitate action or for angling to fight a war in which people whose interests are diametrically opposed to ours have a vested interest in the pie.

Truly, the question is more subtle than either Tinubu, his co-presidents or his admirers may have perceived. They never ought to have conceived or fancied that they could control the personal or political conscience of the people, no matter how adroitly they try. To have accepted rather un-reflectingly, as Tinubu did, the chairmanship position is to attempt to change the character of one’s earlier-held position or to restrict one’s political or ideological independence. It is also to subject oneself to the unconscious influences that bear on all men. Tinubu’s unconditional acceptance of chairman of ECOWAS is today his albatross.

The popular reaction against ECOWAS’ involvement in the internal affairs of Niger Republic has prompted a renewed and salutary pressure on Tinubu to sever his connection with some of his co-travellers in this ECOWAS debacle. He still can with dignity and decency trim his relationship with persons who together constitute a further query on his legitimacy and appropriateness as president of Nigeria. Allasane Ouatara, Faure Gnassingbe, for instance are strange bed fellows even to someone who is struggling to have a prospect of legitimising his beleaguered presidency. ECOWAS leadership’s herd mentality or houseboy servility has exposed an underlying lack of rigour in the institution’s decision-making process and has upheld the general verdict that it is lame duck.

Clairvoyant Chief Obafemi Awolowo intuitively foresaw a situation as this latest ECOWAS affliction. On the 10th of December, 1980 at an address delivered at the Third Annual Congress of the Unity Party of Nigeria, Awo advised:
“… it is decidedly not in our national interests… that we should thoughtlessly inveigh against others for conducting their foreign affairs in a way compatible with their own national interests. If we constantly keep in mind the rules of the game, by realising vividly that it is the national interests that are paramount and overriding on the conduct of foreign affairs, and that where these interests conflict, each of the countries in the conflict is entitled to strive for its own interests to prevail, our pronouncements and actions in these matters will carry more weight, demonstrate greater maturity, and at the same time, reflect honour and credit to our fatherland”
Further, Awo intoned:
“It must be borne in mind that to practice one thing at home and advocate or do the opposite abroad is evidence of lack of direction and of abiding faith in any fundamental policy. A man cannot hold contradictory views or pursue contradictory courses of action at the same time, unless he is a downright scum or bare- faced hypocrite or both. “

Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, wrote vide lawgravitas@gmail.com