Mr President, before we fire the first bullet
By Hassan Gimba
Nigeria is mobilising countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to fight the coup plotters of the Niger Republic to restore democracy. The regional body, led by Nigeria’s president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has expressed its resolve to use all necessary measures to restore constitutional order in the country, including the use of force, if they do not meet its demands in a week.
Backed to the hilt by America and France, ECOWAS leaders’ demand to Niger’s junta leaders is simple: release and reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum within a week. That deadline expired yesterday.
But if the leaders of ECOWAS thought it was going to be a tea party, they were jolted when military rulers of Mali and Burkina Faso, two other West African countries brought under the military jackboot recently, jumped into the fray on the Niger coupists’ side. Algeria and Libya, maybe more as events unfold, are siding with the khaki boys as well.
They warned ECOWAS leaders against any interventions that would “jeopardise the spirit of Pan-Africanism,” and swore that an attack on Niger would force them to also adopt “self-defence measures” in support of the “brotherly” armed forces and the people of Niger. Couched in diplomatese, they simply meant they would join the fight on the side of Niger. And they have asked Russia for help.
As the clouds of war gather, President Tinubu should know that the Nigerian military, a capable fighting force that had distinguished itself in international peacekeeping, is currently a bit stretched. And this is mainly because the soldiers have been dragged into a lot of operations that basically should have been police work. They are in the North East combing the forests for the remnants of Boko Haram; they are in the South East hunting down separatists in the form of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the armed wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB); they are in the North Central and North West engaging bandits and kidnappers who are Boko Haram in a different toga.
Mr President needs to be aware that the Nigerien military, a proud and courageous fighting force, despite not being as well equipped or well trained as ours, has been Nigeria’s ally right from the days of the civil war up to now in the fight against Boko Haram and their soul mates in crime – the bandits and kidnappers.
Perhaps Mr President was not told that Nigerians living around our borders with Niger prefer to call the Nigerien Army when attacked by marauders rather than the Nigerian Army. They say the Nigeriens are always prompt and take the war to the renegades’ dens.
Also, Mr President should know that wars, local or international, do not happen in isolation. Almost always, a strong power with a sinister motive lurks behind like a masquerade and sends a minion to “court trouble”. The moment the intervening nation comes out to teach the “little rascal” some sense, the masquerade will appear from behind the scene with a claim of protecting the weak from a bully.
Soon enough, Mr President, the nation soon realises it has been hemmed into a cul-de-sac, with a bigger power in the doorway. Therefore, the possibility of us defeating Niger in a war is debatable.
Mr President, forget the talk of “ECOWAS”. It is Nigeria that will bear the brunt: we will finance the war; the other countries will just ride on our backs, asking for “bailouts” at the same time. Can our economy handle it?
We cannot be compared to Saudi Arabia in terms of financial strength and military gear, yet that country was fought to a standstill by Yemen, a country not even as rich, united or organised as Niger.
Oh, yes, the countries prodding us to go to war to restore democracy will promise us heaven and earth: debt relief, for instance, then weapons, giving us even those they earlier refused us and some we never thought we could have or afford, but that will also be because they want to test their toys of mass destruction and fine-tune them with us as guinea pigs. We should learn from Ukraine, Mr President.
Russia and its allies would do the same, and even more, for Niger. More because, as the Eastern bloc and its allies did when aiding Africa to cut itself from the shackles of colonialism and apartheid, it committed men into the field who paid the supreme price. Wagner, Russia’s non-state fighting machine, whose mainstay is making war and so is always looking for the next killing field, will come in, invited or not. Sadly, it will not be on our side.
Again, Mr President, look at the porous 1,600-kilometre Nigeria–Niger border we could not monitor in peacetime. Can we then man it in wartime? An area we want to turn green by planting trees meant to halt desertification will become a theatre of war and scorched by artillery fire and bombing raids.
Mr President, before we fire the first bullet and open another front, we ought to consider if those fighting us conventionally will not empower those we are fighting unconventionally in our country to become more formidable. It is a good strategy, and by the time we realise the damage done to us, the North East, North West, North Central and South East will be pulling at the seams because the Centre can no longer hold.
If we do not want to look at the high probability of displaced people from both sides of the border, let us look at the over three hundred thousand of our IDPs in that country. Can we contain them when the country tells them to leave? Are we ready for the inevitable security implications considering that what happened in Libya, farther off and unrelated to us, affects us still?
Mr President, let us think our strategies through. Rushing to impose sanctions just because it gives us the hard-on should be avoided. Now, whether we resume giving Niger electric power or not, we have pushed them to dam the River Niger to give their people electricity.
A nationalistic regime would do so. We have unwisely torn the binding treaty that made that country forgo building a dam in exchange for us supplying them with electricity. Tellingly, a dam built there will dry up our Shiroro, Kanji and Jebba dams. We might have cut our noses to spite our faces. Mr President, we should see how Europe’s sanctions on Russia backfired.
America and France have enjoyed more from Niger than we have, despite our northernmost part’s cultural, religious and filial affinity with them. To protect their interests, the French and Americans even have military bases there, France with about 2,000 and America 1000. Mr President should ask the two powers why they should not come down heavily on the usurpers to kick them out and return Bazoum to power.
Lest I Forget
What is happening to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)? The way they are incapacitated where Nyesom Wike and co. are concerned makes one think of a eunuch in a harem. It cannot be damage control because they have done enough damage to the party already and continuously gnaw at its tendons. Wike was instrumental in the way the PDP National Assembly members voted their presiding officers and how principal officers, especially those for the minority, emerged to the detriment of the party.
With the way the party’s bigwigs hobnob with the well-heeled former governor, all Nigerians concerned about strengthening our democracy must be concerned with the way things look. It is as if he has pocketed the decision-making organs of the party while he is in the pocket of the ruling party. This is surely worth deeper scrutiny.
Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.