Anytime I see people celebrating a coup d’état, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I always remember the military coup of December 31, 1983 that ousted President Shehu Shagari and the enthusiasm with which many Nigerians received it. I was one of those who celebrated. You have to pardon me: I was but a little secondary school kid who thought, like many others, that the military had the solution to inflation, unemployment and poverty. It did not take us long before we started lamenting over Maj-Gen Muhammadu Buhari’s regime. We ate, drank and jumped for joy when he was overthrown by Gen Ibrahim Babangida in August 1985. We all know how it ended: in tears.
But we still did not learn our lessons about military rule. In 1993, Babangida annulled a landmark election, plunged Nigeria into crisis, stepped aside, and installed a feeble interim national government. In November of the same year, Gen Sani Abacha, who announced the Buhari coup in 1983, dismantled the Ernest Shonekan-led contraption, took over power and we went partying and drinking again. For five years, it was a gory story of sorrow, tears, and blood — and bombs. And you know what? The military message is always sweet — “we want to restore order, fight corruption and organise a transition to democracy”. But by the time they are done with us, we are always done for.
With the Nigerian experience at the back of my mind, military coups are forever a no-no for me. I was born under military rule, schooled mostly under military rule, graduated under military rule and started my adult life under military rule. Now, for the past 24 years, I have been living under a democracy — an imperfect, severely flawed one, I must necessarily add. I know the one I prefer. For starters, soldiers are not trained to manage politics and the economy. Their core training is to take out the enemy and protect the country’s territorial integrity. Their definition of law and order is slightly at variance with the constitution’s and they understand human rights differently.
Increasingly, West African democracies are being undone by the military. Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea are fully under military rule, and now Niger has joined the jackboots league. Although the coups have so far been limited to francophone countries and some grandiose words are being said about getting rid of French imperialism (and possibly replacing it with Russian expansionism), every other West African country has a reason to fear that an agenda is at play. It is a question of “where next?” Nigeria, which borders Niger, also has every reason to worry about harbouring an enemy next door. The influence of Wagner mercenaries and jihadists in the subregion is causing sleepless nights.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional political and economic bloc with 15 member states, is mostly francophone. Only Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone are anglophone. The francophone countries are very anxious. Little wonder, President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire was vociferous about using force, if necessary, to return President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger to power after the July 26 coup. At an extraordinary session on July 30 — in response to the coup — the ECOWAS heads of state, chaired President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria, imposed sanctions on the junta and threatened to use force to restore constitutional order.
This is where the situation started getting complicated. “Use of force” was translated to “war” in the media, and “ECOWAS” became “Tinubu”. Therefore, Tinubu was threatening to wage war on Niger. When Tinubu wrote to the senate to inform them of the ECOWAS resolutions, it was translated as “Tinubu seeks senate approval to go to war in Niger”. Senate President Godswill Akpabio, while informing Nigerians of the resolution of his colleagues that ECOWAS should pursue a diplomatic resolution, said emphatically on TV: “Tinubu via his correspondence has not asked for the approval of the parliament of this senate to go to war as erroneously suggested in some quarters.”
But the headline thereafter? “Senate rejects Tinubu’s request to deploy troops to Niger.” Ironically, the president does not necessarily have to get senate approval before deploying troops, going by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. While section 5 (4) (a) says “the President shall not declare a state of war between the Federation and another country except with the sanction of a resolution of both Houses of the National Assembly sitting in a joint session; and (b) except with the prior approval of the Senate, no member of the armed forces of the Federation shall be deployed on combat duty outside Nigeria,” the next section gives him a leeway.
Section 5 (5) says: “Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (4) of this section, the President, in consultation with the National Defence Council, may deploy members of the armed forces of the Federation on a limited combat duty outside Nigeria if he is satisfied that the national security is under imminent threat or danger: Provided that the President shall, within seven days of actual combat engagement, seek the consent of the Senate and the Senate shall thereafter give or refuse the said consent within fourteen days.” There is a problem with this provision. What if the troops are already deep in combat and the Senate fails to give approval? This is a potential constitutional crisis.
As to be expected in Nigeria, there has been a myriad of negative reactions, some reasonable and some purely political. The Republic of Niger is 53% Hausa, 7% Fulani and 6% Kanuri, so there are affinities with northern Nigeria. Ethnic and religious affinities aside, Niger shares a very, very long boundary with northern Nigeria. It is a moot point that the border exists only in the imagination as many Nigeriens can easily claim to be Nigerians, and vice versa. Many Nigerians have families in Niger. There is a deep cultural connection. More so, if there is war in Niger, northern Nigeria will feel the impact more than the rest. I can, therefore, understand the northern opposition to military action.
The politicised responses, many tied to the fall-outs of the 2023 general election, have been quite amusing. I have read an enormous amount of comments that show that some people don’t understand the issues at play or the implications of the Niger coup on regional peace and stability. Some commenters don’t even know that Bazoum only came to power two years ago on a renewable five-year term and had to face a run-off before winning the presidential election. I am hearing excuses that sit-tight leaders make coups possible — which may be a good argument — but coup leaders don’t even have term limits and often transmute to civilian life presidents. But I digress.
The junta itself has been recalcitrant. After deploying the anti-imperialism rhetoric (which always works in whipping up nationalistic sentiments), it suspended sale of uranium and gold to France, its colonial master. It also shut its airspace, apparently in response to the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS. With the second largest landmass in West Africa, Niger has a strategic asset in its airspace. The junta also snubbed the presidential delegation from Nigeria, including a former head of state, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, a retired general. It also shunned the ECOWAS-AU-UN mission. It is a case of who would blink first in the diplomatic face-off.
Here are my takes on the Niger situation. One, I do not support the use of force. Niger remains a sovereign country, even though the soldiers have violated the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance by using unconstitutional means to take power. However, what could promise to be a simple military operation may turn into a full-scale war. One week after the US bombarded Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003, President George Bush declared the war was over. The war is still on. US lost over 7,000 soldiers before pulling out. You cannot predict how a military intervention will turn out. I understand that sanctions and diplomacy did not work in Mali and the rest, but it is what it is.
Two, I think Tinubu is justified to feel that Nigeria’s security is under threat. Niger is not just a West African country — it is Nigeria’s next-door neighbour. The thought of an incursion into Africa by foreign mercenaries and jihadists with a foothold right across the Nigerian border is a serious threat to Nigeria. It is in our own interest to have friendly neighbours because of the diplomatic, economic and security dynamics. These are not issues to be discussed in the open and many partisan commenters will never understand. Nigeria needs healthy relations with all its neighbours and losing one of the biggest of them will be a nightmare for any leader. This is about Nigeria, not Tinubu.
Although the Tinubu administration has more or less lost the case in the public court because of the less than strategic way it has handled and communicated the situation so far, this does not chip away from the fact that the developments in Niger should be of concern to Nigeria and should not be treated with kid gloves. The coup makers are no heroes and should not be lionised. The irony of it is that Bazoum has received accolades for his performance in office, particularly in combating Boko Haram terrorism and banditry, as well as containing the jihadists’ menace in the Sahel. Bazoum has also been celebrated for his focus on girl child education, improving literacy and reducing poverty.
The coup staged by Gen Abdourahamane Tchiani does not offer anything better for Nigeriens. It was obviously inspired by a clash of egos, reportedly caused by a probe into questionable defence spendings. It is not a contest of ideas. I support an intense and sustained diplomatic pressure and I hope both parties will avoid war and reach a workable agreement. Democracy is the future of Africa and we must resist every attempt to take us back to the 1960s when military coups were fully in fashion. I forever align with the words of Mr Winston Churchill, the former UK prime minister, who said: “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.”
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
HIGH FIVE TO FALCONS
I doff my heart to the Super Falcons for a respectable outing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Given the controversies around their welfare and preparations, I was not expecting much. I thought they would return home after getting bashed by the more organised and better prepared teams such as Canada and Australia in the first round. I just love the Nigerian spirit. The Falcons held their own, went toe-to-toe with England, the European champions, in the second round before losing a penalty shoot-out lottery. Special mention must be made of Michelle Alozie, the amazon with a permanent smile even in the most provocative situations as we saw when Lauren James stamped on her. Kudos!
Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, former governor of Kaduna state, was unbelievably not cleared by the senate for a ministerial position after many of us thought it was going to be a cakewalk. He had been pencilled down as minister of energy, according to those who should know. The senate said his non-clearance owed to adverse security reports. Ironically, el-Rufai was also reportedly slated to be minister of power in 2007 under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua but things fell apart. I do not believe he was stopped by any security report. A couple of the cleared nominees didn’t even do NYSC and security report did not stop them. The whole truth will come out someday. Startling.
FAREWELL, PASTOR TAIWO
Pastor Taiwo Odukoya, senior pastor of Fountain of Life Church, drew his last breath on Monday in the US after battling with an ailment. What a loss. There was no time I listened to his message that I was not inspired. He was one pastor who allowed people under him to flourish. He had to live with many tragedies in his life — his university sweetheart and amiable wife, Pastor Bimbo, died in an air mishap in 2006; after remarrying, he lost his wife, Nomthi, in 2021; and two weeks later, he lost his twin sister. I can imagine the pains in his heart while he kept preaching “God is good” to his congregation. That’s the way this mortal life goes. I pray for God’s comfort for his family. Painful.
Not too long ago, the senate engaged in a tasteless joke about the economic hardship in Nigeria, with someone cheekily raising a motion on the need to let the poor breathe. Senate President Godswill Akpabio pretended to be taking a vote. It is a joke to them. Absolutely tasteless. You often wonder why many Nigerians dislike the lawmakers, and Akpabio presented another piece of evidence when he openly announced to his colleagues that “in order to enable all of us to enjoy our holidays, a token has been sent to our various accounts by the clerk of the National Assembly”. With enjoyment money in the bank (his words, not mine), our lawmakers can afford to joke about the poor. Tactless.
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