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Niger Republic And Nigeria’s National Interest



Volatile Rivers State On The March Again!

By Bolanle Bolawole

[email protected] 0705 263 1058

Let us start our discussion today by considering a few quotes. “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” – Stephen Decatur. “My country, right or wrong” has gone down in history as an expression of patriotism but what is patriotism? Patriotism is defined as the quality of being patriotic; devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country. Put in another way, it is the love for or devotion to one’s country, if I may add, with unquestioning submission. This must have been what propelled a one-time president of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, to make his famous call to duty to his fellow Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”; that was in his inaugural speech on 20 January, 1961.

The Kennedy speech resonated with Americans not only on the occasion it was made but also unto this day; and not only with Americans but it is quoted the world over as the benchmark for patriotism. Compare Kennedy’s inaugural speech, which fired the patriotism of Americans to a new high, with the “fuel subsidy is gone” inaugural speech of our own brand new president, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, made on 29 May, 2023, which deflated the citizenry and cast a deep pall of gloom across the land. Yet, the two inaugural speeches are similar in intention and purpose but delivery and choice of words set them poles apart.

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“There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests” has been described by a writer as “a notorious quote used in the world of politics”. Politics can be local politics played within nations, countries and States and within these, there is another saying – I would not know whether this is native to Nigeria – that all politics is local. There is international politics, also often called international relations or international diplomacy. The textbook definition of politics differs significantly from the way our politicians understand and or play politics here. According to David Easton, politics is the “authoritative allocation of values” Harold Lasswell defined politics as “Who gets what, when, and how”

Politics exists where people interact with one another to make decisions that affect them collectively and the vehicle for this collective association for the purpose of playing politics is the political party; the congregation of like-minds, according to A. A. Appadorai, which pursues the common goal of capturing State or political power to execute agreed policies and programmes for the common good of society. But here, politicians congregate and defect at will to capture power to serve self and selfish interests: Which is why the Tinubu administration could allocate humongous sums to the National Assembly for the purchase of bulletproof cars in a comatose economy while no palliative is yet made available to the citizenry! Which is also why the Senate president could “dash” each senator millions of naira to enjoy a holiday; and the fact that none of the senators elected on different platforms raised an eyebrow is clear indication that they are all united in their compulsive greed and selfish, as against, national interest!

International politics or international relations, on the other hand, has been variously defined as “those aspects of interactions and relations of independent political communities in which some element of opposition, resistance or conflict of purpose or interest is present” It has to do with “the world we live in, the challenges we face, power and struggles, and the opportunities and obstacles for relations among peoples, societies, states and organisations” Hans Morgenthau defines it as “the struggle for power between states in the international system”; it can also be defined to include the conflicts and controversies at the international level and their resolution.

Diplomacy is usually employed to resolve these conflicts and disputes; therefore, every country maintains a rich repertoire of diplomats trained in the art and skill of diplomacy. Diplomacy on its own is “the art and science, first, of maintaining peaceful relationships between nations, groups, or individuals” and where conflicts or ruptures in relations occur, to enter into discussions and negotiations to peacefully resolve the issues in contention; but where this fails, war may be the last resort, depending on how important the issues in contention are to the parties concerned; for instance, the ongoing Russia/Ukraine war.

Otto von Clausewitz says “war is not merely a political act but a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means” It need be stated, however, that even when wars are fought, the parties still end up on the negotiation table to agree and draw up terms of settlement – e.g. the Versailles treaty after the First World War (1914 – 1919) and the agreement establishing the United Nations Organization at the end of the Second World War (1939 – 1945). Whether the terms of agreement are agreeable to all the parties or are deemed a “diktat” (dictated peace) as Adolf Hitler and most Germans were to describe Versailles, is a different ball game entirely. Where a war ends without an agreement being reached, as was the case between North Korea and South Korea, the two countries are said to still be technically at war. Armistice or truce is an agreement made by opposing sides in a war to stop fighting for a certain time. Experience has shown that this is usually whimsically broken by one or both parties without any notice given!

Now to Niger Republic: A military coup took place there on 26 July, 2023 which toppled the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum. Heads of government within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met speedily and not only took serious exception to the coup but also handed out a one-week ultimatum to the coup leaders to retrace their steps or face stringent sanctions, which include isolation, barricade on land and air, freezing of assets and other crippling economic sanctions and, in addition – especially if all else fails – military action to forcibly eject the coup leaders from power and return Bazoum to power. Rather than panic and cut-and-run, the coupists have snubbed ECOWAS and its leaders and have proceeded to set up a government.

Not ready to give up and lose face, ECOWAS has reiterated its resolve to have the coupists ejected from power and have given marching orders to the ECOWAS military to get ready for war. With the outcry from right, left and centre against war and the late realization that it had, in its undue haste, overlooked what should have been its first option in this matter, ECOWAS belatedly added diplomacy to the options available to it to get out of the quagmire. But the coupists, rather than being impressed by the ECOWAS volte-face, may have interpreted it as a sign of weakness and have, therefore, decided to dig in. Should ECOWAS still go ahead and invade, the coupist are said to have threatened to kill Bazoum and my mind immediately went to what happened here when MKO Abiola died in detention in controversial circumstances. That effectively put paid to the struggle to revalidate the annulled June 12, 1993 election won by him but annulled by the military junta of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. If the Nigerien coupists kill Bazoum, which is in their power to do, what again will ECOWAS fight for?

Nigerians from all walks of life and across diverse political persuasion and spectrums have been upbeat in their opposition to Nigeria going to war in Niger Republic and over a coup for that matter. How many of our own coups have we had, if I may ask, but who ever threatened us with war? Besides, the dangers of this particular war are clear for all to see. First, it will break up ECOWAS. With at least two other ECOWAS members, Mali and Burkina Faso, themselves under military rule, not only opposed to ECOWAS military action against their neighbour and like-minds, but also declaring that an injury to one is an injury to all, Niger is not in this alone. Two other neighbours of Niger, Chad and Algeria, have also voiced their opposition to war. So, if ECOWAS goes to war, it is likely going to chew more than it can bite and Niger Republic will most likely not fight the war alone but will have the sympathy and, possibly, the support of its neighbours.

On account of the above and the huge home support the coup appears to enjoy in Niger, while it may be easy for ECOWAS to quickly overrun the coupists, to hold down the country will be a Herculean task. The ousted president was reportedly unpopular; his election, like the election of many African leaders, was said to have been tainted; besides, he is said to come not just from a minority but a minute ethnic group. With Richard Johnson’s theory of prebendal politics that plays out in Africa, that is a big minus for the ousted president. More than half of the population of Niger Republic is said to be Hausa and Niger’s ousted president is not Hausa. War in the Niger Republic could also spill over into Nigeria with its huge Hausa population since that country shares borders with seven northern Nigeria states: Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe and Borno.

With war in Niger Republic, the insurgency in parts of the North will receive a boost; what with the support voiced by Mali and Burkina Faso for the coupists; the opposition of Algeria and Chad to war and the open sesame of insurgency and instability in post-Gaddafi Libya, which also shares borders with Niger Republic! More frightening, however, is that the coupists have asked for military assistance from the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which gave the Russian leader, Vladmir Putin, a fright some weeks ago. More of such alliances may be in the offing. The Cold War, which appeared to have ended with the collapse of the USSR, is upbeat again with the support Russia is reportedly giving to the “rebel” west African countries kicking against France and the West’s neo-colonial strangulation of the African countries’ economic development.

In the face of such intimidating odds, what are the benefits of our intervention in the Niger Republic? Which overriding national interest are we pursuing or defending, since Africa as the centrepiece of our foreign policy appears to have receded to the background in recent decades? One: Our president is the chairman of ECOWAS and is duty bound to lead the organisation and implement its resolutions. Two: Nigeria’s commitment to democracy places the obligation on us to see to the promotion, defence and propagation of democracy in the sub-region. Three: To prevent the contagious disease of coups from spreading to Nigeria. Four: The ousted Nigerien president and our immediate past president, Muhammadu Buhari, were chummy. That country was where Buhari had boasted he would run should Nigerians disturb his peace after retirement. So, do this one for Buhari! Five: Buhari poured Nigeria’s resources into Niger; we must act to defend our investments there. Six: There is a new wave of anti-neo-colonial sentiments sweeping through West Africa and the West and their institutions of capitalist oppression are aghast. To nip it in the bud becomes, therefore, a task that must be done.

Of all these reasons, the one that many people think is uppermost in the mind of ECOWAS leaders, and which they are using Nigeria to execute, is to send jitters down the spine of would-be coup plotters in the sub-region. While this may be beneficial to the other ECOWAS leaders, it has no value for Nigeria. It is only Nigeria that can mobilize troops and resources to stall or foil coups or arrest instability in any country in the region, as was the case in Liberia and Sierra Leone; but all the other West African countries put together cannot similarly act were the shoe to be in Nigeria’s leg. The antidote to military coups is good governance with regular free and fair elections.

*Former Editor of PUNCH newspaper, Deputy Editor-in-chief and Chairman of its Editorial Board, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.


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