According to impeccable sources, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) on Monday switched off the grid that supplies electricity to Niger Republic in response to a directive from President Bola Tinubu. It was the first of several measures to force out the military junta that seized power in the country last week Wednesday.
Also on Monday, the president secured the commitment of former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, to serve as the Economic Community for West Africa (ECOWAS) Special Representative on the crisis. He will be assisted by the Sultan of Sokoto, HRH Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, who has also accepted the assignment. Both are likely to be in Niamey tomorrow to begin negotiations with the coup leaders.
On Tuesday, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Nuhu Ribadu, hosted a meeting of stakeholders comprised of the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Defence Intelligence, Director General, State Security Service (SSS), Director General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and Permanent Secretaries in key ministries. Heads of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other critical federal agencies were also at the meeting. The main objective of the session (and measures being taken) is to enforce the ECOWAS resolutions of last Sunday in Abuja. Hosted by Tinubu (in his capacity as chairman), it discussed “the latest developments in the Republic of Niger that have been marked by an attempted overthrow by members of the presidential guard of the constitutional order and the illegal detention of the legitimate President, Muhammed Bazoum as well as members of his family and government.”
After condemning and rejecting the military takeover in Niger, the sub-regional group described the detention of President Bazoum as akin to a hostage situation, calling on the coupists to reinstate him. “In the event the Authority’s demands are not met within one week, (ECOWAS will) take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force” the statement warned. But the situation remains dicey with the coup leaders arresting top officials of the Bazoum government who are now effectively being used as human shields in the event of an attack. Those in their custody include Oil Minister, Mahamane Sani Mahamadou, Mining Minister, Ousseini Hadizatou, head of the ruling party, Fourmakoye Gado, Interior Minister, Hama Amadou Souley, Transport Minister, Oumarou Malam Alma as well as Kalla Moutari, an MP and former defence minister.
There are compelling reasons as to why we should not allow the coup in Niger to stand. In circulation is an ominous map of Africa with a coup belt that stretches on top of Nigeria right across six countries. That Niger is the seventh country within West and Central Africa to contract the coup bug in the last three years makes it even more troubling. From Guinea (September 2021) to Mali (August 2020) to Burkina Faso (September 2020) to Niger (last week) to Chad (April 2021) to Sudan (October 2021), the excuse for these military takeovers is no more than a simple power grab by military opportunists.
Since turkey, as they say, would never vote for Christmas, it is also understandable that the transitional leaders of Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso (who themselves came in through coup d’etats) are backing the military gamblers in Niamey against ECOWAS. Any military intervention against Niger “would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali,” they threatened in their joint statement on Monday, adding that such a move could result in “disastrous consequences” that “could destabilise the entire region”. Earlier, both Burkina Faso and Mali expressed “their fraternal solidarity to the people of Niger, who have decided with full responsibility to take their destiny in hand and assume the fullness of their sovereignty before history.”
Meanwhile, as it was/is in those countries, the coup leaders in Niger are looking towards the Russian mercenary paramilitary group, Wagner, for support and that’s what makes the ECOWAS intervention a bit tricky. Wagner is currently operating in Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, Sudan, Chad, Mozambique, Libya, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. In a voice message on Wagner-affiliated Telegram channels,Yevgeny Prigozhin was quick to praise“the struggle of the people of Niger with their colonisers” while offering his services to the coup plotters. And in a video released two weeks ago, Prigozhin had told his men currently stationed in Belarus to prepare for a ‘new journey to Africa’. Since the mercenary group uses the exploitation of mineral resources in these countries to pay themselves, Niger will be attractive to them. With the landlocked country bordering Katsina and Zamfara States, Wagner’s presence would be too close for comfort, especially given the gold deposits in Zamfara.
Unfortunately for ECOWAS, when it rains, it pours. President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone was not at the Abuja summit due to the post-election crisis in his country. On Tuesday, several civilians and military officers were arrested on charges of trying to “launch violent attacks on state institutions and citizens.” Whichever way we look at it, anti-democratic forces are expanding their tentacles on the continent.
In February last year, I wrote a column on ‘Nigeria and the Coup Epidemics’ following the leaked American intelligence documents describing an effort by Wagner to recruit rebels as part of an “evolving plot to topple the Chadian government”. According to the report published in the ‘Washington Post’, the documents detail a discussion in February 2022 between Prigozhin and associates about the timeline and facility for training an initial group of rebels in Avakaba (a city in Central African Republic), close to the Chadian border, and the route that Wagner would use to transport them. A crisis in Chad, as I wrote last year, is a crisis in Nigeria, given the proximity and associated security issues. “Besides, in a divided country like ours with abundant mineral resources, what stops these mercenaries from extending their network to Nigeria once they succeed in installing a puppet regime in N’djamena?”
As it turned out, it is in Niger that military adventurists are now seeking the help of Wagner. But we should have seen it coming. As head of the presidential guard in 1996, the late Ibrahim Baré Mainassara seized power in a military coup and became Head of State in Niger. Three years later, he was toppled by the commander of his presidential guard, Daouda Malam Wanké, who also ruled the country. Abdourahamane Tchiani who proclaimed himself ‘President of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland’ last Friday had been commander of the presidential guard since 2011. He was a close ally of then-President Mahamadou Issoufou who appointed him to the position before promoting him to the rank of general in 2018.
Incidentally, two days before Issoufou handed over to Bazoum (his elected successor) in 2021, Tchiani reportedly foiled an attempted coup. Whether the coup was real or contrived, it guaranteed his retention by the new president who I learnt was never comfortable with him. Apparently in a bid to remove Tchiani from the position in which he had become entrenched and almost untouchable, he was recommended to be in the Class of 2022 at the Nigeria Defence College in Abuja. At the last minute, Tchiani chose not to attend the course and remained in Niamey, where he has now pronounced himself the new leader of the country. Last Wednesday, President Tinubu sent a delegation to meet with Tchiani at a time of uncertainty in the country. It was led by the NIA Director General, Ahmed Rufai Abubakar. Others in the team included former Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Hassan Abubakar. Tchiani, from what I gathered, did not give any indication that he is ready to step down.
By landmass, Niger is the largest country in West Africa. Currently ranked 189th out of 191 countries in the 2021 report of the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI), its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of $413.98 makes it one of the poorest countries in the world. But available reports indicate that President Bazoum has provided good leadership for the landlocked country of 25 million people. It used to come last in all global socio-economic indices (including HDI) until he assumed office. From the pronouncements of the coup leaders thus far, there is no suggestion that the president breached his oath, which explains why Bazoum remains adamant that he would not relinquish power to the military usurpers. But in poor countries like Niger where there are many hungry people, it is easy to mobilise support for an undemocratic change of government.
The Times of London summed up the dilemma in Niamey on Tuesday. “The cause of the coup appears to have been little more than internecine acrimony and personal ambition, but a deterioration of the security situation will be its likely consequence,” the paper wrote. That will be bad news for Nigeria. With hundreds of thousands of refugees from war-torn Sudan already invading Chad, the fear is that many will end up in Nigeria given our porous borders. To unwittingly create a condition for an influx of migrants from Niger will therefore be unwise. That’s what will happen in the event of an armed attack by ECOWAS which for all practical purposes means Nigeria. I therefore endorse the position of Mr Femi Falana, SAN, that sanctions and back-channel negotiations will serve us better than an open confrontation with suicidal military officers in Niamey.
Yesterday in Abuja, Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa met with defence chiefs of nine other ECOWAS countries, including Sierra Leone, Togo, Liberia, Ghana, Gambia, Cote D’voire, Cape Varde, Benin, and Senegal. Not surprisingly, Mali, Niger, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, and Burkina Faso stayed away. “We must face the challenges of restoring democratic governance in Niger head on, drawing on our shared experiences, wisdom and collective resolve”, Musa told his colleagues. He was backed by the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah. “We are of the view that the situation in Niger where democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum together with his family are being used in negotiations is a hostage situation and we need to revert that,” the Ghanaian said to the military chiefs. “The time has come again for ECOWAS to show that we are a rules-based organization…we cannot allow the rule by the Ballot Box to be replaced by the rule of Kalashnikovs.”
Musa and Musah could not have been more apt in their summation. But talk is cheap. I understand that President Tinubu has had several calls with French President Emmanuel Macron as well as with the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken on the situation in Niger and its implication for the sub-region and continent. While the interests of these countries may differ from ours, Nigeria also has a stake in a stable Niger. Now that ECOWAS is dangling the stick, a diplomatic solution is the best option to avoid a tragic outcome. Nigeria cannot afford a neighbour embroiled in a civil war that could unleash non-state actors when our own internal security situation is precarious.
It is therefore my hope that the containment measures put in place by the authority of ECOWAS under President Tinubu will be enough to force Tchiani and his fellow travellers to retreat so that commonsense can prevail in Niamey. But one thing is certain: A military solution to the political crisis in Niger Republic will do more harm than good to Nigeria.
Just Take and Bow…and Go!
If the morning, as they say, shows the day, then it is safe to conclude that the 10th Senate under Godswill Akpabio will offer Nigerians nothing tangible. At a time of serious challenges in the country, most of the ministerial nominees were asked to take a “bow and go” during their confirmation hearings that have become another hollow ritual. On Monday, one of the nominees, a professor from Benue State, claimed to have completed primary school at age nine, going by his CV. Senator Mikhail Abiru sought to know more about how the professor attained this feat. Senator Abba Moro (of the 2014 recruitment scandal which resulted in stampedes that left 20 people dead across the country) chose to speak for the nominee, appealing to his colleagues to ignore what he himself described as discrepancies.
That was enough for Akpabio to deploy the ‘off the mic’ procedure to which he must be well versed as one of the protagonists of that infamy. “I will not want to entertain anything on the issue of when he (the nominee) entered school again. Senator Abba Moro just pointed my attention to an important issue, which the nominee will clarify.” Before the professor was asked to take a bow, Senator Elijah Abbo completed the farce: “The nominee is exceptionally brilliant like me. I took the entrance exam at the age of three and I won (sic).”
Thank God, the distinguished senator didn’t say he passed. He won his common entrance examination at age three. And since then, he has kept ‘winning’! Meanwhile, the session of Tuesday and that of Wednesday were no less embarrassing, making the entire ministerial screening an organized waste of time. Sadly, we live in a nation where we hardly learn from the past. With the list containing the remaining ministerial nominees forwarded to the senate yesterday, President Tinubu has completed his ‘Council of Former Governors’. But that’s not for today. Eight years ago, the late Professor Pius Adesanmi wrote on the screening of President Muhammadu Buhari’s first cabinet. Below are excerpts from what he wrote. To readers, anywhere you find the name Buhari, just replace it with Tinubu and you will get the drift. Over to Pius:
One regrettable detail about the ritual of national unserious which passed for Senate confirmation hearings is that Senators who would in any case have treated Nigerians to the bow and go caterwauling on display to the whole world yesterday received the precious gift of alibi from President Buhari. The clowning Senators would be right to say: ‘we produced comedy and farce because the President gave us little to work with.’ Sadly, they’d be right. And it has nothing to do with the quality of the nominees.
There is a reason for announcing the portfolios of ministerial nominees in every serious democracy known to man. When you announce a nominee for, say, education, there is a Senate committee in charge of that portfolio. It affords them the opportunity of going to work on the profile and vision of the said nominee. It affords the full house the opportunity of preparing thoroughly for a grilling of the nominee. Most importantly, the nominee can prepare fully for a presentation of vision and mission in his or her area of expertise.
In the absence of portfolios, what President Buhari set up was our familiar ritual of asking the deaf to interview the blind. An opportunity for real change was lost. I repeat: the most painful part of it all for me is that Senators who are intellectually ill-equipped for the process anyway can always legitimately argue that they mounted the convivial farce we watched because they did not know which portfolios they were supposed to be grilling people for.
However, bow and go is but a fragment of a much bigger problem. Because President Buhari did not find it within himself to change the paradigm by nominating folks with envisaged portfolios, he has inadvertently set in motion another tragic and familiar scenario. In the absence of a transcendental national ideal around which we have built our vision of Nigeria, food and metaphors of consumption have tragically come to define project nationhood. Whereas the American national ideal is summed up in the American dream, the German ideal in the idea of German efficiency, Nigeria defines herself and her own ideal as “the national cake”.
This explains why all the verbs and metaphors with which we conceptualize Nigeria relate to opportunistic and irresponsible consumption: sharing formula, allocation, national cake, etc. We have allowed that disease to affect our conceptualization of service. In Nigeria, service is essentially about food, hence every public office or political appointment is classified as “juicy” or “not juicy”.
The nominees have been screened. They have done the bow and go thing. None has a portfolio. We are now into a phase of intense lobbying and jostling for “juicy ministries”. It would be foolhardy to believe that any of the nominees walked out of the Senate chamber yesterday without this next phase of the Nigerian thing in mind. Now is the time to return to Godfathers, Godmothers, moneybags and sponsors and enlist their help to persuade President Buhari to give a “juicy ministry” to our son or our daughter.
It is too late to expect the current crop of ministers not to operate from the conceptual framework of food and the juiciness or lack thereof of ministerial postings. They are part of our extant collective political culture. And they have all been sponsored by interests and power blocks that are totally defined by the classification of public service as juicy or non-juicy. It will take at least a decade of civics and national reorientation to begin to produce Nigerian citizens weaned of this pernicious mentality. It is too late for the current nominees. They are certainly already jostling for “juicy ministries” as I write.
“Nigeria deserves better” is a patriotic statement you should say out loud every morning.
The greatest obstacle to this slow process of mental rebirth is, sadly, the ordinary Nigerian. He will be on the lookout for “juicy ministries” for nominees from his state, faith, or ethnic group. Whether his man is qualified for a particular ministry or not, the ordinary Nigerian will spend the next month fighting bruising social media wars because his man has been “marginalized from juicy slots”. And when you raise arguments such as I have raised in this treatise, trust the ordinary Nigerian to quip: “qualification fit does not matter at the ministerial level. They are political appointees. There are perm secs and technocrats in the ministry to help the minister do the job”.
At every step of the way, the ordinary Nigerian produces the most brilliant defense of his own suffering…
ENDNOTE: What more is there to add? May the soul of my friend, Pius Adesanmi continue to rest in peace.
In terms of professionalism, temperament and character, President Bola Tinubu could not have gotten a better official spokesman than Ajuri Ngelale. He is a perfect fit for the office of Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity. I wish Ajuri success in his most challenging assignment.
You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com