West Africa: Of Niger, Breathing Problems and Other Matters

“Bros, you dey town?”

“Yes. Where you think say I for dey. I no tell you say I dey travel”

“I thought maybe you would have gone to Niger.”

“Go Niger go do wetin?”

“I hear some civil society groups are compiling names of persons who will go to Niger to talk to the coup leaders to give peace a chance, forget about the coup and reinstate President Muhammad Bazoum in power.”

“Of all the pressing problems that I have in Nigeria: fuel price has gone up, diesel is expensive, landlord has announced rent increase, school fees have been raised, Tinubu’s economic policy is not working, how on earth do you think that my main priority should be what goes on in Niger? People are fighting their former colonial masters, they have removed a President that is a lackey of the West, the people of Niger themselves are on the streets jubilating and hailing the coup leaders and you say, I should go there to talk to them. Please, in my capacity as what?”

“As a notable noise maker in the Nigerian society, and a champion of democracy. This is about democracy, and the need to preserve it in the West African region, from the Sahel to the rest of Africa. ECOWAS has already taken up the responsibility. The Heads of States and Governments have imposed sanctions. They have dispatched a standby force.”

“Yes, yes, I know. They have the support of the African Union, the European Union Commission, and the United Nations. Americans, the French, the Germans have military bases in Niger. They did nothing until shege happened, and now it has become our collective responsibility. Please my main responsibility now is how to pay school fees next month, and how to buy diesel for the generator at home and fuel the cars. Whatever they do in Niger is not my personal problem right now. Have you not heard that here in Nigeria, we too are trying to breathe?”

“Many Nigerians are concerned because Niger is our sister country. We have strong religious, cultural and historic affinities. Are you aware that the head of the military junta in Niger is married to a Nigerian woman from Kangiwa in Kebbi State, while the Emir of Dosso in Niger pays homage to the Emir of Argungu in Nigeria? Seven states in the North share a border of about 999 miles with Niger, including Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina. Some people sleep in Nigeria and eat breakfast in Niger. That is how close we are. And even if you are not aware of anything, are you not aware that when President Buhari was leaving office one thing he said is that if anybody disturbs him too much in Nigeria, he will relocate and join his kith and kin in Niger? Now the old man has nowhere to go. He is stuck here. You people complain too much in Nigeria. The people in Niger are in a revolutionary mood.”

“I sympathize with President Buhari. His plight must be a lesson to all persons who assume dual citizenship as allowed by the laws of Nigeria. You could find yourself in a situation where there could be issues in your two countries and you are caught betwixt and between. If gbege come gbege now, where President Buhari go run to? Father country no well, mother country dey boil. This is why I always say what we need in Africa is good governance and responsible leadership.”

“But I think that there is now some light at the end of the tunnel, though. Nigeria’s Council of Ulamaas, the Jamma’tu Izalatu Bidiah wa Ikamatu Sunnah (JIBWIS) led by the Chairman, visited Niger on Sunday. They were granted audience by the coup leaders. They met with President Abdourahamane Tchiani himself and the newly appointed Prime Minister. The coup leaders in fact sent their apologies to President Tinubu for having refused previously to grant audience to the delegations that he sent before now: President Patrice Talon of Republic of Benin, a Nigerian delegation comprising former Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari, Head of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency and Nigeria’s Chief of Air Staff, subsequently, President Mahamat Idris Deby of Chad also went to Niger, and thereafter too, General Abdusalami Abubakar and the Sultan of Sokoto. Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi went to Niger in his capacity as the head of the Tijanniya sect. They granted him audience. The Council of Ulammas from Nigeria also went there. They met with them. I am afraid Niger may have been taken over by Jihadists and terrorists, right on our doorstep. Afterall, President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire pointedly accused them of terrorism. The good news is that they now say they want to dialogue with ECOWAS.”

“It is because the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS, the EU Commission, France and those who donate money to keep Niger going are beginning to bite hard. Yes, Niger is rich in Uranium, the seventh largest deposits in the world, but it is also a poor country that depends on about $20 billion worth of international aid per annum. The sanctions are actually not enough. I assume that the coup leaders are now panicking. The thing to do is to add more sanctions. Nigeria should take the lead by telling our daughter from Kebbi state who is married to the coup leader to pack her bags and come back home. That is one sanction that will hit home. I don’t trust Tchiani. ECOWAS must resolve to hit him hard below the belt.”

“You know sometimes, I don’t understand you. We are discussing peace, diplomacy and international relations, you are reducing everything to marital issues. What if your sister says it is in fact the coup leader of Niger that she wants and ECOWAS can go to hell, will you go and force her to leave her husband because Nigeria wants to show it has power even in the bedrooms of Niger?”

“I don’t trust General Tchiani and his men. Look at how they snubbed Nigeria, the giant of Africa”.

“Leave that giant thing. Nobody considers Nigeria a giant anymore. In fact, it is so bad, if President Tinubu himself dares to go near Niger, they will arrest him and lock him up with Bazoum and serve him agbado which they must have heard he likes a lot. And nothing will happen. In fact, some Nigerian will say it serves him right. Please leave that matter about being a giant. Nobody sees Nigeria as a giant anymore please.”

“Those boys in Niger will detain Nigeria’s President? That will be an assault on the sovereignty of Nigeria. Then, the war that nobody wants will begin immediately”

“My friend, go and calm down. You think all the Nigerians who have been saying Nigeria should not commit to any act of aggression don’t know what they are saying? ACF, Katsina Forum, Afenifere, Council of Ulamaas, HURIWA, Senator Shehu Sani, NLC, PDP, LP, you think they don’t know what they are saying? Nigeria is broke. It cannot finance any major military operation that is likely to end up as proxy war between the East and the West. It also cannot afford a full-scale war in its backyard. And what does Nigeria stand to gain from committing troops to an operation in Niger?”

“Peace and stability at home. That is Nigeria’s national interest, particularly to prevent the coup virus from spreading from the Sahel region into the West African heartland. It is not in Nigeria’s interest to have a coup anywhere around its vicinity. Nigerian citizens at the moment cannot breathe at the moment. If they get suffocated further, you don’t know what they can do. We may have to use Niger to send a strong lesson to anybody that werey is disturbing his or her head.”

“Have you thought of the implications of joining ECOWAS to send troops to Niger? Nobody knows the reaction we will get. Terrorism in the Northern borders, more refugees trooping into Nigeria, the possibility of aggrieved Nigerians supporting Niger, and sabotaging their own country. If I were President Tinubu, I will borrow myself small sense, and tread cautiously. Niger is a Banana peel for President Tinubu. He should not step on it.”

“I see we are a country of cowards. ECOWAS is a community of shadow-boxers. They don’t even have a standby force anyway. Just making mouth. In the next few days, I imagine that Tinubu and ECOWAS will try to do damage control and save face.”

“I think the former Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, former Minister of Foreign Affairs put his fingers on it when he said Tinubu has no experience in international diplomacy, and he should seek the help of former Heads of State and Presidents of Nigeria. And he is right. This is not the Kabiyesi rulership of Lagos State. This is something far more complex, because of the international dimensions. Nigeria is bigger than the swashbuckling, triumphal, “awalokan” boys from Lagos.”

“Please can we talk about something else?”

“Did I not hear that one Nigerian aircraft on its way to Niger has crashed somewhere in the North? Those are the people you say are sending apologies to Tinubu? If they want dialogue, then on what terms? Will they listen to ECOWAS?”

“Can we change subject? It looks like Pastor Tunde Bakare has joined the ranks of those criticizing Tinubu? Did you listen to his state of the nation address on Sunday? Vice, Virtue, Time: three Things That Cannot stand Still.”

“What prophecies did he make? Did he predict that the Naira will be N2,000 to the dollar by October and that the pump price of petrol will be about N900 per litre?”

“He said more than that. He spoke truth to power. He said Nigeria is on a downward slope under Tinubu, and that what we have is an imperial presidency and leadership by impulse”

“Pastor Bakare is one of the original founders of the ruling APC, Nigeria’s ruling party.”

“He said APC could never have won the 2023 general election if there was no split in the PDP, and that President Tinubu is showing a tendency to act before thinking.”

“He said that? Isn’t that anti-party?”

“I think the man was speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I heard him saying with 48 Ministers, Tinubu is running a bloated government and abusing the tenets of neoliberalism, and that there cannot be any economic reform without economic justice, and the poor must be allowed to breathe.”

“Yes, yes, yes, on that one, he is right. The poor in Nigeria are suffocating. That is why they are now protesting in Yola, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, and Kano due to the high cost of living. We, the people, just want to breathe. The people are saying let government remove its knees from our necks and not choke us to death like George Floyd was choked to death in the US.”

“You know Pastor Bakare even said Godwin Emefiele, the embattled and suspended CBN Governor is a victim of vendetta, and political impunity, who is being made a scapegoat.”

“I won’t be surprised if Pastor Bakare is accused of anti-party activities and he is expelled from the APC. Has Mr. Dele Alake responded to him yet?”

“I have not seen anything. No, not yet.”

“You can be sure the President’s spokespersons are still loading their bazooka. When they fire, you will hear the boom, boom of attacks on Pastor Bakare.”

“And you think the Pastor will be bothered? Na dem dem. If they fire bazooka, he will respond with an inter-continental ballistic missile!”

“At home and abroad, just creepy stories all over within 75 days of Tinubu in office. Punitive economic policies that impoverish the people. A Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that publishes a balance sheet for the first time after seven years that is fit only for the dustbin. An uninspiring cabinet list. Mediocre performance in international relations Oh, what a curious set!.”

“Oh, come on. I can think of one or two sweet stories. The Super Falcons did well in the Women’s World Cup. They may have lost out in the Round of 16, but they were good, and they deserve to be celebrated truly. Also under Tinubu, our girls won the AfroBasket Championship for the fourth time in a row, beating their arch-rivals, Senegal 84 -74. That’s something to cheer about. And our boy, Anthony Joshua knocked out Helenius in the seventh round, his first knock-out in three years… let’s be fair.”

“Yeah, I also saw the Governor of Osun State, Jackson Ademola Adeleke hosting Rasheedat Ajibade and Rofiat Imuran, two Super Falcons from Osun State and celebrating them with Jacksonian dance steps. Quite refreshing.”

“The Governor of Osun is a naturally happy man. He is always giving us good content. He should consider opening a Tik Tok page on social media, and that can be a good source of non-oil revenue for Osun state! He will beat all social media influencers at their game. He is just a natural entertainer. Nice one.”

“So which two teams do you think will make the Women’s World Cup final? Four teams are already in the semi-finals. Spain vs Sweden today. Australia vs England tomorrow.”

“I must confess this year’s Women’s World Cup has been top-notch. Record attendance. Impressive quality of play. In fact, some of those female teams are so technically proficient, if they play against the current Super Eagles of Nigeria, our male national team, they will serve them woto woto. But do I want England to win? No. For defeating Nigeria without putting up a convincing performance, No, please. Australia should beat them and Spain or Sweden should win.

“This is exactly what Pastor Bakare calls the politics of vendetta oh. Can you see that there are no saints anywhere?”

“Not exactly the same thing. I have a right to protect my country’s interest. I still don’t understand the overriding national interest that Nigeria wants to protect in Niger. I keep saying that the time may have come when we have to review this mantra about Africa being the centre-piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy process. Nigeria must be Nigeria’s number one interest, not the ego of ambitious politicians – call it Nigerian exceptionalism.”

“I hear you. Na here we dey, everything go soon clear for everybody eye. Make all of una dey talk your talk. Na here we dey as Dede dey.”

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