Sunday, August 13, 2023
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New Jersey, USA

he ECOWAS leadership front loaded their decision with an ultimatum that threatened military intervention in Niger following the coup that toppled democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum. Whereas, the exigencies of the military takeover necessitated the resolution, practical readiness and implications of military intervention, as a means to restore democracy in Niger, are indeterminate. In international relations and diplomacy, the use of force code named “all necessary means” is the last resort. And we can only count a few situations where it had worked.

The context of the rampancy of coups in Francophonic speaking countries even after the recent democracy sweep of West Africa gives a significant indication to the coup in Niger. Political stability in some West African countries is a recurrent discourse in International Relations and Security of the region. In almost all West African countries the elusiveness of democratic dividends and stranglehold of the political elite class are serious problems. The contagion to using force or incumbency to usurp power also was negatively influenced by the fragility of democratic process witnessed on January 6, 2021 in the USA and on January 8, 2023 in Brazil.

Externally projected military power aimed at regime change or reinstatement of ousted political heads of state is not an easy project. It cost blood and money. It’s end is unpredictable. It often leads to quagmire. The collateral damage on the civilian population and physical infrastructure of the nation where powershift is intended are huge. US-led regime change in Iraq of 2003 and ongoing war in Ukraine are vivid examples.

The new government of President Bola Tinubu must continue on the multipronged diplomatic engagements of the Military Leader(s) in Niame. Furthemore, an organized and coordinated approach is necessary. Early thinking on the exit strategy (final resolution) should or could be a negotiated arrangement between the Military and Political Class. Listening to former Emir Sanusi Lamido talking about “African solution for African problem” made me remember the selfsame often mentioned words when negotiating peace in Darfur. Good enough, the Director General of National Intelligence, Ambassador Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, CFR, my former Boss at African Union-UN Mission in Darfur, is a world-renowned Expert in “Political Power” negotiation. Ambassador Abubakar’s multi-linguistic proficiency, enables him to engage with Military and Political Leaders of Niger. He’s truly an asset to President Tinubu at this time. The deployment of Islamic Leaders to engage with the military leaders is also an important step.

The strategy of engagement with the Military leader in Niger must be clarified internally at Aso Rock. While all hands must be on deck, both governmental, private and nongovernmental; the stakeholders must be coordinated at a Mediation Office under the Office of the President and Chairman of ECOWAS. A possible suggestion would be that Ambassador Abubakar DG, NIA due to his mandate and AU-UN Level Mediation experiences leads the Mediation Office while the incoming Foreign Minister can be a Co-Lead. A small dedicated office must be established to lighten the direct involvement of President Tinubu who needs as much time to cater for citizens that elected him. There's a real possibility of giving too much time to coup in Niger at the detriment of urgent domestic issues facing the country. Two core tasks: negotiation to ascertain the intentions of Niger’s military leader including timeline for democratic rule. The Niger military leaders may request from ECOWAS and the International Community (IC) their preferred interlocutors. The Mediation Office can enlist President Maada Bio and former Head of State Abubakar Abdulsalam. Becauseboth voluntarily handed over power to civilian Presidents. All efforts to minimize direct involvement of the IC beyond West Africa is advisable, so that the political process doesn't become a circus

Within all the ongoing efforts, it is important for Nigeria and ECOWAS to engage France to know their disposition and national interest about the coup. We all know that the Frachoponic West African countries, because of their pseudo economic independence, are tied at the umbilicus with France. The presence of the United States Government (USG) sprawling military base (Drone) in Niger also requires a clear understanding of USG’s position on the situation in Niger. During the week, visiting Acting Deputy US Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was denied access to President Mohamed Bazoum. Furthermore, the clamor of some citizens of Niger for Russia and possibly Wagner Group is expanding real and potential key stakeholders. While Russia doesn’t have a significant presence in Niger, Wagner Group presence in the Central Africa Republic providing security coverage for the ruling class had been reported in the news.

With the UN Security Council stakeholders, there could be NO MILITARY intervention in Niger without clear engagements of France, US, AU and possibly Russia. Indeed, Mali and Burkina Faso, the two West African countries have indicated that an attack on Niger, will be considered an attack on them. Surely, this is understandable because they are all Military-led governments. Who wants war in West Africa? Who wants to rush to war in West Africa?

Time is not auspicious for war. Niger not only shares very long borders with Nigeria, but peoples across the artificially drawn boundaries between both countries share common heritage. If war is declared on Niger, the collateral damages, Internally displaced persons, cross-border destabilizing activities like terrorism and criminalities, will certainly increase. Besides, there may be Nigerians who may be sympathetic to the plight of Nigeriens.

Nigeria has no money to prosecute the war, if we embark on it. ECOMOG was financed by Nigeria and we never requested compensation or be given significant recognition in the UN Peacekeeping for our restoring peace and security in Liberia and Sierra Leone. General Martin-Luther Agwai was appointed MILAD to the UN Secretary General in part as a recognition for Nigeria’s Peacekeeping Superpower as President Bill Clintion described us. But Gen Agwai was called to serve Nigeria just about three months into his international service.

The message here is President Tinubu should use Nigeria’s money to develop Nigeria this time. It’s true that democracy must be defended by all means necessary, it also behooves the political class to strive hard and live less luxuriously for democratic dividends to get to the electorates. Citizens’ benefits including perception of benefits from democracy is the only durable panacea to bring political instability to an end. Democracy must deliver. Democracy deliverables must be tangible and intangible.

We cannot go to war now because of domestic insecurity in some parts of Nigeria. Security remains a challenge and the new “Tinubu Doctrine” for the security agencies is that they must work together and deliver together as one. Nigeria security agencies are spread thin. An Emir with his wife were abducted recently in Nigeria. The insecurity in the country will worsen if Nigeria leads a war to restore democracy in Niger.

In clear terms, political leadership in Niger is not a serious threat to Nigeria rather it’s the political stability and security in Niger that matter. If the people of Niger prefer an outdated military government, so be it. Nigeria and ECOWAS must choose the fights. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Democracy deliverables is the answer not a bloody war of indeterminate consequences. President Tinubu’s priority is Nigeria despite his international role as Chairman ECOWAS and Nigeria’s status as the biggest democracy in Africa. There’s too much on the table for President Tinubu to deal with in his nationwide constituencies. Ongoing ways and means to cushion the removal of petroleum subsidy and stabilization of the unified exchange rates and the impending worker’s strike are issues that have enormous domestic impacts.

Considering President Tinubu’s antecedent as a democracy fighter under military dictatorship, and his present position as Commander-in-Chief of Nigerian Armed Force and the Chairman of ECOWAS, it is a tough time for him to condone or just look away at the political injustice of the military intervention. Military toppling of a democratically elected President is unconscionable for a democracy fighter. What a time for a new administration? What an incident of destiny for President Tinubu? Nonetheless, President Tinubu must contextualize and should not listen to any of his Advisors within and outside who supports going (rushing) to war to actualize democracy in Niger. The time calls for leadership management of ambiguity of making haste slowly. This is not June 12. This is not Nigeria. Despite that Niger is the closest ethno-socio-culturally and geographically with northern Nigeria, yet history and current political struggles and actualization of political struggles in both neighboring countries are completely different. Also, we both had different colonial arrangements at independence.

President Tinubu must remember that former President John F Kennedy resisted, including a last minute push to use nuclear arms to settle the Cuban Missiles Crisis in October,1962.

In summary, there are reasons why we should not go to war to restore democracy in Niger. First, the outcome of such a war is unpredictable and consequences can never be fully ascertained.. Second, the national interests of France, primarily must be determined, and the US. Other nations like Russia must be consulted, and the military-ruled ECOWAS nations must not discountenanced. Third, there’s no money to prosecute the military intervention in Niger. Fourth, the multilateral diplomatic engagement must be coordinated under a dedicated Mediation Office led by DG, NIA. Fifth, the exit strategy scenarios for the situation in Niger must be conceptualized. Some possible scenarios: a power-sharing arrangement is the most likely, and evidence for this is already shown by the appointment of the Prime Minister; President Bazoum reinstatement is unlikely and his participation in future elections can be negotiated; the current military leader may transform himself into a civilian President; and the cycle of instability continues. Democracy comes in different ways to different societies. The overarching goal is to restore peace, security, and stability without loss of lives and properties.

We all stand to gain without war! President Tinubu must resist military intervention

PS: The title of the article is informed by the experiences of the author in three peacekeeping operations authorized by the United Nations. He’s a staunch supporter of President Tinubu