Niger crisis: Obstinacy is not leadership

What do the hawks within the leadership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) aim to achieve by insisting on launching a military strike to remove the military junta in Niger? In times of conflict, military force or violence is not always a foolproof or productive strategy to attain peace in a country experiencing military dictatorship. And yet this is the strategy being deployed in Niger by clueless ECOWAS leaders who seem determined in their narrow-minded and intolerant way to show off their military might in a small country such as Niger.

Will use of excessive force work in Niger? Can military force be applied successfully to achieve long-lasting peace in any country? How sustainable and endearing would military strength be used to enthrone lifelong peace and democracy in Niger? Diplomacy, dialogue, and strategic engagement are known to serve far more valuable purposes and achieve far more useful results in terms of enabling peaceful resolution of conflicts.

It is easy to start a war. It is far more difficult to calculate the duration of that war and its aftermath. Consider the damage to the economy. Also consider the destruction of human lives, the communities and agricultural land and waters that would be ravaged, and the many unforeseen effects of the conflict. History has taught us through various battles that wars have immediate and long-term effects. Look at the situation in Iraq. Think about the situation in Afghanistan long after the United States hurriedly left the country. As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine persists, both sides continue to count the costs of what is arguably an avoidable war.

The critical issues embedded in the history of warfare should have taught ECOWAS leaders important lessons about the futility of using warfare to settle disputes. It is not worth it. No one deserves to be dragged into a war and no one deserves to lose their life in a conflict.

The stubbornness of ECOWAS leadership to pursue the path of war to resolve the stalemate in Niger is a failure of leadership. It is certainly not a demonstration of political sagacity for ECOWAS leaders to use military force to subdue a small country. It is not a hallmark of maturity for leaders of a regional bloc to interfere in the internal affairs of a member country.

In his epic play, Measure for Measure, British playwright William Shakespeare captured the abuse of power that is often displayed by strong nations and individuals. He wrote: “…it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant”.

ECOWAS leaders must keep in mind that victory in a war is not always guaranteed or determined by the sheer energy or military power that a country or coalition of countries possesses. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu must be cautious how he approaches the situation in Niger. Nigeria may be a regional power but it may not be successful in waging a war against a neighbouring country, given the internal security challenges currently confronting Nigerian forces.

There are reasons why Tinubu must think carefully before agreeing to plunge the country headlong into an unjustified and unprovoked war with Niger and other countries with which Niger might have military or defence pacts.

For many years, diplomatic, defence, and trade agreements underpinned the relationships between Nigeria and Niger. These relationships are seen to be in Nigeria’s national interest. Nigeria and Niger are close neighbours, not only in terms of geographic and cultural proximity but also in terms of their shared values, and their shared views on regional, economic, cultural, and security issues. Additionally, both countries have a prolonged history of bilateral collaboration.

For many reasons, a politically stable and economically developed and safe Niger should be of interest to Nigeria and other member countries of ECOWAS. Specifically, owing to the growing bilateral relationship between Nigeria and Niger, Nigeria is seen increasingly in Niger as an important development aid partner.

The relationship between Nigeria and Niger received a major boost during the government of Muhammadu Buhari who literally and metaphorically directed and supervised major projects in the interest of Niger that made that country a priority in Nigeria’s foreign and domestic policy. Projects that should be of more benefit to Nigerians were redirected to and executed in Niger. Of course, Buhari has always portrayed Niger as his traditional homeland. He also saw the citizens of Niger as his kith and kin with whom he has a common heritage.

Both ECOWAS and the coup leaders in Niger are blameworthy in the current impasse. ECOWAS took the first wrong step by issuing threats to the military authorities in Niger. They gave the military junta a deadline to dismount from their high horse and to evacuate the Presidential Palace in Niamey. Nearly four weeks after the coup, the language adopted by ECOWAS leaders has remained the same – provocative, abrasive, unfriendly, confrontational, annoying, and abusive.

Rather than look for pathways to peaceful resolution of the conflict in Niger, ECOWAS leaders have ratcheted their angry rhetoric and inflamed the situation by threatening to use military force to restore democracy in Niger. That is not the language of diplomacy. It is intimidation writ large.

The tone and language with which ECOWAS leaders have been communicating with the coup leaders in Niger clearly showed a binary superior-subordinate relationship. Although delegations representing various interest groups and governments in the region have visited the coup leaders in Niger, there is no indication that a deal would be struck soon or that democracy would be restored in the country. 

It is easy to understand why ECOWAS leaders are irritated by the coup in Niger. If they allowed the coup to succeed, they would unmistakably endorse the use of military force to topple any democratically elected government in the region. It is a practice that has been condemned and abandoned for decades in various countries.

Unquestionably, given the dynamic nature of international politics, it is important to examine the implications of leaving the situation in Niger to fester. If the situation is not resolved rapidly and peacefully, virtually every sector of our national life could be affected and possibly damaged, including the economy, regional security arrangements, diplomatic relations, education, as well as open borders that would facilitate ease of travel within the region.

There are many issues at stake. Since the July 26, 2023, military overthrow of the elected government of President Mohamed Bazoum, people in Nigeria and Niger have not experienced sound sleep. There is tension across the border. Nigerians residing in the northern parts of the country are as anxious and worried as are people in Niger.

There is an overwhelming view that ECOWAS leaders must look at diplomatic and peaceful channels to resolve the conflict in Niger rather than set a date to begin a military strike in the country. As forewarned in this column last week, using military force to resolve the situation in Niger has the potential to endanger lives, property, and businesses inside and outside the country.

The arrogance and strong-arm tactics being proposed by the hawks within ECOWAS can only lead to disaster for everyone. It shows ECOWAS leaders are not listening to the voice of reason. Similarly, the coup leaders in Niger have shown lack of diplomacy and an unwillingness to listen. Late last week, the coup leader said he planned to govern for three years before organising elections that would return the country to an elected government. It is uncertain whether this proposal would appeal to ECOWAS leaders. If the proposal does not attract the interest of ECOWAS, there would be a standoff. Regardless of what happens, whether anyone likes it or not, at a point during the stalemate, one side must yield ground.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *