Regional crisis looms as ECOWAS nations take sides on Niger coup
The recent coup in Niger has raised concerns and triggered regional tension among member countries of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS. Going by the resolutions of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government on Tuesday, in Abuja, one thing is clear - war looms in the West African region. DAILY POST recalls that the political tension was triggered on 28 July, when General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the head of Nigers presidential guard, declared himself head of state after the military seized power, and deposed the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum. The coup plotters cited rising insecurity and a lack of economic growth as reasons why they seized, stressing that the intervention was necessary to avoid the gradual and inevitable demise of the country. The news of the coup was met with global outrage and condemnations, as calls were made on ECOWAS, the regional economic and political union comprising 15 West African member states, to step up and strongly respond to the unfolding events in Niger. ECOWAS has always been firm in its opposition to any unconstitutional change of government among its member states. The organisation has a rich historical background of implementing its democratic protocols and ensuring the restoration of order in countries facing crises. One of its most notable initiatives was the establishment of a regional peacekeeping operation called ECOMOG, which was spearheaded by Nigeria in the 1990s and early 2000s. This operation played a decisive role in restoring calm in several countries, including Liberia, where forces were first deployed in 1990 to quell the deadly civil war. ECOMOG's intervention was equally crucial in Sierra Leone in 1997 when the democratically elected government of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was overthrown. In line with its unwavering commitment to democracy, ECOWAS swiftly condemned the recent coup in Niger and called for the immediate restoration of constitutional order in the country. However, the ECOWAS response to the Niger coup has not been unanimous. On one hand, ECOWAS, under the new leadership of Nigerias president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has vowed to go hard on the coupists and has slammed heavy sanctions on Niger. Some of the sanctions from ECOWAS are the closure of all Niger borders and the suspension of trade, diplomacy and financial services to the country; a no-fly zone has also been declared over Niger and its military hierarchy. ECOWAS has stressed that it would give more sanctions if Niger's military fails to restore deposed President Bazoum in seven days. But on the other hand, member states, such as Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso have taken sides with the Niger military junta, warning against any form of military action. These two countries, where soldiers had also ceased power via coups, expressed their support for the military takeover of power in Niger. In a joint statement on Monday, they vowed to lend a hand to the people of Niger to fight invaders. Mali and Burkina Faso warned that any military intervention against Niger would amount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali, the statement said. They also said an invasion of Niger would see their immediate withdrawal from ECOWAS, as well as the adoption of self-defence measures in support of the armed forces and the people of Niger. Berating ECOWAS and its leaders, Mali and Burkina Faso accused ECOWAS of hypocrisy. The Transitional Governments of Burkina Faso and Mali are deeply indignant and surprised by the imbalance observed between, on the one hand, the celerity and the adventurous attitude of certain political leaders in West Africa wishing to use force armed forces to restore constitutional order in a sovereign country, and on the other hand, the inaction, indifference and passive complicity of these organisations and political leaders in helping States and peoples who have been victims of terrorism for a decade and left to their fate, the statement added. The recent stance taken by Mali and Burkina Faso has drawn widespread condemnation from the international community, including the United States of America, the United Nations, and ECOWAS. The potential negative consequences of military conflict within the West African sub-region have also raised concerns. With the clock ticking, Niger's military options are limited. It can either hope that the one-week ultimatum issued by ECOWAS will not result in immediate action, or seek understanding with the opposing side. However, with only around 12,000 poorly equipped military personnel, Niger is vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the ECOMOG forces. It is clear that Niger is no match for ECOWAS and its resolute military forces, especially with the full support of the US, France, and the EU. Responding to the Mali and Burkina Faso's threat, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Aviation minister, and chieftain of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, in a statement posted on his verified Twitter handle on Tuesday, urged Nigeria not to relent in leading the ECOMOG forces in expelling the Niger coupists and crushing member nations that support the junta. The military Governments of Mali and Burkina Faso have said that any attack on the Niger Republic by ECOWAS will be regarded as an act of war. This is a pitiful and nonsensical threat from two pitiful and nonsensical-unelected Governments headed by tin-pot military dictators. "The biggest mistake that the mutinous rebels and military usurpers of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and their allies can ever make is to underestimate the fighting force and indomitable spirit of the Nigerian military and the sense of solidarity that we as a people kindle, muster and cultivate when confronted in the field of battle by a foreign foe. We may have challenges and issues in our country but when at war against foreign armies on foreign soil we have NEVER been overwhelmed or defeated. History proves that. We are slow to anger but irresistible in battle and if the Burkinabe, Malian or the Nigerien Army test our will we shall bring them to their knees and teach them the lesson of their lives. "Threatening great Nigeria with war is no small matter and, if carried out, will prove costly for them. Simply put we would crush them like maggots under our feet and send them back to the stone ages where they belong, Fani-Kayode said. Also, Mr Uzogara Tobechukwu, a policy analyst, in a statement obtained by DAILY POST on Tuesday, urged the ECOWAS not to be deterred by the threats and division among members over the coup in Mali. Tobechukwu dismissed the 35-year-old Burkina Faso Captain Ibrahim Traore, as no match for Nigeria. He said, With less than 12,000 soldiers and a population as that of Lagos, Burkina Faso is definitely a weak military state. Also, almost 40 per cent of the country is under the control of rampaging Islamist Jihadists, this further lends credence to the fact that Burkina Faso has poor defensive capabilities. It is therefore amusing as well as insulting to all sane Africans who desire the growth of democracy in the continent to hear Ibrahim Traore threaten to attack any ECOWAS force that invades Niger Republic in order to restore its deposed President Bazoum. Apart from being unable to defend his own country, it's eminently clear that Burkina Faso's military president must really be a big-time joker. My advice to President Tinubu and ECOWAS is not to be deterred by the threat of conflict escalation. This is the time to put a stop to the emerging trend of military incursions in politics. Africans must be united on this. Failure to achieve this objective now would further embolden the likes of Ibrahim Traore, Assimi Goita of Mali and Omar Tchiani of Niger to replicate themselves in other African countries. The odds favour ECOWAS should they go to war to remove the Niger military rulers. It is believed that ECOWAS has a higher number of military armaments. The blocs leading country, Nigeria, alone, has West Africa's largest armed forces with 230,000 personnel, though not all are frontline troops. Nine of the top 20 countries with the best military in Africa are from remaining West African democracies, according to Global Fire Power, which ranks military strength. Only Nigeria, ranked fourth, is among the top five, while 21st-placed Mali is the highest-ranked among the four countries that have recently witnessed coups. However, even with this advantage, prominent Nigerian opinion leaders urged President Tinubu to impose more sanctions on Niger instead of war. Having not invaded Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali when power-drunk soldiers sacked democratically elected governments, ECOWAS leaders should not play into the hands of the enemies of Africa by launching a military attack on Niger. The government of Niger has collaborated with Nigeria in prosecuting the counter-insurgency operations against Islamist militancy in a region beset by a security crisis. To that extent, the strategic and geopolitical interests of Nigeria must be taken into consideration, said Human rights lawyer Femi Falana, SAN at a conference of the West African Bar Association (WABA) in Accra, Ghana. Also, Odimegwu Onwumere, award-winning journalist, and founder of the Advocacy Network on Religious and Cultural Existence, warned Nigeria against taking military action against the Nigerien military junta. Everything is not force! What makes Nigeria a democracy if her government still believes in using military force on every provocation? The case of coup in Niger Republic should be solved with diplomacy and not force. ECOWAS should be tactical for once and not dance to the music played for her by the Western world always. Besides, Nigeria has had coupists and no external military force was enforced. Africans should learn when to exhume their native knowledge, not always applying the Western knowledge. Remember that Europe has not gone to war with Russia and Ukraine a year and plus. Africa should rise from the ashes of savages, he counselled. In the same vein, Prof. Bolaji Akinterinwa, a prominent scholar and expert in international relations, called on the ECOWAS leaders to adopt diplomacy and bring all the parties together to restore lasting peace to the restive poor country. Akinterinwa stressed that Nigeria lacks the resources to fight any war at the moment. He stated that the ongoing efforts by the West and Russia to control Niger will plunge Nigeria and the West African region into a war we are not prepared for. Russia and Wagner are capitalising on the manner Western powers are making lives difficult in the country to advance their own interest, he stated.