Cote d’Ivoire President, Alassane Ouattara (left); President, ECOWAS Commission, Omar Toure; ECOWAS Chairman/President Bola Tinubu; President Faure Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and President Macky Sall of Senegal; (second row) President Umaro Sissoco of Guinea Bissau; President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone; President Patrice Talon of Benin Republic and President Nana Akufo-Ado of Ghana during the ECOWAS 2nd Extraordinary Summit on the Political Situation in Republic of Niger, in Abuja…yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA
Defiant Niger forms new govt as ECOWAS’ standby force ready for deployment
Four days after expiration of the ultimatum it issued at its last extraordinary summit held on July 30, the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) Heads of State yesterday, vowed to do all, including the use of force, to dislodge the junta in Niger Republic if it remains recalcitrant.
The West African leaders arrived at the resolution at their meeting in Abuja yesterday, after reviewing happenings since Sunday when the one-week ultimatum they issued to the junta for the restoration of constitutional order lapsed.
According to the communiqué read by ECOWAS President, Omar Touray, the leaders noted: “All diplomatic efforts made by ECOWAS in resolving the crisis have been defiantly repelled by the military leadership of Niger.”
As part of their decisions, the ECOWAS leaders directed the Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff to activate the ECOWAS standby force with all its elements immediately. They also ordered the deployment of the ECOWAS standby force to restore constitutional order in Niger.
ECOWAS gave few details and failed to spell out the make-up, location and proposed date of deployment of any military intervention force.
Nine of the 11 heads of state expected to attend were present, including the presidents of Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, while Liberia and the Gambia were represented by their Foreign Ministers. Non-ECOWAS leaders of Mauritania and Burundi also participated in the closed-door meeting.
The Niger junta had remained defiant and continued to hold on to power while keeping ousted president Mohamed Bazoum in detention since the July 26 coup.
While the junta had refused to see ECOWAS, African Union (AU), and United Nations (UN) delegations on several occasions, coup leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, however, met with Nigeria’s former central bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, on Wednesday.
Sanusi, who later briefed President Bola Tinubu on the outcome of his visit, said he went to Niger in his personal capacity. The former Emir of Kano and other Islamic clerics also appealed to Tinubu to avoid war with Niger and continue with diplomacy.
Also, the influential Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Abubakar, stated its opposition to war and asked for a reversal of sanctions on Niger.
Due to the overwhelming internal opposition to war, including the Senate, which at the weekend rejected a military option, Tinubu, who is also the ECOWAS chairman, yesterday, appealed to his colleagues to continue to dialogue with the coup leaders.
“In reaffirming our relentless commitment to democracy, human rights, and the well-being of the people of Niger, it is crucial that we prioritise diplomatic negotiations and dialogue as the bedrock of our approach,” he said.
He also suggested that the steps taken by ECOWAS, so far, should be reviewed to see why they were not effective. His fellow heads of state, however, disagreed with him.
They not only approved the deployment of an ECOWAS standby force to Niger, but also doubled down on the sanctions earlier imposed on the country.
ECOWAS leaders ordered member states to “enforce all measures, in particular, border closures, and strict travel bans and assets freeze on all persons or groups of individuals whose actions hinder all peaceful efforts aimed at ensuring the smooth and complete restoration of constitutional order.”
Speaking on the reason for their decision, President Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast told journalists that the leaders were left with no option and the decision was not just about Nigeria’s interests.
“This is not a decision of Nigeria against Niger. We have tried dialogue, sent a delegation of high personalities. The military government is keeping President Bazoum hostage. I personally consider keeping President Bazoum hostage as a terrorist act. And we cannot let this continue. We have to act.
“The position of Côte d’Ivoire, which has been endorsed by all of the Heads of State, is that we have been able to tell these putschists that their place is in the barracks. They should go to fight the terrorists and not try to kidnap a democratically elected president.
“So, we believe in this for the credibility of ECOWAS. All of us are concerned and involved in this decision. So, I’d like to thank my former president of ECOWAS, President Tom Barlow. He himself is a former general democratically elected now to serve and he insists that we want democracy in our sub region.
“We do not accept, we will not accept a coup d’etat and I think these putschists must go if they don’t let Bazoum out to be able to exercise his mandate. I think we should move ahead and get them out. Bazoum is the democratically elected president, he should be freed, he should be able to exercise his mandate freely.”
Asked if the position he was canvassing was the ECOWAS position, he said, “as you can see I have to leave now, but this is the position most heads of state who have intervened, have endorsed. It is not a Nigerian affair, it’s an affair of ECOWAS, and you know Niger is part of the monetary union of West Africa, of which I am the chair and this concerns Cote d’Ivoire on that account.
“ECOWAS is even bigger. ECOWAS has nearly 400 million people, 240 million in Nigeria, 140 million in the West African Monetary Union. If we don’t have democracy, do you think that our countries will be able to move ahead? This coup d’etat is not acceptable. We should put an end to it. And I hope it will be unanimous but we’ll put this to an end.”
The West African leaders also called on the United Nations, partner countries, and other institutions to support its efforts to ensure a quick restoration of constitutional order in Niger.
While calling on the African Union to endorse all the decisions taken by the ECOWAS authority on the situation in Niger, the West African bloc warned member states whose actions are directly or indirectly hindering the peaceful resolution of the crisis in Niger about the consequences for their action before the community.
Speaking after the summit, President Tinubu said no option is off the table, including the use of force as the last resort in resolving the Niger crisis.
“You will see from the communiqué of this extraordinary summit that no option is taken off the table including the use of force as the last resort. If we don’t do it, no one else will do it for us. We remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting Niger towards peaceful and democratic stability in the country,” Tinubu said.
BUT in blatant defiance to ECOWAS show of force, the coup plotters, yesterday, announced the formation of a new government, shortly before the ECOWAS meeting. The new government, announced on state TV, is made up of 21 ministers, including two ministers of state and a delegate minister.
The new government, made up of military and civilian personalities, is led by interim Prime Minister, Lamine Zeine Ali Mahamane, who will also double as the minister of economy and finance.
Former chief of staff, Salifou Mody, a lieutenant general, widely considered to be coup leader Abdourahamane Tchiani’s deputy, has been named minister of national defence.
Abdourahmane Amadou, who has been reading the majority of the communiqué on state TV since the coup, is the minister of youth and sports. The junta also named new military chiefs and sacked most of the senior government officials who served in Bazoum’s administration.
A top U.S. diplomat had warned that the junta has threatened to kill the deposed president, Bazoum if ECOWAS attempts any military intervention to restore his rule. Representatives of the junta who met with U.S. Under Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, earlier in the week, relayed the threat during her visit to the country, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Recall that the Centre for Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE) had warned that military intervention could be damaging for Nigeria, with yearly financial cost estimated at $2 billion.
Considering the current lean public revenue of the country, near 100 per cent debt service to revenue ratio and mounting indebtedness, CPPE balked at the country’s ability to absorb the cost and called for deeper introspection.
Nigeria, which shouldered the cost of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) at the peak of the Liberian war, reportedly lost $8 billion to the crisis and lost hundreds of soldiers. Also, in its big brother’s role, the country lost an estimated $4 billion in Sierra Leone during its five-year civil war.
Should the country concede to a military campaign in the crisis in Niger, CPPE said the loss could be much higher considering the inflationary trend of the intervening years and impactful in terms of the opportunity cost of the military spending.
The country spent an average of $1 billion yearly to contain crises in both West African countries that went into civil wars for a combined period spanning 12 years.
CPPE, in an analysis signed by its Director-General, Dr Muda Yusuf, said the cost of yearly spending could be much higher considering the current prices of equipment, cost of sustaining human resources that would be deployed and the peculiarity of the Sahel region.
“The lesson here is that the cost of military interventions can be very prohibitive. Similar military operations at this time may cost considerably higher, given the inflationary trend over the past 25 years. At the very minimum, it would cost Nigeria a minimum of $2 billion annually to prosecute a military operation in Niger, considering the prevailing geopolitical dynamics in the Sahel.
“It will be difficult to accommodate such a huge financial commitment at this time without putting a serious strain on our fiscal operations and foreign reserves. With the benefit of hindsight, it is doubtful whether Nigeria got any significant benefit from the military interventions in both Liberia and Sierra Leone,” the economic think-tank noted
THE pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, yesterday, raised concerns over the current state of affairs in Nigeria under the leadership of President Tinubu. While likening the recent decision by ECOWAS to intervene in the internal affairs of Niger, with the inclusion of a potential military option, to the sudden removal of fuel subsidies, Afenifere stated that the situation has further exacerbated Nigeria’s already fragile socioeconomic situation.
Describing the situation as a “comedy of errors,” the mainstream Yoruba group emphasised that the style of government employed since the inception of the current administration is unprecedented.
According to the group, in a communiqué after the end of its monthly regular meeting held at Isanya-Ogbo, Ogun State, the country home of the leader of the foremost Yoruba group, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, the group called for a diplomatic resolution to the ongoing Niger issue, urging ECOWAS to exercise caution with the military use of force.
Aferenifere, however, condemned the military takeover of the government and declared that there is no justifiable reason for such an undemocratic act.
Also, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) yesterday commended President Tinubu and the Authority of the ECOWAS Heads of Government for their unwavering commitment to discourage coups d’état but however appealed to the bloc to remain on the path of dialogue and avoid any form of military intervention or measures that would create enmity between the good people of Nigeria and Niger.
In a statement in Abuja, CAN President, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, noted that the association fully recognised the gravity of the situation in Niger and the importance of upholding democratic principles, peace, and stability within the West African region and applauded President Tinubu for adopting a diplomatic approach in addressing the crisis by sending a high-level delegation, led by the eminent statesman General Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd.), to engage with the Nigerien authorities.
He said that the association firmly believes that the path to lasting peace lies in upholding democratic processes, respecting the sovereignty of nations, and engaging in peaceful dialogue to address grievances and resolve conflicts.
Okoh observed that the peaceful resolution of conflicts is vital for the progress and well-being of the ECOWAS sub-region and her people.