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Foreign military bases in Nigeria: The dynamics of the geo-politics

Last week, some of us wrote an open letter to the President and the leadership of the National Assembly drawing their attention to information we…

Last week, some of us wrote an open letter to the President and the leadership of the National Assembly drawing their attention to information we have received that Nigeria was in discussions with the United States and France, who are seeking our country’s permission to establish military bases. We strongly advised against it. We also launched a signature campaign on www.change.org seeking the support of all patriotic Nigerians – “Sovereign Declaration: United Against Military Bases in Nigeria”. The campaign is ongoing and we continue to solicit your support.

Three days after the release of our open letter, the federal government responded through the Minister of Information that it: “is aware of false alarms being raised in some quarters alleging discussions between the Federal Government of Nigeria and some foreign countries on the siting of foreign military bases in the country. We urge the general public to totally disregard this falsehood. The Federal Government is not in any such discussion with any foreign country. We have neither received nor are we considering any proposals from any country on the establishment of any foreign military bases in Nigeria.” 

The American and French governments have also denied seeking military bases in Nigeria.

We applaud government’s direct denial as the best possible response as they are not going to publicly accept that they had indeed been in discussions with these countries. Our goal should be theirs, that we will not accept that our sovereignty be compromised by foreign nations. Nonetheless, we know enough to remain vigilant.

Central to our concerns is the importance of responding to current geopolitical dynamics in our region, and indeed in the world in a manner that protects our sovereignty. American global hegemony has come under challenge from many countries and rising powers such as Russia, China and India and as they are chased out of countries hitherto under their control, they have been on the search for new abodes for their military adventurism.

West Africa has also been in turmoil. The return of the military to power in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Niger have been accompanied by a patriotic and organised campaign against France as the architect of the underdevelopment of Francophone countries and a saboteur of the battle against violent extremism in the Sahel.

Since 1990, a striking 78 per cent of the 27 coups in sub-Saharan Africa have occurred in Francophone states where France has had a strong say in their affairs. No wonder the recent coup makers in these countries moved fast to keep the French at bay by expelling them.

 Historically, French colonial rule established political systems designed to extract valuable resources while using repressive strategies to retain control after “independence”. The British did the same. The difference was that while the United Kingdom quickly learnt to give up on maintaining the colonial system after independence, France persisted in nurturing and sustaining it.

The French were very elaborate in retaining neo-colonial institutions such as the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro and guaranteed by France, as their currency. Their foreign reserves are kept by France under terms that favour the French economy. France also forged defence agreements that saw it regularly intervene militarily on behalf of unpopular pro-French leaders to keep them in power. In many cases, this behaviour strengthened the hand of corrupt and abusive figures such as Chad’s former President Idriss Deby, President Paul Biya of Cameroon and former Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré. 

Worse still, the relationship between many French political leaders and their allies in Africa was often corrupt, creating a powerful and wealthy elite at the expense of African citizens. François-Xavier Verschave, a prominent French economist, coined the term Francafrique to refer to a neo-colonial relationship hidden by “the secret criminality in the upper echelons of French politics and economy”.  Although recent French governments have sought to distance themselves from Francafrique, there are constant reminders of the problematic relations between France, French business interests and Africa, including a number of embarrassing corruption cases.

Meanwhile, the Russians have made their move into the region through the controversial Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in August 2023 when his plane was blown off the sky. He had built populist bridges into Francophone Africa. His talents included developing elaborate and sophisticated ways of weaponizing the genuine and deep history of Francafrique’s terrible maintenance of its colonial grip on the governments and resources of Francophone Africa for its interest while pretending to propose liberation.

The purpose has been to introduce in its stead Russian neo-colonial control of the said countries through the instrumentality of installing military dictatorships. His method has been through deliberate and sustained manipulation through social media. The geopolitical agenda then became substituting Russian and maybe Chinese for American and French neo-colonialism.

On Francafrique, the Wagner approach was to devote years of bombarding Francophone Africa with images through Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok, Twitter (now X) and other outlets that France was actively providing arms to jihadists to keep terrorism active. Prigozhin used his Internet Research Agency (IRA), an online “troll farm,” and the Association for Free Research and International Cooperation (AFRIC) for the work. Today, there is informational dominance in Francophone Africa that terrorism remains because of France and the solution is to bring in the Russians.

A number of sophisticated social media influencers emerged to lead the advocacy for Russia as the solution. They include Nathalie Yanm (@Nath_Yamb), Kemi  Seba (@KemiSeba) French citizen originally from Benin Republic and a French lecturer @FranklinNyamsi with Cameroonian roots. They lead the social media campaign and have also been active in facilitating the Russia-Africa summits. Over the past five years, they have succeeded in making the strong association between the idea that France must be thrown out, which all patriotic Africans support, and that Russia is the way forward.

Kemi Seba, who recently tore his French passport, has argued that turning to Russia is a tactical move to support African countries as they send France packing, and not a strategic move because they do not want to replace French with Russian, Chinese or Turkish neo-colonialism. The risk is that once the Russians take hold, they would be in no hurry to leave.

Africans must rise to the imperative that the objective of combating neo-colonialism must be for autonomy not for a replacement of neo-colonial power.

I am particularly concerned about the presentation of military vanguardism as the pathway to salvation especially as the current generation of African youth have no experience or knowledge of the negative consequences of military dictatorship. 

The fact of the matter however is that in spite of considerable funding and troops, the French and American-led international response to Islamist insurgencies in the Sahel region has failed to enable West African governments to regain control of their territories. This has been clearly stated by the junta leaders in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. The people of these countries accept this assessment and therefore support the military as an alternative.

Yet, for all of the mistakes France has made in its dealings with its former colonies in Africa over the years, the instability Francophone states are currently experiencing cannot be solely laid at its door. During the Cold War, the UK and the United States also helped prop up a number of dictators in return for their loyalty, from Daniel Arap Moi in Kenya to Mobutu Sese Seko in what was then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The strong relationship between coups and the former colonial power was also much less prevalent in previous eras. Four of the countries that have seen the highest number of coup attempts since 1952 are Nigeria (8), Ghana (10), Sierra Leone (10), and Sudan (17), which all experienced British rule.

I conclude on the note that Nigeria has missed the opportunity to be a founding member of BRICS, which has been seeking doors for our countries to opt out of neo-colonial control. We need to get back into that conversation as soon as possible. In finding a way forward, we must not abandon our foreign policy approach of non-alignment and the pursuit of our national interests based on the maintenance of our sovereignty and autonomy.

 

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