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Niger Republic: Time for renewed relations

About two weeks ago, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu lifted sanctions imposed on Niger Republic, following the July 26, 2023, coup by the Nigerien military. This…

About two weeks ago, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu lifted sanctions imposed on Niger Republic, following the July 26, 2023, coup by the Nigerien military. This effectively reopened the closed land and air borders between Nigeria and Niger Republic.

The lift means the resumption of commercial and financial transactions between Nigeria and Niger, unfreezing of service transactions, including utility services and return of electricity to Niger Republic among others.

This is a welcome development, as it offers Nigeria the opportunity to withdraw from the brink of a scenario with no clear strategy. In fact, this should have been done earlier. With this over, Nigeria should return to the drawing board and take lessons, after all, each nation pursues its own self-interests.

Perhaps, there should be a consensus on the inevitability of Nigeria taking the cautious path in order not to inadvertently take decisions that hurt the nation’s interests and that of its citizens. Another consensus should be avoiding any gung-ho push for a military solution to a purely political problem. It is also necessary to discuss constructively and reassure Nigeriens that we are willing to work together towards repairing the areas damaged by the sanctions and the sour relations that followed.

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This is because, for Nigeria, Niger Republic is not just any other country. It shares about 1,500km border, the longest among neighbouring countries, which encompasses seven Nigerian states of Borno, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.

And most importantly, both countries have a strong historical background and share common language and religion and have been trading partners for ages. The towns and cities between Southern Niger and Northern Nigeria have shared customs and languages. And there are no natural barriers like mountains or rivers separating the two countries.

The saber-rattling followed by the sanctions began on July 26, when President Tinubu, as Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, took a very strong position aimed at reversing the steady roll-back of democracy in the sub-region.

It would be recalled that the ECOWAS leaders met in Abuja on July 30, 2023, imposed stringent sanctions and issued a seven-day ultimatum to the military junta led by the former head of the presidential guards, General Abdourahamane Tchiani. It also threatened to “take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force.” It then ordered the ECOWAS Chiefs of Defence Staff to meet immediately and work out modalities for the military intervention.

On Friday, August 4, 2023, the drums of war took an alarming pace when Tinubu wrote to the National Assembly, seeking approval of the “military buildup and deployment of personnel for military intervention to enforce compliance of the military junta in Niger should they remain recalcitrant.”

But the same day, the ECOWAS Chiefs of Defence Staff ended a three-day meeting in Abuja, resolving that “dialogue and negotiations should be at the forefront of our approach in resolving the crisis in the Republic of Niger.”

The Senate toed the same line. While condemning the Niger coup in totality, it told President Tinubu and other ECOWAS leaders to tread softly in the deployment of military force and instead “strengthen political and diplomatic options and other means intending to resolve the political impasse.”

After a breakdown of talks with ECOWAS delegation on the return of democracy, Niger recalled its ambassador to Nigeria and other three countries.

There is no doubt that Nigeria’s posture and position raised unnecessary tensions between both nations. Going forward, all diplomatic avenues should be explored to make the soldiers return to the barracks. ECOWAS, under the leadership of President Tinubu, must put up much more assertive diplomatic efforts that could lead to initiating a credible and acceptable programme for transition to constitutional rule. The regional body should work with all national, regional (African Union) and global stakeholders (United Nations) to robustly engage the coup plotters towards a conclusive and amicable resolution of the crisis and their return to the barracks.

Niger Republic should go further than its January 8, 2024, gesture when it released the wife and 22-year-old son of deposed President Mohamed Bazoum and immediately release the former president, without conditions.

We, at Daily Trust, also implore Nigeria to partner with its northern neighbour to wean it of the newfound romance with any foreign power and help it realize the danger and ultimate destabilising effects on the security and economic prosperity of the region and even the continent. Moreover, Niger Republic should understand that its brazen assault on the region’s sensibilities must cease and there must be no more threat to democracy.

While advising it to ditch its membership of Sahel Alliance with Mali and Burkina Faso, we also advise the co-travellers to return to ECOWAS, where its interests are better served.

And as a long-standing ally of Nigeria, it is in Niger Republic’s national interest to maintain cordial relations at all times. The strength of both relations lies in their ability to build, reconcile and foster understanding. Therefore, even on the security front, we, at Daily Trust, implore Niger Republic to cooperate with Nigeria in renewing and reactivating its active participation in the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).

Also, Nigerian security agents, especially those manning the border should up their game in safeguarding the long-existing economic activities between both nations while stopping the inflow of arms and ammunition and importation of contraband products.

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