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How Niger coup has halted businesses at border towns – Tribune Online

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Citizens living in the border towns and villages between Niger Republic and Nigeria have started feeling the impact of the border closure. Investigation by the Northern Bureau Chief, MUHAMMAD SABIU, reveals that tension is gradually brewing in these border towns as hundreds of trucks are trapped, while thousands of petty traders at the borders might lose their businesses soon.
At the turn of the 19th Century, there was no country border between Niger Republic and Nigeria. City-states such as Katsina, Kano and Sokoto (Nigeria) as well as Maradi, Gobir and Damagaram (Niger Republic) were culturally joined together.
However, with the expansion of French  British imperialism between 1890 and 1905, the two imperial powers demarcated the region and created a modern Niger-Nigeria border.
During that period of colonial rule, the French and English languages were implanted on each side of the border, along with cultural, educational and political traditions.
Yet, citizens of the two countries still continued to interact with one another as brothers.
In an interview with the Nigerian Tribune, a Nigerien, Mallam Bukar, gave a graphic description of the kind of relationship that existed between the two countries (Niger Republic and Nigeria).
He said, “We were once one family before the white man separated us and taught us their languages and their culture. But we speak Hausa! We are from the same root; we practice the same religion and eat the same food.”
Niger coup d’etat
That affinity which has continued for decades however suffered a puncture with the July 26 military coup carried out by a group of soldiers who overthrew the democratically elected government of now former President of Niger Republic, Mohamad Bazoum.
Indeed, tension has been brewing between the two countries as a result of economic sanctions imposed on Niger, as well as the closure of borders.
Fears and frustrations by communities along the over 1,500-kilometre-long border which covers seven states: Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, Jigawa, Zamfara, Yobe and Borno, are being felt by residents of these communities.

Thus, with the current happenings in the West African region, the clouds of war may be gathering. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), under the leadership of President Bola Tinubu,of Nigeria had issued a one-week ultimatum to the military junta in Niger Republic to restore the ousted President Bazoum back to power or the junta will be forced out.
Though the one-week ultimatum had elapsed, since, the leaders of the military junta has remained adamant and vowed that any attempt to use force against them will be resisted with the same force.
 
‘Over 1,000 trucks trapped’
As part of its intervention, the ECOWAS Heads of states and governments, after an emergency meeting in Abuja, took certain actions that might force the coupists to restore back democracy in the country.
One of such actions was the closure of all borders between ECOWAS states and Niger.
A consequence of this development, findings by the Nigerian Tribune revealed, is that tonnes of Nigeria-bound goods have been trapped at different borders with Niger.  It was learnt that many trucks were trapped at Kamba, Ilela, Jibia, Maigatari, Malam Fatori, Babanmutum borders.
Buttressing this in an interview, president of Trans-Border Traders Association, Nasiru Salami, remarked that goods worth N300 million were rotting away at these borders.
According to him, over 1,000 trucks conveying agricultural products like onions and other perishable food items heading to Nigeria and other West African countries are currently trapped at these borders.
He disclosed that, “Three days after the coup took place, over 100 trucks carrying onions and other agricultural products were trapped. Currently, the trucks trapped there are running into thousands. A truck of onions containing about 300 bags is worth around N3.5 million.
“So, if you multiply it by say the 1,000 trucks you will find out that about N350 million worth of agricultural goods are rotting away there and 60 percent of these products are coming to Nigeria.
“I may not be able to give you the exact number of trucks trapped so far, but I can assure you that it runs into thousands. These trucks are carrying agricultural products to different West African countries, including Nigeria.
‘’So, government can assist the poor people and see how they can help us. We know it is illegal to plan a coup, but it is important that our people should know what is happening now and assist us.”
Similarly, hundreds of Nigerian tanker drivers returning to Nigeria and those from Niger in Nigeria have appealed to President Tinubu to lift the ban on the border closure in order to allow them entry into their respective countries and reunite with their family members.
Many of the drivers interviewed by the Nigerian Tribune disclosed that they have spent over one week at the border since closure. For instance, Abubakar Usman, a tanker driver, revealed that since he drove his truck to Niamey, the capital of Niger Republic on July 20, he could not cross the border. He said, “Many of us are here in Illela border in Sokoto trapped as a result of the border closure.”
Salami called for a review of the present sanctions and the borders closure as over 2,000 petty traders are currently at the risk of losing their livelihoods.
“Poor women traders who have the onions in the trucks are the people suffering. We are only begging ECOWAS to assist us. When the order was given for the border to be closed, what I did was to visit two important borders. Today, those who are suffering are petty traders, not those in power. Those who are in power do not have a problem.
“The poor are suffering because of the coup. We are aware that the accounts that they are using have been frozen. They can’t do any financial transactions between the 15 countries and they have also banned export and import within these countries which is not good.”
 
Multi-million-dollar Niger-Nigeria rail project threatened
The current crisis is also affecting the 248-kilometre rail line project that connects Kano to other cities such as Kazaure, Daura and Mashi Dutse, Jibia before terminating at Maradi, in Niger Republic.
The rail line, it was gathered, has 15 stations along its route and is expected to carry 9,364 passengers and 3,000 metric tonnes of cargo per day.
It will be recalled that the contract of the rail line project was awarded to Messrs Mota-Engil Nigeria Limited for $984,722,302, with a completion period of four years.
When the project, at its conception, stirred up controversy among federal lawmakers, the former President Muhammadu Buhari, who awarded the contract defended it this way: “I have first cousins in Niger. There are Kanuris, there are Hausas and there are Fulanis in Niger Republic, just as there are Yorubas in Benin Republic.
“You can’t absolutely cut them off. But the rail, look at the plan. If you read the plan, how we are rehabilitating that rail. Don’t forget Niger Republic has discovered oil too, as you know and we don’t want to allow them to go through Benin Republic. We want them to come through Nigeria.”
 
Kandadji Dam project suspended
Meanwhile, authorities in Niger have announced the suspension of the Kandadji Dam Project and the dismissal of workers. This is a result of the political situation in the country and the worsening security situation becoming increasingly worrisome.
Recall that ECOWAS is not alone in imposing sanctions on Niger. The European Union and the World Bank have all imposed financial sanctions on the country, making it impossible for the company in change to settle expenses involved in the project.
The company in charge called China Gezhouba Group Company said it is facing a force majeure. “We find ourselves forced to stop all construction activities for a week and proceed to phased termination of local workers’ contracts.
“And it should be emphasized that the termination of the contract due to force majeure would not involve the compensation of fired employees,” the company said in a statement.
 
More sanctions likely as ACF, JNI appeal
Apart from cutting off electricity supply to some towns like Maradi, Damagaram and the northern part of Niger Republic, the ECOWAS leadership has ordered fresh sanctions through the Central Bank of Nigeria on entities and individuals related to and involved with the military junta in Niger Republic.
Special Adviser to the President,on Media, and Public Affairs, Ajuri Ngelale, disclosed this during a press conference on Tuesday, noting that these sanctions are based on the financial sanctions meted out on the military junta by ECOWAS heads of states.
The apex mouthpiece of the North, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), as well as the Ja’ma’atul Nasirul Islam (JNI) have called on President Tinubu and ECOWAS to engage the coup plotters in more dialogue instead of force that might lead to war. In separate statements made available to newsmen in Kaduna and signed by Professor Khalid Abubakar of JNI and Professor Tukur Muhammad-Baba of ACF, the bodies stated that ECOWAS heads of states should note that both countries historically share similar cultural and religious affinity.
 
Any hope in sight?
On Wednesday, former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the 14th Emir of Kano, Alhaji Lamido Sanusi, met with coup leaders in Niger. This happened after a  meeting with the United States acting Deputy Secretary, Victoria Nuland, ECOWAS leaders and the African Union (AU) was turned down by the junta. It was gathered Sanusi went there to open doors for negotiation with the junta.
A source familiar with the meeting said, “His Highness took the trip in his personal capacity but with the knowledge of President Bola Tinubu, following his concerns about the impasse and the likely consequences it is already having on Nigeria/Niger relations and the citizens of the two countries.”
“We came hoping that our arrival will pave the way for real discussions between the leaders of Niger and those of Nigeria,” Sanusi said.
ECOWAS leaders have met in Abuja. However, the question of when this impasse will end still remians.

© 2023 Tribune Online – an online publication of African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc. All rights reserved
© 2023 Tribune Online – an online publication of African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc. All rights reserved
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