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Niger: Another gamble by the Giant of Africa? – Tribune Online

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NIGERIA, described as the Giant of Africa and voice of the Black race, has done much for a number of countries on the continent to overcome colonialism and civil wars, as well as engraved its name in the annals of peacekeeping operations in other parts of the world.  But at what price, and what have been the gains for its benevolence and the gallantry of its troops? KUNLE ODEREMI writes against the backdrop of the looming armed conflicts in Niger Republic over the July 26 military coup that unseated an elected civilian president, Mohammed Bazoun.
DATING back to its independence from colonial shackles in 1960, Africa has remained focal point of foreign policy of Nigeria. The late Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa orchestrated Afrocentric inclination of the country because of the pivotal role of the country on the continent. The principle underlining its foreign policy became more pronounced during military interregnum as the country was most vocal at international engagement and events against unjust and inhuman systems. So, the country became the voice of the Black race and the continent of Africa where some countries were being asphyxiated by imperialism of western nations.
Then, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, among other countries on the continent, was held down by colonial masters. The aggressive foreign policy of Nigeria forced those western countries behind the apartheid policy in Southern Africa, as well as neocolonialism to end their evil policies and pave the way for independence for those African countries. Thus, the non-compromising posture of Nigeria on those demands for justice, equity and fairness earned the country the enviable epithet of the Giant of Africa.
That doctrine of African brotherhood culminated into Nigeria deploying troops in troubled spots in Africa and other parts of the world experiencing armed conflicts, with its fighters winning global accolades for their valour and gallantry. The officers and men of the Nigerian armed forces formed the nucleus and backbone of the ECOWAS Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), which helped to restore peace and stability in countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gambia in the West African sub region. In each of the operations, Nigeria paid a huge price in terms of incalculable losses in human and material resources. But the unimaginable proportion of losses to the country was opaque a top official secret until a former military Head of State, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who later became an elected president in 1999, came to power in the Fourth Republic.  He spilled the beans that those military operations came at an incredible cost to the country. According to him, at least 500 soldiers lost their lives, hundreds wounded, while the country spent at least US $8 billion during its seven-year peacekeeping operation in Liberia alone.
Obasanjo gave a snippet of the price Nigeria paid in the spirit of ‘Africannness’ at a reception held in Abuja the returning last batch of Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers deployed to Liberia. It was the first official casualty figure given by any Nigerian leader since the ECOWAS Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) first landed in Liberia in 1990. Nigeria was largely believed to have bankrolled the expenditure on the operation apart from its military personnel leading and constituting the largest chunk of the 15,000 force in Liberia, which was also deployed in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
The ex-President asserted that scores of soldiers were maimed for life and many others went missing in action. He noted: “We will never know the number of Nigerian civilians who lost their lives in the crisis in Liberia.”
As far back as 2020, a report quoted a president of Nigeria in the Diaspora Organisation (NDO), Namibia chapter. Omoregie had declared that Nigeria committed a whopping $82 million to peacekeeping operations. Besides, he said the country lost about 2000 soldiers and more than $10 billion in the same exercise beginning from 1960.
 
Doctrine of reciprocity
The scar of those years the Nigerian troops fought to restore peace and stability in Liberia is scary. Neither has the sore and sorrow inflicted on Nigeria due to its military operations in Gambia, Sierra Leone extinguished, especially among the families and other dependents of soldiers that laid down their lives in order to save those countries from power-mongers. Not much can be said about Nigeria deriving any serious economic gains after those countries began to savour the alluring benefits of peace and tranquility as sine quo non for economic growth and development. Yet, national interest should be topmost in the foreign policy of every country. Experts say beyond the aura of influence, the issue of economic gains for a country deploying state resources to prosecute intense power struggle and relevance in the global space should never be compromised. But to what extent has the doctrine of reciprocity followed Nigeria’s dogged support and sacrifice to promote integration and peace, especially on the continent of Africa?
In 1990, when the sub-region resolved to adopt a military option over the civil war in Liberia, the initial 3,000-man ECOMOG contingent was formed with personnel drawn from Nigeria, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, and Sierra Leone with additional soldiers from Mali. Nigeria’s commitment to the upkeep and sustenance of the military operation in Liberia till 1996 when the war ended was colossal.  Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Mali, Gambia and the latest, Niger Republic has chosen to tread the discredited path of military putsch against elected civilian governments. The option of a military intervention in Niger by ECOWAS if the coup plots fail to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum does not enjoy the sympathy of a preponderance of Nigerians as students of history.  Nonetheless, ECOWAS leaders are not ruling out a military option against the Nigerien copyists who seem defiant and adamant to global pressure to return to the status quo ante in order to avert the use of force. The latest directive by the Defence chiefs from ECOWAS-member countries opposed to the coup is the activation of the standby force, ostensibly for hostility.  Though a renowned critic and activist, Dr Adeola Soetan is averse to military adventurism in political power, he is also pained by the kind of leadership being offered the people by politicians. His advice to the ruling elite includes: “Stop making military government attractive. The old rhetoric that the worst of civilian government is better than the best of military regime is becoming invalid with the ascension to power, especially in African countries, of corrupt  rogue politicians, election riggers and sit-tight leaders, who are  unleashing mass poverty, insecurity, lawlessness and  bad governance on their people.” Soetan noted. He said “only happy citizens as beneficiaries of good governance can sustain, defend democracy not as a blackmail tool, but as a voluntary bond for the promotion of their collective economic, social and, political interests.”

Another activist, Senator Shehu Sani, who is also against military takeover of political power, is opposed to the option by ECOWAS leaders of a possible military intervention in Niger Republic. He cautioned that “ECOWAS armed invasion of Niger Republic could amount to “a war between Nigeria and Niger, because of our proximity.” He believes that the bordering states of Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa and Yobe will incur direct hit in the event of a war. The activist queried the attitude of the western nations on the Niger coup, raising the issue of likely double standard on the part of the Americans and the French. He noted: “Why did the American and French military bases inside Niger Republic refused to stop the coup and now they are encouraging us to go to war? President Tinubu should not allow himself to be pushed to initiate and trigger a war with a neighbouring country and later be left stranded. No West African country has any military capability to start or sustain a war with Niger Republic; everyone will be relying on Nigeria. We should not cry more than the bereaved; if the people of Niger Republic don’t want Military rule, let them fight to remove it themselves. We fought our own military rulers and some of us even went to jail in that struggle. Let them fight their fight. President Tinubu must continue to toe the line of dialogue with the military authorities in Niger and not war.” An author, Bankole Shehu-Hameed is also calling for caution because of the possibility of a hidden agenda of the super powers who are being accused of having the hands of Esau and the voice of Jacob in the convoluted Nigerien quagmire.  He suspects a re-enactment of the ugly era of the scramble for Africa by Europe and other powerful forces. He cautioned: “This isn’t the time for any war or violence. It’s time for diplomacy, economic and strategic management of a fluid situation. Nigeriens have chosen a form of governance that we here think is not good, yet who are we to determine their future? All the noise about Sahel, Boko Haram, or ISWAP is a resounding echo of the Western imperialists’ violence against us Africans and our resources. Rather than fight against the Nigeriens and their military junta, I think we should be telling off the collective West and berating the new colonialists (China, Russia and the Indians).” A retired top military chief, Chief Olabode George favours the use of shuttle diplomacy to resolve the Nigerien conundrum because of the incalculable damage associated with military operations.  He warned: “If you remember, Nigeria, almost singularly, financed ECOMOG military operations and that was when our economy was better. Which economy are we going to use now to finance a full military operation in Niger Republic, when Mali and Burkina Faso have threatened to take sides with Niger Republic? Do we really know the type of partisan game Western powers, on one hand, Russia and China, on another hand, and some other African countries, are playing behind the scene? Can we really trust any one of them? Should Nigeria’s interest not play a major role before taking any decision of this gargantuan dimension which can lead to loss of lives and destruction of properties? Do we know the involvement of Russians because of the Uranium in Niger? I am a retired General. So, I know that war is not easy.”
At a meeting with President Patrice Talon of Benin Republic during the New Global Financing Pact summit held in France, President Tinubu restated that Africa remains the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. His words: “We are ready to improve relations. Africa has been the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. I believe in Africa. We have the necessity to grow the continent.” In line with the objective, the country is said to have spent over $US 60 billion in financial assistance to countries in Africa and the Caribbean. The figure does not take into account the human casualties on the part of its officers and men of the armed forces involved in joint international force operations.  For example, a report has it that, by 1960, Nigeria began to play an active role in achieving international peace and security by contributing to global and regional peacekeeping, making the country one of the highest contributors to United Nations peace operations. It mobilized troops to DR Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Sao Tome and Cote d’Ivoire. In the opinion of analysts, the robust economy of the 1970s of the country enabled her to play such major tasks and roles, and earn global respect and credibility, as the voice to speak for Africa. Do such good times subsist now? What are the implications for Nigeria, of a full scale war on the Nigerian power usurpers in the face of severe security challenges at domestic front, with bandits, insurgents, kidnappers, gripping the country by the scrotum?
 
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