Resolve by the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to order the bloc’s defence chiefs to “activate the ECOWAS Standby Force with all its elements immediately” for possible military intervention in Niger must be thought through again carefully.
The remark was part of the resolve by the 15-member ECOWAS states when they met in Abuja in an emergency summit to discuss responses to last month’s military takeover in Niger Republic, after the coup leaders defied their August 6th deadline to return power to Mohamed Bazoum, the democratically elected President, or face the use of force to restore democracy.
Taking a closer look, this planned intervention, which will be clearly spear-headed by Nigeria, is capable of threatening the country’s territorial integrity, especially the Northern states sharing boarders with Niger, as well as other ECOWAS member states.
It may degenerate to grounding economic activities within Nigeria’s territories and may escalate to other parts of the country, if care is not taken.
It is also instructive to say that losses incurred during a war situation can become highly catastrophic as one may be unable to predict the dimension the war may assume and the time it would end.
ECOWAS leaders should thread with caution and exhaust all other peaceful options to restoring democracy in Niger, as well as address the root causes of incessant ousting of democratic institutions in recent times within the West African Sub-region.
The sharp debate sparked off within its ranks about a possible military intervention in Niger and warnings from neighbouring Algeria, as well as from Russia, clearly signals a red light that things may not turn out as planned if ECOWAS goes ahead to deploy the use of force.
Russia, whose influence in Africa has grown since its invasion of Ukraine, said a military intervention “could lead to a protracted confrontation” in Niger and “a sharp destabilization” across the West African Sub-region.
Cape Verde, an ECOWAS member State, said it was against a military intervention, and was unlikely to participate in such a campaign.
Earlier also, ECOWAS member states, Mali and Burkina Faso, had warned that a military intervention would be a “declaration of war” on their countries.
Therefore, a push by President Bola Tinubu for military option in Niger, even against the rejection of such move by the Nigerian Senate and by extension, the Nigeria people, at this point, should be jettisoned.
Needless to say that the country is yet to recover from the effects of Boko Haram insurgency, Banditry, Biafran secessionist agitations, oil theft in the Niger Delta, high inflation rates, effects of removal of subsidy on PMS, and other economic challenges.
Thus, President Tinubu pushing further for war may amount to being dictatorial or in pursuit for a personal agenda.
Moreso, the Russian-Ukraine war should serve as a test case for a possible outcome of the so-called backing of the EU for a possible military intervention in Niger by the ECOWAS member states.
Findings show that the real motive behind this push for military intervention in Niger by the Chairman of ECOWAS and President of Nigeria, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, may not be unconnected with the country’s business interest to export gas to Europe.
Recall that the Russian-Ukraine war, which led to the bombing of Nord Stream 1 and 2 Gas Pipelines on September 26th, 2022, through which Russia used to supply gas to the EU countries, had led to Europe sourcing an alternative for gas supply. And Nigeria and Algeria have become the next destination for supply of gas to Europe.
According to Wikipedia, Nord Stream 1 and 2 Gas Pipeline were built to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, and are majorly owned by the Russian state-owned gas company, Gazprom.
Prior to the sabotage, the pipelines, which were filled with natural gas, had not been operating since the EU cut off trade ties with Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.
But Russia has found that one of the gas pipeline in Nord Stream 2 is fully functional and not damaged, and is ready to use that to get back at the EU by channeling its supply elsewhere, instead of the EU.
And just to keep in perspective, according to a release by the Italian Institute For International Political Studies, Nigeria has large reserves of natural gas, estimated to be around 200 trillion cubic feet (5.6 trillion cubic meters), the largest in Africa, and it is valued at about $803.4 trillion, (as Punch publication of 29th April, 2022 reports).
Thus, a $13Billion project to build a gas pipeline connecting giant gas fields from the Niger Delta in Nigeria to Europe is currently threatened by the recent military coup in Niger Republic.
Studies reveal that the 5,600 kilometre pipeline, which could fuel 11 countries along the African coast on its way to Morocco, then be connected to the energy system of Spain or Italy, was given fresh impetus after Russian gas supplies to the EU were cut off last year.
In June 2022 under President Muhammadu Buhari, energy ministers from Algeria, Nigeria and Niger met in Abuja and agreed to accelerate work on the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline (TSGP), which could carry 30 Billion cubic metres per year of gas exports from the three countries to Europe.
The Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline would link Warri in Delta State, Nigeria, across the Mediterranean Sea, to the major Hassi R’Mel gas hub in Algeria, passing through Niger, and initial agreements with the ousted President of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, were already reached. However, the new military junta do not share their predecessors’ business relations with Europe.
The idea of the trans-Saharan pipeline was first proposed in the 1970s, but revived in 2002, when the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Algerian national oil and gas company, Sonatrach, signed the Memorandum of Understanding for preparations of the project.
A feasibility study was completed in September 2006. However, little progress on the project had been made since then until a new MoU was signed in 2022 gave fresh hopes.
Recall that one of the key concerns raised recently by President Bola Tinubu during the visit of the UK Secretary of Commonwealth and Development Affairs, James Cleverly, at Abuja, he said: “The Western economic programme should be able to help Nigeria pipe our gas to Europe, since gas is acceptable as alternative clean energy. You must help us with the finance and facilitate the investment we require”.
So, with all of these being said, it is expressly clear that President Tinubu’s push for war to unseat the military junta in Niger and restore President Mohamed Bazoum is mostly to strengthen business ties with Europe, and wether the country’s peace and security is threatened in cause of achieving such task, seem not to be of much concern or importance.
With the over $803.4trillion value of the gas reserve in the country, Nigerian leaders must not replicate the same pattern they have used over the years since the discovery of Crude Oil in 1957, to mismanage the proceeds of our oil reserve, and have rather concentrated on meeting the energy needs of other world economies, instead of first meeting the country’s local energy needs.
The effects of the mismanagement of the country’s oil mineral reserves and misplacement of priorities in terms of deliberately refusing to fix the nation’s refineries or to encourage setting up of modular refineries, have reduced the country to this sorry state of untold hardship and shortage of supply of petroleum products.
It is sad to have Nigeria, the largest producer of petroleum in Africa grapple with importation of refined petroleum products to meet the energy needs of over 200 Million people.
Just like the experience in the petroleum sector, an average Nigerian citizen will see nothing to be hopeful about the announcement of huge gas reserves in the country, as the citizens seem to have totally lost confidence in the managers of the collective economy.
THE WAY FORWARD
Although the successful execution of military coups that have taken place within the West African sub-region in countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea can be said to have one common denominator rooted in insecurity, however, other internal factors peculiar to these countries accelerated the ousting of their democracies.
If ECOWAS is truly sincere and committed to the enthronement of enduring democracies in the West African sub-region, it must pay attention to some of these key areas:
1. Have enough political will to address the problem of insecurity and interreligious conflicts.
2. Member countries must uphold the rule of law and have respect for court judgments.
3. Member countries must build strong democratic institutions and electoral systems that truly reflect the wishes of the people when they exercise their franchise.
4. African leaders must stop arbitrary elongation of tenure in office in order to foist themselves on the people as lifetime presidents.
5. African leaders must show commitment in addressing the basic needs of citizens and create enabling environment for them to thrive.
6. The Chairman of ECOWAS and President of Nigeria, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, should carefully study the recommendations and advice of various groups sent as emissaries to interface with the coup leaders, so as to exhaust all peaceful measures to resolve the crisis in Niger.
These and much more, if thoroughly considered, will address the problem of military coups in Africa and especially within the African Subregion.