By Abdullahi Yusuf
The countdown has begun;the clock is ticking,and the die is cast.The palpable tension and fear generated by the military coup in the neighbouring Niger republic, have now escalated in the Sahel region and in our own dear native land, Nigeria.
After all diplomatic efforts by the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) and other concerned stakeholders in the sub-region to persuade the military Junta in Niger to give up power and restore constitutional democracy failed,the military option is now imminent.
The ECOWAS leadership made up of Presidents of member-nations on Thursday met in Abuja, reviewed the situation in Niger, particularly the failure of the military Junta led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani to comply with the seven-day deadline slammed on it by the sub-regional body.
The Mutineers whom are largely emboldened by the support of fellow military leaders in the neighbouring Mali and Bourkina Faso, have remained defiant, claiming that they took power in order to address the lingering challenges bedeviling the landlocked country, including insecurity.
Consequently,ECOWAS led by our own President Bola Tinubu,ordered the immediate activation of its Standby Force and its deployment to Niger to restore constitutional democracy,which of course means dislodging the coupists and reinstating President Mohamed Bazoum.
Although ECOWAS in its resolution said all options remained on the table, including the use of force,it became clear on Thursday that the group had resolved to use the military option to tackle the coupists in Niger, going by the tone of their resolution.
It is,however,not clear when and how the Standby Force would invade the embattled country,the number of personnel needed for the operation,the budget and the size of the contribution of each member-nation.
But going by Nigeria’s position as the senior partner in the sub-regional group because of its giant size in terms of population, economy and military might, coupled with the leading roles she had played in the past in promoting peace and democracy in the sub-region,it is expected to make the biggest contribution to the operation.
The most frightening aspect of the escalating crisis in Niger,however, is the use of ousted President Bazoum as human shield by the Junta,as they had threatened to kill him in the event of an invasion of their country by the ECOWAS Standby Force.
This development is already endangering the life of Bazoum and probably the lives of members of his family, because one wonders how the ECOWAS military can dislodge the coupists without harming the ousted President in the ensuing battle.
In fact,as I am putting this piece together,Bazoum is alleging inhuman treatment being meted out to him by the Junta, saying they had condemned him to eating raw rice,and that he had no electricity,no water and no drugs.
Meanwhile, analysts in both Nigeria and Niger have continued to caution and even warn about the consequences of using military force against the Nigerien Junta, saying that the operation could destabilize the entire West African sub-region and even cause the collapse of the ECOWAS itself.
They posit that the invasion could destroy the ancestral bond of relationships, including blood ties between the peoples of the sub-region, particularly between the citizens of Nigeria and Niger who share common borders that span more than 1,600 kilometers,with common ethnicities, tribes, cultures and religion.
These borders are located in two Northeastern states of Borno and Yobe,as well as five Northwestern states of Jigawa,Katsina,Sokoto,Zamfara and Kebbi whose peoples mingle daily with their brothers and sisters from the neighbouring Niger republic for trade, agriculture,commerce and social functions,among others.
They also argue that the war could worsen the socio-economic conditions of the people of this belt which are characterized by insecurity, hunger, inadequate healthcare and high prices of goods and services.
Because already,the observers said,the sanctions imposed on Niger by Nigeria such as the closure of the border between the two countries and the cutting of electricity supply to Niger are taking their toll on the people of that country.
The border closure has caused scarcity and high prices of foodstuff and other essential commodities in the two countries.It has also crippled economic activities along their boundaries, particularly the border markets.
Similarly,the cutting of electricity supply to Niger is causing untold hardships to the people of the neighbouring country,as they heavily depend on Nigeria for their power needs,even though the supply is based on a bilateral agreement between the two nations.
The Tinubu Presidency has explained that the planned deployment of troops to Niger is a decision of the ECOWAS which Nigeria is a part of, and urged Nigerians to see it as such. Unfortunately, many,if not most of us,are finding the clarification difficult to accept.
The ECOWAS is already beating its Drum of War, and at the same time leaving its doors open for dialogue with the Nigerien military Junta towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis.May Allah (SWT) make them arrive at an amicable solution to the standoff.