ON July 26, Niger witnessed the fifth successful coup out of nine attempted coups in West Africa since 2020, joining other West African countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea which are currently under the military Junta. Delivering a speech in Accra in July 2009, ex-USA President Barrack Obama said, “Africa no longer needs strongmen—it needs strong institutions.” But how Africa still witnesses military takeovers while other continents continue to develop democratically continues to send worries down the spine. Since 2010, the black continent has witnessed over 40 coups and attempted coups, with around half of those occurring in West Africa and the Sahel. Most of these coups occurred in former French colonies, as did six of the seven coups since 2019. Many African coups and attempted coups have been caused by internal and external factors. The former are challenges of bad governance, corruption, hunger, underdevelopment, and undue longevity on presidential seats, while the latter are basically global dynamics and foreign interference.
While the internal factors seemed to have triggered frustration among Africans and the militia men, the external factors seemed to have received less attention. Russia, for instance, had a fingerprint in the 2021 and 2020 coups in Mali, and likewise in the coup in Burkina Faso. Mahamat Derby of Chad was also reported to have received an endorsement from Paris. Assimi Goita, who spearheaded the two coups in Mali, has been said to have received military training and aid from the US. A French company, Orano, currently controls uranium-producing companies in Niger, and 50 percent of the total uranium produced in the country ends up in France, hence providing one third of the source of France’s nuclear reactors. France’s colonial and post-colonial influence in some of the African countries where coups have been successful was said to have been weakened with the support of the Wagner Group in Russia. Thus, indirectly, the foreign superpowers fight proxy wars on African lands.
Interestingly, the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed economic, social, and regional sanctions against Niger, but these sanctions have only appeared to be futile threats, especially when other African countries under military rule have pledged support for Niger. Presumably, the ECOWAS Chairman, President Bola Tinubu, has threatened military action against Niger if the coup lasts beyond seven days. And this is what triggered this essayist to pick up a pen and write, especially considering what the aftermath of this action could be. Over the years, President Bola Tinubu has been known as a strategic leader who pays attention to details, and this time, he’s also expected to pay attention to the reaction of Nigeriens who have stormed the streets of Niger, jubilating over the military takeover. Days ago, Burkinabes were seen in mammoth numbers, giving a rosy welcome to their military ruler, Ibrahim Traore, after his welcome from Russia, where he had a diplomatic meeting with Vladimir Putin. Nigeriens are glaringly happy with the military takeover; hence, President Tinubu and ECOWAS should maintain laxity and not take paracetamol for Nigeriens’ headache.
President Tinubu should not cry more than the bereaved. He should leave Nigeriens to fight against their military takeover the same way Nigerians did during our military eras by making a reverberating voice against it and forming civil society groups. ECOWAS and President Tinubu should bear in mind that there are always two sides to every coin, and while the military era does not necessarily mean bad government, democratic government does not necessarily mean development and stability either. Libya had its most developed era under Muammar Gaddafi, and if they were to choose between having Gadaffi again or corrupt democratic leaders, they wouldn’t think twice about having the former. Obviously, Nigeriens are so happy with the latest coup that they even held rallies against Tinubu, desecrating his poster and warning him not to interfere in their country’s affairs. Who knows if they’re in for a better ride under their new military ruler?
Moving forward, while Nigeria is currently the head of ECOWAS and offsets 60 percent of the ECOWAS budget, it’s quite against logic that we waste scarce funds on military wars when many pressing issues in the country are in dire need of financial attention. As of March 31st, 2023, the country was steeped in foreign debts of ₦49.85 trillion ($108.30 billion) according to the Debt Management Office; 133 million Nigerians, which account for 60 percent of the total population, are in multidimensional poverty; and the country is currently plagued with an all-time-high inflation rate of 22.8 percent according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). These heartbreaking facts are poignant to the fact that now is not the time to waste Nigerian resources on needless fights. President Tinubu should also realise that although Nigeria’s military force has more strength than Niger’s, Nigeria would not only be fighting Niger but also Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso, who have all pledged allegiance and support to Niger; likewise, foreign military units like the Wagner Group of Russia are also strongly behind Niger. A fight with Niger and all these countries will, without doubt, plunge Nigeria into serious infrastructural, economic, and humanitarian crises.
Although the Niger coup poses regional threats to Nigeria, Nigerians who live in bordering Katsina, Sokoto, and Zamfara would easily get hit should President Tinubu launch military interventions. Niger and Nigeria have shared mutual bilateral relations over the years. Niger also currently hosts thousands of Nigeria’s refugees and some of our diasporans, a sour relationship between us should hence be tactically avoided. To surmise, instead of AU, ECOWAS, and President Tinubu fighting Niger or any other (West) African countries headed by coup plotters, they should rather attack the causes of these coups. Institutional coups have been going on for decades in Africa, and the two regional blocs have been silent on them.
Many African Leaders have dubiously extended their stay in office, yet they’ve not been summoned or attacked by ECOWAS or the AU. Cameroonian President Paul Biya was “fraudulently re-elected” in 2018 for a seventh term and has been in office for over 38 years. Congo President, Denis Sassou Nguesso, was also re-elected recently and has spent over 35 years in office. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has reportedly “rigged” many elections and has held power since 1986. Thus, like Liberia President George Weah said, “We cannot condemn military coups when we do not condemn those who carry out institutional coups.”. ECOWAS and AU should rather fix their double standards and not keep quiet against institutional coups because many of the decades-serving presidents are among them.
Enclosing this, ECOWAS and the AU should not only threaten coup plotters when other member nations are ruled by democratic presidents who do not respect court orders and the rule of law. Many of these countries, like Nigeria, have even stormed court sessions with police and DSS and disrupted court’s sessions. Many of these countries have repeatedly infringed on human rights. And more saddening, many of these member nations are led are very corrupt leaders who have retrogressed their countries and caused their citizens great harm. Until AU and ECOWAS addressed these boiling concerns, their threats against coup plotters would continue to be futile – and God forbid – many coups would follow the current ones.