BY PROF. MIKE OZEKHOME, SAN, CON, OFR, FCIArb, LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D, D.Litt
Once upon a time, a cripple with a hunchback boasted about leading his people to war. He was warned to keep off because of his visible infirmity. He was asked how he would escape when the war broke out. He said it did not matter. He believed that since he was the king of his village and the neighbouring communities, he had the talisman to succeed. He underplayed his enormous physical challenges. That is Nigeria for you as an epigram.
The crippled hunchback or the hunch-backed cripple never reckoned with the wise words of Alexander the Great who once intoned, “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion”.
Allegorically and metaphorically, Nigeria is the sheep attempting to lead the ECOWAS Communities which constitute the army of lions to an unholy war against Niger Republic. This poor country has done nothing wrong to Nigeria, or other ECOWAS States, but merely exercising her sovereignty within her territorial domain as she sees and deems fit. When did Nigeria become the regional Headmaster that whips other erring pupil countries to line?
What is Nigeria’s business with Niger, a sovereign country, when she is disfigured and limping, with her citizens scavenging for food from trash dumps? When did Nigeria become an adventurous knight Errant in shining armour, deodorizing the Augean stables of neighbouring countries? Where her citizens are daily being kidnapped and mauled down in cold blood in their homes, farms, markets, schools and workplaces by hunger, squalor, kidnappers, armed bandits, armed robbers and divisiveness, what is Nigeria’s locus standi? How does Nigeria seek to remove the speck in another country’s eye, when a log is deeply buried in her own eye? I do not know. Or, do you?
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES: WHY NIGERIA IS ERRING
No country ever intervened in Nigeria’s internal affairs throughout her locust years of misgovernance and successive military putsches. We had coups on 15th January, 1966 (the Majors coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Others). We were never harassed when on 28th July, 1966, Military Officers in Nigeria carried out the counter coup known as the “July Rematch”, which was masterminded by Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed and many Northern military officers such as Theophilus Danjuma, Joseph Akaha, Martin Adamu and others). No country ever poke-nosed into our internal affairs when Nigeria was governed by a young military bachelor, 32 years old Yakubu Jack Gowon, who ruled Nigeria by military diktat for over 8 years (1967-1975). Nigeria was not invaded by ECOWAS or AU (then called OAU) when Col. Joseph Nanven Garba (a close associate of Gowon) announced on Federal Radio, the overthrow of Gowon who was actually attending the OAU Conference in Kampala, Uganda, and replacement with Murtala Mohammed, on 30th July, 1975. I did not hear about any revolt in neighbouring countries when Murtala Mohammed was assassinated during the Col. Buka Suka Dimka – led failed coup on 13th February, 1976; and Olusegun Obasanjo replaced him and ruled Nigeria for over 3 years between 1976 and 1979.
I cannot remember ECOWAS or OAU having an emergency meeting to plan on how to invade Nigeria when lanky Muhammadu Buhari overthrew the democratically elected government of Alhaji Aliyu Shehu Usman Shagari, a former school headmaster, who was once described by an avid political commentator as having a cap longer than his achievements.
No country sought to teach Nigeria democracy when on 27th August, 1985, gap-toothed Ibrahim Babangida (“the evil genius”) led other military officers to overthrow the then excessively iron-handed and inhuman military dictator and recently ethnic warlord, Muhammadu Buhari.
When on 22nd April, 1990, Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar failed in a bloody coup against maradonic Babangida and the coupist were promptly dislodged, arrested, “tried” and executed, I never heard any other county meddle into our internal affairs.
On 17th November, 1993, when dark-googled, dwarfish, taciturn, but intelligent Sani Abacha shoved aside the interim government of business mogul and former UAC Chairman, Chief Ernest Shonekan, in a bloodless palace coup, I did not see any external intervention. I and others were led by Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, SAM, who went to court on 10th November, 1993, got the lame duck, fumbling, dawdling, groggy and crumbling “interim nonsense” declared illegal and unconstitutional by the courageous Justice Dolapo Akinsanya (of blessed memory; may her good soul rest in peace).
Even with Nigeria’s ever increasing challenges likened to Mounts Everest and Kilimanjaro, including those of the “doctrine of necessity”, endemic corruption, parlous economy and recession; armed banditry; Boko haram; kidnappings; hunger, thirst, sorrow, tears, blood, melancholy, abject penury, maladministration and crass misgovernance, that have turned Nigeria virtually into a gruesome crime scene, no external country (not even powerful America and other western countries like China, Russia, EU, etc) have ever dared to invade us, or come to teach us how to run our tattered and battered country. So, what gives this government that is still struggling like a straight snake battling to wear beads on a non-existent waist the temerity and audacity to think it can lead ECOWAS to invade Niger and teach her leaders and people how to govern themselves, and run their affairs? I do not know. Or, do you?
THE NIGERIEN COUP AND THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION
On the fateful day of 26th July, 2023, Niger, a poor West African nation known for its political instability, was once again thrust into turmoil as a coup d’état unfolded, shaking the very foundations of its young democracy. In a swift and audacious move, the country’s presidential guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum, igniting a chain of events that would redefine the nation’s political landscape. The coup leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, promptly declared himself the head of a new military junta, casting a shadow of uncertainty over Niger’s future. This marked the fifth time since its independence from France in 1960 that the nation had experienced a military coup, marking a disturbing trend that raised questions about the stability of democratic institutions in the region.
Presidential guard forces swiftly enacted measures that further consolidated their hold on power, including border closures, suspension of state institutions, and imposition of a curfew. The international community, including the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, quickly responded with condemnation. It denounced the coup as a grave violation of democratic principles and threatened military intervention. In order to tighten the noose on General Tchiani to release power, Nigeria promptly cut off her 150 megawatts of daily supply of electricity to the Niger Republic. The Jibia-Magama border with Kastina State in Nigeria was promptly blockaded, thus crippling major socio-economic activities in Kastina State. There has been closure of land and air borders and suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS Member states and Niger, etc.
Both Burkina Faso and Mali have already made good their threat of solidarity with Niger by sending in their warplanes. ECOWAS has since suspended the three countries from its fold.
The leader of the military junta that seized power in the Niger Republic, Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, said last week that his country is not hungry for war, but will be ready to defend itself of necessary. Yes, he can say this legitimately because both defacto and dejure, he is the Head of State of his country, having seized the reins of power from a fumbling President, Mohamed Bazoum. Said he through Aljazeera:
“Neither the Army nor the people of Niger want war, but we will resist any manifestation of it”.
Tchiani noted that Member states of the ECOWAS do not unfortunately realise that Niger has become the key to containing the region from destabilization against the backdrop of increased terrorist activities.
Tchiani argued that sanctions imposed by the ECOWAS against his country were aimed at merely putting pressure on the rebels and not designed to finding a solution to the current impasse.
Tchiani also said that the rebels were not seeking to seize power in the country for the sake of it, rather, to find a solution that would meet the Nigerien people’s interests.
Some political pundits joked that this aggression and unusual passion and éclat with which Nigeria is leading the battle could be Tinubu’s way of getting back at Buhari who had said severally whilst in power, that he would gladly relocate to join his kins and kiths in Niger Republic if Nigerians worry or harass him after leaving office. Could this be the case? I do not know. Or, do you?
As tensions escalated, the stage has become set for what many have now dubbed the “2023 Nigerien crisis”.
ECOWAS AND ITS POWERS OF INTERVENTION
The Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), which decided to invade Niger to restore “democracy”, was established by the Treaty of Lagos on 28th May, 1975, when Yakubu Gowon was military Head of State. It was actually Gowon and Gnassigbe Eyadema of Togo that spear-headed its formation.
Principally, ECOWAS was established with the aims and objectives of promoting economic cooperation and integration. It aims to establish an economic union in West Africa in order to raise the living standards of its peoples, and to maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among member states, and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent.
The ECOWAS is made up of 15 members, vis, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. ECOWAS Region spans an area of 5.2 million square kilometres, with a combined population of 424.34 million people, which is 3.4 percent of the habitable area around the entire world and 5.3 percent of world population.
At the regional arena, Article 4 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty (2010), listed the independence of member states as the first Fundamental Principle in the following words:
“THE HIGH CONTRACTING PARTIES, in pursuit of the objectives stated in Article 3 of this Treaty, solemnly affirm and declare their adherence to the following principles: a) equality and inter-dependence of Member States”.
At the international arena, Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter (UN Charter) provides for the prohibition of threat or use of force in international relations thus:
“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.
In all these objectives, nowhere was ECOWAS specifically permitted to declare war on another member state. It is true that when the December, 2016 presidential elections the tiny state of Gambia (population of only 12,777,168 people) were disputed, ECOWAS had managed to “restore democracy” by using the threat of military force; but without actually using direct physical violence. Amongst others, Gambia’s small size; the fact that it is land locked, surrounded by Senegal; and its lack of a strong military base to withstand the firepower of possible ECOWAS attack, had led to the coupists pre-emptively backing down without a single shot by the ECOWAS group. It is also true that both the UN Security Council had backed ECOWAS with some form of legitimacy for that intervention. This is unlike the present scenario in Niger Republic (with 27.202 million people), where world bodies and Nations outside ECOWAS have carefully distanced themselves); or at best, maintained some level of caution and neutrality. (To be continued).