Former Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari never hid the fact that he was practically a citizen of Niger Republic. One of his most recent comments was that if Nigerians gave him trouble he would move to Niger Republic. Also, during his tenure the media was replete with list of projects and infrastructure which he provided to Nigeriens.
Abdourahmane Tchiani, head of Niger Republic’s presidential guard, last week named himself head of a transitional government in the West African country, two days after his unit overthrew democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum.
The 62-year-old general said the intervention had become necessary to avoid “the gradual and inevitable demise” of the country.
Last Wednesday, Tchiani’s unit detained Bazoum in the presidential palace in the capital, Niamey, provoking a flurry of condemnation from leaders within Africa and beyond.
The coup is the fifth successful one in the country since it gained independence from France.
With the success of the coup, Buhari’s old friend and Niger President Bazoum has been sent tumbling down from power.
African Union and ECOWAS have as usual flexed muscles. There will be lots of such talk. Nigeria, which is Niger’s neighbour has condemned the coup.
President Bola Tinubu was quoted as saying in his first response: “Information filtering in from the Republic of Niger indicates some unpleasant developments around the country’s highest political leadership. It should be quite clear to all players in the Republic of Niger that the leadership of the ECOWAS Region and all lovers of democracy around the world will not tolerate any situation that incapacitates the democratically elected government of the country. The ECOWAS leadership will not accept any action that impedes the smooth functioning of legitimate authority in Niger or any part of West Africa. I wish to say that we are closely monitoring the situation and developments in Niger and we will do everything within our powers to ensure democracy is firmly planted, nurtured, well rooted and thrives in our region. I am in close consultation with other leaders in our region, and we shall protect our hard-earned democracy in line with the universally acceptable principle of constitutionalism. As the Chairperson of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, I state without equivocation that Nigeria stands firmly with the elected government in Niger and equally conveys the absolute resolve of leaders in our sub-region that we shall not waiver or flinch on our stand to defend and preserve constitutional order.”
ECOWAS, France and other western countries have gone further to issue threats but Niger also has its backers. And the citizens seem to be insisting on their right to change. But that is another story.
We haven’t heard from Buhari, the practically self-professed citizen of Niger. No doubt his brother on the throne there must have made him say he will relocate there if Nigerians gave him wahala. Now that his brother has been overthrown, where will Buhari go now? Can he still fulfil his ambition to go settle there? Does he have friends and brothers among the coup plotters who will ensure his ambition is not truncated? Or will the new government treat him as ‘A friend of my enemy is an enemy?’
While we wait for Buhari to reveal his next line of action, what happens to the projects connecting Nigeria and Niger? Our people keep saying government is a continuum. Will this be the case? And by the way, where is Buhari?
During his tenure as Nigeria’s President, Niger received so much assistance from Nigeria that people started wondering what was happening and if Niger was another State in Nigeria. There was a time when the Nigerian government confirmed that President Muhammadu Buhari approved the purchase and donation of vehicles, worth N1. 4 billion, to Niger Republic. This raised a lot of noise from the general public and civil society. But more was obviously being done and still more would still be done for that country by Buhari’s government.
In July 2018, Nigeria and Niger Republic agreed to collaborate to construct an oil pipeline and refinery. The proposed refinery will be located in Katsina State, northern Nigeria, but crude supply will be through the pipeline from Niger Republic’s oilfields in the Ténéré desert.
Other projects executed during Buhari’s period include:
- $2 billion standard gauge railway project from Kano to Maradi in Niger Republic, being solely constructed by Nigeria
- $2 billion refinery project to import fuel from Niger Republic
- 2 billion for the construction of two roads linking two Northern Nigerian states to the border of Niger Republic. It includes a 46 kilometre road from Balle in Sokoto State to Niger Republic border at the cost of N9.5 billion and for Kunya in Jigawa State to Niger Republic border phase II, at N19.8 billion.
- 14 billion for the purchase of 10 Land Cruiser Jeeps, to the government in Niger Republic to “assist the country in the transportation and movement of VIPs, high-ranking officials, top government functionaries and visitors scheduled for official visit to Niger. These ‘top government functionaries and visitors’ of course, will be Nigerians like former President Buhari and his team on their regular visits to Niger.
There is no doubt that Nigeria has always had close ties with the Republic of Niger, partly because both countries share a large Hausa-shared population on each side of their border which is 1,500 kilometres long. Because of this, language and cultural ties are quite strong.
Both countries share trade and agricultural ties, including sale of cattle especially, from Niger, while Nigeria is also Niger Republic’s direct route to the coast and other overseas countries, as they use Nigeria’s Railway system to and fro, as well as the sea ports which landlocked Niger needs badly.
However, should Nigeria be spoon-feeding Niger? Can the present Nigerian Government take a strong stand based on its statement on the coup in Niger and treat the plotters with iron hand in the interest of democracy? Or will Buhari’s influence become relevant in the way the soldiers in charge in Niger are treated by Nigeria or ECOWAS?