ECOWAS ‘Mass grave’ Project in the Sahel and the Role of President Tinubu – Bolaji O. Akinyemi.
A headline on Tribune online reads this: ‘There’s no food, there’s no water, there’s nowhere to sleep’. This paints a picture of the growing humanitarian situation in Niger Republic mildly!
Economic Countries of West African States should be disturbed about this reality, if truly our priority is the economy of the region and its people. But, interests other than the economy is at the centre of their consideration.
16 countries are listed as members of ECOWAS, 6 out of which have portions of their territories trapped in the traditional area referred to as the Sahel.
Sahel describes a territory that crosses beyond the boundaries of countries. Historically some countries in the Sahel share bond that still holds communities across their borders tied to one another so strongly. This though is often carried to the extreme through views expressed by individuals and community groups, which are threatening the Sovereignties of Nations concerned!
Gombe State in North East Nigeria is described as the Jewel in the Savannah—suggesting a go-between the Sahara desert in the North and the tropical Savannah in the south of Nigeria—fitting as this may be, it reflects enormous responsibility that the State must bear to champion welfare of the Sahel as its nucleus in Nigeria and consequently the move it must make towards the other Sahel countries!
My recent visit to Gombe State, though Apostolic in nature, our nation building passion informed our desire to rub minds with the Government of Gombe which was expressed in a letter to the Chief Executive of the state. Our letter was however not dignified with a reply as correspondence ethics in public administration demands.
The visit afforded me the opportunity of observing its local communities and deducing what the impact of a full scale war will be to Gombe, North East and Northern Nigeria as a whole!
Without the war, 4 out of 10 children roaming the streets in Gombe are from Niger, 3 from Chad, 1 from Gombe and the rest from neighbouring states to Gombe!
Historical sentimental ties apart, a war situation in Niger Republic will be disastrous for Northern Nigeria and catastrophic for us as a nation!
The Sahel is arguably one of the most combustive regions of the world, owing to its illiteracy confrontation and developmental challenges. This semi-arid region of Africa separating the Sahara Desert to the North and tropical Savannah to the South, is as much a land of opportunities as it is of challenges!
Although it has abundant human and natural resources, offering tremendous potential for rapid growth of the Sahel if properly harnessed. One of the world’s youthful regions with 64% of the population being below 25 years, this potential remains grossly untapped through education and vocational training. This gap may provide the looming war an army of children soldiers as the case was in during the Liberia civil war with several reports of senseless killings.
The Sahel is deeply rooted in challenges — environmental, socio-political religious cum insecurity presently engulfing the region!
Niger, the country we are about to be led into war with by ECOWAS and its Chairman is presently hosting regional Internally Displaced Persons, 67% of this is from Nigeria with the figure standing at 291,629, 21% from Mali, 5% from Burkina Faso and 5% from other countries in the region. Sharing the border with Niger is a country at war with food; Chad, a nation with one of the highest levels of hunger in the world is a neighbour to Sudan, making it accessible to victims of the ongoing civil war in Southern Sudan.
There is absolutely no sense in the proposed military action against Niger. The Sahel can only become a huge mass grave of her own people if ECOWAS and its Chairman for whatever reason insist on their position. Every war, like they say will end at the Negotiation table, I will advise ECOWAS to remain seated at the table with the Junta until a peaceful workable solution can be found.
The gain of a war in Niger to Nigeria by the integrity questioned President of our Republic is suggestive of a desperation to keep himself in power and to threaten our military of a regional uproar if the call for military intervention in our politics which the Chief of Army Staff dispelled as rumour, is indeed one.
Keeping the greedy elites of the region in power is of course a disaster the masses of the countries concerned will want to end.
The deception of ECOWAS leadership is revealed in Gabon where Ali Bongo who succeeded his father in 2009 after 42 years of Senior Bongo who took hostage that country. The reality of our brand of “demon-crazy” can no longer be tolerated by sanity. Will the Chairman of ECOWAS lead the regional body to intervene in Gabon when he doesn’t hope to leave his seat for his son?
With the military interventionist strongly determined to hold on to power and seemingly unperturbed by the sanctions which daily is becoming unbearable for the ordinary Nigeriens, multitude before now were fleeing the country for hunger!
This threat of war and the situation at the border has increased the number of those who are fleeing the country and particularly to Nigeria!
With Millions unable to feed as sanctions bite harder in Niger, Nigeria, with her challenges is naturally their first point of consideration for shelter!
A train of trucks loaded with food and aid are seen at the border without access into the country!
One of the busiest borders in West Africa is the Malanville with northern Benin. Here also trucks with food, humanitarian aid and industrial materials that usually flow freely into neighbouring Niger, one of the world›s poorest countries are stagnated!
The effect of which is already a crisis of monumental concern!
Thousands of stranded trucks form a line that stretches back as long as 25 km from the muddy shores of the Niger River that marks the frontier. Clothes of Drivers and their motor boys hang on trucks. Some of them have been there for weeks.
Small traders are lashing at the opportunity. Away from border guards they are seeing pilling goods onto wooden boats to cross the rain-lashed river.
The backlog is one of the clearest signs yet of the impact of sanctions imposed by regional bloc ECOWAS on Niger after a military coup on July 26!
The blockade is meant to pressure the junta to restore President Mohamed Bazoum to office. In the process, it has driven up the price of food inside Niger during the lean season, hampered industry and threatened a shortage of medical supplies, aid agencies, officials and residents had said.
According to Tribune’s report, one of the drivers spoken to, said, “We don’t know if we’ve been taken hostage or what,” said the Nigerien trucker, named, Soulemane, who has been stucked at the border with his cargo of sugar and oil for over 20 days. “There’s no food, there’s no water, there’s nowhere to sleep!”
There is little sign yet that the sanctions have dented the popularity of the junta. Thousands of people took the streets in support of the coup when it was announced, citizens for whatever reason are still very disposed to a Junta led government than a return to Mohammed Bazoum led “demon-crazy”. Some of whom held anti-ECOWAS signs during a recent protest.
Military leaders in Mali appeared to grow in popularity when ECOWAS imposed sanctions there after coups in 2020 and 2021!
Millions are unable to afford a meal once a day!
Some 6,000 tonnes of goods from the United Nations’ World Food Programme are stuck outside Niger including cereals, cooking oil and food for malnourished children. Its regional spokesperson, Djaounsede Madjiangar said.
Residents said there was still food on the shelves in Niamey but, prices had shot up!
Since sanctions were announced, the price of rice has increased by 21%, while sorghum is up 14%, the WFP said!
The WFP supplies were meant to ease a hunger crisis that was already gripping Niger, where an Islamist insurgency has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes!
About 3 million people are struggling to afford one meal per day. The crisis could push a further 7 million into the same category, according to the WFP.
“We could end up with 10 million people who are not able to feed themselves,” Madjiangar added.
“Humanitarian needs are increasing.”
WFP and the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, say they have not yet had to cut back operations in Niger, but warn that time is running out!
Interruptions could have devastating impacts in Niger, which has one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world!
UNICEF containers are stranded at the border and in Benin’s Cotonou port. Cold-chain equipment and vaccines risk losing their effectiveness! These include doses against the deadly rotavirus infection in children, the agency said in e-mailed comments.
Meanwhile, ECOWAS and the junta remain at loggerheads. The bloc has threatened to intervene militarily if talks and other efforts to pressure the junta fail.
“These sanctions are not designed to find a solution, but to bring us to our knees and humiliate us,” coup leader General Abdourahmane Tiani said in a speech on Saturday!”
The sanctions are not just threatening Niger’s food and aid supplies, it has stalled businesses! Nigeria has cut power supplies, jeopardising medical care in hospitals, Tiani said!
Niamey-based entrepreneur, Maxime Kader told Reuters he had to stop selling poultry incubators due to a lack of plywood and low power.
Large-scale infrastructure projects have also been hit by the fallout. The freezing of regional financial flows has halted construction on a Chinese-led dam project that was meant to boost food security!
Forecast economic growth of 7% this year was based on the expected launch of an oil pipeline from Niger to Benin, but it has not been clear how the coup has impacted work to complete the PetroChina (601857.SS) — backed project. PetroChina did not reply to a request for comment by newshounds.
At the Malanville crossing, some vehicles marked WAPCO — a company working on the pipeline – were among those stucked in line. Local authorities said. Newshounds could not independently confirm this.
Many drivers at the border appeared to be preparing for a long wait. Some have erected makeshift tents and cook on little charcoal stoves, others are scrounging for food as their money runs out.
“They have to review this situation because there is no other way to go,” said Nigerien trucker Mahamat Addi Saleh. “This is where everyone passes through!”
The zeal of President Tinubu to roll out military tanks and command war against our long historical neighbour was punctured by the Senate. Notwithstanding, his leadership of the subregion as Chairman of ECOWAS is providing him a route for a war that will only benefit the irresponsible political elites who seems eternally lost to the purpose of power!
May I remind President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that our reality berates alliance with international politics, with consideration of the fact that Abuja is home to some persons out of the over 3.6 million Internally Displaced Persons in the country as a result of insecurity that ravaged the country under his party man and predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari. The Capital City is hosting 4 IDP camps at Lugbe, Area1, Kuchingoro and Kuje, armies of frustrated Nigerians are within an hour walking distance to the Villa. With our mouthful, there is no point biting what we may not be able to chew.
Instead of an incendiary statement credited to the likes of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Gombe State’s identity as the Jewel in the Savannah should come on board local solution to the Niger problem. The Governor of the state should be concerned enough to rally the northern Governors to examine possible consequences of this avoidable war which may not be immediately available to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and make a proposal to the President to avert what may become a political uprising against their governments and by implications, the government at the centre.
This stitch in time may save 9!
Dr Bolaji O. Akinyemi is an Apostle and Nation Builder, Convener Apostolic Round Table, ART. Also the BOT Chairman Project Victory Call Initiative, AKA, PVC-Naija.