By Suleiman Umaru
More facts have emerged why the Authority of Heads of States and Government of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, have agreed to activate the standby force in the region which had been disbanded over the years. This is basically to restore constitutional order in crisis torn neighbouring Nier Republic and to stop the series of military takeovers in the region in the recent years.
Bolaji Akinyemi, a professor and former Director General, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, And a -one time minister of Foreign Affairs, during ex- military President Ibrahim Babangida, a retired Army General’s Administration had said that much that the reactivation of the regional body standby force is ‘’to stop the spread of military coups in the sub-region ‘’. The former Nigerian minister of Foreign Affairs was emphatic that the ECOWAS Leaders ‘’don’t want the spread of coups t in their territories and that was why they have dran the battle line with the Niger coup Leaders’’.
As a prelude to the planned reactivation of the regional standby force which had been used in the past in some crisis torn West African countries, that enjoying democratic order today like Liberia, Coted’Ivore and Sierra Leone, ten countries, including Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Gambia, Cape verde, Benin and Senegal defence Chiefs were said to have met in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Nigeria. Even the defence chiefs of Liberia, Cotd’Ivore and Serra Leone, which had had fought a bitter war in the past were at the Nigerian meeting as well.
The defence chiefs of the junta ruled Mali, Guinea, Guinea Bisau, Burkina Faso, and Niger Republic were said to be absent at the all-important meeting in Nigeria where the issue of the reactivation of the region’s standby force was discussed were said to be absent.
The Abuja meeting of the regional bloc defence chiefs meeting was to be followed up by another meeting in Accra, Capital of Ghana, where the decision whether to send troops to Niamey, capital of Niger Republic to force out the junta ought to be taken or not if negotiations fail.
The Accra meeting was said to have been cancelled by the Ghanaian government as a result of the opposition of Osei Tuutu,II, King of the Ashanti Kingdom , who was said to have rejected the use oof military intervention to chase out the Niger junta.
Nnana Akufo Addo, the Ghanaian President reportedly had said that it is not going to be in his home country, Ghana, that the regional bloc with decide to go to war against the Housa /Fulanis cousins in Niger Republic. Many believe that the government may have taken the decision to gladden the heart of the Niger Republic junta that they have Ghana’s backing. The Niger junta may not have read the handwriting on the wall that 10, out of the 15 member countries of the regional bloc have one mid set: to restore constitutional order in Niger Republic, which has become a bad advertisement in the region.
The ECOWA defence chiefs had met in Ghana on Thursday, August 17, 2023, to discuss a possible military intervention to chase the coup Leaders in Niger Republic who had toppled the constitutional elected government of Mohammed Bazoum, who is still been detained in the Presidential palace with his wife and son without electricity, running water, let alone have access to physicians to attend to their failing health.
Air Vice Marshall, AVM, Christopher Musa, Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, may have set the tone for the meeting which was at the instance of the ECOWAS Leaders when he declared that ‘’Democracy is what they stand for and it’s what they encourage in the West African sub-region’’.
The Nigerian defence chief was said to have reminded the other West African countries defence chiefs the purpose for the Accra meeting which was a follow-up to the Nigerian meeting ‘’to finalize plans for the deployment of the regional standby force in Niger Republic since the coup Leaders are not ready to reinstate the democratically elected President Bazoum who is still under house arrest.
He was said to have told the ECOWAS defence chiefs of Staff that the gathering is not simply to react to events as being speculated in several quarters but to actively chart a course that will result in promotion of peace and political stability in Niger’’.
Security experts believe that the Authority of Heads of States and Government of the ECOWAS, resort to military intervention in Niger Republic could still be overruled by the African Union, AU’S, Peace and Security Council which authorises the mounting and deployment of peace support missions to countries having political crisis.
The fear in both official and unofficial circles is that the military intervention in Niger could lead to widespread clashes in the country, which could as well lead to regional wars with other countries getting involved, notably Mali and Burkina Faso, which junta had threatened to intervene ‘’ if anybody touches the Nige coup Leaders ‘’. Guinea, which is under the junta rule and which has condemned any external aggression against Niger cop Leaders has refraimed from making any further comments to avoid incurring the wrath of the ECOWAS Leaders.
They fear the feasibility of high risk and difficult to implement military operation, notwithstanding that the ECOWAS standby force has already been deployed in Coted’Ivore, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea Bisau and Gambia in the past to constitutional order in these countries.
The security experts in their analysis had said the establishment of such a standby force in the region depends on the will of the contributing countries, which they had said requires a lot of negotiations between the ECOWAS countries.
At present Senegal, Benin Nigeria and Cotd’Ivoire were said to have declared that they are ready to send troops to Niamey to chase out the military junta. Gen. Mansour Seck of the Senegalese Army had said that such an operation should be able to moblize at 3,000 to 40,000 soldiers to effectively deal with the junta and their foreign collaborators.
President Alaasne Quatara of Coted’Ivoire who had confirmed that the military operation in Nige Republic will soon begin had said that his country alone would contribute a battalion of 850 to 1,100 soldier alongside Nigeria, Senegal, and Benin Republic to the standby force.
Although, the ECOWAS, standby force has not been deployed t Niger yet, but about 17 of the country soldiers were said to have been killed in an attack by armed roups near the border with Mali. A statement by the Niger’s Ministry of Defence released on Tuesday, August 15, 2023, confirmed that a detachment of the country’s armed forces , moving between Boni and Torodi, was the victim of the armed terrorists ambush near the town of Koutougou.
There are indications that another 20 soldiers had been injured by the armed terrorists who had been let lose in the country since the army takeover on July 26, 2023. Note that in the last decade, the border area where central Mali, northern Burkina Faso and Western Niger converge has become the epicentre of violence by armed groups liked to the North African sub-region based al-Qaeda and SIL(ISIS) in the Sahel region.
Unconfirmed report had said that the killing of the Nigerien soldiers by the armed groups has been made possible by the Niger ruling military junta revocation of agreements with the French military, forcing the former colonial power to withdraw the over 1,00 soldiers deployed to the country since Independence.
Sebasten Lecornu, the French minister of defence, who had said the French troops had remained a thorn in the flesh of the armed groups in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Central African Republic over the years to forestall the spread of terrorism in the Sahel region as it has consistently pushed back the armed groups in these countries had said that the July 26, 2023, coup in Niger will undermine the fight against the terrors groups in the region which is currently the case.
The Niger coup Leaders appear to have prepared for war with the ECOWAS standby force as the Niger Gendarmes and other security agencies operatives were said to have been deployed to man the land borders between the West African country and Nigeria to ensure that no person from Nigeria is allowed to cross in to their country for any business transactions.
Nigerian security personnel ae said to also be patrolling the border routes between the two countries in Jigawa, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Niger and Kwara states including Borno and Yobe states. Residents of Maigtari Local government in Jigawa state and Adare in Niger, home state of former military President, Gen. Babangida lament that they are living in difficult situation due to the crisis emanating from the Niger coup and ECOWAS’ decision on reversing through the use of the region military might.
There is no gain saying the fact that social and economic activities of the resident of the land border areas have totally collapsed due to the Niger Republic crisis.