I am writing to advise President Bola Tinubu to condense his policy push and direction on the Niger crisis in order to accomplish the desired goal as swiftly and cheaply as feasible. As has been made clearly clear, ECOWAS’ policy objective is the restoration of constitutional government in Niger; yet, the means of achieving this goal are being muddied by a flurry of unjustifiable activities and personalities.
ECOWAS issued an ultimatum to Niger, which was accompanied by severe measures such as economic penalties, border closures, a no-fly zone, and power outages. However, the answer from Niamey reveals that neither the ultimatum nor the punitive measures dented the junta’s commitment to keep power.
The regime appears unafraid! With Niamey’s determination, Abuja has clearly cornered itself, as it became clear that punitive measures and threats of military intervention will not succeed. As a result, the president adopted the successful strategy of diplomatic communication!
He developed a high-level and sophisticated practical political and diplomatic approach to the issue, relying on the common historical denominator that has linked Sahelian groups for generations as a method of attaining a peaceful resolution of the crises.
He wisely enlisted the assistance of renowned leaders, including former Head of State Gen. Abubakar AbdulSalaam and the revered traditional ruler, the Sultan of Sokoto, to carry out the essential diplomatic tasks and mediate with the Niger junta.
This high-ranking ambassador went and successfully opened talks with the junta. It returned and informed the president of the next steps. Then, out of nowhere, we saw images of the 14th Emir of Kano, Mohammad Sanusi II, and the Emir of Damagaram in the Niger Republic emerging with the head of the Nigerien junta.
So, what is the significance of Sanusi’s visit and meeting with the junta’s leader? According to his own admission, he travelled there not on behalf of Nigeria’s president and administration, nor of ECOWAS, because the Gen. AbdulSalam envoy remains in place. He claimed he went there on his own initiative, turning the entire situation into a free-for-all.
This obviously does not reflect well on the government. Although he stated that the government was aware of his plans, how did he enter Niger when the government had officially closed both the land borders and the airspace?
This indicates that the borders are only closed to particular groups of individuals, rendering the border closure policy meaningless. Even so, did he inform his traditional leader, the Sultan, about his trip to Niger, knowing that the latter is an official representative of the government? I’m not sure, but I doubt it. If he did not, it is an unforgivable blunder.
Because he was not dispatched there by the government and is unlikely to have told the Sultan beforehand, his journey violates both state and traditional traditions. With all due respect, his return and briefing the president on the outcome of his private visit reveals a lot about the government’s lack of a clear direction on this topic.
Other than aggravating matters for the government, I’m not sure what value Emir Sanusi’s travel to Niamey will offer to the resolution of the crisis. Has the 14th Emir persuaded Niger’s junta to hand over power to deposed President Bazoum? Apart from meeting the head of the junta and enjoying a picture session, did he achieve any more than the AbdulSalsm team?
These questions have undoubtedly negative replies! So, what is the worth of the government visit? I’m not betting anything! The visit should not have been sanctioned by the administration in the first place, given its significance. What is the position and function of the AbdulSalam team now? Has the president lost faith in them? There is a distinct lack of sound advise in the White House!
Things became even worse when the president met with members of the Nigerian Council of Ulamas yesterday, directing them to intercede with the Nigerien junta. With all due respect, one must question, “How?” How are they going to settle this?
Are they going meet with the junta and discuss handing over power? Or are they to meet with their counterparts in Niger and tell them to go talk to the junta about handing over power? Or are they to plunge into prayer and ask the junta to renounce power spiritually?
Is a strictly political, diplomatic, and power issue now spiritual in nature? I have no idea how the ulamas will mediate in this case! In fact, even if they are allowed to mediate (which I doubt), who is the supreme head of the Islamic ummah in Northern Nigeria? Isn’t that the Sultan?
How come the administration then turned on Islamic clerics to arbitrate in this problem without involving the Sultan? These are basic conventional norms that must be strictly followed in order to get positive results.
I believe the government is not only making the wrong decisions on this problem, but also approaching it incorrectly. It is clear that the president’s aides are not thinking through topics thoroughly, which causes him to make rash and improper decisions.
For me, the best path forward is for the government to stick to the Gen. AbdulSalam envoy who is already in place and working. It is certain to scale and give the desired results. Anything else will merely add to the confusion and portray the government as being unclear and unfocused. A wise African proverb states that putting too many ingredients in the pot ruins the soup.