HomeTop StoriesNigerian President Tinubu faces backlash over military intervention in Niger

Nigerian President Tinubu faces backlash over military intervention in Niger

President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, responds during a speech to the Head of State and Government of ECOWAS in Abuja on July 30, 2023

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu is facing massive backlash domestically over his threat to use military force to reverse the coup in neighboring Niger.

Local media reports that at a session of the upper house of parliament, the Senate, on Saturday, there was strong opposition to military intervention, despite being controlled by Mr Tinubu’s party.

This was especially the case among legislators representing states along the more than 1,500 km (930 mi) long border with Niger, but there has also been nationwide condemnation of the possibility of war.

The West African regional bloc Ecowas had set a deadline on Sunday for the junta to relinquish power — or possibly take military action.

The decision was highly regarded as Mr. Tinubu’s as he is the current Chairman of Ecowas and Nigeria is its most influential member.

Although the junta defied the ultimatum, Ecowas did not respond by sending troops immediately. This came as a relief to many Nigerians who prefer a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Some question whether a seven-day deadline was realistic, as Nigeria and other countries must receive parliamentary approval before deploying the military.

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Many people are also shocked that electricity to Niger was cut off by order of President Tinubu, causing blackouts in Niamey, Niger’s capital, and other cities.

Critics argue this violates a treaty that had allowed Nigeria to build a dam on the Niger River, though Tinubu’s supporters say the power cuts are intended to pressure the junta to return power to deposed President Mohamed Bazoum, without military confrontation. .

Nigeria and Niger share strong ethnic, economic and cultural ties and any military intervention against Niger would affect Northern Nigeria, which itself already faces serious security challenges.

An influential group of Islamic clerics in Northern Nigeria said Tinubu should not “enter into an avoidable conflict with a neighboring country at the behest of global politics”.

Mohamed Toumba, one of the leading figures of the National Council for the Protection of the Fatherland, attends the demonstration of supporters of the coup and greets them at a stadium in Niger's capital, Niamey, on August 6, 2023.

Niger junta says it will resist any “aggression” from Ecowa and Western powers

Bazoum was a key ally of the West, allowing former colonial power France and the US to maintain military bases in the country to help fight militant Islamists who wreaked havoc across much of West Africa.

The military juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso have vowed to defend the coup leaders in Niger if Ecowas uses force, raising the prospect of a major regional conflict.

All eyes are now on Mr Tinubu, who has been most outspoken in condemning coups in West Africa, saying last month that Ecowas cannot be “toothless bulldogs”.

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“We must stand for democracy. There is no governance, freedom and rule of law without democracy. We will not accept coup after coup in West Africa again,” said Tinubu, shortly after assuming leadership of the regional body taken.

Nigeria’s constitution states that the president cannot deploy troops without the approval of the National Assembly, which consists of both the upper and lower chambers of parliament.

It is unclear whether Mr. Tinubu will receive his support given the opposition he faces.

“Eco was fooled, the Nigerian president was also fooled,” says Professor Khalifa Dikwa, an academic at the University of Maiduguri and a member of an influential elderly group in northern Nigeria.

In a tentative statement after Saturday’s closed session, Senate Majority Leader Godswill Akpabio threw the ball into the court of the Ecowas parliament, saying it “should provide solutions to resolve this blockade as soon as possible.”

President Tinubu’s hard line against coups d’état may be rooted in his own experience. He served as a legislator for barely a year in the early 1990s when elections were canceled, parliament was dissolved and General Sani Abacha seized power.

He joined the pro-democracy movement campaigning for a return to civilian rule, putting him in the crosshairs of the army that forced him into exile. He returned in 1998 after the death of General Abacha, one of Nigeria’s most ruthless and corrupt military rulers.

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But many Nigerians feel that Ecowas was too hasty in issuing an ultimatum to the junta, and that President Tinubu had not given enough thought to the domestic implications of the use of force.

“Niger was a continuation of the northern part of Nigeria until the Berlin Conference [of 1884-1885, when foreign powers created Africa’s current borders]. Do you expect the North to go to war against itself?” asked Prof. Dikwa.

Supporters of Niger's National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) demonstrate in Niamey on August 6, 2023

Supporters of Niger’s National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) demonstrate in Niamey on August 6, 2023

Unlike his predecessor Muhammadu Buhari, President Tinubu has no military background and neither does his National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, who is a former police officer.

Ecowas army leaders issued their own statement last week, saying they see military intervention as a “last resort”.

Critics say Mr Tinubu has a history of rushing to make big decisions, pointing to the fact that he used his first speech as president in May to announce the end of a decades-long fuel subsidy, in unwritten remarks that sparked chaos led.

Ecowas leaders will now hold a summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Thursday to decide on the next line of action.

While some other West African countries have pledged to participate in military interventions, it is hard to imagine doing so without Nigeria if the National Assembly does not give its support.

Mr. Tinubu wears two hats: that of the Chairman of Ecowas and that of the President of Nigeria. For some, acting in the regional interest and in defense of democracy is necessary, but for others it can be very expensive.

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