The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) has observed that for the past two weeks, the Nigerian nation and the entire global community have been confronted with the complications from the disturbing events of the unconstitutional change in government, in our neighboring country, the Republic of Niger.
We also note the position of the Senate, who in their response to Mr. President’s letter, likewise suggested that peaceful means should be used to settle the problem, instead of engaging in a fratricidal war.
Perhaps, due to the very close history of the relationship and cultural links, that Nigeria shares with our northern neighbor, this subject matter is today on the front burner in our national media space and discussions among opinion leaders.
2. Undoubtedly, Nigeria’s active involvement in censuring the coup and the need to bring sanity back to our neighboring country is also because President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, is the current Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State. The burden of resolving this crisis, which has happened around us, therefore, seems to have fallen on him.
3. As leaders of four of the country’s six main socio-cultural groups, Afenifere from the South West, Ohaneze Ndigbo from the South East, PANDEF from the South-South and the Middle Belt Forum, we have also taken active steps to follow the events and also listen to the views being expressed by Nigerians, both in our parts of the country and the rest of the nation, even by people at the Grassroots level. We observe that no other issue concerning Nigeria’s relations with its neighbors, and the rest of the world, has recently attracted so much interest and concern from virtually all areas.
We, therefore want to make suggestions, which we think the government should take seriously.
i. We join all Nigerians, and the rest of the world, to condemn the military coup that occurred in Niger on 26th July 2023, overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Bazoum.
This is in particular because, after many years of instability and the history of attempted and successful military coups, Mohamed Bazoum was the first president to peacefully inherit power from another democratically elected president.
Since we know that military governments have also taken power in neighboring countries of Mali and Burkina Faso, the addition of Niger to the list for such a breach of national constitutions, just on the other side of our border, is very uncomfortable and definitely cannot be allowed to stand.
ii. It is, therefore, necessary that concerted efforts should be put in place to ensure that democracy is restored urgently in the Republic of Niger and that the new military leader, Tchani, and his cohorts, are made to abdicate the power, which they seized by force.
iii. Nonetheless, as important as the restoration of democracy is to Nigeria, the ECOWAS, and the global community, we advise President Tinubu to realize that his primary responsibility is to the peace and security of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, all actions of our government should therefore focus on how Nigeria can play its roles and obligations without getting stuck in the crisis in Niger.
iv. This is why we commend the President for taking moves to follow up negotiations and political contact using the former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the Sultan of Sokoto.
This process should be accelerated, using other sources both within Nigeria and our neighboring countries that can be of benefit to the cause. The information available to us shows that there are other personalities in Nigeria and international figures who can also be used to intervene in the matter.
v. We discourage the temptation to adopt military means to force the illegal government out of power. From our judgment, such a move will be resisted sternly by forces both within Niger and Nigeria. It is important to note that several of our Nigerian communities in the extreme north do not see Niger as mere neighbors but enjoy a lot of traditional and cultural ties. In those border areas, there is no difference between a Nigerian and a Nigerien.
vi. There are tenable concerns that if war comes, normal lives will be disrupted in the border communities, insecurity will increase, and there will be an influx of refugees. From our previous experience of wars, in Chad, such refugees did not stop at the border areas but penetrated the farthermost points in Nigeria and became a source of concern to all of us.
vii. Back in Niger, the people seem to perceive the military government as liberators due to the state of poverty and hunger. ECOWAS intervention, even if supported could, therefore, be highly resisted all across the country.
viii. We have also read very disturbing reports that the equally unconstitutionally existing governments in their neighboring countries, Mali and Burkina Faso, and those in other places, within the area, may combine to resist the ECOWAS efforts in their self-interest.
ix. Lastly, it is known by all that Niger unlike most other countries has a lot of foreign interests. We have seen the American military bases, the French military bases, and the Italian military bases and reports of Russian and Chinese presence in their various forms are being brought up by the media. If care is not taken, therefore, that situation may become the center for another seeming global war similar to what is happening in Ukraine.
4. That is why as leaders of the various socio-cultural ethnic groups in Nigeria, we strongly advise the President and Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads to State to explore all avenues for a peaceful resolution. This matter is delicate and could affect our country’s unity and, security, and put a heavy financial burden on us, at a time when our national challenges are more than can be imagined.
We hope Mr. President will carefully continue to take heed on doing what will not create additional problems for the country and make the best decisions, in line with our national interest.
And we also urge our brothers and sisters in the Border States to cooperate with the President in resolving this matter peacefully, amicably, and urgently.
- Chief Dr. E. K. Clark, OFR, CON – Leader,
- Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Leader, Afenifere
- Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, CFR
- President-General, Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide
- Dr. Pogu Bitrus, President, Middle Belt Forum
- Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essien, FNSE – National Chairman, PANDEF