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Free Niger, Free Bazoum By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

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The stalemate between ECOWAS and Niger Republic needs to be broken urgently for humanitarian and strategic reasons. The decision should be taken tomorrow at the meeting of Heads of States of the regional body to shorten the unnecessary suffering of 26 million ECOWAS citizens in Niger.

Humanity

The world is appalled by the ongoing starvation in Gaza and it is rightly calling for its end. In a similar way, the humanity in us should trigger our conscience to open Niger’s borders and restore its electricity. There is just no reason why we should superintend over death of African lives and destruction of the economy of a member state in the name of democracy. It is no longer about Bazoum or Tchiani or the neo-colonial interest of France. It is about the people of Niger.

Democracy is not as important to Africans as it is to their lives and livelihood. In a year or two, Niger can return to democracy and heavens will not fall before then. However, the longer we strangulate Nigeriens now, the longer will our guilt for the collective punishment we meted on them last later. On their part, the Nigeriens will retain—and recall—for generations the long memory of ECOWAS’ suffocating sanctions and they will bring it to bear on every future association with Nigerians in particular.

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A Shot in the Foot

Apart from the imperatives of history, DNA, culture and contiguity, Niger Republic will through River Niger and our future Europe-bound gas pipeline continue to play a crucial role to our economy, not to mention the daily cross border trade relations worth billions of Naira.

Our weaponization of electricity to Niger will seriously undermine future strategic cooperation with the Republic regarding River Niger. Nothing will stop it from damming the River in a big way to ensure its national electricity and food security, letting us get sufficient water in Kainji and Jebba Dams only when there is an overflow. We will be forced to rely solely on gas for power generation.

Our national security will also be at great risk when Niger inevitably develops a cold feet, as a pay back, on our strategic partnership against Boko Haram and Bandit terrorism. Niger is just a neighbour too important for Nigeria to call off. I am not sure if we haven’t shoot ourselves in the foot already.

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Forward

The July coup is now a standing reality. I suggest, as a way out, that ECOWAS demands two assurances from Niger, with a third party, say America, serving as a guarantor to the agreement: The release of Bazoum and a short timetable for return to civilian rule in exchange for immediate removal of sanctions. This ‘Niger free, Bazoum free’ formula will immediately relieve the population of the horrendous difficulties it is undergoing and save the lives of the sick, including women and children, who are dying in Nigerien hospitals due to the blackout. It will also save the investments of hundreds of Nigerians whose loaded vehicles are stranded at the borders for months now.

Bazoum’s government is a spilled milk, which cannot be recovered. ECOWAS should let this go and prepare for the future. It can consider establishing a standing force to immediately intervene in future incidents if necessary without procrastination. But how democracy is proving to be conveyor of poverty and bad governance in Africa makes it a creed not worthy of such a financially heavy enterprise.

Instead, ECOWAS should develop mechanisms to promote good governance as the only assurance for stability and prosperity and a panacea against future coups. No matter the situation, in future measures that will bring hardship to citizens and ruin the economies of member states should be avoided as much as possible by ECOWAS. We cannot be Americans in Iraq. Otherwise, we will only be surrogates of colonial masters. So far in Niger, we have cut our nose to spite our face. Tomorrow, December 10th, is the date to start stitching it.

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