Niger: DHQ directs service chiefs to compile war items, ECOWAS lawmakers divided

•Military chiefs to forward required number of men, equipment, funds to CDS
•Protest rocks Kano, senior lawyers warn Tinubu against deploying soldiers
•Doctor visits outsted President Bazoum, wife, son in detention

In compliance with the directives of the Economic Community of West African States, the Defence Headquarters has commenced build-up preparations for the possible mobilisation of troops and equipment for a possible confrontation with the junta in Niger Republic, findings by Sunday PUNCH have shown.

However, the ECOWAS Parliament is divided over the use of military might to force the junta, which overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, out of power and to reinstate the Nigerien President.

The Nigerian military high command, it was gathered, had directed the service chiefs to compile and submit war requirements such as the number of personnel, equipment, logistics and financial costs to the Chief of Defence Staff.

One of our correspondents gathered on Friday that this was the preliminary stage in the planning process of amassing human and material resources required for the planned military intervention in Niger.

A leaked memo indicated that about two battalions would be required to prosecute the war against the junta in Niger Republic.

A battalion is a military unit typically consisting of 300 to 1,000 soldiers commanded by a lieutenant colonel, and subdivided into a number of companies (usually each commanded by a major or a captain).

But a military source said the total number of troops should be at least “10 times more than that of the enemy.”

Apart from Nigeria, Senegal, Benin and Ivory Coast, other ECOWAS member states are expected to commit troops to the standby force.

ECOWAS had on Thursday activated its standby force for military action against the junta in Niger Republic.

The decision was taken at an extraordinary summit of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Government hosted by President Bola Tinubu in Abuja.

The summit was attended by top diplomats from the United Nations, African Union and the regional bloc.

The junta led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani had defiantly refused to yield to entreaties and diplomatic pressure to reinstate Bazoum, who has been in detention at his residence since the takeover on July 26.

Following the coup, the ECOWAS imposed a battery of sanctions on the francophone country to compel the military leaders to reinstate the ousted president.

But the coup plotters ignored a one-week ultimatum to restore democracy issued by ECOWAS and also refused to meet with a delegation led by former Nigerian military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, last week Thursday.

On Monday, the junta similarly denied the acting United States Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, access to the coup leader and Bazoum.

Also, plans by a joint UN/AU/ECOWAS delegation to visit Niamey on Tuesday were aborted after the coup leaders said they were unavailable to meet with the mission.

On Tuesday, presidential spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, announced that more sanctions had been imposed on the individuals and entities relating with the Niger military junta.

The new sanctions imposed by the Central Bank of Nigeria will prevent Nigerien banks from carrying out financial transactions with their Nigerian counterparts.

The restriction also applied to the coup plotters and their collaborators.

In reaction to the planned military intervention authorised by the sub-regional body, the Niger military leaders threatened to kill Bazoum should the ECOWAS attempt any military operation to restore democracy in the francophone country.

However, giving an update on the ECOWAS resolution on Friday, reliable military sources said the Nigerian military authorities had started activating the necessary levers to give full expression to the resolutions of the West African leaders.

A source noted that the Defence Headquarters would coordinate the deployment of troops and equipment for the operation.

‘’No deployment has been made for now, but the build-up is ongoing. Services are to forward requirements such as the required number of men, equipment as well as funds that would be needed to mobilise troops to Niger. The DHQ will coordinate the deployment of troops for the operation in Niger,” the source stated.

When asked about the total number of troops that would be deployed, another source stated, “Military deployments are shrouded in secrecy, but it depends on how many men would be contributed by all members of ECOWAS. The total force should be at least 10 times more than that of the enemy.”

However, the Director of Defence Information, Brig. Gen. Tukur Gusau, assured Nigerians that the participation of the country in the military operation in Niger would not affect the ongoing war against insecurity in the country.

His reaction followed concerns by security experts that military involvement in Niger might impact the ongoing operations against criminal elements across the country.

Asked if the ongoing operation against members of the Indigenous People of Biafra and the Eastern Security Network, Boko Haram terrorists and bandits would not suffer setbacks with the planned deployment of troops to Niger, Gusau said, “I want to assure you that it will not in any way.”

The DHQ spokesman declined to speak on the preparations for the planned military intervention in Niger.

ECOWAS parliamentarians divided

Meanwhile, members of the ECOWAS Parliament were split over the actions that should be taken to address the Niger coup.

Twenty-two parliamentarians took part in a virtual extraordinary meeting on Saturday to discuss the political crisis in Niger Republic.

 While some of the parliamentarians spoke in support of dialogue and diplomacy, others called for actions that would stem the rise in military overthrow of democratic governments in the region.

Those opposed to military intervention explained that it would cause the masses untold hardship.

The First Deputy Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Idris Wase, accused the sub-regional military chiefs of having economic motives for their eagerness to intervene in Niger.

Wase stated, “We should be careful not to start what we can’t finish. When the Russia-Ukraine war started, people thought it was to be a sharp war. A year after, the war lingers with the attendant economic squander and wanton destruction of lives and property.

“The sub-regional military chiefs know what they stand to benefit economically. That’s why they’re eager to militarily intervene in Niger. Most of them are corrupt.

“Any war on Niger will have adverse effects on 60 per cent of Nigeria, especially northern Nigeria.”

Corroborating Wase, a member of the Nigerian delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament, Ali Ndume, slammed President Tinubu for not seeking the approval of the National Assembly before closing the Nigerian-Niger border and cutting off electricity supply to the francophone nation.

Ndume said, “We are the representatives of the people. Whatever action that must be taken should be dependent on what our people want.

“The ECOWAS Chairman, President Tinubu, wrote to the Nigerian Senate on the planned military intervention in Niger and the Red Chamber vehemently opposed the use of force. Members instead prefer that dialogue should be adopted in resolving the impasse.

“President Tinubu has no right to close the Niger-Nigeria border and cut off electricity without the approval of the Nigerian National Assembly. It is not the juntas that are suffering the sanctions, but innocent people.”

Ali Djibo from Niger Republic said no fewer than 9,000 schools had been shut, adding that there was nowhere in the world where military action had turned out to be the best option.

Djibo explained, “War will only compound the economic woes the peoples of the sub-region are already going through.

“If a coup happens in Nigeria or Cote d’Ivoire tomorrow, where is ECOWAS going to mobilise troops to fight the Nigerian or Ivorian military? How many borders are we going to close?

“We must also bear in mind that if we’re applying the ECOWAS treaty, it should be applicable to all.”

However, some parliamentarians believed that dialogue and diplomacy had not been able to tame the spread of the scourge of military intervention in West Africa.

Linda Ikpeazu, who supported military intervention, noted that because there were no consequences in the past, especially in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, led to the Niger Republic situation.

Ikpeazu said the regional body had to act as it could not continue to encourage people to get away with wrongdoing.

She, however, said she was not in support of sanctions as the ordinary people would bear the brunt.

She said, “How effective was the approach ECOWAS adopted in Guinea Conakry, Mali and Burkina Faso? The decision that ECOWAS should take in resolving the Niger political imbroglio will depend on how effective the diplomacy adopted in the countries already under the military government was.

“If that is not done, it means, we are tactically giving approval for coups, knowing that the sub-regional body, ECOWAS, cannot do anything punitive.”

Adebayo Balogun noted that what ECOWAS proposed was not a full-scale war, but a military action against the junta.

“ECOWAS heads are not talking about declaring war on Niger, but simply intervening to dislodge the coup plotters from power because Niger is a signatory to the ECOWAS revised protocol on non-military intervention,” he noted.

Bashir Dawodu stated that while dialogue was being pursued, the military option should be left open.

He also reminded those banking on the support of Russia to defend the junta that the European country alone could not defend them.

Doctor sees Bazoum, family

President Bazoum was seen by his doctor, Saturday. It was learnt that the physician also brought food for the ousted leader, his wife and son, who are being held with him.

A member of his entourage told AFP, “The president had a visit by his doctor today.

“He’s fine, given the situation.”

Concerns have been raised over the health and detention conditions of Bazoum, his wife and 20-year-old son since the military seized power and took them captive on July 26.

The European Union and the African Union have joined others in sounding the alarm for Bazoum.

UN rights chief, Volker Turk, said Bazoum’s reported detention conditions “could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of international human rights law.”

Top US diplomat, Antony Blinken, said he was “dismayed” by the military’s refusal to release Bazoum’s family as a “demonstration of goodwill.”

Protest rocks Kano

Some Kano residents, on Saturday, staged a peaceful protest against the planned military action in Niger Republic.

The spokesman for the protesters, who declined to reveal his identity, said they embarked on the protest to register their displeasure against any military action in Niger Republic.

The protesters chanted, “Nigeriens are our brothers, as well as our family members.

“Niger is ours, we don’t want war; war against Niger is injustice, a plot by the Western forces.”

They also waved Nigeria and Niger flags and displayed placards with anti-war catchphrases.

The protesters later dispersed at the busy Ibrahim Taiwo Road in the Kano metropolis.

When contacted for his reaction, the state police command spokesman, SP Abdullahi Haruna, promised to get back to one of our correspondents after contacting the Divisional Police Officer in the area for details, but he had yet to revert as of the time of filing this report.

Lawyers against war

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said Tinubu could not deploy Nigerian troops to Niger without the approval of the National Assembly.

He stated that before the President could declare war or use Nigerian troops for external engagement, he needed the full and express approval of the Senate.

Ozekhome stressed that it would be unconstitutional to do otherwise, adding that taking that course of action without Senate approval would be treated as a criminal offence.

He said in an interview with Sunday PUNCH, “Even ECOWAS as a sub-regional group cannot simply ignore the United States charter to deploy troops. It is nothing short of a war of aggression that can lead to the death and destruction of people, which is like genocide.

“All these are international crimes that can be punished at the International Criminal Court of Justice at The Hague. I am a counsel at the ICC and I know that these are war crimes.

“One cannot simply leave his/her country to go and wage a war and attack another country because that country is weaker. Otherwise, all these smaller countries like Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago, The Gambia and the rest will not have a place to live in the world.”

Ozekhome also described Niger as a sovereign nation, adding that only it could determine its own agenda and problems.

“Who is helping Nigeria to decide our matter when people are dying every day and some are scavenging for food in septic tanks and gutters? Who helped us at the height of Boko Haram and armed banditry? Which country formed an alliance and attacked us as a country?” he queried.

Another lawyer, Chief Yomi Alliyu (SAN), said the President could not deploy Nigerian troops to join ECOWAS troops unless it was a “matter of necessity or utmost public interest.”

He said, “He (Tinubu) cannot go to war without the express nod of the National Assembly in writing. If he does it, it is an impeachable offence. Apart from being an impeachable offence, it is even criminal. He dares not do so. He cannot go behind the National Assembly to do anything.

“If any military man obeys him, he is doing so at his own peril. Diplomacy should be pursued to the last. Like the real politician that he is, Tinubu has chosen to walk on banana peels. I have sensed that an external force is prompting him to go to war. If Niger is to fight back, who will it fight; the external force of Nigeria?

“This will attract other superpowers. Nigeria should not involve our troops. We don’t deserve this calamity that is about to befall us if we invade Niger. There is a boundary connection, cultural bond and trade agreements between Niger and Nigeria.”

Another senior lawyer, Mr Ahmed Raji (SAN), said he did not think Tinubu had said the country was going to war.

“What the President said was that dialogue continues,” Raji said in an interview with Sunday PUNCH.

He added that ECOWAS as a body had said that there should be a standby military force against the junta.

Raji stated, “The hope of everybody is that the negotiations will work and the matter will be resolved. I do not think Tinubu has said he is going to deploy the Nigerian military without the approval of the Senate. He has not said so.

“He had sent emissaries there. He received in audience various peacemakers, who have called for dialogue and for them to step in to see what they can do to achieve peace.

“His taking a request to the National Assembly is a demonstration that he does not want to act contrary to what the Nigerian law says. For that, he has to be commended.”

Security experts speak

However, a security expert, Oladele Fajana, said Nigeria could not afford to go to war with Niger due to the internal security challenges confronting the country.

He said, “Nigeria is not in a better position to deploy troops for military intervention in Niger. Doing such is a misplaced priority because of the internal security challenges we are faced with.

“With a full house, we have been unable to completely take out the non-state actors disturbing the peace of the country, so you think when we take some (troops) out and take them to Niger; the criminals will not take advantage of this?”

Speaking in a similar vein, a security analyst, Jackson Ojo, also opposed the proposed military action against the Niger junta.

He noted, “Our house is on fire and we want to go and quench the smoke coming out of another person’s house! That is what we are doing. We are a country at war already with the reported killings in all parts of the country.

“We are the big brother in ECOWAS; we will provide more money, troops and equipment. Already, our military has been overwhelmed. If you add this to their task, the country may collapse.”

Source: The PUNCH

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