Some Nigerians who fled the Republic of Niger following the coup that toppled the government of President Mohamed Bazoum and the impending military action against the junta by the Economic Community of West African States, tell ANIMASAHUN SALMAN how ECOWAS action will affect them
Where do you reside in Niger Republic and what is your occupation there?
My name is Umar Abubakar. I am an indigene of Kebbi State residing in Agadez, a community in the Niger Republic, where I engage in a furniture business.
What exactly brought you to Illela in Sokoto State?
I am staying here (in Illela) for now after running away from my place of work in the Niger Republic due to the heightened tension on the ground as a result of the disposition of the Economic Community of West African States.
Immediately after the takeover of power by the military junta from President Mohamed Bazoum, there was a bit of tension for some days until normalcy was restored in the country.
What has been the feeling among Nigerians in Niger Republic since ECOWAS vowed to reinstate the ousted president?
Ever since the pronouncement by ECOWAS that the ousted president should be reinstated, a lot of us, especially those of us from Nigeria, have been having sleepless nights. Although there have not been any attacks on us, anything can happen if we are not careful. That was why I decided to come back to Nigeria and pray for an amicable resolutions of the crisis over there (in Niger Republic).
To a layman in Niger Republic now, Nigeria is waging war against them. They don’t know what ECOWAS is about, and Nigeria, being one of the most populous nations, is being perceived as the brain behind the impending attack on Nigerien territories.
Are you worried that a war could ensue in the Niger Republic?
I hope this issue doesn’t result in a war because if it does, only God knows what will happen afterward. The ordinary citizens in the Niger Republic need serious sensitisation to understand that what ECOWAS is doing is for their sake otherwise some of us (Nigerians) living with them may find it difficult henceforth.
As a Nigerian resident in Niger Republic, what do you want the Federal Government to do?
My message to our government in Nigeria is to have a plan B for some of our people living in that country. We all know how Nigeria is and that is why some of us decided to try our luck over there (in Niger Republic) and with what is happening now, our continued stay there may be a problem.
The government should ensure the safety of our people in Niger Republic, we (Nigerians) are many over there and we are from every tribe in Nigeria. Our government should start thinking of using diplomatic ways to evacuate us if there is going to be an attack against those coup plotters before they (Nigeriens) will turn against us. We all remember what happened in South Africa, where the businesses of our people became their target. We don’t want to suffer unjustly, so the government should do the needful now.
Can you describe the situation in the Re public of Niger before you returned to Nigeria?
My name is Haruna Abdulazeez. I am from Osun State in Nigeria but I reside in Altis, one of the communities in Niger Republic. I work as an artisan over there. The tension was a bit high before I left for Nigeria and that was the reason why I temporarily left Niger Republic for Nigeria to watch closely as events unfold before deciding when and if I will go back.
Were there threats of an attack by the host communities against foreigners, especially Nigerians over there following the decision of the Economic Community of West African States led by President Bola Tinubu?
Honestly, there was nothing like that before but one never can say. Those people (Nigeriens) may decide to attack us anytime and since it would be difficult for us to hide, I decided to come back to Nigeria and stay in Illela for some time before things normalise over there.
If you have the opportunity, what will you advise the Federal Government of Nigeria to do for its citizens in Niger Republic?
First, I will appreciate it if our government can put the interest of Nigerians in Niger Republic at heart. Any attempt to declare war through ECOWAS on the military junta in Niger Republic is a direct attack on the citizens of Nigeria there. Some of the states there are not like the ones in Nigeria. Their road network is very bad, coupled with the rainy season we are in now. It will be very difficult for most of us to find a way out before they kill us all. My plea to the Nigerian government is to discourage ECOWAS from declaring war against Niger Republic in the interest of some of us working and residing there.
Have you contacted your family in Osun State about your situation and what you intend to do next?
I have spoken with them and they all supported my action to flee Niger Republic and come to Illela in Sokoto for now for security reasons. Most of us who have returned for now have one or two relatives living in Illela, so it’s not as if we live as refugees. Although it cannot be compared to one’s normal way of life, at least we are not in an internally displaced persons’ camp in Illela.
What do you do in Niger Republic where you reside?
My name is Nuhu Abdullahi. I am from Niger State but I reside in Niger Republic. There, I sell food items.
Why did you return to Nigeria, leaving your business behind in Niger Republic?
I came to Illela so that I can relax and watch what is happening in Niger Republic before deciding on what to do going forward.
Can you describe your recent experience there and what happened before you returned to Illela?
I left due to the tension generated as a result of the military coup where the civilian government was toppled. Initially, the coup was followed by serious protests as citizens were seen burning vehicles. In short, I am here to save myself from any possible attacks as citizens of the Niger Republic may retaliate if the so-called ECOWAS forces attempt to enter their country.
The unfortunate aspect is the fact that those of us living there may pay the ultimate price if there is an attack by ECOWAS or any military from anywhere.
How long have you been in Illela?
I have been here for some days and I don’t know when I will leave here for now, but it will depend on when the situation in Niger Republic improves.
Where do you live in Niger Republic?
I live in a place not far from Illela and I had to return to Nigeria to save my life in case of escalation of the crisis. Some of the citizens of the Niger Republic now see us as their enemies, which is very unfortunate. We have been living together in peace with these people until the coup and the subsequent reaction of ECOWAS leaders.
Our appeal to the leadership of ECOWAS is to consider the ordinary citizens of both Niger Republic and Nigeria who have no knowledge or input in the coup. All we want is peace and we want the government and ECOWAS leaders to enter into dialogue for a way out. The use of force as proposed cannot help us in any way. It will only rub salt on injury. The government should put our interests into consideration before taking any action.