Chief Olabode George, the former Deputy National Chairman (South-West) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has authored an open missive directed at President Bola Tinubu. The message serves as a stern caution against the intended incursion of armies from the West African sub-region into the Niger Republic.
The regional alliance has contemplated a military intervention as part of its strategy to reinstate democracy in Niger following a recent coup that ousted President Mohammed Bazoum. However, George, a retired general, is firmly advising Tinubu, who also chairs ECOWAS, to refrain from involving Nigeria in a potential conflict.
In a letter dated Friday, August 4, George articulates a series of reasons why the President should exercise prudence in considering a military engagement in Niger:
“Dear President Bola Tinubu,
I address you as a Nigerian, a retired General in the Nigerian military, a patriot, and a military strategist.
On July 26, 2023, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, Commander of the Presidential Guard in Niger Republic, staged a coup, overthrowing President Mohamed Bazoum and seizing control of the Nigerien Armed Forces.
In your capacity as the ECOWAS leader, you promptly convened other West African leaders, issuing an ultimatum to Tchiani that Bazoum must be reinstated. Failing this, a substantial military force, akin to ECOMOG in Liberia and Sierra Leone, would intervene in the Niger Republic to forcibly restore him.
Niger Republic’s population is 27,294,785 (akin to Lagos State). Niamey, its capital, houses 1,437,000 residents (fewer than Alimosho Council in Lagos). Considering that you, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, receive daily security briefings since your inauguration on May 29, 2023, it is apparent that a Nigerian Army Brigade led by a Colonel could effectively counter the soldiers in the Niger Republic.
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Allow me to share my observations:
First and foremost, your decision to dispatch a delegation comprised of former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), and Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Saad Abubakar, a retired Brigadier-General, to meet with Niger’s Military High Command is commendable.
Diplomacy remains a superior alternative to conflict. Dialogue trumps combat.
However, I believe a more comprehensive Nigerian representation should have been reflected in this delegation. The inclusion of diplomats, whether retired or serving, would have been prudent. Diplomats are skilled in such scenarios. The situation in Niger transcends the military aspect.
Secondly, internal crises should be resolved before projecting a “Big Brother” stance on the international stage.
In your recent national address, you acknowledged the hardships faced by Nigerians and the ongoing efforts to alleviate their suffering.
Presently, Nigeria is grappling with food scarcity, a lack of financial means to purchase fuel, power outages, and financial hardships. The populace is enduring psychological distress. In light of these circumstances, deploying our military might to the Niger Republic seems unwarranted.
Recall that Nigeria played a substantial role in financing ECOMOG military operations, a feat achieved when our economy was stronger. However, our current economic conditions differ significantly.
Nigeriens, directly or indirectly, are contending with French influence due to the Assimilation Policy, which has negatively affected Francophone countries—unlike English-speaking countries like Nigeria.
We should exercise caution before embarking on military involvement in another nation. Let us not initiate actions beyond our capacity to complete.
Niger, one of the world’s largest landlocked countries, is also among the poorest. What tangible benefits would Nigeria reap from waging war in Niger? Are we prepared for such an endeavor, merely for the sake of being hailed as champions of democracy? When our citizens are suffering at home, should we seek commendation from external sources?
As a retired General, I understand firsthand that warfare is no simple matter. Please, let us not coerce Nigerians into an endless conflict.
Despite its mineral resources, Niger Republic has been held back by its leadership for decades. Over 75 percent of Nigeriens live in poverty and lack education. When the time comes, if they wish to remove Tchiani, they will do so. Let the Nigerien people address their issues while we focus on resolving our own challenges at home.
Consider the fact that seven Northern Nigerian states—Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe, and Borno—share a lengthy 1,608-kilometer border with five regions of the Niger Republic. Should a conflict arise, inhabitants of these states would be directly exposed to gunfire and missiles. This situation could also lead to a resurgence of criminal activities along the border.
Furthermore, nations such as Algeria, Libya, Chad, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Mali share borders with Niger Republic. Can we place full confidence in these countries to support us militarily and otherwise in the event of a conflict with the Niger Republic?
Throughout this deliberation, we must inquire: why did we invest in a rail line to Maradi during President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?
A little over a year ago, Russia invaded Ukraine, resulting in the loss of countless lives—both military personnel and civilians—and immense property damage. The conflict shows no signs of resolution.
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In the realm of International Relations and Politics, safeguarding one’s national interests remains paramount. Burkina Faso and Mali have openly pledged support to Niger. Can we also place faith in Chad, currently under military rule since April 2021? Is now the time to expend scarce resources on a military campaign in the Niger Republic?
Politically, economically, and socially, we find ourselves in a complex situation. The addition of warfare could exacerbate matters.
Those with military experience understand the challenges posed by war. Prudence is essential.
I commend your initiation of diplomatic steps. Let the envoys continue their diplomatic discussions in Niger. War is far from a trivial undertaking,” he concluded.