Nigerians Need Grains Not Bullets

By Suyi Ayodele

THE Niger war has not started, but an iron wall has been cast across Africa. As I was writing this, the Daily Mail of the UK, and the Independent of the UK, said that the crisis in Niger had affected global aviation. The newspapers reported on Monday, August 7, 2023, that flights across Africa, Europe and the Middle East were either cancelled, delayed, or diverted, with passengers and their families traumatised. Independent UK, in its headline: “British Airways forced to do 10-hour ‘flight to nowhere’ as Niger suddenly closes airspace”, reported thus: “Airspace over Sudan and Libya is already closed to commercial aviation. The addition of Niger means there is now a block to north-south flights across Africa stretching around 2,600 miles from western Niger to the Red Sea.”

The Daily Mail of the UK came with a rather long headline: “Total chaos’ as Brits are stranded in Africa with ‘no information’ and ‘wandering around aimlessly in tears’ as Niger’s airspace is closed until further notice as it refuses to reinstate president” Here is how the paper reported the chaos: “Britons have been left stranded in Africa today with ‘no information’ after Niger coup leaders closed the country’s airspace affecting a large section of the continent… Some 500 passengers making their way back to the UK this morning saw their British Airways flight diverted back to Johannesburg. They said that when the plane landed people were wandering aimlessly around the airport, with some crying…” The paper posited that “the political crisis in Libya and the conflict in Sudan means those countries are already closed to commercial flights, with the latter extending its ban until the end of the month.” The implication, it noted, was that with the closure of Niger’s airspace, “the area in central Africa where commercial flights are off limits has been widened. As a result, flights between Europe and southern Africa will have to travel an extra 620 miles…” This development tells us that there is no local war anywhere again. Whatever affects the eyes must affect the nose as well.

When Nigerians fought for this democracy, all they wanted was a good life, peace and prosperity and not tugging at the whiskers of war. Today, Nigerians are hungry for food, not war. They want grains, not bullets. Barely 24 hours after the ultimatum given by the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), to the soldiers who took over the reins of power in Niger Republic, the entire world is upside down. At the news that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu wanted to wage war against the Niger Republic, I ran back home to take over the bànté ogun (apron of war) of my forebears. I added the family apásá, àbìsí and apete (you won’t know all those if you are not from my lineage – we are natural warriors). I borrowed the praise name of, Láaróyè (Esu), the trickster deity: Abélékún sunkún kí èrù ó ba elékún (He who cries more, such that the bereaved becomes scared). I called on my muse, and he dropped the battle cry:

Tinúbú koolu – Tinubu attack them

Dìgbòlú – Pounce on them

Omo Àbíbátù Mógàjí -Son of Abibatu Mogaji

koolu, Dìgbòlú – Attack them, pounce on them

Oko Rèmí awéléwà – Husband of Rèmí the pretty one

koolu, Dìgbòlú – Attack them, pounce on them

Se bí àwon Baba re se nse – Do as your forebears did

koolu, Dìgbòlú – Attack them, pounce on them

Then the northern landlords of Nigeria, not the pliable National Assembly, halted him. I composed the battle cry above to encourage my president. Music has a way of making heads swell like gaari Ijebu. Battle cries, especially, have several holds on warmongers that nobody can explain. Bashorun Ogunmola, the legendary Ibadan warrior, who ruled between 1865 and 1867, had one of such battle cries. His drummer encouraged him by singing “neither the hills, nor the forests can stand before you” (Àtòkè àti’gbó kòséni tó lè dúró níwájú e). Suddenly, they said there would be no war; we would not fight again! Painful to the marrows. Less than three months in the saddle. Four wrong steps in four different wrong directions. It is becoming obvious by the day that Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not the brainy man his spin doctors told us he is.

After the aborted Niger Republic braggadocio, nobody should have any doubt that our president and Commander-in-Chief is not the strategist and deep thinker that his communicators sold to Nigerians during the elections. Those who held the opinion then, and even now, that Tinubu is the verisimilitude replica of Jean-Marie Medza, the village Solomon of Mongo Beti’s “Mission to Kala”, should have a rethink now. Those of us who never, for a split second, believed in the wisdom, the tact, and the perspicacity ascribed to the ‘Lagos Boy’ are justified, but genuinely worried. The rate at which President Tinubu is going, he may end up a bigger disaster than his predecessor, the very malleable General Muhammadu Buhari. There is a warning in my place. Whenever every wood in the fire is billowing smoke rather than flame, the elders warn that the food on the fire will be badly cooked. We need to watch Tinubu. His firewood is billowing thick smoke. We may have a terrible Olópò (party caterer) in our hands!

The romanticism of the electioneering is over. The end has come to rhetoric. We are faced with reality. We were on this path eight years ago. It was the same pattern that brought the dreary and embarrassingly static presidency of Buhari in 2015. The same gang who sold Buhari to us as the Mai Gaskiya, who will fight corruption and kill it, also told us that Tinubu is the architect, who ‘built Lagos’. We all know well how Buhari ‘fought corruption’. Gradually, even before his full take off, the borrowed robes in which Tinubu was dressed in February and March this year are tearing apart. I went back to the legend, Lade Bonuola’s piece: “Jakande Built Modern Lagos Before Our Eyes”, of January 16, 2023. My heart skips. We have an issue on our hands. Leadership is not a trial-by-error venture. This is what Tinubu’s administration has been doing in the last two months. And there is no hope that he will do anything novel. No indication to show that Tinubu will take us out of the curved road. His navigational equipment is as old as the hills, like that of his predecessor. Nothing inspiring, nothing exciting! If you have any doubt, go over the list of his 48 ministerial nominees and you will find the same antwacky fellas that have held us bound to violence since the beginning of this political dispensation. If the yet-to-be-formed cabinet is the team that will usher in the ‘renewed hope’ mantra, we need a new definition of hope!

The last one week has been very engaging for Tinubu’s presidency, and the Nigerian populace. The ‘seemingly’ aborted Nigeria/Niger Republic war is one of the recent events that give us insights into how the new men of power think. One of the lessons I have taken home is that our new husband is a man who acts before he thinks. That sets off the alarm. But there is a bigger lesson from the ‘averted’ war, which, though has been with us from the creation of Nigeria, which howbeit, we have all ignored. What is that? The stance of Northern Nigeria to Tinubu’s misadventure in conceiving a war between Nigeria and Niger Republic brought to the fore that whoever occupies Aso Rock as president or whatever, is a tenant of the North! He is at the mercy of the North! This is the bitter reality. No matter how independent-minded a Nigerian president might be; no matter where he comes from, our president now, and in the future, must always give special attention to the heartbeats of the North in whatever policy he has for the nation. If I were to scribble a political refrain for Aso Rock, I would simply write: The North first and others follow! Shikena! Tinubu and his handlers are wiser now.

Even as I punched the keyboard to write this, I still could not place what drove President Tinubu to the idea of a war with Niger Republic over the coup that occurred in that country penultimate week. What was Tinubu thinking? What was he trying to achieve? Who were the praise singers who told him to go and make pounded yam with the assurance that getting the soup to savour it would not be difficult (Ta ló gún’yán fun, tó ní ti obè ò sòro)? Granted that every lover of democracy would condemn any undemocratic change of government, but does that translate to going to war with a sovereign nation over a matter that is purely internal, especially when all diplomatic manoeuvrings had not been explored? While I can understand that Tinubu has every genuine reason to be worried over the coup in Niger because the leadership lawlessness that led to it is much more prevalent in Nigeria, shouldn’t he have thought about the grave implications of the idea? What was he expecting the soldiers who seized power in Niamey to do with the Abdusalami Abubakar and Sultan of Sokoto’s delegation when he had already thrown the entire nation into darkness? Do we need any soothsayer to tell us that the military junta in Niger could not have seized power and remained recalcitrant if there is no bigger drummer beating the Agidigbo drum for them? Is Tinubu by any means equating his leadership of the ECOWAS to the position of an Aare Ona Kankanfo (Generalissimo) of the West Africa sub-region? What ballistic missiles did ECOWAS hand over to our president for him to think that he could just wake up and declare war on another nation, unprovoked? I think someone should remind Tinubu that he is Jagaban and not Jógunómí (allow war to breathe), or Gbógungbórò (he who wages war and carries deity mask).

Besides, what about the financial implications of war on the Ogbanje economy of Nigeria? We have, in the last 15 years or so, been battling Boko Haram insurgency without success; and here we are, tinkering with a full-blown war with a neighbouring country. So, if the northern elements had not risen against the idea, we would have deployed our war-fatigued Military to Niger to go and fight? For crying out loud, we thought we had a ‘thinking’ president in office and not a picaro, whose character is tailored along the fabled cowboys of American Hollywood! As if the idea of a war was not frightening enough, the Tinubu Presidency threw Niger into total darkness by cutting off electricity supply to the poor nation. Phew! Very soon, we shall know that Niger Republic did not depend on electricity supply from Nigeria because it lacked the capacity to build its own dam. Abstract to the “Agreement between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Niger Concerning the Equitable Sharing in the Development, Conservation and Use of the Common Water Resources”, states among others that:

“The Agreement regulates the equitable development, conservation, and use of the water resources in the shared river basins. Shared river basins means “basins which are bi-sected by, or form, the common frontier between the Contracting Parties…. Factors to be taken into account in determining the equitable share to which each Contracting Party is entitled are listed in Article 5. They include among others: (a) the climate of the region, and its influence on rainfall patterns; (b) surface hydrology and related hydro-geology; (c) existing uses of the waters; (d) reasonable planned water development requirements; (e) the economic and social development needs of the Contracting Parties;…; (g) the proportion in which each Contracting Party contributes to the water balance of the basin….”

Going by (g) above, I envisage that any moment from now, the hawks from Russia and China will move in and complete the Kandadji Dam in Niger Republic to the detriment of our Kainji and Shiroro Dams. When that happens, we shall see which country will be in darkness! And wait a minute: what happens if Benin Republic, Chad, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali pull out of the Niger Basin agreements of 1963, 1973, the 1980 Convention and other bilateral relationships on the mutual use of the River Niger? By cutting off electricity supply to Niger at the slightest provocation, the Tinubu government has, like Chinua Achebe was wont to say, “put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” No nation along the River Niger will ever have confidence in any agreement signed in the past. I can imagine the implications on Nigeria’s hydro and navigational uses of the River Niger if all nations along its banks decide to dam the river. If I May ask: is this how a strategist thinks?

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, August 8, 2023)

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