Niger crisis: Nigeria needs a cool-headed approach in keeping Wagner at bay

Niger Republic is more than a neighbor to Nigeria – though separated by a long border- both countries are knitted together by cultural and religious affiliation. Hausa is a major lingua franca along that border. Family ties are known to also exist.

The country is the largest in West Africa. It is landlocked and rich in mineral resources but it has made a name from its huge Uranium deposit. It also an Oil producing country. Agriculture is key to Niger and its 24.4 million citizens. The livestock sector serves as a major export. Still, it is ranked among the poorest in the world. It is buffeted by climate change and its attendant impact.

Unfortunately, it is severely roiled by the activities of militant islamist group. As a result, it is home to the Western counter-terrorism operation.

Like Nigeria, it secured independence in 1960. Since then, it has been convulsed by a lot of military coups. And, it is in the news for yet another coup which has pitched it, into the coup fiesta that has gripped Africa. The coup was simply out of the blues to many observers. Many who thought the action of members of the Presidential guard was going to lead to a showdown with the army were left sorely disappointed- the army simply threw it arms wide open to the coupists.

The event of July 26 disrupted the country’s first democratic transition to power. So, all eyes are on Niger republic. Obviously, it is following the footsteps of Mali and Burkina Faso- both had enough of the French and sent them packing after launching successful coup.

The vacuum left by the exclusion of the French in Mali was filled up by Russia through the Wagner group- a private Army. The departure of the French was heralded by huge protest by the Malian people over the intractable attacks by the islamist insurgents and the call for leadership change. And, the coup came like a tsunami sweeping the democratic leadership of the country and the French military which were present under the Operation Barkhane. The French soon found a place in Niger through Bazoum which also ran into a protest in mid- 2022 that was suppressed by the government.

It’s all a vote against their colonial masters. A strong shadow of France still hangs over the former colonies which is detested by not a few. The redolence of the colonial era and the activities of France is still fresh. The French are seen as the culprit for the grinding poverty, stunted economy growth and even the insecurity.

Apparently, France is losing its lustre and influence in the sweltering heat of the Sahel. And, not just France but the West. Niger may soon be covered in the Russian colors if the attack on the France embassy in Niamey and the public display of the Russian flag is anything to go by.

From its activities in Africa, it is safe to frame Wagner group as simply opportunistic-it is found where there is instability and mineral resources. And, it’s the bulldozer clearing the path for Russia’s capture of Africa and its abounding riches.

The group has been active in Africa- it is reported that sizable number of its mercenaries are fighting on the side of the government of Central African Republic (C.A.R) in the ongoing civil war and in Libya on the side of Khalifa Hifter. And hundreds are said to be in Mali. Sudan is not left out.

The business tentacles of the group are spreading apace. The Wagner group is reported to have secured a lucrative deal in the Sudanese gold industry. and it is also making a killing from deals on timber, gold and others in the C.A.R. It’s no brainer, that it’s a matter of time before it swoops on Niger. It can never turn its sight away of from the Uranium mines.

Having a Wagner group at our border will place the country on a thin ice. Nigeria will be a great prize to the group- it possesses all that will satisfy its greed. So, there is no better time to get the best leadership that the country can ever get. It goes without a saying that a lot of fissures exist which could easily be exploited to bring the nation to ruin.

The idea of an all-out attack against the coupists by ECOWAS under the leadership of Nigeria at our doorstep is wrongheaded. There may be success but it will definitely be short-lived. It is the surest way of opening our doors to threat. With an attack, it is tantamount to creating another Ukraine -a battlefield for the West and Russia. A constructive engagement with the military junta in Niger is a saner option. Let’s not be railroaded into arriving at an impetuous decision that may come to haunt us. We can’t win any war at our doorstep with war brewing within.

Ungbo writes from Kaduna via

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