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Aug 16, 2023, 8:46am EDT
africa

Northern Nigeria has a key role in neighboring Niger’s coup resolution

Reuters/Mahamadou Hamidou
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The Scene

KANO, Nigeria — Hundreds of people filled the streets of Kano, northern Nigeria’s commercial hub this past Saturday, chanting and singing songs. Some waved the Nigerian flag and others waved the flag of Niger, the neighboring country to the north where a group of soldiers overthrew the president late last month.

Many who took part in the march chanted anti-Western slogans in support of Niger’s military junta which has defied calls from West Africa’s regional bloc to restore the democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, or face the possibility of military intervention.

The Kano protest was just one of the developments in recent days that have shown the depth of feeling in northern Nigeria where most people are from the Hausa ethnic group, just as they are across the border in Niger. Whereas attempts to meet the junta leader by officials from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the United States were rebuffed last week, visitors from northern Nigeria have been granted access, achieving the deepest engagement with the putschists so far.

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Know More

A group of Islamic scholars predominantly from northern Nigeria who held talks with Nigerien coup leader Abdourahmane Tchiani at the weekend issued a statement stating that “both parties agreed to intensify the option of dialogue in resolving the political crisis.”

“While tracing the historical ties between the two nations, he [Tchiani] said Niger Republic and Nigeria were not only neighbors but brothers and sisters who should resolve issues amicably,” the clerics said in the statement.

Days earlier, Lamido Sanusi also met Tchiani. Sanusi, a former Nigerian central bank governor and erstwhile emir of Kano, is the spiritual leader of the Tijaniyah Islamic movement in Nigeria which has millions of followers across West Africa, including Niger.

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Traders traditionally move back and forth across the border between the two countries, sometimes on a daily basis, contributing greatly to the informal economies of border towns. And it is common to have relatives in the neighboring country.

Labaran Jafaru, a traditional leader in Sabon Birni, a border town in the northwest Nigerian state of Sokoto, said people have “already begun suffering” since the closure of the border between the two countries as part of Ecowas sanctions against Niger. “Traders will tell you that their sales have decreased extensively,” he said. “Hundreds of trucks are trapped in the borders with perishable crops such as onions decaying as entry into either of the two countries has been banned.”

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Alexis’s view

Northern Nigeria’s Hausa people have deep cultural, linguistic, religious, and economic ties with their Hausa brethren in Niger that go back centuries — further than the border created by colonialists that divides the two countries. Those ties are important and, as the delegation of Muslim clerics and Sanusi showed, they could be invaluable in resolving the impasse that has followed Niger’s coup and the threat of military force.

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The strength of feeling felt in the north is likely to affect any calculations made by Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu who, as Ecowas chairman, was the driving force behind the bloc’s ultimatum for the junta to restore Bazoum or face the possibility of military action. The anger on Kano’s streets could spread to other parts of northern Nigeria — seven of the country’s 36 states border Niger. The threat of anger spreading is particularly high at a time of growing frustration at the skyrocketing cost of living after Tinubu scrapped the country’s popular petrol subsidy. Against this backdrop, the use of military force would be particularly unpopular, particularly since it would be financially costly due to Nigeria being the biggest funder of Ecowas.

Nigeria’ military is already stretched, contending with the security problems Tinubu, who took office at the end of May, inherited. Those challenges range from the Islamist insurgency in the northeast, to kidnap for ransom by so-called bandits in the northwest, and violent secessionists in the southeast. Nigeria’s army, which is traditionally dominated by Hausas, will not want to fight people with whom they share strong cultural ties.

Northern Nigeria threatens to create a headache for Tinubu who, as the biggest benefactor of troops and funds to Ecowas, will be a key player in the next steps taken by Ecowas. But figures from that part of the country could also play a crucial role in finding a diplomatic solution.

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Room for Disagreement

Just hours after the Nigerian Muslim clerics said the putschists were open to dialogue, Niger’s junta announced plans to prosecute Bazoum for high treason, which carries a death sentence if he is found guilty, calling into question their apparent willingness to move forward with negotiations.

“It represents yet another form of provocation and contradicts the reported willingness of the military authorities in the Republic of Niger to restore constitutional order through peaceful means,” ECOWAS said in a statement.

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The View From Kaduna

Shehu Sani, a former Nigerian senator in the northern state of Kaduna, called for “more protests” in opposition to the threat of military force in Niger by Ecowas. “Anti-war protests are what we need now because there seems to be pressure from France and the United States on the Nigerian President and Ecowas to embark on military action against Niger,” Sani told Semafor Africa. “If France and the United States want to restore order by force they can do that by their own resources.”

Sani also said any use of military force would “destabilize Niger and northern Nigeria,” prompting a humanitarian crisis. He pointed to the roughly 300,000 refugees in Niger who fled northeast Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency and could be forced to cross the border again if faced with worsening conditions.

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Notable

  • Mohamed Kheir Omer, writing in African Arguments, lays out the “resource politics” that lie behind the Niger coup.


Reporting by Hamza Ibrahim in Kano and Alexis Akwagyiram in London

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