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Niger-US tension: Nigeria, ECOWAS, others suffer major setback

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The move by Republic of the Niger to cut loose from military ties with the United States is projected to have profound consequences for Nigeria, ECOWAS and countries in the Sahel according to Governance Index Report.

In a national broadcast made on March 16, 2024, colonel Amandou Abdramane, the spokesperson for the military government announced that Niger was breaking faith with a pact securing leeway for the United States to conduct military operations on its soil. Part of the address read, “The government of Niger, taking into the aspirations and interests of its people, revokes, with immediate effect, the agreement concerning the status of United States military personnel civilian Defence Department”.

The decision signified an unwelcoming response to a visit made by US delegation four days earlier. The delegation comprising top US officials such as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Molly Phee, Assistant Secretary of Defence for international security Affairs, Celete Wallanders, among others, had visited Niamey, Niger’s capital, to security and governance issues with the Junta, as well as express discomfort in its relations between Russia

Abdramane unequivocally insisted that “the sovereign Nigerien people have the right to choose their partners and types of partnerships capable of truly helping them fight against terrorism”,

Niger, like every other country in Sahel region had been devastated by a rising tide of Islamic Terrorism, which included ruinous and fiendish attacks by the Jihadist group such as Jama’ Al Islam and Boko Haram Wal Muslimin, al Quaeda, Islamic state and al -Qaeda al -Qaeda affiliated group. In an attempt to contain terrorist violence in the Sahel, United States entered into an agreement with Niger known as “Status of Forces”.

The pact, signed in 2012, would usher about 1000 US military personnel and civilian Defence staff into Niger.

Nonetheless, the military takeover’s declaration Governance Index in it’s Report said showed grave misgivings about the fruitfulness of a continued presence of US troops in Niger.

On April 13, 2024, hundreds of Niger’s citizens flocked through Niamey in protest, demanding the exit of US troops. According to Aljazeera reports, the crowds waved Nigerian glags flags in a demonstration that recalled anti-French protests that spurred the withdrawal of French forces from Niger last year after the army dethroned the democratic leader in a coup.

“The crowd was also heard chanting ‘Down with American imperialism’ and ‘The people’s liberation is on the march'”.

So far, the United States has agreed to pull out its troops from the West Country. According to report issued on 20th April, US Department of State has promised to pull out its troops, but also stated that this would an orderly a d responsible ‘withdrawal of its troops from the country’.

Niger’s daring action is latest in a trajectory demonstrating an effort by Niger to sever relations with all vestiges of the West.

An earlier move was made in January 2024 when Niger, Mali and Guinea, the three military dictatorships proclaimed their withdrawal from ECOWAS, the West African subregional Bloc, accusing it of being a puppet of Western powers. This was preceded by a forced withdrawal of French Forces from Niger following a Coup d’ etat that ousted the Civilian government of President Mohammed Bazoum in June 2023.

To an incisive mind, Niger’s resolution last weekend heralded a number of implications for the whole subregion.

A major consequence of Niger’s action is increase in security threats. Since the initial stationing of US troops in Niger was a bid to battle the Jihadist, it follows that the withdrawal of US troops constituted a major setback for security effort in the Sahel.

The Sahel is known to be a leading cesspit of terrorist activities globally. Following the military takeovers and the pulling of foreign Troops out of Niger, It was reported that violent extremism in the region, received renewed impetus.

With the exit of US troops from Niger, counterterrorism initiatives are seriously stifled. Nigeria has a security partnership with Niger in the Multi-national Joint Task Force(MNJTF) developed to fight terrorism and banditary in the Lake Chad Basin.

It is true that the Junta countries have switched allegiance to Russia for military support. However, the probability of adequate assistance by Russia might be inconsequential as the Eastern power continues to maintain stout military operations in Ukraine.

Consolidating this views, Olayinka Ajala, Senior Lecturer of Politics and International Relations at Lead Beckett University, wrote in a text submitted to the East Africa news agency: “The Sahel region is a vast area and US surveillance drones have been useful in identifying terrorist lacationz. If the retaion between the US and Niger is permanently severed, surveillance and intelligence gathering will be seriously affected even if US moves to other continenet.”

“This is because Niger is strategically located and the drones flown from the country could cover large parts of the Sahel and West”, Ajala continued.

Apart from security implications, Niger’s move could be a demonstration and reassertion of African sovereignty. As the head of the Junta explicitly warned the United States that it had no right to dictate Niger’s choice of partners in international affairs, the interpretation is that Niger has designated itself as a model of sovereignty, challenging other African countries to review their relationship with the West in order to ascertain whether it is one of cooperation and interdependence, or one of subservience and parasitism. Niger’s move evokes issues of neocolonialism. It abhors a scenario where Western powers have direct influence or stakes over who becomes president in African countries. In the past, for instance, Africa has witnessed the United States wage a brutal war against African leaders such as Muamah Qaddafi because the US perceived these leaders as a threat to its interests. By severing military ties with the US, Niger has shown a bold commitment to steer the wheels of their own affairs without undue foreign interference.

Moreover, Niger’s move symbolised a further degeneration of ECOWAS’s political morale and influence. The consideration was that if a small, poverty-stricken Niger could challenge its former Colonial Lord and the United States, what then is ECOWAS?

It is important to note that ECOWAS had imposed biting sanctions on the military-led States as a reaction to the latter’s dethroning of democracy. Despite this move, the Juntas refused to budge, but instead formed a defense alliance in September 2023 in order to detter possible ECOWAS invasion.

In February 24, 2024, ECOWAS announced relaxation of the sanctions it had imposed on the defiant States. Unfortunately, its snactions and threats of military invasion have failed to yield desired fruits as they had done in the preceding decades. The Bloc has extended it’s outspread arms to welcome a peaceful return to lost relations with the states.

Whether this harmony will re-exist is left to the discretion of time.

 

 

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