Owei Lakemfa

June 19, 2009

Playing ‘Big Brother’ in Niger Republic

By owei Lakemfa
NIGERIA’S President Umar  Yar’Adua took a positive step in sending a delegation to     Niger Republic on the political crisis in that country that threatens to consume its democratic system.

But I have fundamental problems about the message, and the messenger.  The crisis is primarily caused by President Mamadou Tandja’s attempts to subvert democracy in the country.

He copied the bad example of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had strived from 2006 – 2007 to subvert the Nigerian Constitution by claiming an unconstitutional third term.

But where Obasanjo was forced to bow to popular pressure and the National Assembly, Tandja is bent on grinding all opposition into the dust.  He has received the draft of a new constitution designed to give himself a third five-year term in office, sent security forces to terrorise popular opposition to submission, and disregarded the Constitutional  Court’s ruling against an illegal referendum slated for August 4, 2009 on his so-called constitutional review.  He has also dissolved parliament .

Nigeria’s interests in Niger are manifold.  First, Niger is a neighbour with a majority Hausa population with a sprinkling of  Kanuris and Fulanis.  We also have a huge Hausa population and of course the Kanuris and Fulanis.  Secondly, Niger’s economy depends on us for some basic needs like electricity.

Thirdly, the Nigerian government, and even some state governments give aid to that country.
Given these, and our size, in a sense, we are a big brother, but what a big brother should do is not to condone illegality or illegitimacy.  A big brother can guide a kid brother and prod him towards the path of righteousness.

But where necessary, it is the duty of the big brother to be firm or decisive.  In this case where President Tandja is using incumbency and state power to subvert the democratic  process, rubbish the constitution, terrorise the populace, and generally endanger democracy, it is the duty of a big brother like Nigeria to call him to order.

The message of President Yar’ Adua to the effect that the  delegation  to Niger should seek a peaceful resolution of the crisis begs the question.  How do you settle a contrived crisis with the perpetuator insisting on brow beating the people ?

What is needed is a clear message to Tandja that he is not at liberty to subvert the constitution or stay a day longer in office than the constitutional December 22, 2009 date.  He needs to be told in clear terms that he would be opposed by countries like Nigeria if he insists on extending his constitutional term.

Democracy cannot develop in our continent if non-democrats like Tandja hold on to the reigns of power. Such actions as those being carried out by Tandja endanger democracy across the continent.

In assisting Niger to resist Tandja  and his gang, we would also be assisting the continent to develop.  The example of a leader like Nelson Mandela who refused to stand even for a constitutional second term which he was sure of winning, should be promoted.

Conversely, men like Tandja who seek like Gnasingbe Eyadema of Togo, Mobutu Seseseko of Zaire, Omar Bongo of  Gabon and  Yoweri  Museveni  in Uganda to perpetuate themselves in power by all means, need be discouraged.

Secondly, Yar’Adua’s  chief messenger is  retired General Abdulsalami Abubakar.  On a mission which has to do with democracy, I do not think it wise to send a beneficiary of coup plots and a former military dictator.  Abubakar has no democratic antecedents and has never been known to espouse them.

Secondly, he is not known to take principled positions.  This was the case when he led the Commonwealth Electoral Monitoring group to Zimbabwe’s 2002 presidential elections.

It was known that the electorate voted overwhelmingly for President Robert Mugabe.  The Nigerian delegation led by Chief Ernest Shonekan truthfully reported this as did the African Union delegation under which I monitored the elections.

But  General  Abubakar’s principals in London would not accept this reality.  Rather than reflect the truth,  Abubakar claimed that the elections were rigged.  On the basis of his report, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth.

The Yar’ Adua government made the same mistake in the wake of the coup in Guinea following the death of President Lansana Conte.  It sent to Conakry a veteran coup plotter and former military dictator, General  Ibrahim Badamosi  Babangida as its chief messenger to assess the situation in that country with a view of restoring the democratic structures.

As expected,  Babangida gave pass marks to the coup plotters.
Niger Republic has a history of political instability. It has never had a civilian to civilian power transfer since independence on August 3, 1960.

With  continuous armed protests  by Tuaregs,  Niger, like Nigeria until 1999, had a history of being ruled by a succession  of military dictators who held the populace hostage and subjected the country to periodic bloodbath in the name of coups and counter-coups.

In its first 14 years of independence,  Niger  was governed by President Hamani Diouri who was overthrown by Colonel  Seyni  Kauntche.  After 13 years, Kountche died and was replaced by his Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Ali Saibou.

Popular protests  for multi-party elections led to the convening of a National Conference in 1991.

This resulted in the constitution of a transition government and elections in 1993.

Within three years, President Mahamane Ousmane was overthrown by Colonel  Ibrahim Bare Mainassara who in July 1996 organised sham elections and proclaimed himself the victor.

On April 9, 1999, Mainassara was assassinated in a coup by Major Daouda Malam Wanke who held elections in October and November 1999.

Those elections for a five-year term were won by incumbent President Tandja.  In December 2004, he won re-election for a final five- year term which is expected to end after this December’s general elections.

Rather than allow the democratic process to continue, he has decided to create a crisis from which he hopes to benefit. Nigeria and the rest of humanity have the responsibility to stop Tandja’s perpetual self-succession bid.