By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Constitutionally, Nigeria has 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja. But under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch, the country seems to have added one more state – Niger Republic – making it 37. The 37th state, ironically enjoys more federal attention than some of the country’s bona-fide states. Nigeriens enjoy more rights than most Nigerians.
It may sound absurd that the president of a country has greater affinity for another country than his own. But that is one of the incongruities that the Buhari government has thrown up in the last seven and half years.
It didn’t start today, though. As military head of state in the 1980s, Major-General Buhari allegedly supported a Nigerien, Ide Oumarou, rather than a Nigerian, Peter Onu, for the post of the Secretary-General of the then Organisation of African Unity, OAU, which is now African Union, AU.
An editorial comment in the Vanguard Newspaper of February 3, 2015 put it thus: “Between 1983 and 1985, Peter Onu of Nigeria was Acting Secretary-General of the OAU. At the 1985 Summit in Addis Ababa, statesmen like Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania, lobbied for his election as substantive Secretary-General. However, there was a major stumbling block to Peter Onu’s candidature: his Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari, was campaigning against him.
“… In the election of the OAU Secretary-General in 1985, Buhari voted against Nigeria and for Niger instead. He secured the election of Ide Oumarou, a Fulani man from Niger; as opposed to an Igbo man from Nigeria. By so doing, Buhari became the first and only Head of State in the history of modern international relations to vote against his country in favour of his tribe.”
Granted, Buhari’s media aide, Garba Shehu, explained in 2017 that Buhari’s refusal to support Onu was in deference to an agreement reached by the five big African countries – Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa – not to contest the OAU’s top job, that clarification has not attenuated the perception that Buhari leans more to his kith and kin in Niger Republic than fellow Nigerian compatriots.
As a democratically elected president, that perception has deepened, and in fact, become a reality because Buhari has continued on the same trajectory, channelling Nigeria’s resources to Niger Republic even as Nigeria is enmeshed in its worst socio-economic crisis since independence.
In his interview with TheNiche in July 2019, Prof Anya O. Anya, a 1992 Nigerian National Medal of Merit awardee, former Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria Economic Summit Group and former President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, answered the question of whether Buhari has been fair to Nigerians thus:
“Go back to 2015 when he was sworn in as the President of Nigeria. There were three things he did in that year that I will want you to now tell me what you think it signifies. His first trip out of Nigeria after being installed President of Nigeria was to Niger Republic and in Niger, he was presented with the gift of a white horse and a sword. My Fulani friend tells me that is the symbol of welcome for a returning successful and victorious warrior.
So, as far as the people of Niger Republic were concerned, this was a great son who had now returned after conquering. So who did he conquer?
“Secondly, he plans to have Nigerian railways going through Katsina to Zinda in northern Niger. It is taken for granted that Nigeria will pay for it. Is Niger Republic part of Nigeria? If it has become part of Nigeria, then a proper negotiation should have taken place, it should have been constitutionalised.
“Thirdly, people forget that he also plans to build a refinery in Katsina but the crude will be supplied not from the Niger Delta but from Niger. In other words, some of the fundamental major changes in the economy of that area he is planning is not for Nigeria.”
The Buhari-led administration borrowed $1.9 billion from the Chinese government to finance the Nigeria-Niger Republic railway project that Professor Anya spoke about, yet most parts of Nigeria were not factored into the project.
Nigeriens play significant roles in Nigeria’s politics in favour of their Nigerian cousin, Buhari. While campaigning for his reelection in 2019, governors of Zinder and Maradi from Niger Republic were among the dignitaries that graced his mega rally in Kano.
Zinder is the second largest city in Niger, situated 861 km east of the capital Niamey and 240 km north of the Nigerian city of Kano. Maradi is the third largest city in Niger and the administrative centre of Maradi Region.
Not a few political analysts believe that Nigeriens constitute a significant number of Buhari’s fabled 12 million Northern political disciples.
Defending his decision to construct railways and roads extending into Niger Republic in the interview he granted Arise Television on Thursday, June 10, 2021, Buhari said: “I spoke to one French man and I had to tell him this. He spoke nonsense and I told him look, in 1885, you sat down and drew lines (boundaries). I said I have first cousins in Niger. There are Kanuris, there are Hausas, and there are Fulanis in Niger Republic just as there are Yorubas in Benin. You can’t absolutely cut them off.”
The fact he refused to acknowledge is that though Yorubas may have first cousins in Benin Republic as he claimed, Obasanjo did not and could not have even contemplated channelling Nigeria’s resources into developing Benin Republic as he is brazenly doing.
Last week, the Federal Government admitted disbursing N1.15 billion for the purchase of 10 Toyota Land Cruiser V8 vehicles for Niger Republic. Fielding questions from State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council meeting chaired by Buhari penultimate Wednesday, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said the move was to enable Niger Republic to safeguard its territory in the best interest of Nigeria’s security.
Ahmed’s explanation flies in the face of reason. How will luxury Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs worth N145 million apiece be used for security? To what extent will the jeeps help in securing Niger Republic with landmass almost half the size of Nigeria?
Besides, most Nigerians are aghast that a country with debilitating economic problems could indulge in the treasonous pastime of morbid extravagance of such magnitude.
And while Nigerians were still digesting that, news filtered in that Niger Republic President, Mohammed Bazoum, had honoured six Nigerians – Jigawa State Governor, Mohammad Badaru; his Zamfara State counterpart, Bello Matawalle; Chairman of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote; Chairman of BUA Group, Abdulsamad Rabiu; State Chief of Protocol, Lawan Kazaure; and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Domestic Matters, Saiki Abba – as the country marked its 62nd Independence anniversary, all of them his first cousins like Buhari. For the president, nepotism trumps everything even hard-nosed diplomacy.
No matter how hard this government tries to rationalise Buhari’s unforced leadership gaffes, the president’s illicit dalliance with Niger Republic at the expense of Nigerians is the stuff quislings are made of. It would have made more sense if Niger Republic is officially pronounced Nigeria’s 37th state or seventh geo-political zone.