La République du Niger at 60: the Challenge of Good Neigbourliness and National Security

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La République du Niger is the official French name of Nigeria’s northern neighbour, generally referred to as ‘The Republic of Niger’ in the Anglo-Saxon world. It was proclaimed La République du Niger on 18th December, 1958. Last week Tuesday therefore marked the 60th Anniversary of the proclamation. The proclamation took place before the country actually acceded to national sovereignty on August 3, 1960. Unlike Niger, Nigeria got her independence first on October 1, 1960 and her Republican status on October 1, 1963.

Niger’s own republican proclamation should first be understood within the framework of the establishment of the French Fifth Republic on October 4th October, 1958. The then French Constitution provided for French Community which was also largely predicated on the policy of assimilation. With the policy of assimilation, the then French colonies were considered as French citizens. However, an end was put to the citizenship with the political independence of the country in 1960, while the remembrance of the date of proclamation is still sustained. Nigeria’s leader, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), was invited as one of the Special Guests of Honours to the proclamation anniversary and he graciously responded to the kind invitation on Tuesday, 18th December, 2018 by leading an official delegation, comprising the Governor of Jigawa State, Mr. Mohammed Badaru Abubakar; Governor of Kaduna State, Mr. Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai; and Governor of Osun State, Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola, to the country.

Nigeria’s participation at the 60th Anniversary of the Proclamation de la République du Niger should be taken more as a desideratum than a usual official visit for one major reason: the need for a special support of the Republic of Niger in Nigeria’s war against terrorists. Niger is the only territorial neighbouring country with which Nigeria does not have territorial conflict. Besides, of all Nigeria’s neighbours, relationship with the Republic of Niger is warmest. Mr. Femi Adesina, Presidential Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, could not have therefore been more correct by noting that ‘the participation of the Nigerian leader is in furtherance of the deep historical and cultural relations between the governments and peoples of both friendly nations.’
As much as the participation is in furtherance of the existing warm ties between the two countries, it should still be recalled that the relationship has had its twists and turns, as the interests of both countries are at times conflicting, and therefore, a reason to worry. In fact, relationships of geo-political contiguity and propinquity have their own impact on bilateral ties.

Besides, for another reason of necessity, the recidivist and deepening insecurity in Nigeria currently warrants seeking a special entente with President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, at least, in the quest to permanently contain boko haramism in Nigeria. Additionally, Nigeria’s land borders with the Republic of Niger are at best, very porous. The porosity is explained by many factors. First, the people living on both sides of the border are of the same ethnic stock, with the same cultural affinities. Cross-border movements are carried out regardless of immigration laws. Secondly, the border posts of the Republic of Niger are generally better in terms of provision of social amenities. They have more of regular electricity and water supply. Consequently, officials from the Nigerian side go, more often than not, to the Nigerien side to fetch whatever they need. This situation cannot therefore warrant immigration hostility towards the people of Niger.

The security implication of the situation is that criminals also take advantage of a virtually free border to come to Nigeria, to do and undo. Criminals can secretly plan their activities in Niger only to come and execute the plan in Nigeria. Many have been the reports that the people who are actually terrorising farmers and innocent people in Nigeria are, stricto sensu, non-Nigerians, and that they are, rightly or wrongly, from neighbouring countries. In this regard, and whatever is the case, the Government of Nigeria needs the understanding and support of the Government of Niger in combating the obnoxious recklessness of the Boko Haram.

PMB’s leading a powerful delegation to the 60th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the République du Niger, is therefore not only in order and welcomed a development, but should also be taken more seriously within the general framework of the whole relationship. The relationship should be taken advantage of in securing stronger sub-regional support through the Republic of Niger, in evolving a more dynamic sub-region, and also in ensuring a propitious sub-regional environment for the implementation of the 2019 budget in a more secure environment.

For instance, PMB, in his 2019 budget, put the oil price benchmark at $60, the GDP growth rate at about 3.01%, the exchange rate of the naira to the US dollar at N305.00, inflation rate at 9.98%, and oil production output at 2.3 million barrels per day. All these expectations cannot but happen within the context of the environmental conditionings of the sub-region and Niger-Nigeria relations. Niger is a critical and major factor. The use of a sub-region is as defined in Article 1(e) of the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, that is, Nigeria and its immediate neighbours (vide supra).

Main Dynamics of the Relationship
The first main dynamic of Nigero-Nigerian relationship is their inherited international border which is imprecise, but which the 1963 OAU Charter said must be so accepted on the basis of the 1810 Latin American principle of uti possidetis, that is, sanctity of colonial frontiers or maintenance of inherited colonial frontiers. This necessarily therefore prompted the challenge of how to manage the colonial border, especially in the area of border security and intelligence cooperation.

Issues in the management of Nigero-Nigerian colonial border are complex and multidimensional. They include banditry, cattle theft and movement across the border, religious movements, murder, brigandage. In explaining the evolution of management of the border between Borno State of Nigeria and the Northern and Eastern neighbours (Niger, Chad and Cameroon), Ismael Mohammed identified three phases.

He has it that the first phase was characterised by colonial cooperation in the area of intelligence matters while the second phase, covering the period from 1960 to 1970, was characterised ‘by a combination of total indifference, lack of concern, neglect by the central government and peaceful co-existence, and by local diplomacy.’ The third phase, which covered the period from 1970 until the end of the Cold War in 1989, was characterised by ‘high level concern and sensitivity and occasioned by periodic tension and border clashes which led to gradual realisation culminating in acknowledging the importance of the border areas as potential source of conflict and cooperation for mutual benefit’ (vide his article in Bassey E. Ate and Bola A. Akinterinwa, eds., Nigeria and its Immediate Neigbours: Constraints and Prospects of Sub-Regional Security in the 1990s (Lagos: Pumark, 1992), pp. 164-180). It was in light of this that efforts were consciously made as from 1970 to seek more economic cooperation, resuscitation of old and establishment of new commissions as needed institutional mechanisms for the management of the relationship.

But to what extent has the relationship really been faring well? To what extent has it been good enough to deal with the problem of boko haramism? In fact, to what extent have suspicions and conflict of interests been removed, bearing in mind what the President of Niger, Hamani Diori, told the Francophone community in 1972? In the words of Hamani Diori, ‘do not be surprised if we are swallowed up by Nigeria. Our national routes are directed through Nigeria, our cattle are exported to Nigeria and many of our people come from there. If we are swallowed up, it will be as much your fault for leaving us alone as it is ours.’ (vide West Africa, 7 July, 1972, p. 867).

If we espy this quotation, can Nigeria really be in a position to swallow Niger Republic, bearing in mind that the Republic of Niger is territorially bigger than Nigeria? Nigeria has an area of 923,768, compared with Niger’s 1,266,700 square kilometres. Even though Niger Republic is landlocked and its northern part is partly desertic, thus compelling its population to seek shelter in the southern part of the country and also to have a more deepening understanding with Nigeria in the area of sub-regional security, the two countries cannot be said to have done enough and well in the containment of terrorist activities in both the sub-region and the Sahel. This is why PMB’s visit to and participation in the 60th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic of Niger should be another opportunity to seek special bilateral commitment to the anti-Boko Haram war in all ramifications.

Another main dynamic is the establishment of the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation (NNJC), which was established in March 1971. It is a Commission with a diplomatic status, generally considered as a river basin organisation and structured into High Authority of the NNJC, Commission, and a Permanent Technical Committee. The Commission has the objective of ensuring an equitable sharing in the development, conservation, and use of their common water resources, especially the Niger River. More interestingly, the NNJC is also seeking to promote transit trade for purposes of greater economic integration of the landlocked countries in Africa.

One point that is noteworthy about the NNJC is its mechanism of dispute resolution, which can be likened to the principle of subsidiarity. In this regard, any misunderstanding that cannot be settled by the Commission within six months is to be referred, on the request of both contracting parties, to the Commission of Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration of the Organisation of African Unity, now African Union, for determination. Put differently, a conflict is expected to be resolved first at the level of both parties but where there is still a political lull, the misunderstanding has to be referred to a third party for final determination.

But what security role can the NNJC play, especially in the war on insecurity in Nigeria? Mahnaz Ispahan has argued that ‘security in the developed democracies… is less a question of internal cohesion, of political and economic stability. It is more externally defined and more outward looking, while, for most Third World countries, insecurity… stems as much, if not more, from domestic as from foreign sources, from economic as from military vulnerability.’

On the basis of this Third World definition of security, the NNJC can be said to have major roles to play and can actually be said to have also been playing active roles in national security. For instance, there was the workshop on the launching of the ECOWAS Kano-Katsina-Maradi Cross Border Initiatives Programme on Food Security and Cross Border Trade, that was held in Katsina from 19th to the 21st of September, 2007. The workshop was jointly organised by the Famine Early Warning System Network, the Sahel and West Africa Club, in collaboration with the NNJC, Niger Food Crises Unit, the National Boundary Commission of Nigeria, and the Permanent Inter-state Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS). The workshop was hosted by the Katsina State Government and financed by the Delegation of the European Commission to the Republic of Niger, UNDP Nigeria, and UNDP Niger. The NNJC took active parts in the organisation of the workshop.

More recently, in September 2017, a Two-Day sensitisation workshop on Trade Barriers between Niger and Nigeria was organised by the Borderless Alliance, PRODAP, PROFAB, and CILSS. It was funded by the ECOWAS, USAID and IFAD Niger and held in Katsina. In recognition of the importance of the need for a better understanding between the two countries, and particularly in appreciation of the roles of the NNJC and the need for further role-playing, Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State decided to provide a well furnished office, accommodation, vehicles, furniture, fittings for the smooth take off of operations of the Coordinating Office for the Daura Corridor Office of the NNJC.

In the words of the Governor, ‘this is yet another day which will give us the opportunity to provide a platform for the two countries, ECOWAS and World Bank agencies to fashion out strategies and ways of improving cross border trade exchanges and enhance food security, especially within the three popular economic corridor of Kano-Katsina-Maradi (K2M), as well as Zinder-Daura-Jigawa-Kano and Tahoua-Sokoto-Zamfara-Kano.’
As raised above, what really is the extent to which these rapports have been helpful to containment of boko haramism in the North East of Nigeria, and particularly to the maintenance of national peace and security? And perhaps more importantly, to what extent is the relationship in the context of Nigeria’s Citizen Diplomacy, Constructive and Beneficial Concentricism policy, and Nigeria’s policy of Good Neighbourliness?

Good Neigbourliness and National Security
Boko Haramism has become a major security dilemma in Nigeria’s foreign policy strategy. It can be meaningfully addressed and contained if the principle of good neighbourliness is predicated on the rule of reciprocity, if emphasis is placed on promotion of citizen diplomacy as propounded by Chief Ojo Maduekwe, and if constructive and beneficial concentricism as posited by Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, is also underscored. Good neighbourliness, as a policy, has been consistently pursued since the time of independence by the Governments of Nigeria, ‘in the fashion of an African elder brother, towards its immediate neighbours,’ to borrow the words of Professor Bassey Eyo Ate, former Director of Research and Studies at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.
Conceptually, good neighbourliness is essentially about the principles of peaceful co-existence as provided for at the 1955 Bandung Conference: resolution of disputes peacefully through the principles of reconciliation, conciliation, mediation, arbitration, negotiation, etc, non-interference in what constitutes the domestic preserve of other sovereign states, etc. The policy is to be mutually agreed to and respected.

However, good neigbourliness policy, as conceived and practiced in Nigeria has been unidirectional and not reciprocal. As rightly submitted by Bassey Ate, it has been applied from the perspective of an ‘elder brother’, the conception of which implies caring about the wellbeing and welfare of the neighbouring countries without seeking a reciprocal treatment. This approach is not acceptable and should be subjected to the application of the rule of reciprocity.

Citizen diplomacy is propounded to assist or complement official diplomacy. It involves the organisation of efforts of the people in the promotion of better understanding between their two countries. The use of professional bodies, civil society organisations, private sector-led groups, etc, falls within the framework of citizen diplomacy. In this regard, it is suggested here that the people of Nigeria and Niger, as well as Nigerians and the people of the neighbouring countries should be more involved in the promotion of mutual better understanding between Nigeria and their individual countries. It is by so doing that awareness about the importance of intelligence gathering for the purposes of combating terrorists will be most relevant. With the present situation of boko haramism today, and without greater involvement of the people in the gathering of intelligence for the Nigerian military, the war against the Boko Haram may not be far-fetched.

As regards constructive and beneficial concentricism, it is about ensuring that the Nigerian is made to benefit from every foreign policy endeavour in any given geo-political concentric circle under consideration. Put differently, what really are the interests strategically being pursued as national interest by the Government of Nigeria at the level of Nigeria’s immediate neighbours? In which way are the interests tailored towards securing support for the national efforts being taken against terrorists in Nigeria?

And most importantly, the deepening situation of insecurity in Nigeria can be reversed if strenuous efforts are consciously made to evolve a sub-region, as defined in the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Union. The sub-region should comprise Nigeria and the immediate territorial neighbours, as well as Equatorial Guinea. As land security threats can come from anywhere but cannot directly affect Nigeria without first going through the neighbouring countries, the establishment of such a sub-region cannot but serve as a preventive mechanism. The use of Dahomey, now Republic of Benin, to fly alleged relief materials, but which really were weapons, by the Red Cross organisation to secessionist Biafra during the civil war, is a good reference to remember in appreciating the need for a sub-regional organisation.

Carving out a sub-region and establishing a sub-regional organisation within the framework of both the ECOWAS and the ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States) to which the Republic of Cameroon belongs is the main challenge to be addressed by the Government of Nigeria. The planning of PMB’s future visits to any of the neighbouring countries should look at the anti-Boko Haram war from the need to have a special sub-regional organisation address the war from this perspective.