A lifeline?

Nigeria’s Senate rejects military intervention in Niger as ultimatum to coup leaders expires

By Eniola Akinkuotu

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Posted on August 6, 2023 17:27

 © A view of the Nigerian National Assembly premises in Abuja. AFP/Kola Sulaimon
A view of the Nigerian National Assembly premises in Abuja. AFP/Kola Sulaimon

The Senate has all but halted President Bola Tinubu’s plan to deploy soldiers in Niger, a move that might give the military junta a respite.

Nigeria’s Senate rejected on Sunday President Bola Tinubu’s plan to send forces to Niger, where his counterpart Mohamed Bazoum was toppled on 26 July.

A deadline set by ECOWAS for coup plotters in Niger to reinstate Bazoum also expired on the same day.

ECOWAS, led by President Tinubu, had last week given the Nigerien military junta seven days to reverse the coup. He also announced some sanctions, including the closure of shared borders and cancellation of flights to and from Niger.

The Nigerian government went a step further by cutting off the power supply allocated to Niger, which depends on its wealthier neighbour for about 70% of its electricity.

Defence chiefs of 11 West African countries met in Abuja over a possible joint military operation in the landlocked nation, before President Tinubu sent a letter to the Senate, the higher arm of Nigeria’s bicameral legislature.

Senate President Godswill Akpabio said Tinubu’s letter was not a request to invade Niger, but only to inform the lawmakers of the resolutions of ECOWAS.

“The leadership of the Senate is mandated to further engage with the President and commander-in-chief on behalf of the Senate and National Assembly on how best to resolve the issues in view of the existing cordial relationship between Nigeriens and Nigerians,” the Senate said after rejecting Tinubu’s plan.

Unintended consequences

Before parliamentary deliberations on Sunday, senators of northern extraction issued a joint statement saying they would not accept military action in Niger because of the possible unintended consequences.

Nigeria’s apex Muslim association, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), led by the influential Sultan of Sokoto, as well as prominent northern groups, also rejected the plan.

Any attack on Niger could worsen the humanitarian crisis in northern Nigeria, which has yet to recover from the damage caused by years of terrorist attacks, critics argue.

The Senate’s reaction to Tinubu’s plan was not entirely surprising, given that northern Nigerians share familial ties with Niger, which borders seven states in northern Nigeria.

Northern Nigeria has a larger representation in the country’s parliament than the predominantly Christian south.

What next?

Nigeria’s constitution states that the president must secure the parliament’s approval before declaring war on any country.

The law allows the head of state to deploy a small number of soldiers abroad without prior approval in case Nigeria is under direct threat. But the president would still need to secure the parliament’s approval for such a move within five days.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS cannot launch a military operation in Niger without the approval of the UN Security Council, says Femi Falana, a senior Nigerian lawyer who once served as the President of the West African Bar Association.

“ECOWAS is required to seek and obtain the authorisation of the UN Security Council to launch an attack on a sovereign nation pursuant to article 53(1) of the United Nations Charter,” he says.

Article 53(1) stipulates that the Security Council shall, where appropriate, utilise such regional arrangements or agencies for enforcement action under its authority. “But no enforcement action shall be taken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies without the authorisation of the Security Council,” Falana adds.

The lawyer says that without the authorisation of the Security Council, any military intervention by the ECOWAS would be illegal unless it concerns a situation of self-defence, which would not be the case in Niger.

A spokesperson for ECOWAS did not respond to calls by this reporter. President Tinubu’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

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