If anyone is still in doubt as to the fact that the stakes in the forthcoming presidential election are really higher than virtually every other one before it, the person should put away his doubt and read this piece patiently:
Before I do that, however, let me say, from the outset, that I am not a politician; that I have never belonged to any political party in Nigeria or elsewhere; that I am a trained public affairs analyst, on the basis of which all I am concerned about is the common good of my country, Nigeria, and its people.
This piece is predicated on the need for all Nigerians to wake up and see with their very own eyes, the several instances on which the government of Mahamadou Issofou of Niger Republic is throwing to the dogs, the age-long, deep relationship between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Niger Republic in a manner even con artists will turn green with envy.
Though President Muhammadu Buhari has almost always honoured all invitations extended to him by the Issofou Administration in Niger Republic and has been very forthcoming in extending all diplomatic courtesies and assistance to that nation, there are elements within that government who allegedly feel Nigeria under Buhari is not being as generous as it used to be under its predecessors, particularly the Jonathan Administration, in terms of the largesse extended to Niger Republic.
Whereas, for example, other administrations will use such largesse as a means of self-enrichment, the era of accountability and probity enthroned by President Buhari has ensured that all such monies earmarked for assistance diplomatically extended to neighboring countries reach their destination in full, with no kickbacks.
Whereas President Buhari could be willing to be as generous as Jonathan in terms of such diplomatic largesse, the fact has been that his administration does not have access to as much funding in its almost four years of life, right from the very beginning till now.
Sadly, some hawks in the Issofou Administration in Niger Republic misconstrue that to mean meanness, and are believed to have have vowed to turn their back against the current president of Nigeria who is seeking re-election in the presidential election holding in the next month of February.
Some people may wonder: how could the Republic of Nigeria inflict any damage on the electoral fortunes of President Buhari? The answer is simple, and the strategy is three-pronged:
Firstly, they have been working hard to make the Buhari Administration unpopular by shortchanging unsuspecting foreign investors of Nigerian origin, whose only crime is investing legitimately in the economy of Niger Republic.
There have been some cases of that nature, where decent Nigerian companies will lawfully spend huge resources partnering with the government of Niger Republic in execution of mega projects, only for the Nigerian companies to be ditched midway, and their expertise now used to accomplish such projects.
A clear example is a Nigerian company, namely Architeam Group Niaport SA, which was assigned the contract of expansion of the airport in Niamey, the capital of Niger Republic. The company, innocently thinking the government of Niger Republic was a responsible and trustworthy partner, rolled out the drums and spent over seven million dollars in feasibility studies, environmental impact analysis, payment to technical partners from Germany, salaries, airtickets, etc.
Suddenly and unilaterally however, the administration of Mahamadou Issofou revoked the contract and awarded it to another company of its original preference. And even though the terms of the contract clearly stated that three letters of warning must be served the Nigerian company in the event of any breach of the contract on its part, no such letter was written or served, not even once. Even when such letters are written, the agreement clearly states that compensation must be paid to the Nigerian company. But line several other such cases before and after it, none of that was adhered to by the government of Niger Republic.
A clear indication of the disdain with which the current government of Niger Republic holds the Buhari Administration of Nigeria can be seen in the fact that all entreaties on the part of the ministers of justice and foreign affairs of Nigeria since last year have fallen on deaf ears. At one time around July last year, even President Buhari personally intervened, appealing to his Nigerean counterpart to respect convention and ensure justice to the Nigerian company. President Issofou pretended to have heard and promised to act accordingly, but he only buttressed the deep contempt with which he holds President Buhari by ensuring nothing of such was done.
Under the Issofou Administration, disregarding lawfully-established institutions in Nigeria has been the norm, rather than the exception.
To add salt to injury, some individuals, at the highest level in the government of Niger Republic are believed to be working hard to persuade citizens of that country that have somehow got the voters card to use their large number in the North to ensure President Buhari is voted out in the election.
The government also ensures its citizens are hardly kept abreast of all the support Nigeria is rendering to Niger Republic, such that a typical citizen of Niger holds even Burkina Faso in higher esteem than Nigeria. All this is aimed at building revulsion against the Buhari Administration and make Nigerian citizens with ties to Niger Republic to vote out the government.
These are issues our intelligence services should pick up to ensure Nigeria doesn’t get undermined by Niger Republic or any other country for that matter. No country is too small now to be ignored.
When officials of Niger Republic travel to countries where they don’t have an embassy, Nigeria almost always plays the good Neighbour by extending all diplomatic and protocol services to them. We pick all their bills and open our doors to them.
Yet, many citizens of that country have only scant regards for us, Nigerians. Their government has hidden from them our endless acts of generosity and sacrifice. I was listening to a BBC programme on Boko Haram last week and heard a senior citizen of Niger Republic talking down on Nigeria, even going as far as ridiculously suggesting their armed forces are superior to ours, and that they should be allowed into Nigeria to finish off Boko Haram.
It doesn’t matter to the man that many of the weapons being used by the Zamfara armed bandits who have spread their tentacles to Katsina and some parts of Sokoto state are believed to have found their way to Nigeria through the porous Nigeria-Niger boarder.
For Nigeria and particularly the Buhari administration, it is time we realized that the era of being Father Christmas to smaller ungrateful nations is over. Foreign policies are now couched around national interest. Only when you are full can you extend a morsel to your recalcitrant neighbour. That informs why even a country as rich as America is now drawing back from such over-generous tendencies and applying the resources to taking good care of its people.
As a nation, Niger Republic has for decades largely been a good neighbour, and you hardly make a distinction between the two countries especially in the northern part of Nigeria where inter-marriage has taken a firm root. If, therefore, a particular administration in that country is antagonistic towards Nigeria or its citizens, our country has a duty to protect our citizens and national integrity by paying back that regime in its bad coins.
Abubakar writes from Abuja