A former military intelligence officer and Chief Executive Officer of Goldwater Consults, Captain Aliyu Babangida (retd.) talks to GODFREY GEORGE about President Bola Tinubu’s intervention in the aftermath of the coup in the Republic of Niger, among other issues
What is your take on President Bola Tinubu’s efforts, including military intervention through the Economic Community of West African State, to restore normalcy in Niger?
Short of military misadventure, I do not know what the President wants to engage in. There are many ways to look at that situation, and none of it is in his favour. The first thing is we are looking at a francophone family quarrel. Regardless of his position as the President of Nigeria and Head of the Economic Community of West African States, you don’t match a francophone country with Anglophone troops. What happened to Vietnam? What happened to Cambodia? America decided to flex her muscles there and she was tumbled to the hilt. That is one thing.
The second thing is that it is no news that our borders are porous ‘pro-max’. That is why all sorts are able to enter Nigeria, do what they like, and stroll out. These same people are the ones we had an engagement with and are helping us shelf off the activities of bandits from there. These people share 1,630 contiguous borders with us. To make matters worse, the borders are not really marked. If you have been to the border, you would know what I am talking about.
It is not as though there is a wall or one big trench. There are some houses that are built across borders. It is on this same Nigeria-Nigerien border I worshipped in a mosque that has two doors – one facing Niger and the other facing Nigeria. He (Tinubu) wants to take these people to task with a military matching order. I don’t think that is a serious thing to do.
What is your expectation from the President, regarding the situation in Niger?
What I would have expected from Mr President was for him to use, first and foremost, what I want to call his own advantage of age and sagesse over those young men who are mostly in their 30s, on average. Look at the age of those boys who embarked on the coup. I am even older than them with a good number of years. What I expected our 70-year-plus-old President to do was to use his advantage of wisdom from old age on them, and where all else fails, he would then raise a multi-national joint coalition force to Niger, not to match military anglophone boots into a francophone country.
Would it have been any different if Niger was anglophone?
Every single tree, stone, and thing in Niger will rise against our troops. So, it is not about coups. It goes deeper than that. What the President fails to see is that, maybe because former President Muhammadu Buhari went to flex in the Gambia, which is just a very small country, Tinubu feels he can do that with Niger. They (Niger) have over 1,630 borders with Nigeria which are about 999 miles of border with us. You can imagine how big Niger is. We are not talking of Togo or Benin Republic. Does he think he can flex there? If all our soldiers were to hold hands and spread across Niger, they wouldn’t cover that border.
So, how does he want to do it? How does he intend to sustain the logistic requirement of such an operation? How does he want to put English-speaking men in a country where everyone speaks French? They will stand out like sour thumbs. How do they want to operate? How do they intend to get tactical maps of that country if all the maps are encoded in French, even if he uses Google? Let me say something really critical. Mr President probably did not consult his service chiefs before he made that statement.
But, he wrote to the Senate asking for its backing…
(Laughs) Sending it to the Senate changes nothing. The Senate is full of civilians. He should have sent it to a joint council of chiefs so his generals could sit down and put to pen for him the implication of what he intended to do. If you watch football, you’d be familiar with the terms ‘home’ and ‘away’ matches. If you play an away match, you would not be as confident as you would be if you played a home match.
Mr President is asking his troops to an away fight and they want to fight on a ground that is not of their choosing. In battle, we don’t fight when our enemies choose the battlefield. We would be walking into a slaughter field. That is one thing in battle. Ask the Americans. America is almost 300 years old. They spent roughly 150 years of their lives fighting wars they never won because they always took the battle to peoples’ lands. They lost in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan, Sudan, and I can go on and on. They always get very well beaten. This is because they go to fight on land that is not of their choosing. You don’t go fighting in someone’s home and expect to win.
What is your thought about the ultimatum given to the coup plotters to return power to ousted President Muhammed Bazoum?
I don’t know how Mr. President wants to do it. But giving those people a deadline is putting him in a very uncomfortable position. If the deadline expires and he does not match on Niger, he would have rubbished whatever is left of our stature as giants of Africa. And, if he matches on Niger at the expiration of his deadline, and they beat him black and blue, which I am sure they will with the countries that are currently rooting for and standing behind them, that rubbishes again whatever is left of that claimed stature as giants of Africa.
I wonder where President Tinubu’s Sagesse or wisdom was when he was making that statement. Most times, our African leaders are obsessed with power. They just talk before they think.
Some countries have begun to show solidarity with the junta in Niger. Should this bother Nigeria?
Let us also look critically at the people who are rooting for and standing behind Niger. Let us start with Algeria. The Algerian army is bigger than ours, the same as their navy. The Algerian navy has six submarines. Nigeria does not have even one. With the submarine, they can come as close to us under the Atlantic as your ear is to your head. We don’t even have the equipment to know they are there.
Why do you think Iran was rooting for those young officers? Do you know Charlie Hebdo? He committed a blasphemous pronouncement against the prophet of Islam in Paris, France, and this caused a lot of riots in France at that time. Iran has still not forgiven France for what Hebdo did. This particular situation is their opportunity to rub it back in, which is why they are standing solidly with the junta. Have you forgotten Libya? The country was doing well until America showed up. What they did to (Muammar) Gaddafi beyond killing him is still showing in Libya till tomorrow. This is the opportunity Libya needs.
If they dammed the River Niger today which supplies Nigeria water, the Chinese and Libyans would turn the whole of Niger from desert to green land with that same water they dammed, and they would give Africa wheat like Gaddafi wanted. What about the machinery, Wagner? They are like vultures. Anytime one slaughters a cow, one would see vultures. Wagner is in search of anywhere there are drums of war or war, and they will land there. They will give Niger all it needs to win the war and list uranium. So, do you believe me now when I say Mr President probably spoke before he thought?
Why do you think we have had recurrent military takeovers in West Africa?
Let us, first of all, do what informed minds do when it comes to critical thinking and problem-solving. Based on what is called a coup, can we first and foremost identify the root causes of coups? If we were to do critical thinking, for example, on the high cost of food in Nigeria presently, won’t we first find the root causes? So, let us do that here now. Let us take an informed position by doing some critical thinking. What are the root causes of coups in West Africa? Why not in South, North Africa, or Europe? The reason is simple. The average West African politician is a master of irresponsible and exclusive governance, anglo or francophone regardless.
What do you think a Muslim-Muslim ticket sounds like? Is it inclusive? Is it not exclusive? How would you feel if as a Christian in the military, who has all your life taken risks for a country – playing with bullets and dancing around bandits day and night – became a general leading a troop and someone, who says he is a politician, who would only be there for four or eight years (whereas, you have been a general for 25 or so years) comes to insult every risk you have taken with a Muslim-Muslim ticket?
We are talking of a country that is as sensitive as Nigeria. Let me make this clear. When it comes to conflicts, ideology conflicts are horrible. Ideology-driven conflicts can last for 200 years. Economic-driven conflicts can be solved. But ideology, whether as Nigeriens versus Nigeria or anglophone versus francophone, or religiously-driven ones like Islam versus Christianity or Islam versus traditional religion can last for as long as 500 years.
Now, Tinubu expects the generals who are Christians in his army to go and be chasing bullets loyally, right? Let him keep playing. I know some people don’t have the courage to say these things, but that is what is finishing us in Nigeria. If Tinubu believes that the generals in his army that are Christians are happy, let him think twice.
The President, Bola Tinubu, recently nominated 48 persons who, if approved, would serve as ministers in his cabinet. None of them are retired service chiefs in the military. How do you view this?
If you look at where we are coming from security-wise and where we are, you would see that we have security challenges. I must, first and foremost, say that soldiers do not have a monopoly on solutions to our security challenges. If they did, they would have solved all of them. So, what the President has put together is left to be seen. But, if it is anything to go by, we are looking at the same brand, the All Progressives Congress. From where we are coming to where we are, if he knows what he is doing, or does not know what he is doing like his predecessor also did not, we would be finding out hopefully in December. So, I urge us to take his list with a pinch of salt and let us not be too quick to draw conclusions, so they don’t say we did not give him a chance.