Wed, 16 Aug 2023 Feature Article

ECOWAS military intervention in Niger: Analyzing the socio-economic and security repercussions in Nigeria

ECOWAS military intervention in Niger: Analyzing the socio-economic and security repercussions in Nigeria

Never make a threat. Reason with people.” – Don Vito Corleone.

From a strategic standpoint, my perspective would involve presenting insightful guidance, drawing inspiration from Mario Puzo's renowned book The Godfather and the writings of Carl von Clausewitz, particularly On War, Grand Strategy and Theory of War. This counsel would be directed towards His Excellency, Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu, (GCFR), who holds the esteemed positions of both the President of Nigeria and the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The essence of this advice would revolve around the “activation and deployment” of a regional standby force. The primary goal would be to reestablish constitutional order within Niger Republic. This composition evokes a sense of nostalgia, reminiscent of my academic journey under the guidance of my former postgraduate mentor, the late Professor Thomas Akhigbe Imobighe. His memory is held in high regard and blessed, as he was a distinguished authority in the fields of Peace and Conflict Management, as well as Nigeria's Defence and National Security. Until his passing, he served as the Director of Studies at the prestigious National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), located in Kuru, Plateau State, Nigeria. May his soul find eternal peace... Adieu.


On July 26, 2023, a coup d'état unfolded in Niger Republic, characterized by the detainment of President Mohamed Bazoum by the country's presidential guard. General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the commander of the presidential guard, declared himself the leader of a newly formed military junta. Later that evening, Air Force Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane took to state television to announce the removal of President Bazoum from power. He introduced the establishment of a National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland and attributed the regime's downfall to deteriorating security conditions and poor governance. Colonel-Major Abdramane also revealed a series of significant actions: the dissolution of the nation's constitution, the suspension of state institutions, the sealing of borders, and the implementation of a nationwide curfew from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM local time. He firmly cautioned against any foreign intervention and issued an order to suspend all activities by political parties within the country until further notice. On July 28, 2023, General Tchiani assumed the role of the junta's president through a televised speech. He cited the coup as a preventive measure to circumvent what he described as the country's gradual and inevitable decline. Tchiani criticized President Bazoum for allegedly concealing the stark realities of the nation, which he depicted as a landscape marked by death, displacement, humiliation, and frustration. He expressed disapproval of the government's security strategy, citing its perceived inefficacy and lack of collaboration with neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. However, he refrained from specifying a timeline for the eventual restoration of civilian rule. Responding swiftly to the developments, ECOWAS took decisive action on July 30, 2023. In light of the coup in Niger Republic, the regional organization issued an ultimatum to the military junta, stipulating that President Bazoum should be reinstated to his position within a week's time. The announcement came during an Extraordinary Summit held in Abuja, where ECOWAS Commission chairperson, Omar Touray, conveyed the bloc's stance. In a communiqué delivered by Touray, ECOWAS communicated that if their demand for President Bazoum's reinstatement wasn't met within the specified timeframe, the organization would resort to "all measures necessary" to restore constitutional order in Niger Republic. The communiqué further indicated that such measures could potentially involve the “use of force”. This marked a distinct departure from the approach taken in recent coup situations in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, where the threat of force wasn't employed to restore ousted governments. ECOWAS additionally declared immediate sanctions against Niger Republic. These sanctions included the closure of both land and air borders, the establishment of a no-fly zone for all commercial flights to and from Niger, and the suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger. This comprehensive and rigorous response from ECOWAS underscored the organization's commitment to upholding constitutional norms and governance within the region.


The West African regional bloc ECOWAS had set a deadline of Sunday 6th of August, 2023, for the Niger junta to give up power and handover to ousted President Bazoum or face possible military action. The one-week deadline expired without ECOWAS carrying out its threat. The leadership of ECOWAS finds itself in a challenging situation, where it cannot easily change its position without potentially being seen as accommodating anti-democratic forces. Negotiating with threats is generally not a preferred approach. ECOWAS is out of their depth. “Never make a threat. Reason with people” according to Don Vito Corleone. In the Mario Puzo's award-winning book, The Godfather, contains some very useful advice for negotiators. In the Godfather, keeping your cool in the face of the other party's bad behaviour, never get angry, never make a threat. Reason with people.' The Don had instructed. The Don considered a use of threats the most foolish kind of exposure; the unleashing of anger without forethought as the most dangerous indulgence. No one had ever heard the Don utter a naked threat, no one had ever seen him in an uncontrollable rage. It was unthinkable.

On August 10th, 2023, the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) escalated their criticism of the coup leaders in Niger, taking the step of initiating the "activation" and "deployment" of a regional standby force with the objective of restoring constitutional order to the nation that had been affected by the coup. The leadership of ECOWAS, spearheaded by Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu, was expected to approach the situation with a balanced perspective, not allowing emotions to overshadow rationality. The use of overt threats against a neighboring sovereign state and engaging in reckless power dynamics were deemed unwarranted. Such tactics could prove counterproductive and unthinkable. The ideal approach for the ECOWAS leadership would have been to exhaust diplomatic methods in addressing the challenges posed by the Nigerien military junta. This would involve employing strategic leverage and influence to compel the junta to align with ECOWAS's objectives, albeit through an implied sense of potential consequences. This diplomatic approach would have showcased ECOWAS's adeptness in managing complex situations through a combination of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, tactfulness, and the implication of repercussions when necessary.

In The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone is portrayed as a shrewd and calculating individual who understands the delicate balance between power, negotiation, and conflict. While he was not known for explicitly making threats before achieving peace, he does employ strategic tactics to ensure his interests are protected. One of his famous quotes that illustrates his approach to maintaining peace and power is: Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family. This quote reflects Don Corleone's understanding that fostering relationships and alliances can lead to stability and peace. While he may not openly threaten, he uses his influence, connections, and the implied weight of his organization to ensure that others are inclined to come to mutually beneficial agreements. Don Corleone's approach is often characterized by his ability to offer solutions that are difficult to refuse, without resorting to overt threats. His reputation and network are enough to convey the potential consequences of crossing him, which creates a backdrop of implicit pressure in negotiations. This, in turn, allows him to achieve his goals while maintaining an appearance of civility and diplomacy. Ultimately, Don Corleone's actions are about achieving his objectives with a calculated blend of respect, persuasion, and influence, rather than relying solely on blatant threats. Carl von Clausewitz’s unfinished work On War and his theories on grand strategy and warfare hold significant relevance in potentially addressing the complex situation between ECOWAS and Niger.

The military governments in Mali and Burkina Faso called ECOWAS’s bluff, saying an armed intervention in Niger would be met with force. Guinea also sided with the military junta. All three countries plus Niger are suspended from ECOWAS, and form part of a military-led belt spanning Africa’s Sahel from Guinea in the west to Sudan in the east. The Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani called on ECOWAS to extend the ultimatum's deadline. Among the regional nations, there exists a division regarding the potential for an ECOWAS military intervention in response to Niger's coup. Opponents of this idea express concerns that such action might escalate into a broader regional conflict. The Nigeria's constitution does not permit the president to deploy troops without the approval of the National Assembly. President Bola Tinubu requested the Senate of Nigeria to authorize a military intervention in Niger. However, the Nigerian Senate did not approve the President Tinubu's request, instead they advised him to resolve the crisis by through diplomatic means and "tread with caution". Already, a group of senators representing constituencies bordering Niger, religious leaders and civil society organizations have voiced their opposition to military intervention. They said military intervention in Niger, would further destabilize both countries, whose militaries were already spread thin fighting off Islamist militants. The President of Algeria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who shares a northern border with Niger, has openly voiced his disapproval of any potential military intervention, asserting that such measures could potentially "ignite the whole Sahel region". Nigeria has contributed the highest number of troops to a regional peacekeeping force that intervened in civil wars in the region for more than two decades. The Nigerien transitional military government has already warned against any external intervention. Their counterparts in Mali and Burkina Faso warned that they would treat any attempt to restore Bazoum to power militarily as a “declaration of war” against them and it would split ECOWAS. There were pro-coup demonstrations in Niamey. Thousands of pro-coup Nigeriens gathered in Niamey's Place de la Concertation, in front of the National Assembly, and went to the French Embassy carrying Nigerien and Russian flags, with slogans such as "Down with France, we don't care about ECOWAS, the European Union and the African Union!", "and "Down with France, long live Putin!". The demonstrators also called for an immediate intervention by the Wagner Group.

The historical bond between Nigeria and Niger is deeply ingrained, stemming from a confluence of factors including their mutual border, intricate trade connections, intertwined religious affiliations, shared ethnic roots, and robust cultural interactions. This border spans a significant 1,500 kilometers (about 930 miles), stretching across the northern stretches of Niger and the southern regions of Nigeria, cutting through a densely populated area in both countries. From a cultural vantage point, this border carries a particular significance as it effectively separates the northern part of Hausaland, a pivotal region for the Hausa people. Historically, Niger was essentially an extension of Nigeria's northern territory, a geographic continuity that persisted until the pivotal events of the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885, when external powers redefined Africa's contemporary borders. Before the 20th century, a formal boundary wasn't firmly established; nevertheless, the present-day delineation closely aligns with the northern boundaries of the 19th-century Sokoto Caliphate. This caliphate fostered alliances among southern city-states such as Katsina, Kano, and Sokoto, leading to the emergence of an intricate network of Islamic Fulani jihad states. In contrast, regions to the north, including Maradi, the Gobir refugee state, and the Sultanate of Damagaram, resisted the influence of the Sokoto caliphate. On both sides of this border, the central and western regions were culturally dominated by the Hausa language, while the eastern area was significantly influenced by the Kanuri culture. Furthermore, in the eastern sector, territories on both sides were previously integral parts of the expansive Bornu Empire's realm. Since achieving independence in 1960, Nigeria and Niger have cultivated a relationship defined by strong ties. Their diplomatic interactions are rooted in the principle of non-interference in each other's internal matters, contributing to their ability to avoid major conflicts throughout their shared history. This harmony was evident even during the turbulent Nigerian Civil War, where the late President of Niger, Hamani Diori (June 6, 1916 – April 23, 1989), played a pivotal role as a committed mediator, underscoring their commitment to maintaining stability and using diplomacy to address conflicts. Both Niger and northern Nigeria face a significant reliance on water resources from their respective neighboring borders. The pressing challenges of desertification and increasing water demands are of prime concern in both regions. Addressing these issues involves active participation in collaborative initiatives, such as the Niger Basin Authority that succeeded the 1964 Niger River Commission and the Lake Chad Commission. The Niger-Nigeria Joint Committee holds a specific focus on water management and development. Furthermore, both nations have endorsed crucial agreements demonstrating their dedication to environmental preservation and resource management. The Enugu Agreement, established on December 3, 1977, outlines shared regulations within the Lake Chad Basin Commission (comprising Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad) to protect flora and fauna. Another pivotal agreement, The Abuja Agreement, ratified on January 15, 1990, places significant emphasis on controlling desertification, promoting conservation, and rationalizing the use of lands, water resources, flora, and fauna. Similarly, The Maiduguri Agreement, initially signed on July 18, 1990, and later amended on October 5, 1998, centers on sustainable development, conservation, and responsible utilization of water resources in transboundary catchment areas. Both The Maiduguri Agreement and The Abuja Agreement fall under the purview of the Niger-Nigeria Joint Committee, underscoring the shared commitment of both nations.


Nigeria's Borno State is located a short distance from N'Djamena, the capital of Chad. Presently, Chad is under military rule, led by Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, a four-star Chadian general who serves as the transitional president. He took charge of the Transitional Military Council on April 20, 2021, after his father, President Idriss Déby, passed away while leading troops in the Northern Chad offensive. Chad shares its borders with Libya to the north and Sudan to the east. Libya is grappling with an unsettled peace following the Second Libyan Civil War, a multilateral conflict spanning from 2014 to 2020, involving various armed factions. This strife has resulted in unsuccessful political transitions, fostering divisions and external pressures that endanger the nation's stability. Meanwhile, the Republic of Sudan is presently governed by a military junta headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the Sudanese Armed Forces, along with Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Tensions between these factions erupted into violence on April 15, 2023, leading to clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the RSF. These battles extended to key sites like the presidential palace and army headquarters, causing casualties and injuries. Foreign involvement in this conflict includes providing military support to the warring sides. The RSF received assistance from Libyan militia leader Khalifa Haftar and the United Arab Emirates, as evidenced by captured footage of thermobaric shells, indicating UAE's supply of weaponry. On the other hand, Egypt extended military aid to the Sudanese army. Across an extensive stretch of land from Guinea-Conakry on West Africa's Atlantic coast, through Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic, Chad, and continuing to Sudan on East Africa's Red Sea coast, military rule has taken hold. Unfortunately, Nigeria lies to the south of this trajectory, encompassing six nations in Africa's Sahel region under military regimes. This reality raises security apprehensions for Nigeria given the broader regional dynamics.


The December 2019 National Security Strategy of Nigeria underscores the significance of the country's geo-strategic environment for its security. It acknowledges the rise of the Islamic State in West Africa Province and the increased intensity of existing security challenges, including ethno-religious conflicts and politically motivated violence. The strategy aims to safeguard Nigeria's sovereignty, territorial integrity, security, and the well-being of its citizens. It also prioritizes maintaining democracy, human security, and peace within its borders. Promoting national unity is central, recognizing diversity in ethnicity, language, religion, and culture as assets. Strengthening social cohesion is vital for security. On the global stage, Nigeria advocates for an international order rooted in respecting international law, treaty obligations, peaceful conflict resolution, and mutually beneficial economic relations with other nations. Bola Tinubu, as the Chairman of ECOWAS and Nigeria's President, should be advancing national interests. There's uncertainty about Tinubu's assertiveness on military intervention in Niger Republic. This stance might reflect an attempt to enhance his international reputation amid domestic unpopularity. Concerns arise from his contested victory in the February presidential election, challenged due to alleged electoral fraud and eligibility issues. His economic reforms, like petroleum subsidy removal, aimed to revamp Nigeria's economy but caused higher food and fuel prices. His firm approach within ECOWAS might aim to bolster his international standing.


Bola Tinubu, the Chairman of ECOWAS and President of Nigeria, possesses a significant history within Nigeria's political landscape. During the 1990s, he faced imprisonment under military rule and was later compelled to live in exile. Notably, Nigeria endured military control from 1966 to 1999, with intermittent democratic governance only between 1979 and 1983. The ECOWAS chairman has legitimate reasons to be concerned. However, it is crucial to exhaust diplomatic avenues rather than resorting to a military solution.

Here are some key points to consider:
Refugee Crisis & Humanitarian Challenges: Employing military intervention to remove Niger's junta could trigger a refugee crisis, with people fleeing violence seeking sanctuary in Nigeria. This could strain resources, create humanitarian issues, and escalate tensions within Nigeria. Given the deep-rooted connections between Niger and Nigeria, such an influx of refugees could exacerbate ethnic tensions and regional divisions.

Terrorist Activity: Military intervention in Niger might result in a power vacuum, which extremist groups could exploit, particularly in areas already affected by groups like Boko Haram. Terrorists could potentially infiltrate refugee populations.

Strained Nigerian Armed Forces: In the event of military intervention, Nigeria's armed forces would be heavily relied upon. However, these forces are already stretched thin. They are currently engaged in countering Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, handling the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) separatist group in the East, addressing secessionist movements in the South-West, combating militancy in the Niger Delta, and tackling other security challenges.

Nigeria-Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline Project: Any military hostility against Niger could jeopardize the $13 billion USD Nigeria-Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline project, which aims to connect Nigeria's Warri hydrocarbon fields to Europe via Niger and Algeria. The project may become a reality as Europe attempts to cut its strong dependency on Russian gas in the wake of economic sanctions against Moscow over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Regional Proxy Dynamics: Reports suggest that Russia's Wagner mercenary group is taking advantage of the instability in Niger. Wagner's involvement and its alignment with Russian interests could lead to strategic and diplomatic dilemmas for Nigeria. The presence of Wagner and other foreign actors could create security threats and exacerbate instability.

Negative Economic Impact: Engaging in military intervention would exacerbate Nigeria's economic challenges, deepen divisions, and divert resources away from critical sectors. The ongoing deadlock has already disrupted normal life along the border, impacting cross-border trade and causing economic strain.

Family & Conjugal Affiliation: War with Niger's coup leaders would be like "fighting your brother." Close familial connections between Niger and Nigeria's northern region could lead to the fragmentation of Nigeria along ethnic, regional, and religious lines.

Ethnic Cleansing Motives: Another perspective is that political motivations or ethnic cleansing could be driving the situation. Protests in Nigeria have urged diplomatic solutions and expressed concern about potential Western influence on ECOWAS decisions.

No-Fly Zone Impact: ECOWAS' imposition of a no-fly zone on Niger has led to the closure of Niger's airspace. This decision affects flight routes and disrupts travel between Europe and Nigeria, impacting airlines' operations and increasing costs.

The military junta in Niger Republic might find it challenging to reverse its position, similar to the situations in Guinea-Conakry, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Sudan. Reflecting this concern, the foreign ministers of Mali and Burkina Faso jointly addressed a letter to the United Nations and the African Union, urging the UN Security Council and the African Peace and Security Council to prevent any potential military intervention in Niger. In response, the junta has appointed economist Ali Lamine Zeine as the new prime minister. Zeine previously held the position of finance minister until 2010 and later worked at the African Development Bank. The junta has also established a new government, introducing 21 ministers with Prime Minister Zeine at the helm. This announcement was made via state television by Mahamane Roufai Laouali, the "secretary-general of the government." Additionally, three generals who were part of the CNSP (National Committee for the Salvation of the People) were appointed to lead key ministries, including the ministries of interior, defense, and sports.


A renewed engagement with Africa is evident as major players like Russia and China increase their diplomatic and economic activities on the continent. This "new scramble for Africa" is challenging the influence of former colonial powers like Britain and France. France's influence, once significant in nine West African countries, has diminished to three. Meanwhile, the Russian private military company, the Wagner Group, is expanding in the Sahel, potentially impacting regional dynamics and global responses to events like the Niger coup. Niger's importance lies as the seventh-largest uranium producer globally. France heavily relies on Niger's uranium for nuclear power, and the US maintains a military base there. Notably, Nigerien protesters have shown support for Russian President Putin and the Wagner Group's intervention. In this changing landscape, handling civil unrest, public sentiment, and interactions with external actors will shape the course of events in Niger and beyond.

Risk Assessment: Nigeria should conduct a thorough risk assessment to evaluate the potential consequences of different courses of action. The implications for stability, security, and economic development should be carefully weighed.

National Interests: The Nigerian government should prioritize its national interests, considering stability, security, and economic well-being. Striking a balance between these interests and potential diplomatic or military involvement is crucial.

Multilateral Approaches: Engaging in multilateral efforts through regional organizations, international institutions like the UN, and diplomatic channels can lead to peaceful solutions. Collaborative efforts can help address the crisis effectively.

Mediation and Negotiation: Mediation by regional leaders, with support from international partners, could facilitate negotiations between coup leaders and civil society. This approach may lead to the restoration of democracy and set a precedent for responding to similar crises.

Address Root Causes: Apart from addressing the immediate crisis, tackling socio-economic issues, promoting good governance, and supporting inclusive political processes are essential. Strengthening democratic institutions can make the region more resilient to future challenges.

External Pressure: ECOWAS, AU, EU, and the US should coordinate efforts to pressure the military regime to restore democratic governance. Sanctions, diplomatic efforts, and aid should be balanced to encourage stability while supporting economic development.

Civil Society and Democratic Institutions: Strengthening civil society and democratic institutions in Niger is critical. International partners should invest in capacity-building programs that promote civic participation, political inclusion, and good governance.

Economic Stability: Amidst the crisis, maintaining economic stability is vital. External partners should provide aid that addresses poverty, infrastructure improvement, and sustainable development, in addition to sanctions.

Understanding the Causes: Support initiatives that address socio-economic inequalities, political corruption, and institutional weaknesses contributing to instability. Understanding and addressing these underlying factors can help prevent future crises.

Long-Term Strategy: Focus on a long-term strategy that places the welfare of Niger's people and democratic governance at its core. Preventing similar events requires sustained efforts to promote stability, development, and democratic norms.

In conclusion, Bola Tinubu's role in ECOWAS and Nigeria places him in a delicate position regarding the crisis in Niger. The complex dynamics, potential proxy influences, regional alliances, and domestic challenges make military intervention a risky proposition. Diplomatic efforts, careful strategic decision-making, and consideration of Nigeria's interests and stability are crucial moving forward.

Clifford Ogbeide
Foreign Policy Analyst
[email protected]
Lake District, Alberta, Canada

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