Delaying Negotiation Will Widens Foreign Interests, Exhaust Diplomatic Strategies, Ex-lawmaker Cautions ECOWAS

Salisu Matori is a former senator representing Bauchi South in the Senate. In this interview with WikkiTimes, he shared his thoughts on the lingering leadership impasse in Niger Republic and pointed out that sluggish negotiation efforts by the regional bloc, ECOWAS, to restore democracy in that country will pave the way for deleterious conflicting foreign interests to creep in. 

Q: There were issues surrounding the military coup in Niger Republic and the actions of ECOWAS, what is your take on this?

A: Let me begin by saying it is a very sad and unfortunate thing that we never anticipated to happen during our lifetime. Although in every nation’s history, there is a certain time which is not palatable as it ought to be. The conflict now going on between the Republic of Niger and the rest of the ECOWAS and also the AU is something, in my opinion, that it shouldn’t have been allowed to escalate to its present level. But be it as it may, it has happened. What is more important is for all the parties involved to rally around, think deeply and look into the past, present and what do we want in the future.

Q: There were divided views on how to solve the issue, some are with the use of military action while others say diplomacy is the best way to go, what can you say about this?

A: As  I said earlier there is a need for us, as citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Niger Republic to have a dialogue. we all have a stake in the lingering issue. It is something that really requires very careful handling because it affects many things; It’s something to do with the history of both nations. During colonial days, Nigeria and Niger, don’t even know where is Nigeria or Niger because they are the same in terms of geography, people, background and culture. To wake up suddenly overnight to face this daunting task of war. It is easy to proclaim a war but anybody who happened to have a glimpse of what war is all about will tell you is always better not to get involved in it unless it has become absolutely necessary. In our own case, I think there is still a window; there are several windows through which this issue would be resolved. When I said ‘us’ I want you to understand that I am referring to Nigeria and Niger Republic. We need to find a solution to our problem. It will not help anybody. If you take a look at nations like USA. France was fighting in Indo-China now Vietnam. The France of that time tries to convince the USA, which is a Super Power, to get involved in stopping the spread of communism.  That was the excuse given by the French administration but unknown to Americans, they act on sentiments and get involved in what is now known as the Vietnam War.  this led to a very serious partitioning of the country – north and south. This is a war that almost crippled the USA with all its economic and military powers and with all its might. America was subdued, disgraced and chased out of Vietnam. We saw a video where Americans are hanging on a helicopter dropping into the ocean to meet sharks. So, I just gave one example, there are several others. 

Q: Recently, religious leaders from both Niger and Nigeria made efforts to broker dialogue with the Junta leader. Do you think this kind of effort can bring a positive result?

A: For sure, it will. If we all go to the discussion table. To be honest and sincere is for the Juntas to come to the negotiation table with sincerity and honesty. Over and above all to understand that before them there were some people and now they are today and tomorrow it will be another set of people. So, they should understand that and they should try to understand that it is in their best interest to have their names written in gold instead of written in mud. What I meant by this is that if they see reasons, for whatever reasons they staged the coup d’etat, it is the business of those who want to but it is not the business of every right-thinking person. What the Ulama, in my view are focusing on, is to have peace and understanding. Let us not destroy something that has been built over a very long period of time. If you read history, you will know what happened, prior to the Berlin Conference which is now partitioned the continent of Africa or sharing of Africa for their own benefit. Let us not allow that to reoccur again. Let us we the black people, we the Africans, let us not give the impression or confirm the impression that we are not capable of governing ourselves. It has always been my view that we should find a solution. In fact, we must. 

Q: The junta in Niger vowed never to restore Bazoum to power and the ECOWAS is pushing hard that Bazoum must be returned to power to restore democracy in Niger, how can this be solved? 

A: You must understand that there are two positions always. There is a position which we tell the public and there is a position which emerged as a result of an honest negotiation and discussion. If you see a world faction, be it between two different countries, if they come to the negotiation table, honestly and sincerely, definitely a solution will be found. So the question of what you have just enumerated may not even surface because what will come out from the negotiating table may be completely different from what you and I are talking about. Those who are assigned to negotiate will definitely be in a better position to see issues clearer.

Q: Distinguish Senator, Nigeria is the current Chairperson of the ECOWAS, do you see Nigeria’s current role in resolving the crisis in Niger as being appropriate? 

A: Well, it is the candid view of so many people that this situation, whether by coincidence, Nigeria happens to be the current chair of ECOWAS. And, again, by coincidence, it so happens during the current President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a seasoned diplomat, a seasoned politician, somebody who has gone through thick and thin of not only Nigerian politics but also regional politics, African politics and if you like, even world politics. So, hopefully, he can bring in his wealth of experience to bear and find a solution to this problem. I believed with the kind of experience President Tinubu has, if look at his background as a Governor of Lagos state, as a member of this and that, you will agree with me that this situation God in His infinite Wisdom, will give us a solution. Nigeria and Niger Republic are the same people.  That’s to me and I don’t like over flogging the issue that during unfortunate Nigeria’s Civil War, the whole world turns its back on Nigeria. It was only Diori Hamani of Niger and Ahmadu Ahidjo of Cameroon that do agree to assist Nigeria in acquiring the necessary equipment to execute the war not necessarily as some people said they have assisted us in killing ourselves. Yes if there is a war, definitely some people would have to go. But looking at the kind of support and guidance, in all International fora Nigeria is being seen as a black spot, nobody wants to talk to us except these two countries against the will of France which is their colonial power. We all forgot that and it’s something that we must not forget. Junta were not there. Some of them at that time were not even born. so we should not look at the military Junta in Niger as a yardstick that will lead us to any decision.

Q: As an elder statesman, you are of the opinion that Nigeria and Niger are the same but people from southern Nigeria do not see it that way. How can you educate them to see the historical background of the relationship? 

A: The question of educating or not educating them does not arise here. What is most important for us to learn is that, it’s high time Nigerians should adopt the maturity that the whole world is expecting Nigeria to do. This means we must stop looking at every issue from a very narrow perspective, from a small window. Nigeria should grow out of that, people who are looking at things from a very narrow perspective, unfortunately, are not helping our country.

Q: Distinguish Senator, there is this conspiracy theory going on in the international media that Russia influenced the coup de tat to close up space for both France and the US. How does this kind of international influence going to shape negotiation to resolve the matter? 

A: There is always foreign influence in everything we do. There’s little or nothing anybody can do to detach foreign influences from a number of decisions. If you look even at the Security Council at the United Nations, all the decisions taken you will find out that they are aligned to one region or the other. Look at China. They were trying to be recognised as a nation but because of the world politics, Taiwan was recognized and China wasn’t. China was more than a hundred billion population but the Ireland of Taiwan was recognised It will take ages. Maybe we are talking of 50 years to come to the point that other countries, members of the United Nations now come to agree after meeting certain criteria about international influence. There is international influence in almost anything, but it is important for a nation like ours to always look both internally and externally at what is good for Nigeria and Nigerians. It is criminal for a person, a Nigerian to look at issues from another different perspective apart from what is good for Nigeria. In other words, it must be selfless thinking if you happen to find yourself negotiating on behalf of  Nigeria.

Q: If the junta were listening to you, what would be your message to them?

A: Make peace. Make peace as quickly as possible because time is running out. Let’s not live in a utopia; Let’s live in reality; let’s understand the kinds of problems confronting Africa, ECOWAS and confronting Niger and also Nigeria. I saw somebody a few days ago saying Nigeria should mind its business. Which business if it is not for peace affects Nigeria? Now what is affecting Niger is affecting all of us and if allowed to continue, the juntas would not be there, somebody else may be. The juntas are very fine and you may find out that of course. Officers from Niger are trained in Nigeria at the Defense Academy. They are here with us in Defense College, in Jaji and all the places. So please, let us view this thing as a family issue. Let’s look at it even beyond husband and wife as sometimes they have different misunderstandings, let us resolve the issue in the name of God and in the name of posterity and the children yet unborn. We the present generation, both in Nigeria, Niger and in the wider extension, the ECOWAS. Let’s not throw the bath water with the baby. 


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