It was déjà vu at the State House Conference Centre last Thursday.
Sirens, high-octane security and palpable pressure enveloped the usual serene atmosphere at the Villa. Well, nothing less was expected when several presidents were to converge on the Villa for a meeting. It was another meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States.
Even when only the Nigerian President arrives at the Villa, the mood changes, thus, when he has such important guests, including diplomats, each arriving with their entourage, the security and charged atmosphere are understandable.
For those in attendance, it was much more than a meeting. For the second time in 12 days, West African leaders converged on Abuja to discuss the audacity of the junta in Niger Republic. As the heads of state settled in, so did representatives from the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and other global bodies.
From the nervous shifting of chairs to the hushed conversations at different corners, a keen observer would argue that some of these leaders would rather be elsewhere had the “stubborn” junta simply listened to the ECOWAS and reinstated Mohamed Bazoum as President.
With the seven-day ultimatum gone, the regional bloc is under pressure to shame critics who accuse it of being all bark and no bite. That pressure is largely borne by Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, the new chairman of ECOWAS. For Tinubu, the past weeks run beyond regional politics – it has been a true test of his mettle.
Burdened by a volatile economy at home, fragile security and the pressure of inaugurating his cabinet, his countenance smacked of pressure and zeal to quickly squash the junta, who are complicating his worries, and focus on pure national issues.
For context, the naira is in a free fall. Nigerians may see a third petrol price hike in less than three months as prices of commodities continue to soar. Labour unions say the promised palliatives are taking too long to reach the most vulnerable citizens who are becoming impatient.
Amidst all these, the last thing Tinubu needed was an international crisis that would require his direct intervention. But there he sat, potentially on the brink of a cross-border confrontation with Niger Republic. That is even made worse by the fact that many Nigerians have rejected the idea of Nigeria being part of a coalition that would go to war with Niger, which has been described as one of Nigeria’s closest neighbours.
When he took up the ECOWAS mantle on July 9, Tinubu might have imagined diplomatic challenges, but a full-blown crisis at his own backyard would have been out of his contemplation. In his maiden address that Sunday afternoon in Guinea-Bissau, he criticised the spate of coups in the sub-region, rallying his colleagues, including Bazoum, to a democratic cause he was ready to champion. But three weeks later, he was constrained to convene his first meeting to quench the same crisis.
With barely a month as ECOWAS chairman, Tinubu has had enough to deal with already. This explains why, days earlier, he requested the Senate’s permission to deploy Nigerian troops in Niger as part of an ECOWAS force to reinstate the democratically elected president. But the Red Chamber rejected the proposal, saying diplomacy should continually be explored. It means more words, not war.
The senators argued that the Nigerian military was unprepared for war and is better off quenching Boko Haram, banditry, kidnapping and the raging criminality in the South-East.
Indeed, the Tinubu-led ECOWAS has tried diplomacy. In fact, Nigeria sent not one but two different delegations to Niger, Algeria and Libya to discuss a peaceful resolution but they returned without success.
At the moment, the junta has threatened to kill the deposed President if ECOWAS or any bloc launches any military offensive against Niger. According to a report by The Associated Press on Thursday, two “Western officials” said the coupists issued the threat while speaking to a top United States diplomat. We should also remember that countries like Mali and Burkina Faso have also vowed to defend Niger if it was attacked.
From the get-go, General Abdourahmane Tchiani and his backers warned that any act of military provocation would not end well.
Per Thursday’s resolution, ECOWAS is activating a “standby force” to restore democracy in Niger. These developments are testing the leadership quotient of Tinubu and the West African leaders, especially in the face of crisis.
Given Nigeria’s close geo-cultural ties with Niger and the risk to Bazoum’s life, the pressure is different, the stakes are higher and the margin for error is pretty slim for the President. But like he asked, Nigerians should not pity him because he asked for the job.
An empty chamber
Amidst all that happened last week, the Villa environment is getting too used to empty chambers on Wednesday mornings.
It’s been days since the ministerial nominees got the Senate’s nod, yet there has been nothing about their inauguration.
However, rumblings from the corridors of power believe that the three persons yet to receive Senate’s clearance may be delaying the constitution of the Federal Executive Council.
Take Stella Okotete, the nominee from Delta State, as an example. The suspended confirmation points to inconsistencies in her academic records. Then, the former Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, who reports said withdrew his interest in becoming a minister and travelled for another degree abroad. No surprise! He was the Governor of Kaduna State, The Centre of Learning. And for Abubakar Danladi, a nominee from Taraba State, the whisper mill says he is also “awaiting security clearance.”
While the clearance delays, it has been said that the President doesn’t necessarily need the full choir of 48 to start the governance symphony. With 45 voices ready to sing, he could very well begin the performance, especially because the congregation awaits their arrival.
In fact, to be honest, if he chooses to go ahead with the 45, it might be applauded, as many Nigerians already said 48 ministers were too many, especially for a government expected to trim the huge cost of governance.
Tinubu’s two-bedroomed apartment
Talking about the cost of governance, the President appears to be embracing the adage, ‘Charity begins at home’. In a recent dialogue with labour unions, he said he was currently bunking in a modest two-bedroomed apartment.
But here’s the twist: his ‘modest’ Glass House, the referenced two-bedroomed apartment, in the Villa is no mere pied-à-terre. Labeling it by room count is like calling the Taj Mahal a nice little mausoleum. It conceals a ton of details about the luxury and sophistication of the edifice. Maybe he didn’t tell the labour union members that the apartment is a brief stopover. Next month, he is expected to enter the grandeur of the main presidential mansion.
Meanwhile, it may be a two-bedroomed apartment, agreeably small in size, but it’s luxurious than many mansions and more secure than many highbrow streets put together. Regardless of the price, it’s still presidential.
Resilient Rebecca returns after nine years
Much like the recurring tales of the Abacha loot that resurfaces time and again, Nigerians hold one story even closer to their hearts – the return of the Chibok girls. Their return, like chapters in an ongoing saga, has spanned three different administrations, with each chapter more poignant than the last.
On Friday, a fresh chapter came through as the First Lady, Remi Tinubu, welcomed the latest Chibok returnee since her husband assumed the presidency. Rebecca Kabu, a 13-year-old girl in April 2014, found herself among the tragic count of 277 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram fighters.
That fateful night, young Rebecca, with dreams of finishing school with a vibrant life ahead, was instead caught in the crossfire of a conflict she knew nothing about.
Nine agonising years later, she stands as a testament to survival. Her spoken English may falter due to stolen school years, but her spirit remains undaunted. True to that popular saying, ‘while there is life, there is hope’.
With warmth and assurance, Mrs Tinubu vowed to ensure Rebecca’s well-being, both medically and academically. Her return rekindles the hope that more heartwarming reunions are around the corner.
Tinubu mourns Pastor Taiwo Odukoya
A solemn silence envelops the Nigerian Christendom as it mourns the passing of one of its guiding lights, the Senior Pastor, Fountain of Life Church, Taiwo Odukoya.
The 67-year-old preacher passed away on Monday, leaving behind his 8,000-member church and an enduring legacy. His, according to many top clerics and revered individuals, was a testament to a life dedicated to faith and service.
The President, in a heartfelt message to his church and family, captured the nation’s sentiments, “The void left by the venerable Pastor Odukoya is palpable. His teachings were not mere words; they were deeds that expanded the horizons of charity, particularly emphasising education and health.”
The President noted that the late pastor illuminated pathways for countless souls, aiding the vulnerable, uplifting the downtrodden and instilling hope where despair once resided. Through his faith teachings, he crafted platforms where dreams were nurtured and realised. May he rest peacefully.