Tinubu’s lost war in Niger as Sigidi By Festus Adedayo

Yoruba have a way with the Sigidi, whose closest modern translation is the robot. So when the Sigidi – a moulded clay effigy – at the height of its self-destruct, asks that it be taken to the river to swim, Yoruba say a catastrophe is in the offing. They render this as, Sigidi nse’re ete, o ni ki won gbe’hun l’odo lo we. Just as the modern robot is credited with the power to take some human actions, the Sigidi too, in the belief of the Yoruba, could. It was one of the insignias of operation of the babalawo. It is puttied all over by clay that is easily dissoluble in water. So, for the Sigidi to ask to be taken to go swim is an invitation to destruction.

Those days when African military generals prepared to embark on war expeditions, they began to manifest queer, supra-human and impenetrable behavior. They recoiled from the world and its realities, wore frightening, fearsome visages and immersed themselves in huge pots of metaphysical liquid preparations Yoruba called agbo ogun. Natives then sang songs to scintillate their bloodthirsty bellicosity. One of such was a song meant to nourish the warmongering inclination in them, rendered as, O npa’le ogun mo, Edumare ma je o t’enu mi jade…

Today marks the expiry of President Bola Tinubu’s ultimatum to the coup plotters of Niger Republic. Against the run of play, when Tinubu, last Friday, wrote the Nigerian Senate seeking its support for military intervention against the junta in Niger Republic, his sabre-rattling bore similar features with those of 17th, 18th and 19th century warlords. Like the Ekitiparapo war which was fought from 1877 to 1893, most wars are triggered by, most times, mundane issues which are however a burst of deep-seated resentments and animosities. This war was regarded as one of the greatest of all wars among the Yoruba, in fact its bloodiest and the most unforgettable in history. It was a war renowned for its varied nomenclatures.

In its rendering as Kiriji War, that appellation was got from the onomatopoeic vibrations of Kirijiji! Kirijiji!! Kirijiji!!! which accompanied the booms of cannons and modern artillery munitions of the said war. When it is rendered as the Ekitiparapo War, it is in reference to the alliance of Ekiti-speaking Yoruba who gathered their ljesa, Igbomina, Egba, ljebu, Ilorin and allied enemies of Ibadan to fight them. Ibadan had by then become so pompous and belligerently oppressive to other parts of Yoruba. As War to End all Wars, it was in reference to the war being the last major war in the 19th century in Yorubaland; and finally, when rendered as The Sixteen Years War, that war’s notoriety for having been prosecuted for 16 consecutive years non-stop is the reference.

While Tinubu’s lure for this war is, on the surface, to protect the ravishing beauty called democracy that may be raped to death in Nigeria’s neighbouring Niger Republic, the bait of the Ekiti Parapo War was Falola, the pretty and delectable wife of warlord, Prince Fabunmi Abe Adesoye of Igbo-Odo, a town later to be known as Oke-Mesi. Falola was a victim of the libidinous rascality of an Ajele (Resident) imposed on the town by Ibadan conquistadors. Tinubu, as Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and his allies are bent on rescuing democracy, the damsel that General Abdourahmane Tiani, leader of the putschists in Niger coveted. Niger’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, had been toppled due to what was referred to as an obscure personnel dispute within Niger’s presidential guard. On a market day in 1876, Oyepetun, the Ibadan Ajele stationed at Imesi-Igbodo, infamous for his avarice, wickedness and general impression that he was one of the most irreverent and badly behaved Residents (Ajele) sent by the Ibadan to Ekiti land, had seized Falola right there in the marketplace, in fact at the front of the Oba’s palace.

General Tiani had exhibited same audacious belligerency. Persuaded that this was an affront of the highest order and a final denouement to the continued desecration of Ekitiland by the Ibadan, Prince Fabunmi stormed the home of the Ajele and beheaded him, alongside all his band of invaders. Another account of what led to the war claimed that rather than Oyepetun sexually abusing Falola, Fabunmi’s wife, Oyepetun’s men forcefully took food and palm wine from a woman who was friend to Fabunmi’s wife, leading to a fight. In retaliation, Aare Latosa, without giving his proposed expedition a second thought, angrily sent one of his military commanders, Ajayi Ogboriefon, to Igbo-Odo with a single expedition – decapitate Fabunmi and bring his head to Ibadan in a white calabash.

Like Latosa who did not subject the likely scenario in Ekiti to rigorous examination and the probable negative effects of his pugnacious decree, Tinubu too, riled by the temerity of General Tijani, is seeking the Nigerien soldier’s head on a platter. Eventually however, not only did Latosa’s post-hate sabre-rattling become a huge calamity to befall Yorubaland, the Ekitiparapo war, which was one of the most belligerently prosecuted wars in Yorubaland, with variety of munitions, became a massive albatross to the people, hampering integrationist efforts among the people and becoming one of the ancient fault lines of divisiveness among the people. Its capital intensiveness hampered the people’s economy due to the then sophisticated armaments deployed for the prosecution of the war. For the first time, warriors witnessed the usage of costly breech-loading rifles and sophisticated weapons like Winchester, Martini Henri, Sniders, Mauser.

Apart from negatively impacting the socio-economic and political history of Yoruba race of the 19th century, the war also inflicted huge human losses, leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of people. It also opened Yorubaland to the covert invasion of British colonial penetration. In the same vein, it inflicted significant and far-reaching consequences that led to the opening of the routes to the eventual loss of Ilorin to Alimi’s Fulani. Following from this is its encouragement of the eventual loss of other Yoruba kingdoms to aliens. Historians locate the unending atrocious relationship between the Ife and Modakeke to this peremptory order for the head of Fabunmi by Aare Latosa.

That fractious relationship was later responsible for the hundreds of deaths in the 2000s war between Ife and Modakeke. Modakeke, in the prosecution of the Ekitiparapo war, found themselves allies of Ibadan, deployed to fight the war while their Ife neighbours, fought alongside the Generals of Ekitiparapo. The war also led to Ibadan losing its erstwhile panjandrum role in Yorubaland as a result of this hasty decision by Latosa. Eventually, all Ibadan erstwhile dependencies were severed and granted autonomy by the colonial government who sneaked in on the pretext of seeking armistice. Eventually the Ibadan/Oyo forces that dared the Ekiti had to withdraw. Ogboriefon himself died in the thick of the war.

Last Friday, Tinubu sought the backing of the Nigerian parliament to fight war in Niger. It is alleged that some of the actions on which Tinubu sought senate approval had already been effectuated. For instance, the highly authoritative Wall Street Journal said that even before going to the parliament, he had ordered for Niger to be hit by total darkness. This was done by disconnecting the main transmission lines that provides 75% of Niger’s electricity from Nigeria, thus plunging the Nigerien presidential palace, towns and villages into blackouts. Even the deposed President Bazoum’s cell phone, said the journal, though still remained charged as at the time of the report, stood the risk of running out, leading to him being incommunicado. It is however gladsome that the senate refused this request to invade Niger by the Nigerian president.

The Ekitiparapo War was one of the wars that signified the ambivalent nature of wars. It perhaps was what led to the famous statement that it is only the beginning of a war that is known; no one knows its end. Like the American war against Afghanistan primed to last a few months but which eventually elasticized from 2001 to 2021, ending with the Taliban offensive overthrowing the Islamic Republic and establishing an Islamic Emirate, the Ekitiparapo war also frustrated all strategic permutations, just as the Afghan war did. That war became the longest in US’ military history, even lasting longer than the 20-year-old Vietnam War.

But why, like Aare Latosa, would Tinubu precipitate a war that he has no scientific binoculars to foresee where and when it was heading for? When General Ibrahim Babangida, on August 24, 1990, began similar deployment of 3,000 West African troops into the Liberian capital, Monrovia, as part of the ECOWAS Peace Monitoring Group, (ECOMOG) he too never had an idea of the number of persons he would propitiate to the god of leadership ego that suddenly seized him, nor the billions of dollars of Nigeria’s patrimony that would be sunk into the expedition. Envisaging that ECOMOG operation in Liberia would last for just six months, it later lasted for seven years, even expanding its frontiers into neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Till today, the justification given for ECOWAS’ intervention in the Liberian war has been variously faulted and became largely controversial. Some claim that Babangida merely got Nigeria and other African countries to help fight a war to keep his friend, Samuel Doe of Liberia, in office. While the ECOWAS community hung on to Article 16, of the 1981 Defence Protocol, which said that “the Head of State of the member under attack may request action or assistance from the Community,” it was said that Doe never requested the intervention of ECOWAS but merely demanded Babangida’s help. There was also no consensus to intervene, especially from Francophone African states. Indeed, countries like Cote d`Ivoire and Guinea, which were sympathetic towards and even actively supporting the NPFL, were miffed at the ECOMOG intervention. Cote D’Ivoire had always been Nigeria’s regional rival. Thus, while Doe was Babangida, Nigeria`s President’s bosom friend, Nigeria was to pay heavily through Charles Taylor`s killing of about 1,000 of her nationals in Monrovia in 1990, a list that included journalists Kris Imodibe and Tayo Awotunsin. So, while Nigeria was sympathetic to Doe, Taylor received support from Cote d`Ivoire and Burkino Faso as well as from France and Libya.

As the Babangida friendship war in Liberia dragged on, the operation became progressively dangerous, costly and protracted. By the time ECOMOG pulled out of Liberia in October,1999 Western powers didn’t seem to be aware and stood away from this former American colony. At a reception held in Abuja on the arrival of the last Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo said that Nigeria had lost at least 500 of its soldiers, several hundreds were wounded and a staggering sum of US $8 billion was wasted to the peacekeeping operation in Liberia. Obasanjo had concluded, “We will never know the number of Nigerian civilians who lost their lives in the crisis in Liberia.”

From his friends and foes, questions are being asked on why Tinubu suddenly acquired this sudden bellicosity and the reason he is prepared to commit Nigeria to another needless prosecution of war. Could the decision be an outcome of a sudden pounce on him, like the self-revelatory spirit that triggered the removal of subsidy on the day of his inauguration? Explaining his off-the-cuff, unscheduled and unprepared-for severance of the subsidy, the president had said, “I got to the podium, I was possessed with courage, and I said, ‘subsidy is gone’”. Was it the same possessing spirit that is responsible for this ominous throwing of Nigeria into another round of war?

Already, it is said that the military government in Niger had signed or is in the bid to sign an agreement with Russia’s Wagner PMC for the supply of Specialized defense services to repel Tinubu’s threat of military intervention. Wagner is said to have units in Libya, Mali, and Central African Republic and these military units will proceed to Niger, a republic with a population of 27,294,785, immediately with its 12 to13,000 Wagner fighters. As diplomatic relationship stands now, Niger has reportedly severed ties with Nigeria and Togo. Rumours have it that Algeria and Egypt, reputed to possess the strongest military strength in Africa, as well as Guinea, Burkina Faso, Libya, Chad, and Mali, are ready to stand with Niger, making this war a perfect replica of the Ekitiparapo War and bonding of allies.

So, why is Tinubu angling for a war? There is this claim that Tinubu, in the bid to seek the west to legitimize his rule, especially with the judgment of the Presidential Election Court (PEPC) that may “bring anarchy” to Nigeria, is ready to be the lickspittle of the west, anyhow. Indications are rife that the US and the European Union needed an African front to carry their can and Tinubu is a ready tool for this. A military action from ECOWAS may stop Niger’s gravitation towards Russia. Uranium-rich Niger, in 2022, was responsible for 25.38% of EU’s supply, after Kazakstan, which owns world’s largest ounce of uranium. With the Russian uranium export suffering due to sanctions, France and the EU, with huge dependence on nuclear energy, need the sustenance of Niger Republic’s uranium to keep afloat.

The danger for America, which has spent about $500 million to arm and equip Niger’s military, said the Wall Street Journal, is that it may unwittingly be allowing Russia to pick up some of its most treasured drone bases, which are used to fly missions across the Sahara between Libya and Nigeria. Niger had been the centerpiece of America and Europe’s fight against the contagious spread in Africa’s Sahel of Islamic State and al Qaeda, through a spool spin. This spin is “across 3,000-mile semiarid territory on the southern shore of the Sahara that also includes Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad.” If Tinubu fights their war, sacrificing thousands of Nigerian soldiers in the process, EU and America would in turn rub his back by sustaining his life-long ambition to be Nigeria’s president. Don’t forget that the Tinubu government exhibited palpable fright when the EU cavalierly removed the legitimacy rug off his feet through the damning report it brought out on the election that ensured his presidency.

Unfortunately for Tinubu and his ECOWAS, the coup plotters of Niger have tremendous home support. Tinubu doesn’t have same at home on this war-baiting plan of his. Already, a group of northern senators in a release issued on Friday and signed by Sen. Suleiman Kawu Sumaila dissociated itself from Tinubu’s bellicose pursuit. While condemning the Niger coup, the group said it took exception to use of military force because “the consequences will be casualties among the innocent citizens who go about their daily business… (in) the seven northern states who share border with Niger Republic, namely Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Zamfara, Jigawa, Yobe and Borno.” The group thus covertly urged its colleagues in parliament, “to observe due diligence in invoking section 5 sub section (4) (a) and (b) of 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended,” ostensibly by not giving go-ahead to Tinubu to prosecute the war.

As the senators said, geographically, seven Northern states share borders of 1,608 kilometers with Niger Republic. Senator Shehu Sanni also recently reminded Tinubu that about 3000 escapees from Boko Haram onslaughts are taking refuge in Nigerien refugee camps. If they could issue their own release too, the Nigerian Army, expected to prosecute the Tinubu war, would openly rebel against it. This is because a huge number of Nigerian military personnel, from headship to the recruits, are believed to share consanguinity with Niger, with their family members and relations based in Niger Republic. Indeed, many of our senators and House of Reps members are suspected to be citizens of Niger Republic. Ex-President Muhammadu Buhari never hid his consanguinity with Niger. Due to the porous borders and filial bonding between the two countries, a Nigerien boy who walks into, say Kano, schools therein and enters the civil service or the military, duds his actual citizenship and easily meshes into Nigeria.

For French-speaking Africa, the fight against France is a war of liberation. A respondent told the Wall Street Journal that “What happened in Niger is nothing other than the struggle of the people of Niger with their colonizers.” Like Nigeria, Niger and other French-speaking African countries had been tied to the apron strings of their colonial masters. Unlike Nigeria, they have made up their minds to exit the servitude. Back here in Nigeria, the ground Tinubu is standing to declare this war is suffering a seismic shake.

The Tinubu declaration of war against Niger could be indicative of two, or even three, things about his presidency. One is that it could be yet another symptom of a peremptory, off-the-cuff, kick-and-follow governance that gives less consideration to the rigour of critical interrogation of issues. The Niger war declaration bears same hollow texture with the fuel subsidy removal. Second, the war may be Tinubu’s Sigidi signaling catastrophe for his government and for our dear country. Unless Tinubu beats a retreat and sticks to shuttle diplomacy with the Niger Republic junta, the war, which he has lost ab initio, even without firing a single bullet, will negatively define his administration. It is a calamity in the making. On a second thought, knowing the stuff that these Lagos politicians are made of, could the flaunt of bravado over Niger Republic, the request to the senate, the rejection and the protests in Niger Republic be a stage-managed choreography, part of the machinations of the Lagos boy to show the west that he tried his best, but his people rebelled against it? Curiouser and curiouser!

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