Sunday Trust online

Niger – The virus next door

I strongly suggest that President Jones should summon the President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou to the rock of offense and either read him the riot act; or share a few governance hints. It is true that Niger is one of the biggest countries in West Africa, but its population is about the size of Abuja. In the past, Niger was so poor and so broke its survival depended on the generosity of the military junta in Naija, which considered it its 37th state and helped offset its bills. That was in the past, Niger don’t live there anymore.

Today’s Niger is transforming, with the help of the Chinese, Niger is refining the oil it discovered nearly two decades earlier. It has permanently shut the doors to the bootlegged commodity it used to smuggle across its border. Before you could spell oil, Niger’s fortunes have changed and its refined crude is believed to be on the list of the crude we spend our foreign reserves buying. If you were the Wizard of Ota, you would be saying – I dey laugh o.
Muhammadou Issoufou, the freshly minted president of Niger has dreams. For reasons only known to him but doubtless alien to our own government, which sent Ibrahim Shema to witness the opening of its refinery Nigerien oil is working for Nigeriens.
For starters, Nigerien workers got their equivalent of the berated Udoji award followed by a reduction in water and electricity tariffs. Looks like the virus of subsidy removal was contained before it could reach Niamey.
Niger is fundamentally an Islamic nation, but go to any part of the country and you are surprised to see that the people know how to balance their own religious lives with living. You hardly hear of religious strife, it is not an issue of political importance and major policy decisions are not announced at Juma’at prayers.
Niger is not as lucky as its Naija neighbour. It has been fighting a herculean battle with aridity. But unlike in Naija where we ceremonially plant a tree one day in a year and leave it to the elements afterwards, entire communities are committed to reclaiming their land and lifestyle from the brutal forces of nature. If they continue like this, they may just succeed and cause their neighbours to notice and start asking questions.
Except President Jones and other leaders curtail the policies of Niamey, Issoufou may even go ahead and build skyscrapers, turning the country into a tourist destination like the Arabs did in Dubai. He must be called to order.
The worst is that years ago, the Americans, pretenders to global policing wanted to establish their base here. Great patriots that we are, we turned it down and scoffed at them. Now Issoufou has accepted the offer of drones and American intelligence, perhaps for fear that boko haram, when it has finished with the elements in the north, may spill over to its borders. The puritans among us are scoffing and spitting. We would rather that Niger shares our fate – stupidity loves company.
You can virtually travel the vast expanse of Niger 24/7 without fear of molestation provided you have the required papers. In most parts of the arid region, electricity is taken for granted and people sleep rough in their verandahs like old times. Try mingling with the Nigerien before registering your presence at the appropriate quarters and you may end up in jail or before a judge even if you speak Hausa better than Dan Fodiyo. You can establish base anywhere here for any reason provided you grease some palms.  Now, wouldn’t we rather, that surrounding nations are like us?
Last week alone, more than twenty people died in Naija for avoidable reasons – from nocturnal marauders to barbaric quelling of legitimate student riots to ritual killing. If two people died in Niger, somebody had better have answers.  As you read, President Jones ought to have handed over a $5 million commitment cheque to ECOWAS for Mali. Those among his soldiers who survived the Okene attack landed in Timbuktu without food. Some unlearned people failed to realize that our soldiers must first fast and seek divine direction before engaging the local Taliban. They think its part of the governmental neglect of its responsibility to its soldiers.
A bill to give welfare to Naija’s unemployed has just been shut down dead by the legislooters. A geriatric fixer has been elected chairman of the ruining party’s board of trustee combining the job with chairing one of the economic drainpipes that helps funnel cash to win elections without counting votes. Wouldn’t it be nice if Issoufou could just tow the line?
The dynamically inactive giant is always involved, apology to Ikemba’s will. We are the physician that is as sick as the hospital itself and happy to be so identified. We threw our weight around Liberia and helped them fix their own trouble. Then Sierra Leone showed and we were ready. Now we are in Mali leaving our flanks open to Boko Haram and so proud we would not even accept help from those who have the means to help our soldiers keep a humane face while in Mali. Niger’s troops are also there, but then they are not fighting boko, armed robbery, militancy or other local troubles. Hope they give the army of their big-for-nothing neighbour some baguette to prevent them from starving, and maybe some used boots and uniform too.

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