Ambassador Yusuf Abubakar Tuggar is Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. In this interview on Trust TV’s 30 Minutes with Mannir Dan-Ali, he spoke on a wide range of issues, including the decisions taken by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Niger, border closure and diplomacy.
I believe the last few days have been a bit frantic. There have been the ECOWAS Summit, and the big issue is Niger. Where are we now because it appears as if Nigeria and ECOWAS have been forced to a climb down from their initial position?
I wouldn’t exactly put it that way. We have to bear in mind that the primary, or should I say the reason for the creation of ECOWAS, is regional integration, harmony, peace and the general security of the region. So, ECOWAS is always looking to do what is required to bring that about. What has transpired with regards to Niger is simply to take pragmatic steps towards once again a resolution of the current situation there.
The operative word here seems to be pragmatic. You are being realistic, you are now kind of forced to recognise the new military government in Niger because you are talking of sending mediators, people who will engage with them; includingt the Presidents of Togo and Benin. So, why did ECOWAS have to eat the humble pie; so to say?
It’s not a matter of eating a humble pie. It is again a matter of pragmatism. What transpired immediately after President Bazoum was accosted was pragmatic as well.
The leaders of ECOWAS got together and took certain measures. They demanded his release, they demanded that he continues as president, they imposed sanctions, and of course the fact that they mentioned as a last resort the use of force was not ruled out was blown out of proportion.
Of course there are so many interests within. Some misinterpreted that to mean that Nigeria in particular was about to declare war on Niger. The whole thing was blown out of proportion.
But these are measures. We’re not talking about one country, we’re talking about several countries.
Is this particular incident a sort of learning curve for you and for the administration, because we’re just a few months old when this happened, and it appears like a hot potato that you are looking for ways to get rid of?
It’s the nature of life as a whole. We’re always learning, but I wouldn’t put it exactly like you did because the decision was not a unilateral decision by Nigeria; it was a collective decision of ECOWAS.
But some were saying that it’s like ECOWAS and Nigeria were trying to do the bidding of maybe France, the US and all those international do gooders who wouldn’t put their troops on the line?
When have you ever seen Nigeria do the bidding of an external power?
Probably this particular instance?
This is a country; you can’t even try to do that. Government is not exclusive of the rest of the country. So, when you’re talking about foreign policy, it’s a completely different area.
Foreign policy is formulated based on an aggregation of the position of a country and is not limited to the leader at the time, it’s not limited to the government, but the country as a whole.
You’re talking about interest groups, you’re talking about scholars, you’re talking about even the populace, the business community and so on and so forth. Let’s not reduce it to just an individual or to just a government.
I don’t see the connection, this is just playing into the hands of the propagandists that decided in order to remain in power, in order to sustain themselves, to label anybody you know it was a manikin approach.
If you’re not supporting what we did then you’re doing the bidding of France, and Nigeria has never been that way. You’re talking about a nation that nationalised Shell, you and I are old enough to know that Shell, British Petroleum….
But those are different administrations. This administration is better known for…?
Are we not the same people? I the foreign minister, was my world view not formed by growing up during that period when all of these took place.
Certainly it was?
And so then I will go through all of that in life and then wake up one day and then start taking orders from France. That does not make sense, that is pure propaganda, and it was just most unfortunate that certain sections of the country and even the media played into that.
So, is it more charitable to say that the administration, yourself and ECOWAS were influenced by the feeling, especially in Northern Nigeria which communities share a lot with the Nigeriens, that now kind of shaped your reconsideration so that now we are talking of engaging with the regime?
No, I think you have to read the ECOWAS communiqué. The ECOWAS communiqué on Niger number one says Bazoum must be released. In fact, not just Bazoum, his family and his associates.
But it was silent on him being President of Niger again?
Yeah! Because you know that once you know time having lapsed like I said, ECOWAS is being pragmatic. Time has lapsed, and in order to diffuse the tension, the prevailing situation, ECOWAS is not insisting that Bazoum has to be returned. ECOWAS has changed position on that, but ECOWAS has not changed its position on saying Bazoum and his family and his associates must be released.
ECOWAS has not changed its position on saying that unless that happens, the sanctions will not be removed.
Finally, ECOWAS is also saying that unless all of these things happen, it is not ruling out the use of force.
Let’s leave all of that aside, what we’re looking for is peace. We have always maintained a very close and friendly relation with Niger, we’re not in conflict with the people of Niger. In fact, we are doing this for the people of Niger. That was why Nigeria and ECOWAS took this position.
With this hard line position, how do you see the resolution of this problem?
It is not a hard line position, it’s a pragmatic position, and this is something that we’ve been saying to the Nigerien junta all along.
But they are saying that people like you and others are the ones blocking any resolution of the problem?
Because the position they took was that unless you’re going to acquiesce to what they want; which is simply remove the sanctions and then they decide how long they’re going to stay and what happens to Bazoum and his children they don’t care.
But what we are saying to them is to release Bazoum and his family and then we start removing the sanctions.
But they are not prepared to do that because the very same people that were playing this game with them within Nigeria and outside of Nigeria were giving them hope that they could pick and choose who to engage either within Nigeria, even within the Nigerian government, and that there was hope that they could bring pressure to bear inside Nigeria to compel the government to change its position and to compel ECOWAS to change its position because President Bola Ahmed Tinubu happens to be leading ECOWAS at this time.
It is a very dangerous game. They were offering money to people….
But Niger is a very poor country. Where is it getting money, I mean many Western countries have closed the taps, stopped aids and all sorts of things. So, if it is money, don’t you think it is Nigeria that will be offering money?
I think you should direct that question to them because I cannot speak on their behalf, but certainly we have proof, concrete proof that they were offering money to people. There were certain people in Niger that were offering money to people here to agitate for the removal of sanctions, to put pressure, to put pressure on the Nigerian government to