Opinion: Buhari, Niger Republic and the ‘Unholy’ Romance

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Nigerians went berserk on Wednesday, August 3, when the news of Mr President’s N1.4 billion giveaway to a neigbouring country, Niger Republic, set the internet ablaze.

Bubu came under heavy criticism over the approval of N1,145,000,000 for the purchase and supply of 10 Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles to Niger Republic. This is just as Nigerian students have been at home for over 5 months, following the ongoing industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), amongst other challenges ranging from insecurity, economic crisis, corruption cases etc.

However, this is not a surprise for those who understand the ‘unholy’ romance between Mr President and his ‘ancestral homeland’. The president once claimed to have some relatives in Niger, according to an interview he granted Arise TV.

Recall that in 2018, Nigeria and Niger Republic also signed a $2bn deal to build an oil pipeline and a refinery, a development that triggered heavy criticisms from economic experts.

“Niger has discovered oil, as you know. We hope they will be fine when we take the rail to Maradi and take all their exports through Maradi rather than through the Benin Republic,” Buhari said in response to why he was investing so heavily on ties with Niger.

But many still question Bubu’s alliance with the landlocked country in West Africa, leaving us with the big question; what is it about Bubu’s passion for his northern neighbour, the Niger Republic? Is it economic and commercial logic, altruism, or just family and ethnic ties?

In 2015, when Buhari was sworn in as Nigeria’s elected president, reports have it that he went to Mamadou Issoufou’s presidential palace in Niamey, Niger Republic, to celebrate. The reception was like a “conquering Fulani warlord” as the great writer Ochereome Nnanna rightly put it.

Then one begins to wonder why a Nigerian president who is from Daura, his supposed hometown in Katsina, Northern Nigeria, chose to celebrate his electoral victory in another man’s land. This is the same president who also flagged off a $1.9 billion rail project connecting Kano in Nigeria to Maradi in Niger Republic in 2019. “I have cousins, family members, etc., in Niger Republic. I shouldn’t just cut them off,” Buhari said when challenged on the project.

However, the Russian-based financial institution, Renaissance Capital (Rencap), described the Kano-Maradi railway project as a wasteful investment.

Charlie Robertson, the chief economist at the emerging markets investment firm, also said the $1.9billion standard gauge rail project designed to link Nigeria with Niger, was unlikely to yield any profit. Yet, the President saw no wrong in embarking on the project.

This unholy romance seems to be a welcome idea for Mr President, who amid the pressing issues in his country (Nigeria) sees giveaways to a self-sufficient neighbouring country as the ultimate solution to addressing the myriad problems on his table. Why is Mr President showing ‘I care’ for another man’s headache while still struggling to fulfill his three-point agenda (Ending insecurity, making the economy better, and fighting corruption) to the millions of Nigerians that elected him into office?

But for Bubu, approving N1, 145,000,000 for the purchase and supply of 10 Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles to Niger Republic is the best he has to offer at this critical time when Nigerians are in dire need of succour from the hardship in the land due to the negligence and inaction of the government who can best be described as “zombies in the corridors of power.”

How can a president’s interest supersede the national interest of over 200 million Nigerians? There is more to this than meets the eyes. Time, they say, shall tell.

– Arogbonlo Israel, a good governance advocate and media strategist, can be contacted via gemid931@gmail.com.

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