Some Nigerians resident in Niger Republic have raised the alarm, calling on the Federal Government to begin their evacuation before any possible offensive against the coup plotters by the Economic Community of West Africa States’.
The Nigerians, told PUNCH that the appeal became necessary so as to avoid being caught up in the line of fire and to avoid a repeat of what happened in Sudan where many Nigerian students were trapped when fighting broke out between the government forces and rebels.
They are also afraid that they could be attacked based on the role the Nigerian government is playing with regard to the matter.
Recall that after a meeting of the ECOWAS Heads of States and Government in Abuja, the President of ECOWAS, Omar Touray, its “standby force” has been directed to immediately restore democracy in Niger.
Reading the resolutions of the ECOWAS on the military junta in Niger at the end of the commission’s extraordinary summit, Touray also called on the African Union, partner countries and institutions to support the body’s decision.
The body said all efforts made to hold dialogues with the military junta had been defiantly rejected by the coup leaders and it cannot continue to watch Bazoum and his family members being detained.
Some of the Nigerians resident in Niger said the Nigeriens sympathetic to the junta had started reprimanding them for President Bola Tinubu’s support for ECOWAS directive that its forces be on standby to invade the country, rout the coup plotters and re-enthrone Bazoum.
Maina Bukar, who fled to Damasak, Borno State, shortly before the closure of the borders, told Saturday PUNCH on the telephone, “They (Nigeriens) are also angry with us (Nigerians) for closing the borders because a large quantum of household provisions the citizens use flow there from Nigeria.
“A very close friend of mine at Diffa, who is deeply sympathetic to the coup plotters, was already keeping me at arm’s length. Nigerian communities there, especially refugees of the Boko Haram insurgency, are in palpable fear of possible hostilities from their hosts should ECOWAS unleash its forces against their country.”
Another Nigerian, Musa Ali, who also crossed the border to Damasak, Borno State, and whose many relatives are still refugees in Niger, said, “Our hosts, especially those sympathetic to the junta, have now begun to display hostility toward us.
“They are angry with Nigerians because of our country’s stance on war with their country as they see what is happening in Niger as purely an internal affair.
“Now, our relations there are in danger should the hostilities continue, and they dare not return home partly because the borders between the two countries have been closed and also because insurgents are still in control of our ancestral communities and still unleashing terror.
“Our relations now daily complain to us that life is becoming unbearable in Niger Republic and are appealing to the Federal Government to arrange their evacuation back to Nigeria before ECOWAS troops will move in.”
Some others told one of our correspondents on the telephone that the position of ECOWAS was already heightening tension among Nigerians resident in Niger Republic.
Mr Muhammed Afolabi, an artisan who has been working in Niger for over 10 years, appealed to the leadership of ECOWAS to put the interest of the masses at heart before thinking of going to war with the junta.
He said the decision to put troops on standby was already having effects on his work as most of his customers had started deserting him.
Afolabi stated, “The government should consider us in this issue; they should think of what will happen if these people take revenge on us and our businesses.
“We have been having a cordial relationship with them here but with this now, who knows what will happen to us and our businesses? All we want is for ECOWAS to take things easy. If it becomes inevitable that ECOWAS troops must confront the junta, the Nigerian government must make arrangements to safely evacuate us from Niger.”
Also speaking, Mr Yahaya Abdullahi, a lecturer in one of the universities in Niger Republic, said Nigerian students studying in the country should be put into consideration by ECOWAS.
He said the involvement of the military by ECOWAS would have a negative impact on the lives and studies of Nigerians studying in the country who might suffer discrimination.
Abdullahi, however, appealed to the Federal Government and ECOWAS to evaluate the situation before resorting to force in resolving the crisis.
Mallam Bala Kulu, who sells soft drinks in Tawa, one of the states in Niger Republic, said life has not been the same since the Nigerian government cut off power supply to Niger.
He stated, “We can hardly get ice blocks to sell our products now and to enter Nigeria to get the drinks is not easy also as the border is shut.
“We can only take illegal routes through the bush and pay through our nose as all the security agents, as well as area boys, will demand something.
“Everything here is going on the high side and it’s very important for our leaders to consider that the masses will suffer if urgent steps are not taken to avert war with the Niger Republic.”
Hajia Fatima Gafar, an indigene of Kwara State, who resides in Niger Republic, appealed to ECOWAS to ensure that the current crisis did not degenerate into a war.
She said, “Yes, our lives are no longer safe here as most people here in Niger Republic see this problem as between Nigeria and their country.
“Our leaders should be very careful in their decision and not put our lives in danger for whatever reason.
“Already, we are suffering hunger and others, and we don’t want this to escalate in any way; so ECOWAS should address it in a reasonable way.”
Alhaji Hassan Maiturari, a resident of Kwani, the border town between Nigeria and Niger Republic, said the ongoing crisis should be dealt with urgently to avoid the situation being hijacked by bandits.
Maiturari told Saturday PUNCH, “This issue needs to be handled carefully so as not to get to a level where we won’t be able to control it.
“We all know that Nigeria and Niger Republic have a lot of ungoverned forests and if care is not taken, bandits and Boko Haram insurgents will take advantage to attack our people both in Niger and Nigeria.
“Our leaders should learn about the recent happenings in Libya, where the death of their former leader became an avenue for illegal arms to fall in the hands of non-state actors in Africa.”
Another resident of Tawa, Abdullahi Umar, said the Nigerien Army was actually not scared of Nigeria and ECOWAS troops.
He said, “There is not much tension here at all as everyone is moving on without any fear.
“I can tell you that the Army here does not fear the ECOWAS and Nigerian forces as they are boasting of crushing them if they make any attempt to attack them.”
He added that most Nigeriens had been appealing to Russia to come to their aid in case ECOWAS makes any attempt to enter Niamey.
Umar also said most residents of Tawa now see President Tinubu as an enemy of their country whom they abuse anytime they like.
An indigene of the Zurmi Local Government Area of Zamfara State, Ibrahim Samaila, who currently resides in Maradi, Niger Republic, told Saturday PUNCH that he was living peacefully with the people of that country, but stated that he was entertaining fear that Nigerians could be attacked if something terrible happened to Niger Republic as a result of the ECOWAS actions.
He also explained that as a result of the sanctions by ECOWAS, scarcity of food items and other essential commodities had hit the country.
Samaila stated, “We are living peacefully here in Maradi town but our major problem is that food items are very scarce and costly.
“But we fear that if the worst should happen to Niger Republic because of ECOWAS’ move to reinstate the ousted President, Mohammed Bazoum, our security may not be guaranteed.”
Another Nigerian, Masud Shehu, who resides in Niamey, the capital city of Niger Republic, said since the beginning of the crisis, many Nigerians were not comfortable.
He called on the Federal Government to come to their aid before the situation would go out of control.
“I am finding it difficult to get something to eat since ECOWAS enforced sanctions against Niger Republic,” Shehu stated, adding, “I really like to go back to Nigeria but there is no way as the borders remain closed.”
“I want to use this medium to appeal to Nigeria to please do something urgent and take us back home,” he added.