Alarm bells are ringing about the fate of Nigerians resident in Niger Republic in the face of an imminent attack by the ECOWAS regional military force.
Detailed weekend reports have shown conclusive proof that the outbreak of hostilities in the bid to resolve the impasse in Niger will affect the lives of millions of Nigerians living there.
According to reports, Nigerians in Niger are begging the Federal Government for evacuation over the impending attack that may instigate hostilities by their hosts.
Curiously, relevant government agencies, such as the National Emergency Management Agency and Nigerians In Diaspora Commission, NIDCOM, show no sign of preparedness.
A stitch in time saves lives, to borrow the time-worn cliché, particularly against the backdrop of similar experiences by Nigerian citizens in war-torn Ukraine and Sudan.
We recall that Nigerians and black people in general faced subjugation and humiliation in both countries before the Federal Government and the aforementioned agencies woke up to their responsibilities.
While logistic challenges may have played a role in delaying action during that dark page in humanitarian management, the same cannot be held for the scenario playing out in Niger.
Indeed, the situation in neighbouring Niger is degenerating so fast that the government, in all honesty, cannot say Nigerians will not become victims of xenophobic attacks in that country soon.
For rallying his co-heads of states to action as Chairman of the regional body, President Bola Tinubu has been a subject of intense ridicule in Niamey, the Nigerien capital. The Abdourahamane Tchiane-led junta shunned Nigerian mediators led by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and the Sultan of Sokoto, HRM Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar 11, but met with the unofficial delegation led by former Emir of Kano, HRH Muhammad Sanusi 11, and his Damagun counterpart. Nigeria is among the five countries of France, Togo and the United States of America, whose ambassadorial duties were terminated by the junta.
These threatening actions are in reaction to the perceived Nigeria inspired sanctions that have been imposed by ECOWAS.
Thus, there is a deadlock which may sink into uncertainty if the parties, interests and allies involved in the festering Nigerien crisis fail to pursue negotiations to their logical conclusion and the inclination to war is avoided by all means.
While we support the diplomatic resolution of the Nigerien impasse as planned by ECOWAS leaders in their last Thursday extraordinary summit, we appeal for restraint in the plan for invasion as implied in their directive to the regional military chiefs to be on standby. The humanitarian disaster that is likely to ensue and the proxy wars that involvement of Western powers would instigate is capable of turning West Africa into a prolonged war zone.
For Nigeria, which shares porous borders with Niger, cultural and ethnic affinity, the reactions of the junta to some of the actions taken by ECOWAS are telling signs of danger posed to her citizens living there.
That they are alerting the government to this danger to their lives should be taken seriously. Embarking on full evacuation in answer to their cry for help may send the wrong signal of the possibility of outbreak of war and therefore heightened tension, doubt. But failure to respond to the distress call of those who feel sufficiently threatened and therefore need help is unjustifiable.
We therefore call on the authorities to find a way around the problem and answer the distress calls of Nigerians feeling trapped in Niger. The discomfort is coming from different Nigerien towns inhabited by Nigerians, which means the anxiety is unequally felt.
Those who indicate readiness to leave Niger should be helped to do so. Waiting to take action until chaos takes place must not and can never be a way to act in volatile circumstances. It does not show sufficient regard for and value placed on human life.