By Othuke Evroh
The protracted feud between the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and the three junta led states, that is, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger resulting from the military takeover of government in these countries is gradually ebbing to an end following the announcement plan by the military regimes in the mentioned three countries to withdraw from the West African bloc, accusing it of posing a threat to their sovereignty.
Regardless, it is pertinent to state that beyond the optix of poverty, bad governance and existential threat to their sovereignty as reasons expressed by the juntas of these countries for leaving the regional body, I strongly believe as a matter of fact that a lot of power politics underpinned by geopolitics and economic interest between the West, championed by the United States on the one hand and Russia on the other hand are currently playing out. Precisely, it is all about the idea of the Trans-Saharan gas pipeline(NIGAL), that will run from Nigeria, through Niger, Algeria, the mediterranean to Europe. This gas pipeline project undertaken by the European Union has already taken off from Warri in Nigeria and is envisaged to help break the monopolistic and shylock tendencies exhibited by Russia in the sale of gas to Europe and in addition, stabilize gas supply to European nations. A thing that Russia is head bent to thwart.
Now, let me highlight some events that are very significant to these whole spontaneous displays of events. In the first place, it is worthy to reiterate that in September, 2023, the junta governments of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso signed a mutual defence pact aimed at enhancing a combination of military and economic efforts among the three countries, particularly in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region. These countries have also strengthened their military cooperations with Russia. It is also imperative to point out that in December last year, a Russian delegation led by the Deputy Minister of Defence visited Niamey to discuss with the military leaders. It was therefore not a coincidence when the Republic of Niger ended every atom of military cooperation and partnership with the European Union.
The events enunciated above have very grave repercussions not only to Nigeria in its fight against insecurity and insurgency, but also to the larger West Africa continent. The Niger Republic and indeed the West African sub-region should not be turned into a battlefield between Russia and the United States because of their perceived economic interest or ulterior motives.
In the interim, Dr. Bibi Farouk, a Political Scientist and Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Abuja has stated that military pact signed between Niger and Russia will certainly be an issue that Nigeria will consider in its border and war against terrorism.
”This is so because Russia is going to bring the Wargna Group, though they have transformed them into a foreign unit like the French Legion but the Wargner group close to the Nigerian border and Nigeria being a very close ally of the West, in particular, an ally of France under President Ahmed Tinubu and a consistent economic ally of the United States, will actually raise some concerns as regards to the closeness of the Russians presence to Nigeria”.
”The Nigerian government has been a pro-Western Liberal government for quite a long time in spite of the history of systems it has gotten from Russia, Niger, Egypt and other radical governments, pro-Socialist, pro-Soviet governments in the past. It has remained consistent as a pro-Western liberal economic system. So, I want to believe that this is a bit of a concern for the United States and France that they are losing out Niger in particular and Russians will be at the borders and that may be responsible for the claims recently that the United States and France are working towards putting bases in the northern part of Nigeria. Though, this has not been proven yet”, he declared.
Now concerning the gas pipeline project from Nigeria, through Niger, the Mediterranean to Europe, Dr. Bibi Farouk has this to say.
”Certainly it is a threat to Russia. As of now, I think work must have stopped within the Nigerien territories and it is of significant strategic importance to Russia to see that the Nigerian gas pipelines do not serve Europe”.
”This is an old issue actually. As far back as 1980, President Regan called former President Shehu Shagari to inform him that Nigeria and Qatar have about the highest reserves of gas in the world as at then and that he wanted Nigeria to build its gas reserve and make provisions for it to be fetched into Europe so that they could supply Germany, they could supply Italy and some other countries to reduce or to eliminate the dependence of these countries on Russian gas. And I tell you that the memo from that conversation was what started the NLG project under Alhaji Yahaya Diko, the then adviser on Oil and Economic Affairs and that was how NLG started and the first trench was finished with the help of the Italians and the agreements have always been that most of the gas would be shipped to Italy. But of course, shipping is a heavy cost and so the idea of piping through Niger to Europe is a cheaper and more feasible possibility and idea. The project has gone far, it is now I think somewhere in the middle of Niger Republic and this makes Niger very strategic and the mismanagement of the relationship with Niger will certainly affect the viability of this project”.
Although the idea of the Trans-Saharan pipeline was first proposed in the 1970s/early 80s, the revival of the project took momentum against the backdrop of pressure from the European Union on African countries involved to ramp up production, following the supply altercations triggered by the Russia-Ukraine war and the attendant trade disputes on gas supply from Russia to Europe.
As such, in July, 2022, Algeria’s Energy Minister, Mohamed Arkab, announced that Algeria, Nigeria and Niger have signed a MOU to build a natural gas pipeline across the Sahara Desert. Arkab further stated that, ”the three countries had agreed in June to revive decades-old talks over the project, a potential opportunity for Europe to diversify its gas sources”.
The Trans-Saharan gas pipeline is an estimated $13 billion project that could send up to 30 billion cubic metres of gas supplies to Europe annually. The pipeline is expected to span around 4,000 kilometres and will source natural gas from Nigeria, Niger, Algeria to Europe.
While the completion of this project remains very significant to many Western countries and Europe at large, the unalloyed truth is that if this project sees the light of day, then Russia’s decades of monopolistic control over the global market of gas supplies, particularly to Europe would have come to an abrupt end. In Fact the repercussions to Russia are better imagined.
The question now before us is whether Russia would watch, stand akinbo and allow this project to happen unhindered?
Suffice it to state that centuries after, West Africa and indeed the African continent is yet to come to terms with the devastating socio-political and economic quandary fashioned on Africans as a result of the Berlin Conference also know as the Congo or West Africa Conference of 1884-1885, where Africa’s abundant natural but yet critical minerals and human resources made Africa a priceless resource for the European economies.
The Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) and the African Union(AU), should not just bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich and allow Russia, the United States and of course Europe turn the West African subregion into another battlefield because of their insatiable selfish economic interests.
The President of Nigeria and Chairman of ECOWAS, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his AU counterpart should take this as a moral burden not to allow a replay of the scramble for Africa.