The reported death of the leader of the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash yesterday has raised tension and speculations around the world especially concerning the alleged plot by the militant group to back the military junta in Niger Republic.
The Niger junta led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani which toppled President Mohamed Bazoum in July was alleged to be in serious talks with Wagner for military assistance to contain a possible attack by the ECOWAS standby force after the regional bloc threatened to restore Bazoum to power through military intervention.
Unconfirmed reports said that Prigozhin was seen in Niger trying to negotiate with the junta towards counter the threat issued by the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government to use force to restore Bazoum to power if diplomacy fails.
The death of Prigozhin may have changed the equation in the country, further deepening the crisis in Niger, but experts are looking at the issue with a deep sense of caution due to Russia’s alleged deft moves in complicating issues of this nature.
Prigozhin was reported to be on the list of passengers on the aircraft that crashed in the Tver Region, Russian authorities said.
The Russian Emergencies Ministry has said that private aircraft “came down” near the village of Kuzhenkino – and all in it were killed.
The ministry said the jet was flying from Moscow to St Petersburg, and that 10 people, including three crew members, were on board. Eight bodies have been found at the crash site, according to Russian news agency. It’s not been confirmed if Prigozhin was amongst those.
Prigozhin has been keeping a low public profile since heading his short-lived mutiny in June, which lasted only 24 hours.
He last appeared in a video earlier this week which was said to have been filmed in an unspecified location in Africa.
The Wagner mercenary group was founded in 2014 and was highly active in the Ukraine war until the June mutiny.
Speaking to our correspondent yesterday on this development, Professor Femi Badejo of the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Chrisland University Abeokuta , said the reported death of Prigozhin will not alter the situation if indeed the mercenary group had an interest to protect the regime in Niger.
He said, “Wagner is a structured group; it is not a one-man show. If he is dead a new leader will arise. So, let us not personalise the group.”
The academic also castigated the idea of the threat of the use of force by ECOWAS to restore democratic order in the beleaguered West African country, stressing that there is nothing like a standby force within the context of the regional bloc.
Onunaiju, who is also the director of the Centre for China Studies, an Abuja-based intellectual think tank, added that Russia’s strategic interest in Africa and especially in Niger will remain the same as Russia has found new grounds to express more antagonism towards other Western powers, especially seeing an opportunity to thwart the ambitions of NATO members in the region.
Also speaking to our correspondent, international affairs expert, Majeed Dahiru said, “I don’t think his death will change anything especially Russia ‘s interest. If Wagner is useful to Russia’s strategic interest, then Prigozhin’s death will not dissuade Russia from its territorial ambitions in Africa, which is to counter the moves of the Western powers. ”
UK Defence Minister Backs ECOWAS
The United Kingdom Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey MP, has given his country’s full support to the Economic Community West African States (ECOWAS) efforts to restore democratic order in Niger Republic following the July 26 military coup that toppled the democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum.
Heappey arrived in Nigeria this week to meet top Nigerian defence leaders and military chiefs, to deepen defence cooperation between both countries and discuss the situation in Niger, a statement issued on Wednesday by the UK mission in Nigeria said.
During his visit, Minister Heappey met senior leaders on Wednesday within the Nigerian Ministry of Defence, as well as the Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Army Staff.
He also met with the President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, where he reiterated the UK’s support for ECOWAS’ ongoing diplomatic efforts to ensure a peaceful return to democracy in Niger.
Heappey said: “I’m delighted to return to Nigeria for the third time in three years. “The UK and Nigerian armed forces have a longstanding partnership through which we continue to tackle violent extremism and other security threats in West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.
“The UK supports ECOWAS in calling for the peaceful restoration of constitutional order and democracy in Niger and we’ll work with both ECOWAS and our partners across West Africa to support them in that aim.”
He added that the UK and Nigeria enjoy a deep and long-standing security and defence relationship, underpinned by a shared desire to support regional and international peace and security.
He noted that the UK’s support to the Nigerian Armed Forces is a focus of the relationship, helping to build Nigerian capabilities to tackle security threats and instability.
“Nigeria is a key partner in promoting regional security and countering violent extremism in West Africa, including the Lake Chad Basin.
“The Nigerian Armed Forces are a leading contributor to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), showing the resolve of its constituent nations to deliver security in the region.
“The UK recognises Nigeria’s diplomatic mediation efforts to peacefully restore democracy in Niger, through its membership of ECOWAS, and condemns in the strongest possible terms the ongoing coup against Niger’s elected-leadership.
“We stand with ECOWAS in condemnation of the illegal detention of President Mohamed Bazoum, his family, and members of the government, as well as the unacceptable conditions under which they are being held, and call for their immediate release,” he said.
Fagge Suggests Diplomatic Solutions
A don, Prof. Kamilu Fagge has urged the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to prioritise diplomatic solutions to resolve current political impasse in Niger Republic.
It would be recalled that Niger, one of the 15 member states of the ECOWAS had been enmeshed in political imbroglio sequel to Coup d’eta.
In a swift reaction, the ECOWAS imposed series of sanctions against the junta and threatened military action if the coup leaders failed to restore the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.
Fagge, a lecturer with the Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano, made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), yesterday in Kano.
He stressed the need for the Commission to embrace dialogue and diplomatic response to the situation.
“The best way is for the leaders to sit down to negotiate through diplomatic response to achieve an amicable political solution.
“In some cases you buttress your diplomacy with a show of force but the most stable way of resolving the crisis is through dialogue.
“This is not the first time we are having similar things, there are a lot of instances when either ECOWAS, African Union (AU) or United Nations promote dialogue and negotiations between the coup leaders and the third force want to negotiate.
“And when you reach that conclusion sometimes it is so stable.
“The irony of it is that, in this case, many of the people who are now calling for war or intervention in Niger, actually if you look at them, they too staged coups in their countries. Some were military leaders who have now ‘civilianise’, some are civilians but they staged civilian coup by distorting the constitution, and by getting themselves into office for so many years.
“We have not exhausted all those options yet, we have to exhaust those options first before opting for war.
“And in any case, war should not be an option,” he said.
According to Fagge, people welcome democratic government because it allows for freedom of expression and it comes about as a result of the concept of the people and also it is the people that decide who would rule them.
“Democracy is important in the eyes of the people. It is a government that engenders development. This is because it is accountable to the people, it promotes development and peace.
“Once you have people there are bound to be differences,” he said.
Fagge warned that the conflict portends serious economic implications for both the country and the region at large, adding the closure of Nigeria’s borders with Niger Republic compounded the problem of hunger and poverty among its citizens.
“Nigeriens get most of their things here and Nigeria is also bearing the brunt of this decision.
“It has been estimated that Nigeria loses not less than N13 billion every week by stopping trade with Niger.
“And there are speculations that Nigeria and Niger trade is a formal trade that accounts for over N170 billion annually.
“While the informal trade between the two countries accounts for over N580 billion annually.
“So, when you put these things together, it range from N900 billion to about N1 trillion that we are going to lose in terms of trade.
“Most of the people to be affected are Nigeriens who are business people transacting all sorts of businesses with Nigeriens.
“This has serious economic implications for both countries and for the region as a whole,” he said.