Buhari’s unholy romance with Niger Republic

Ochereome Nnanna

President Muhammadu Buhari’s romance with Niger Republic has become an affront to the national interest of Nigeria. When he was sworn-in as an elected president in 2015 he went to Mamadou Issoufou’s presidential palace in Niamey, Niger Republic, to celebrate. They gave him the reception of a conquering Fulani warlord: a white horse and sword.

I found that curious. How can a Nigerian leader celebrate his electoral victory in a foreign country and not Daura, his supposed hometown in Nigeria? The answer has since been provided through Buhari’s policy actions in the past five plus years. We have since learnt that Buhari is a first-generation Nigerian whose father, Ardo Adamu Buhari, a duck seller, had migrated from Niger, settled in Nigeria and married a Nigerian woman, Zulaihat.

The borders defined by the European colonial masters mean nothing to typical Northerners. When you hear that Nigerian borders are porous, what it really means is that there is no intention in the minds of Northern Nigerians and their elite to create an effective barrier between them and their kith and kin in the neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Northern Cameroun. Meanwhile, the Southern borders are strictly monitored (within the limits permitted by the selfish interests of corrupt Customs and Immigration officials).

When Buhari’s government in August 2019, “closed the borders” it was the Southern borders that were actually closed. Fatuhu Mohammed, a nephew of President Buhari’s, who represents Daura/Mai’adua/Sandamu Federal Constituency in the House of Reps alerted during a plenary session that smuggling was still freely thriving at the Daura border, 13 kilometres from Buhari’s country residence.

It is no secret that Niger Republic nationals are regularly smuggled in to vote in Nigerian elections. It was in this dispensation that the political leaders of that country threw caution to the wind and attended Buhari’s rallies in Kano with large contingents led by governors of Maradi and Zinder provinces! If you thought these were inconsequential and harmless cultural exchanges, Buhari has proved you wrong. He has taken several concrete policy steps that showed his engagement with Niger is longer a joke. Early in 2018, the Federal Ministry of Transportation revealed plans by the president to build a railway line from Kano through Daura and Jibia to Maradi in Niger Republic.

I wrote an article condemning the project, but of course, they pressed ahead with it. The Federal Executive Council in September this year, announced an award of $1.9bn contract for the project. The money is part of the numerous loans Buhari’s government has been freeloading from China. Also in June this year, the Federal Government announced the award of contract for the construction of 614-km gas pipeline from Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano with eventual termination in Morocco through Niger Republic worth $2.8bn.

The latest story in town is that on November 20, Nigeria signed an MOU to import petroleum products from Niger. The shipments will be coming from Soraz Refinery in Niger’s Zinder oilfields. The refinery, which is jointly owned by China (60 per cent) and Niger (40 per cent) has a daily output capacity of 20,000 barrels. Niger’s domestic consumption requires only 5,000 barrels per day. The surplus 15,000bpd will be taken up by Nigeria to service our adjoining Northern fringes.

Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong about buying refined products from neighbouring countries if our countrymen in the Northern fringes will find that cheaper and more easily available. However, there is a shameful, or is it personal impunity factor at play here. Buhari who as Petroleum Minister in the late 1970s oversaw the construction of the second (150,000bpd capacity) Port Harcourt Refinery, Warri and Kaduna Refineries; has been his own self-appointed Petroleum Minister since 2015.

He had promised to fix our refineries during the campaigns. When he took up the Petroleum portfolio, his supporters said he was bringing his “wealth of experience” to reform the sector. Almost six years down the line, the industry remains comatose. Even the reforms proposed by the PriceWaterhouse and Coopers, PWC, audit exercise in 2014 has been altogether abandoned. Meanwhile, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, continues to import fuel while Nigerians are forced to swallow the bitter pill of the full deregulation of the downstream sector.

The first question is: What exactly has Buhari achieved with his position as oil minister? The first audit report of the NNPC in 43 years revealed that the Kaduna Refinery gulped N63.4bn without generating a kobo in 2018. Also in September 2020, another NNPC report disclosed that three refineries reportedly swallowed N140bn to produce less than 40 metric tonnes of crude oil. There is no clear picture about anything being done to bring back our refineries. Rather, we await for Dangote and other private refineries.

What “magic” is Niger employing to refine petroleum that Nigeria’s President and Oil Minister, Buhari, cannot deploy in Nigeria? Why aren’t Nigerians complaining about Buhari’s incompetence as Oil Minister and the use of Nigeria’s largely borrowed funds to develop his father’s country when our own infrastructural deficits are among the world’s worst? The $1.9bn railway line to Maradi was never taken to the National Assembly for approval; it was an act of naked impunity. It is an impeachable offence, but who will bell the cat?

Buhari is using our scarce, borrowed resources to service his cross-border selfish interests with resources mined mainly from the Niger Delta and the Lagos business districts. He is going beyond developing Northern Nigeria; he is working for Niger Republic too. Is this regime all about Buhari’s interests? And why are Nigerians who will repay the loans letting him get away with these?

These are issues that should concern Southern political leaders, elected representatives and statesmen. Rather, they struggle to be selected as leg men to serve the interests of a foreign country. It is a shame and a pity.