By Abdulrazaq Hamzat
The wave of military coups in West Africa that had previously swept over Mali and Burkina Faso finally reached Niger Republic about 2 weeks ago, when soldiers in the presidential guard removed the democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum to take over leadership of the country.
Unlike in the past, when Economic Community of West States (ECOWAS) simply issue statements and institute few ineffective sanctions, the regional body under the leadership of Nigeria’s new leader, President Ahmed Bola Tinubu threatened to restore constitutional order through whatever means possible, including force and it went ahead to give the military junta 7 days ultimatum to restore constitutional order.
The ultimatum expired last week and ECOWAS standby force are on alert, awaiting ECOWAS order of enforcement.
While some of us have continually argued against any kind of military intervention in Niger Republic, those who think military enforcement is the best option are not without any reason, but their point of view is more from economic perspective, rather than security or regional stability.
When Russia and Ukraine war broke out, many things changed in the economic structure of the world.
Russia is the highest supplier of gas to Europe, but the war in Ukraine has caused what seems like an irreversible breakage, leading to cutting down dependence on Russia for energy supply.
Nigeria, being one of the countries with enormous gas reserve, should naturally seek to take over Russia’s space in Europe by becoming a major supplier of gas, but the country didn’t have the infrastructure to move gas to Europe.
For many decades, Nigeria has aspired to this opportunity, but there was no sufficient will and resources to actualize the mission.
So, despite the huge opportunity the Russia-Ukraine war provided to Nigeria to catch a huge market for its gas, the couldn’t utilize the opportunity.
Europe therefore had no option than continue to tactically deal with Russia, while they work with others to develop an alternative.
Although, the procrastination that characterised Nigeria’s attitude towards the Trans-Saharan project is inextricably linked to the price of gas.
Until 2019, the price of a cubic metre of gas was “barely $4” on the spot markets, which made it an “uninteresting” and “unprofitable” business.
The war in Ukraine has changed all that. With the countries of Europe looking for gas suppliers outside of Russia, the TSGP has started to look attractive and “profitable”.
The project is highly profitable, not least because demand is high. Gas is tomorrow’s energy, the energy of the transition, with a ready market driven by geopolitical change and it is projected that the price of gas will not go below $20 in the nearest future.
Nigeria’s ambitious move
As a result of the new development in Europe, Nigeria saw the need to invest in this project and in June 2022, it went into an agreement with Algeria to fast track the trans Sahara gas pipeline to connect to existing global gas network.
The project was first initiated 40 years ago, but in 2002, an agreement was signed to initiate the project, but it couldn’t take off. In 2009, a further discussion was held but the commitment wasn’t coming still, until 2022, when Nigeria saw the need to make it a top priority.
The pipeline will start in the Warri region in Nigeria and run north through Niger to Hassi R’Mel in Algeria.
In Hassi, Algeria, the pipeline will connect to the existing Trans-Mediterranean, Maghreb–Europe, Medgaz and Galsi pipelines.
The pipeline is to be built and operated by the partnership between the NNPC and Sonatrach. The company would include also the Republic of Niger.
Initially, NNPC and Sonatrach would hold a total 90% of shares, while Niger would hold 10%.
Russian gas company Gazprom has negotiated with Nigeria about its possible participation in the project.
Also, Indian company GAIL, France’s Total S.A, Italy’s Eni SpA and Royal Dutch Shell have expressed interest in participating in the project.
However, according to the Algerian energy minister, Chakib Khelil “only partners that can bring something to the project, not just money, should be there.”
Energy ministers of Algeria and Nigeria have said that “if things go well, there will be no need to bring international oil companies into the project” and “if the need for partnership in the project arises, not every partner will be welcome on board on the project.
This is a diplomatic way of excusing many interested parties. Nigeria and Algeria wants to take full ownership of this $13billion worth of project, which would cut Russia’s main source of revenue in Europe.
Russia saw this as a major issue for its business and it may not be unconnected to the situation in Niger Republic.
This was further compounded with the bombing of Russia’s owned Nord stream 1 and 2 pipelines allegedly bombed by United States in September 2022, shortly after Nigeria made financial commitment to the trans Sahara pipeline.
Nigeria also understood this issue and so is US, European Union, including France.
The coup in Niger, which had Russia’s influence, naturally put Nigeria at the mercy of Russia on this project and many others.
If the coup plotters are not removed in Niger Republic, Russia will not only slow down the project, they may outrightly kill the project, or force themselves into the deal, all of which doesn’t favor Nigeria.
This is why the issue in Niger Republic is not just about democracy, it is more of an economic warfare for all the parties, except Niger Republic itself. Even Nigeria and ECOWAS are only pawn in the chess board of global players.
Niger Republic has a total GDP of just $16billion and the value of this pipeline alone is $13billion and once the pipeline is completed, it could transport up to 30 billion cubic meters (1 trillion cubic feet) of gas annually to Europe.
Nigeria has a proven gas reserve of about 206.53 trillion cubic feet, worth over $803.4 trillion.
In 2019, former US president, Donald Trump had said that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will turn Europe into Russia’s hostage and after the war in Ukraine broke out, the sabotage of Nord Stream pipeline was to allegedly force Europe out of Russia’s dependence. Ofcourse, this was difficult for Europe, because immediately the news of the sabotage broke out, energy prices grew by 12%, but it was believed that the action was a necessary evil to free Europe from Russia’s grip.
The ECOWAS connection
Apart from the trans Sahara gas pipeline with Algeria, Nigeria is also constructing another pipeline to Morocco worth between $25billion-$30billion.
The pipeline would be an extension of the existing West African Gas Pipeline, which runs from Lagos, Nigeria, connecting to Cotonou, Benin; Lomé, Togo; and Tema and Takoradi, Ghana.
The Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline would additionally connect to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire; Monrovia, Liberia; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Conakry, Guinea; Bissau, Guinea-Bissau; Banjul, Gambia; Dakar, Senegal; Nouakchott, Mauritania and Tangiers, Morocco with possible extension to Europe through Cádiz, Spain and it is expected to deliver about four billion cubic feet of gas daily when fully operational.
Some analysts believed that, Russia influenced military coups in West Africa is a strategic way to slow down the ambitious move of Nigeria and disrupt Europe’s ability to find alternative energy source.
In 2021, Russia was the largest exporter of oil and natural gas to the European Union, (90%) and 40% of gas consumed in the EU came from Russia.
In terms of revenue, gas and oil sales accounted for 45% of the Russian federal budget. High hydrocarbon prices generated a trade balance surplus of $122 billion in 2021, and $227 billion in 2022.
$227 billion annual revenue from Europe in 2022 is about 45% of Nigeria’s GDP and the new development gives Nigeria an opportunity to attract huge revenue from gas at the detriment of Russia. And this revenue doesn’t just go to Nigeria, it benefits many other countries within the subregion.
This further explains why the numerous coups in West Africa has been suspicious, but the one in Niger Republic seems to have broken the shell.
While some have argued that Nigeria leading invasion of Niger Republic through ECOWAS amounts to acting as a puppet to the west.
Others have equally argued that Russia’s inspired coups are acting as puppet to the east, neither of which could be said to be in Africa’s interest.
However, there’s a significant concensus in ECOWAS that both western and eastern neo colonialism should not be tolerated on the continent.
This argument is premised on the fact that, there’s no difference between military coup and colonialism.
It is argued that, while military coup is forceful take over of a country’s leadership by military men with gun, colonialism on the other hand is the forceful take over of a country’s leadership by military men with gun also.
The only difference is that, coup plotters are local invaders, while colonialist are foreign Invaders and the invasion of any country, either by local or foreign interest, without the will of the people must be forcefully ejected.
I am therefore of the view that, Africa should not be fighting itself as pawn in the chess board of global players, it should sit on a roundtable to discuss as brothers and take maximum advantage of the situation to its collective interest.
Abdulrazaq Hamzat is an Executive Director at the Foundation for Peace Professionals also known as PeacePro. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org