The defiant, someone said stubborn attitude of Niger’s President Mamadou Tanja gives the notion of “you’ve not seen anything yet”.
His attitude is seen as an unsuccessful attempt to thwart the democratic process but the resistance is there. Signals by some African political leaders are sometimes disturbing as they are apt to cling on to power as if their lives depend on a support machine.
Even though there is both a local and national clamour for Tanja to go when his second presidential terms ends in December, he is determined that the people of Niger must give him a third try, come what may, to finish what he perceives as an unfinished political business.
“He keeps digging in his heels, burrowing his neck like an ostrich in a desert sand,” diplomats of the often-slow to react African Union said in Ethopia.
According to President Tanja, a further five years are needed to undertake the “undisclosed assignment” which he believes “will benefit the people”.
The catch however is what took him so long that he could not have made impressive gains after nearly 10 years in power virtually unchallenged. His free wheeling days are almost over and chances of moving into a third term are remote.
The country’s constitution bars such an attempt and even the powerful constitutional court on which Tanja had pinned hopes and brides some officials resoundly rejected the plan to hold a referendum for the constitution to be amended.
ECOWAS, the sub regional body recommended a national dialogue on the issue, a suggestion which had left western diplomats baffled as to what it all means.
All these moves have not brought solution to the political issue any nearer and in the process, Tanja is left holding an empty plate. Observers wonder what background has pushed Tanja to the edge of the cliff with the danger of falling over and resisting all overtures to coax him away from plunging the desert state into confusion.
Niger regarded as one of the world’s disadvantaged state, still has little to show for its years of independence from France. Its infrastructure remains near zero. The health status of its citizens remains a concern to health-related agencies around the world buttressed by a recent Health Development Index Report which disclosed that three out of every five Niger nationals are prone to attack from malaria, yellow fever and TB, three months in every year
Besides, the country is barely emerging from a worse case of a meningitis outbreak, putting more than half of the population at risk. A story is retold of the Niger delegate who attended a UN Food and Agriculture Organization meeting in Rome on food crisis and during a corridor chat, a delegate from a South American state jokingly said to the Niger, “how come you are so thin? By the look of things, there must be famine in your country.”
Obviously embarrassed, the Niger delegate, sizing up the fattish, stomach-extended South American delegate, resorted, “by the way you look, you and your country must be responsible for this as you are gulping up even the crumbs.”
Though laughable, it is apparent that these are some of the urgencies that Tanja has not addressed during his nearly 10 years of leadership. He could have done well to concentrate on Niger’s multifarious internal problems, his critics say and many non-political international commentators agree.
For a country battered by political distrusts, Tanja would have led the way by lifting the pastoral population from its current drift. The country remains fondly known for its migrant crossroad where people and cattle compete on going abroad-people for chasing the proverbial golden fleece- and cattle for greener pastures.
Tanja need not be told that his effort to wrestle the arms of the democratic process will bare no fruit but would leave him isolated and scorned. He should re-connect to the process of what Niger nationals want rather than pursue a cause which is doomed to snap even before the fringes are outlined.
10 years of near fruitless rule, mismanagement of the economy including the dodgy use of the country’s finances cannot be overturned in a further five years of “reprieve” and Tanja should realise that people everywhere are out for change.
Greed is universal, it is said, and so are many other things but in Niger’s case, it seemed to have shot up to a restless proportion that leaves everyone upset. The sub-region is not aching for insecurity, not of the calamity envisaged by an outburst from the crisis in Niger.
ECOWAS should now be on the point of reading the not act to Tanja to back up the internal opposition to his political excursion.
The consequences of Tanja misjudging the political barometer should be spelt out to him and a robust diplomatic offensive be put in motion to halt his misadventure- and nip it in the bud.
Otherwise, if badly handled, it will become a precedent for other leaders to follow, the notion being that they can crash their way to State House even when their constitutional 10years have lapsed and like Oliver Twist, keep yearning for “please Sir, I want some more”.
The forces of democracy should be rolled into play so strong that Tanja should realize that after December, it’s the last supper and wouldn’t be given time to ask-what’s the menu?
By Rod Mac-Johnson