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Monday 22 January 2018
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Nigeria: Taming the Francophone fires

Why a stitch in time must save nine

By Richard Mammah

 

During the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, a notorious car robber from the Francophone Benin Republic strayed into Ogun State, Nigeria and among other things, carted away a jeep belonging to the then President, who was at that time, away in the nation’s Federal Capital, on presidential duties.

Upon being informed of this breach, an enraged Obasanjo had simply ordered the closure of the nation’s borders with Benin Republic.

When then president Yaya Boni was informed of the closure, and in appreciation of the heavy dependence of the Benin economy on its land borders with Nigeria, he raced down to Abuja to consult with Obasanjo. The Nigerian leader’s demand was to the point: ‘Bring back my car, along with the thief and the borders would be re-opened.’

Boni returned to his country, launched a man-hunt for the thief and in record time, both car and thief were reportedly surrendered. The borders were re-opened.

Today, as we write, two of Nigeria’s Francophone neighbours are facing restive moments. In Togo, a five-month clamour for an end to 50 years of military and civilian dictatorship by the Gnassingbe family is showing no signs of abating, while in Cameroon, the lopsided Francophone-Anglophone disparities that followed the UN-conducted reunification plebiscite of 1961 has presently escalated unto the declaration of a breakaway republic and the opening of shooting hostilities between secessionists and the Cameroonian security forces.

In all of these, it just makes sense that Nigeria should be more frontal and robust in ensuring that these tensions are brought to the negotiating table and justiceably addressed in the interest of the peoples of the region and indeed, the broader pan-African community.

This is because, apart from the obviously immediate challenges of cross-border refugee flow, there are the other possibilities of these heightening tensions spilling over in even more nefarious dimensions into our already very challenged national space.

If the truth is to be told, these are no more the days of the old OAU and the doctrine of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Without being bullying, Nigeria has to rise to the challenge of the moment and help to put out these fires. This in our view are fundamental elements of what responsible continental leadership and good neighbourliness entail. And besides, it is cheaper to wade in at this moment when the situations are far more manageable than to be compelled subsequently to send in large contingents of peace-keepers should the present flames not be peacefully put out now.

 

Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama

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