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Nigerian coalition warns against possible defense pacts with US, France

FILE - The last French soldiers board a French military plane to leave Niger for good, at the French base which was handed over to the Nigerien army, in Niamey, Niger, on Dec. 22, 2023.
FILE - The last French soldiers board a French military plane to leave Niger for good, at the French base which was handed over to the Nigerien army, in Niamey, Niger, on Dec. 22, 2023.

The warning notice, signed by five civil society groups and a former chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, came in an open letter Friday to Nigeria’s president and the National Assembly

The coalition, without providing evidence, accused the United States and France of lobbying authorities in the Gulf of Guinea countries, especially Nigeria, to redeploy troops expelled from the Sahel states.

It said the alleged move could have “wide ranging implications for defense and internal security" and that hosting a military base in Nigeria could potentially divert state funds and resources away from important local projects like education, health care and infrastructure development.

Kabiru Adamu, founder of Beacon Security and Intelligence Limited, said the letter has a political undertone.

"It looked like it was just based on the desire to create a political outcome," Adamu said. "There's no fact supporting the allegation that either the U.S. or France has approached Nigeria for the establishment of a base anywhere in Nigeria, even though that is likely to happen. Of course, because we've seen the influence of both countries reducing in the Sahel region, Nigeria will offer a likely fallback option for both countries, especially the U.S."

The coalition also said the alleged plan to set up a U.S. military base in northern Nigeria could aggravate regional tensions with neighbors, cause a notable environmental impact and worsen the high cost of living for the local population.

Nigerian authorities have yet to respond to the letter.

Political affairs analyst, Ahmed Buhari, said authorities must heed the caution.

"It's what I call interfering in people's spaces. As it is right now, we need our neighbors more than we need any foreigner whatsoever from any part of the world," Buhari said. "I rather we live side by side with our neighbors more peacefully and with trust than for us to be frolicking at this moment with the United States or France for that matter. All the places you will find the United States military base — you can do your findings — there's no peace around the region."

The U.S and French militaries have been operating in Africa’s Sahel for many years, helping the region in its fight against terrorism.

But a wave of coups in recent years has strained that relationship, with military juntas accusing foreign powers of being overbearing without significant progress against jihadist militants.

Some juntas have instead turned toward Russia for help fighting the armed groups.

Adamu cautions the letter might be an example of Russian propaganda.

"There's also the possibility that we're seeing the propaganda mercenaries by Russia and Niger playing out in this regard," Adamu said. "We know that since the coup in Niger, the putschists and Russia have been engaged in massive propaganda and they have used the prominent individuals from the Nigerien and Northern Nigeria extraction to achieve political objectives."

Despite counterterrorism interventions in Africa, a 2023 Global Terrorism Index report shows deaths from terrorism in the Sahel increased by an alarming 2,000% over the last 15 years.

Burkina Faso ranked first among countries most impacted by terrorism, Mali was third, Nigeria eighth and Niger was 10th.

Last month, African leaders met in Nigeria and pledged to collaborate against terrorism. But experts say with troops leaving the region, armed groups could intensify attacks on targets.