The Federal Government last week confirmed that President Muhammadu Buhari approved a donation of vehicles worth N1.4 billion to neighbouring Niger Republic. Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, minister of finance, budget and national planning told journalists after a weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting that the donation was to help the Niger government address its security concerns. She said such donations from Nigeria to its neighbours were common.
The minister made it clear that it was the president’s prerogative to take such decisions after “a careful assessment” of the circumstances that called for them. “Let me just say that over time, Nigeria has had to support its neighbours, especially the immediate neighbours, to enhance their capacity to secure their countries as it relates to us,” she said.
“This is not the first time that Nigeria has assisted Niger Republic, Cameroon or Chad. The president makes an assessment as to what is required based on the requests of their presidents. Such requests are approved and interventions are provided. It is to enhance their capacity to protect their countries as it relates to security and also to Nigeria.”
However, the minister said she understood the concerns of Nigerians about the matter since it became public. “Nigerians have the right to ask questions but also the president has the responsibility to make an assessment of what is in the best interest of the country and I cannot question the decision myself. I have said that this is not the first time and that Nigeria as a country has provided support to our neighbours. It is in the best interest of Nigeria to do so.”
It must have been a hard decision for the president to make: balancing tradition, our enlightened, strategic self interest and pressing national or domestic needs. It is true that times are very difficult for even big brother.
We had barely overcome an insidious Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast only to be confronted by a new enemy in the form of banditry and kidnappings in the northwest as well as a resurrected secessionist campaign in the southeast. These security challenges have had a telling effect on the economy. Farmers in the North have been forced to abandon farming. As a result, food is scarce and inflation is galloping away. So, some argue and rightly so,that big brother is no longer in a position to play Father Christmas to his neighbours.
However, the fact is we still are far better than our weaker brothers who come crying to us for help. What more, as the minister said, our self elightened strategic interest requires us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Surely, our internal security need will not be served if neighbouring Chad or Cameroon or Niger or all three open floodgates of refugees, heading towards our country. Yes, we are no longer as rich as we used to be but, at least, we are in a position to share the little we have with our neighbours, if only to head off a potential humanitarian catastrophe right in our backyard.