Benin-Niger tension poses serious consequences for Nigeria, regional integration

The recent escalation of tensions in West Africa, exacerbated by the decision of Niger’s new military regime to keep its borders closed with Benin, poses serious challenges not only for bilateral relations but also for regional integration. This situation comes at a critical time for the sub-region and could have significant repercussions on Nigeria, the economic community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

On Tuesday, June 25th, twenty soldiers and one civilian were killed in western Niger in an attack attributed to a “coalition of armed terrorist groups,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Defense broadcasted on Télé Sahel. This attack adds to a series of terrorist breakthroughs in the country and the tri-border region since the three Sahelian nations transitioned to military rule following coups.

In Niger, the situation has become concerning in recent months; internal security is deteriorating, threatening the stability of the entire region, even as the country, now led by General Tiani, stubbornly fuels tensions with its southern neighbor, Benin. Niger, governed by a military regime following a coup, has been continuously threatened by terrorist groups exploiting fragile governance and endemic corruption to extend their influence. These internal factors create an environment conducive to instability, fueling not only local violence but also cross-border tensions.

Escalation with Benin and regional impacts
Tensions between Benin and Niger escalated when Niger accused its neighbour of hosting terrorist training bases and a French military base, supposedly aimed at destabilizing the current regime. However, several security sources have dismissed these allegations as unfounded, raising doubts about their credibility. In response, Niamey imposed severe restrictions on its border, severely disrupting trade and the free movement of people. In retaliation, Cotonou blocked the shipment of Nigerien oil through its port of Seme-Kpodji, exacerbating tensions with the arrest of five Nigerien citizens in Benin, accused of illegal entry and identity falsification on the oil platform.

Currently, Benin appears as an island of stability in the region. The country maintains a robust democratic structure, and despite facing its own security challenges, mainly confined to the north, it has managed to reduce corruption and effectively contain security threats through strong domestic policies and increased international cooperation.

Although the crisis seems confined between Benin and Niger, its repercussions extend beyond the borders of these two countries. The tensions risk affecting the economic and political balances of the entire sub-region, particularly for Nigeria. As a regional economic giant, Nigeria sees its interests directly threatened by this instability. The country, a logistical and financial pillar of ECOWAS, hosts several of its key institutions.

Consequences for Nigeria and ECOWAS
This regional crisis arises as Nigerian President Bola Tinubu seeks to assert himself as a leader capable of navigating through regional crises while maintaining order in an already tense country. Although his efforts appear divided within his own country and ECOWAS, this could compromise his diplomatic ambitions. At his inauguration as ECOWAS Chairman, he proclaimed: “Nigeria is back.”

The current escalation could further weaken ECOWAS, already shaken by the announced withdrawal of the three Sahel countries, jeopardizing the organization’s ability to act as a driver of stability and economic development. A weakened ECOWAS would reduce Nigeria’s immediate sphere of influence and could erode the support necessary for its quest for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Domestically, Bola Tinubu remains particularly vigilant to prevent the regional crisis from amplifying already concerning ethnic, religious, and regional divisions. After taking a firm stance against the coup plotters, he attempts to maintain a balance between national security and the preservation of essential trade and political relations with Nigeria’s neighbors, particularly Niger, whose economy is already struggling with internal and regional challenges, and Benin, explains a regional specialist analyst.

On the other hand, the economic impact of the crisis is considerable, especially in border regions where community life depends on cross-border exchanges. The disruption of these exchanges has already worsened poverty and food insecurity, increasing social tensions in these vulnerable areas.

The current crisis also threatens the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), intended to boost intra-African trade and create a unified continental market. On the security front, the situation is equally concerning, with political tensions providing fertile ground for the activities of terrorist groups and cross-border crime in the W Park region, a tripartite nature reserve between Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

• Charles de Blondin is a French consultant in economic intelligence based in Paris who specializes in geopolitical subjects. He works on various topics related to the African continent. Concerning Ethiopia specifically, he notably published an interview of HenokTeferra, the ambassador of the country. He is the editor-in-chief of the page Billets de France.

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