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Nigerians studying in Niger lament impact of coup, sanctions

Aisha Sulaiman was running a countdown to September when she will write her final examination at the Maryam Abacha University in Maradi, Niger Republic.

Then, the country’s democratically elected government was toppled by troops from the country’s Presidential Guard. She no longer looks forward to that examination.

“With the closure of borders, I won’t have access to the country, and even if I should, there’s tension between the citizens and we students because of our president’s intervention,” Ms Sulaiman, a 500-level student of Nursing, told PREMIUM TIMES in a series of WhatsApp messages.

Ms Sulaiman, currently in Katsina doing her clinical training, said she is worried that all the years she has put into her study may go to waste.

“I’m not happy with the coup because Bazoum is a nice man,” Ms Sulaiman said.”Bazoum has made a lot of changes in Niger. For example, Maradi now has tarred roads with water drainage in virtually all the streets.”

Last month, soldiers in the Presidential Guard unit forcibly took over power from the democratically elected administration of President Mohamed Bazoum. The coup drew wide condemnation from international and regional organisations.

Nigeria, which heads the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), closed its borders with Niger as part of the sanctions to compel the military junta to relinquish power, including the threat of using a regional military force to remove the junta from power. Nigeria also cut electricity supply to the country.

In a swift reaction, the junta cut off diplomatic ties with Nigeria, the United States, France and Togo in a television announcement by its spokesperson, Amadou Abdrahmane.

The suspension of diplomatic relationships between Nigeria and Niger is affecting trade and other cooperation, including education between both countries. Some of those affected are Nigerian students studying in Niger who have been unable to travel across the border to complete their studies.

Universities in Niger Republic were on holiday when the junta took over power.

“We’re apprehensive of what will happen when the semester break gets exhausted,” said Abdurrashid El-Ladan, a 500-level student of the Medical Laboratory at the Maryam Abacha University in Maradi.

“It’s normal for students like me who are in their final year to be afraid. We’ll just go (in September) to do our final clearance (preparations for examinations)”.

When asked by PREMIUM TIMES what his options are if the situation deteriorates further, Mr El – Ladan, a resident of Katsina, said he hoped the impasse would be resolved soon.

“We’ll continue to pray for it to be resolved, amicably.”

A few years ago, private universities (many of which are owned by Nigerians) and other institutions of higher learning started springing up in Maradi and Zinder in Niger Republic to attract international students, mainly Nigerians living in states such as Katsina, Zamfara and Sokoto along the long border between both countries.

Now, the “smooth” academic calendar is being threatened by the coup and the resultant sanctions.

“The Government of Nigeria is not thinking of the relationship in terms of Educational exchange between the two countries, just like what happened with Sudan Students that were stranded.

“We hope our government will recognise the military junta and enter into dialogue to resolve the situation so that business activities along the border will be restored,” Aminu El-Ladan, a top civil servant in Katsina State whose son studies in Maradi.

Hauwa Usman-Shehu, 19, and her sister, Fatima Usman-Shehu, 18, echoed the sentiments of other students who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES. For the two daughters of a retired state civil servant, studying in the Niger Republic was their only option before the coup. Now, they are confused about what to do next if the diplomatic stalemate continues for a long time.

The sisters are 200-level students of Nursing and Midwifery at the Abubakar Ibrahim International University Maradi.

“To be honest with you, the coup has placed us in a worrying situation,” Hauwa’u said.

“It’s more worrying, especially since we’re about to return to school. We can’t enter the country (Niger Republic) due to the border closure, which will affect our studies. We’re happy that we’re progressing in our studies, but with this development, we’ll have no option but to pray and hope for the situation to get better,” she added.

She said she feared having to start her study afresh in Nigeria.

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