War isn’t the way out

The late American civil rights activist and advocate of nonviolent resistance, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. His tireless activism during the American Civil Rights Movement succeeded in strengthening American democracy through the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Though he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, his impact still remains till today.

It was King Jr who said, “War is the greatest plague that can afflict humanity, it destroys religion, it destroys states, it destroys families. Any scourge is preferable to it.” This is apt as war, which has been spreading malevolently across the world, appears to be knocking on our door and all efforts should be made to shut it out. The significance of King’s career is that we can still achieve results without resorting to violence.

There is no doubt that the menace of military incursion into politics and the aggressive toppling of four elected governments in West Africa in the last three years is worrisome and unacceptable. Military adventurism in politics is a threat to all democracies. There is therefore an urgent need to stop the trend so that the contagion will not spread further in the region.

This is where Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have to provide leadership and be decisive lest the gains of de-militarisation recorded over the years be reversed. The punitive actions taken so far by Nigeria-led ECOWAS derive strength from this background.

Nevertheless, war declaration requires restraint. Every war ultimately ends at the negotiation table. The effects of war are enormous. Wars destroy cities and livelihoods. Wars kill and main the innocent in thousands. Wars create immense suffering and stifle hopes. Regardless of how horrible a scourge may be, it is still preferable to war.

The danger that a military confrontation with the Nigerien putschists poses is that it may pit Nigeria and ECOWAS against some established military industrial complexes and turn West Africa to a big war zone for testing modern weaponry. The problems that the ordinary people of our countries face will be exacerbated and human suffering will go through the roof.

There are people who think that the coupists should be taught a lesson, after all the whole population of Niger is just like the population of Lagos. Assessing the situation through the population of Niger and the military capacity of the country alone is delusional. In warfare, size does not matter. Rather, resilience and the support received from those who are interested in the war are the game changers. It is clear that the coupists are looking up to Russia and with that angle, the outcome is unpredictable. Syria has been hemorrhaging for more than a decade but the government is still in power, thanks to Russia.

Of what value was the 20-year invasion and occupation of Afghanistan? The Americans eventually negotiated their exit and returned power to the same Taliban they overthrew two decades earlier. What did they achieve other than killings? When Russia attacked her small neighbour, Ukraine, in 2022, the plan was to get the job done in a few days or weeks and remove the government in Kiev. However, the reality is different.

According to Reuters, the Russia-Ukraine war has led to the death of 62,295 people, with 61,000 people injured and 15,000 others missing. The war has also led to the displacement of 17 million people, destruction of 140,000 buildings and property damage to the tune of $411 billion. The war is still ongoing as new offensives are being launched and there is no end in sight.

There is a reason for which China has not invaded Taiwan. Though the Americans are pissed off with the leaders of Iran, there has not been a serious military confrontation over the years despite the superiority of the Americans. What all this points at is that war is unpredictable and expectations are always different from reality.

Therefore, with the expiration of the deadline given by Nigeria-led ECOWAS, it must be appreciated that war is not the way out of the problems facing West Africa. One lesson to learn from the Chinese general and tactician, Sun Tzu, is that winning without fighting is the best outcome of any war and according to him, destabilising the opponent is the most important thing, not killing him.

Let us tread carefully as the ground is slippery.