Boko Haram and a Working class Alternative
Written August, 2009
A government that has destroyed the foundation of a sane society will find it comfortable to vent its frustration on the symptom of the decay than redressing itself. This actually captured the recent mass slaughter of members of the Boko Haram sect.
The manner in which the media addresses the issue is worrying. While reports revealed that over 700 people were killed in Borno State alone and several houses destroyed, public commentators especially the media concentrated on the criminal murder of the head of the sect, Muhammed Yussuf. There were attempts to obscure who actually killed hundreds of people while there seems to be a sigh of relief after the mass murder and in fact the murder of Muhammed, that at least the ‘terrorists have been subsumed. But, is this a civilized way of resolving social crisis? Aside the over fifteen Christians and few policemen reported to have been gruesomely murdered, and scores of churches and public institutions, by the senseless Boko Haram sect, there was no full report to indicate who killed the remaining several hundreds. But according to a conversation with Yussuf before his murder, it is clear that it was the police and the army that were behind the orgy of terror on Maiduguri and other cities in the north, despite all attempt to put this on the Boko Haram (no matter the wildness of the group). The whitewashing, through reports, of police and army by the media is dangerous and has the capacity to set the society in more serious and vicious crises.
As far as I’m concerned, the killing in hundreds of ordinary members of the sect is far more heinous than the death of Muhammed Yussuf even going by the “logic” of the advocate of “peace”. Moreover, several members of the group may not completely understand the ideas of the sect as media report even confirmed that many were coerced by the sect leaders. There is possibility of factions within the sect, as Yussuf himself, as media reports suggested, hijacked the sect from some former leaders. Consequently, any genuinely minded person should hold the police, the military and the government (both state and federal) responsible for the crisis. This however does not absolve the sect especially its leaders and their faceless backers, who started the crisis, of blame. But the point must be made that majority of the dead in the crisis were murdered in cold blood by government agencies, with government officials including the minister of information, relishing in the euphoria of victory. In fact, some soldiers, policemen and indeed military officials, themselves awed by the degree of brutality, were forced to reveal some classified information, including footage and pictures of the killings, data on number of people and houses destroyed and the involvement of political officers.
To add insult to injury, the dead were mass buried by the army and the police obviously to avoid a full investigation on the manner and circumstances of their death or even allow their family members to identify their corpses. Some of the dead are breadwinners in their families; how will government help their families to survive when the bodies of their breadwinners have been covered up. The excuse of the police authorities that the bodies are decomposing and could not be preserved simply underlines the lack of basic health facilities in the country which reinforces the failure of governance in Nigeria. Only a sick society will feel relieved that a graveyard peace was achieved on the carcasses of over seven hundred lives.
The criminal manner of handling the Boko Haram issue should not be seen as a crudeness of policemen and foot soldiers on the ground alone, but that of the Nigerian state. Immediately the riot started, Yar’Adua was quick to sanction the use of maximum force to quell the crisis. Immediately after the murder of Yussuf, the information and communication minister, Dora Akunyili, throwing caution to the wind, asked Nigerian to be happy that at least the riots have been put down even if in the most criminal manner. Therefore, the removal of Police Commissioner in Borno State and the so-called probe panel set up by Yar’Adua is a smokescreen to silence critics of the mass murder. How can a government that ordered and justified the mass murder set up a panel to probe the killing. Reports have shown that the government including Yar’Adua and the police ignored several red signals sent by the State Security Service (SSS) on the activities of this sect while the judiciary and the highly ‘powerful’ individuals who protected this and other sects are indictable. Will the probe panel expose Yar’Adua government’s dereliction of duty too? The SSS that is playing holier than thou is itself indictable. It is this same SSS that kidnaps and detain workers’ and students’ activists without trial but could not reveal the reports on this sect to the public before the crisis.
But why will a government prefer to kill its own citizens in order to achieve “peace”? In the first instance, Yar’Adua government is in serious crisis. The Niger Delta has refused all government ridiculous solutions, workers’ organizations are in continual battle with it, there is widespread public rejection of the government, all basic facilities especially electricity have remained debacles for the government, and indeed the government itself is held at the jugular by various centrifugal trends of the ruling and big business class. Consequently, the Boko Haram crisis only helped the government to divert attention from these central issues. This is not new. Whenever government finds itself in a fix, it uses various means to engage the attention of the people; and no thank to our pro-ruling class media; government most times has its way.
Secondly, for a seriously weakened government which has failed in all ramifications, use of brute force helps it to show fake strength and also send jitters to the spines of its opponents and critics. Use of brute force against Boko Haram sect is meant to send message to all ‘dissidents’ of government that the status quo cannot be challenged. One should not be surprised when police and army are deployed against striking workers or protesting youth and students; the precedence have already being set. Thirdly, the heavy attack on Maiduguri helps the anti-poor government to justify billions budgeted for military and defence, most of which find their ways to the account of big business and their acolytes in politics. In 2008 alone, the budget for defence of over N440 billion was more than the budgets for education and health put together.
There have been reports that highly placed individuals provide fund to this sect. It is an open secret that various crises in the country have been fueled by sections of the ruling class who uses the agitations to further their nests. For instance, in the early 1980’s, destitute were mobilised to the streets by Kano feudal oligarchy to cause mayhem when the Abubakar Rimi/PRP government issued a query to the emir which led to the death of Bala Muhammed. In the south-south, several official and unofficial reports confirmed the roles played politicians in fueling oil bunkering, kidnapping and fake militancy. More than this, it is pertinent to state that the rise and growth of wild religious sects such as Boko Haram were engendered by northern ruling class and Nigerian government. It will be recalled that some years back, many northern governors, including Umar Yar’Adua, were the advocates of the Sharia law; thus setting the foundation for divisive religious fundamentalism. While it is true that people have right to self-determination, the reality is that the implementation of Sharia is ill-conceived and fraudulent. The claim of the governors that they prefer to use Sharia is outlandish. Where was any referendum conducted to determine whether the people in these states wanted Sharia law? How will these politicians tell us that jobless youth or poor worker will prefer Sharia to job or better living conditions? The reality is that the northern section of Nigerian ruling class, fearful of losing power completely to their southern counterpart, needed to hold on to a divisive stake which they can pull anytime in order to continue to have share in the national loot.
With pervasive poverty and misery in the north and the country as a whole, religious bigotry engendered by the northern ruling class has blossomed into full blown fundamentalism with various smaller sections of the ruling class using it to fester their pecuniary interests while younger disillusioned minds, who have been deprived of basic living means have found solace in religious fundamentalism. The northern oligarchy, having achieved their aim of controlling power, now sees religious bigotry, the seed of which they sowed, as a fetter to their interests. Thus they have to curb it even if it involves destroying a whole city. It is worth stating that many of these northern ruling elites who introduced the Sharia are as fraudulent and corrupt as their southern colleagues. Most of the governors and legislators in the north were rigged into office with billions of looted behind this. This is bound to continue in 2011 if there is no genuine working class platform with a socialist orientation to defeat neo-colonial capitalism. The problem with Nigeria is not implementation of one Sharia or another stricter law, but with the ruling capitalist class and the neo-colonial, neo-liberal capitalist system they represent, which has continued through ‘legal’ (through over-bloated salaries, allowances and contracts) and illegal looting, put the huge public wealth in the hands of the tiny ruling clique while the poor continue to rot in poverty, misery and squalor.
The Boko Haram sect riot will not be the last in the country, going by the facts on ground and nature of ruling class in the country. It is worth stating that the wanton destruction of lives and properties in the north in the name of curtailing fundamentalism will further fuel anger amongst the people of the area and the north in general, most of whom have seen nothing positive about Nigeria. Critically examined, the idea of Boko Haram (western education is a taboo) reflect the rotten state of the country. How will you tell a young man of twenty years of age that western education is good when all those who passed through schools have either being forced to drop out as a result of lack of studying facilities, low morale of teachers, joblessness for educated few and poverty? How will you tell a 20 year old boy, who has not seen the wonders of titration in the chemistry laboratory or what mechanical advantage means, that public education is good. For the past ten years of civilian rule, nothing could be shown as gain of civilian rule in the country. Thus, a young boy of 10, 15 or 20 years is a potential religious fundamentalist, ethnic militant or social miscreant. You only need to visit public places in Lagos, Kaduna, Kano, Port Harcout, Ibadan, etc. to see army of potential social miscreants. For the north, it is even worse. With education rates very low while gainful jobs are hard to come by, Boko Haram and other religious crises before it are natural expectations.
Successive ruling classes who have held sway in the country at least for the past ten years should be held responsible for the various crises country. While the reactionary ruling class in the north was quick to introduce Sharia law, in order to retain their privileges, provision of free and quality education, healthcare and gainful employment for the youth are made elusive. It should be recalled that several thousands of jobs are provided for the northern youths by various big and medium-sized industries in the region, especially in the textile sub-sector until the mid- to late 1980s. Today, the remaining big firm, Peugeot Automobile Nigeria is already in doldrums. According to Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN) well over 820 firms and industries (including Several public-owned ones) have closed down in the last 20 years, due to introduction of anti-poor, neo-liberalist Structural Adjustment Programmes. Yet, a few moneybags have emerged from the north through corrupt politics. Despite over N100 trillion that had accrued to the nation’s purse, nothing could be shown in terms of social infrastructures, but the ruling class was content with officially looting of over N5 trillion naira from the coffer: for salaries and official perks and privileges, alone in the last five years alone. Rather than put under the democratic public ownership, the collapsed firms especially the over 820 industries, banks and corruptly run big companies, the Nigerian ruling class have continued to loot the more. In the past two years of Yar’Adua’s rule, over N 10 trillion had accrued to the purse of the country. This amount coupled with massive exploitation of the various resources in the country, reduction of salaries of political officers to workers’ level and retrieval of trillions stolen by public officials, could to improve the social infrastructures of the country – free and quality public education at all levels; free health; massive industrialization (through public ownership) and provision of public infrastructures – sustainable energy and power sector (solar, wind, hydro, biomass, etc), integrated transport system (rail, water, expanded road), environmentally-sustainable, poor peasant-based, mechanized agricultural and agro-industrial system, massive but cheap public housing, etc. But do you expect a government instituted by corruption and based on neo-liberal capitalism to do these. Those who have continued to loot the country are strutting round the country, yet another $4 billion (about N600 billion) is to be shared by the tiers of government from Excess Crude Account.
It should however be raised that the Boko Haram crisis is not a special case but like every reactionary and far-right group, is a product of pervasive disillusionment. In the absence of genuine revolutionary mass organization that will galvanize the anger of the working and poor people together for a total aim of effecting a radical change, far-right and backward groups in the form religious, ethnic or racial colourations are bound to grow. In Nigeria, while we have Boko Haram in the north, there are several other religious and ethnic jingoist groups in the south which divert the genuine anger of the people to divisive religious (both of Islam and Christianity), ethnic and regional tendencies. While we have Niger Delta militants in the creeks, there are many Yoruba jingoist groups in the south west and Igbo secessionists in the south-east, with each grouplet mobilizing anger and mistrust against other groups. Of course, there should be right to self-determination, the reality is that without a genuine revolutionary, socialist mass organization of the working people, even secession can bring more miseries than under a repressive state. For instance, while Niger Delta militants complains about the misuse of oil resources, the monies realized by the militants from oil bunkering do not go to the poor people of the region but are used in the service of few clique of gun-wielding thugs, their godfathers and multinational collaborators.
On the other hand, experience have shown that when the masses through their organizations like NLC and LASCO embark on national struggles, ethnic cum religious jingoist tendencies are subsumed. Experiences outside the country also give credence to this. For instance, in Europe and America, there are far-right tendencies which tend to divert the agitation of the people for better living to racial lines without providing a genuine way for the poor. However, with a strong working class movement, especially in the 1980’s, many of these groups were unpopular. However, in the last European elections, as a result of growing misery of millions of European working class coupled with weakness of the Left and socialist forces and with the treachery of labour leadership, some far-rights are gaining prominence, especially in Britain where two far-right candidates in the BNP won elections to the European parliament. Notwithstanding this, facts reveal that where there are strong socialist and working class forces like in Dublin, Ireland where socialist Joe Higgins contested and won in the European parliamentary elections, far-right tendencies hardly surfaced. Racial and far-right tendencies show their strength at a period of social and economic crises which require a radical intervention of the working class organizations (which are not provided). It should also be recalled that the failure of communist forces to lead the masses, through a non sectarian united front approach (with social democratic party and unions) to a revolutionary change led to the triumph of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi forces in Germany. (See Leon Trotsky’s writings of German revolution and fascism)
All this point to one thing: working and poor people need a fighting organization that will raise the demands of the working people for a genuine government in Nigeria. This is the time for labour and pro-labour organizations to build a working class political party that will demand public ownership of commanding height of the economy under the democratic control of the working people themselves which will provide adequate resources to make lives better for the poor people. The current protest marches of the labour and civil society across the country against deregulation should naturally lead to this. There is also urgent need to restructure the labour movement across the country (especially the state chapters and affiliates) so as to serve as a fighting platform of the working people which will link the anger of the poor people across the country rather than being diverted to reactionary ethnic lines. This is the central challenge now!