by Baba Aye
“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both” – Benjamin Franklin
President Jonathan has brought the “war on terror” to Nigeria by waging war on the people in the North East. Fighter jets, helicopters, armoured personnel carriers and thousands of soldiers have been deployed there to enforce a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, which he declared on May 14. The ongoing bombardment is supposedly in a bid to curtail the attacks of Boko Haram on lives and properties. This situation of de facto martial law has, and will result in a great number of deaths and thousands of people fleeing across the borders. At the onset in May, it was near impossible to get much information from within the battle zone. But while the states still remain shut down, including mobile phones networks cut off, we are beginning to have inkling of the horrors of state emergency. Al Jazeera’s exclusive footahe of what it describes as “the silent war in Nigeria”, due to the information blackout shows the wicked killing of women, men and other civilians, by the army, going on behind the emergency walls.
The army and Boko Haram have killed approximately the same number of peoples in recent years. There was a serious massacre by the army in Baga in April when soldiers set fire to more than 2,000 houses and killed over 200 civilians. Unleashing terror by the security forces is no answer to Boko Haram. Boko Haram is a symptom of serious economic and social problems and an indication of the level of despair that many poor people feel. Sending in the army will result in many more deaths and refugees. People within the local communities are voting with their feet and leaving the country to get away from the army.
It is rather unfortunate that otherwise reasonable activists and citizens could in any way support the state of emergency which entails sending of armed thugs of the army to create further terror in the North East. But this action has acquired some level of popularity amongst Nigerians, leading even a number of activists, radical groups and “parties” to the conclusion that “it should be supported”. The further step of proscribing both Boko Haram and Ansaru, on June 4 with the enactment of the Terrorism (Prevention) (Proscription Order) Notice 2013, barely 24 hours after the United States government placed $7m as bounty on Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau’s head, has equally been endorsed, even if less enthusiastically, without considering how this rather hollow banning of a body that was never a legal entity boils down to licking the boots of American imperialism.
Few people support the tactic of terror used by Salafi Jihadist groups like the two being targeted by the Federal Government. But, while their method of crass terror cannot but stand condemned, it stems from frustration with a system where poverty, starvation, hopelessness, and avoidable deaths remain the lot of the poor masses. But such terror tactics: result in the slaying of poor working people; constrains the possibilities for workers self-activity, and, as we now see; serves as an “excuse” for the state to crack down in the name of law and order. But, the current repressive measures of the state are in no way a panacea for the excesses of Boko Haram and its like.
Compounding the problem; on the pathway to failure
The truth of the matter is that the state’s “war on terror” rather than resolving any of main problems associated with the insurgency, only compounds them. This is being confirmed everyday thus far, as the massive deployment of troops to the three north eastern states, with the curtailment of citizen’s rights which is implicit in the imposition of a state of emergency, has resulted in more killings of innocent women, men and children. Further, such militaristic attempts at solving fundamentalist insurgency are doomed to fail in the long run, because they do not grasp the deeper causes of the problem.
The “rebellion” as President Jonathan rightly puts it which is being waged by armed Islamists has its roots in the poverty and deprivation that has been the portions of millions of families. While a few super-rich elite live ostentatious lives, the mass of the people are embroiled in poverty, illiteracy and disillusionment.
The religious propaganda espoused by doctrinaire militants like those who lead groups such as Boko Haram and Ansaru is echoed in the minds of a cross section of frustrated adherents that perceive no other means, to bringing an end to their sufferings. It is also instructive to note, as even President Jonathan and General Ihejirika, the Chief of Army Staff points out, that the insurgents have support as well in high quarters, including the government and the army.
The futility of a state of emergency formula has actually been shown by the earlier declaration of such across 15 Local Government Areas situated in Borno, Niger, Plateau and Yobe states (which has not been lifted!) in December 2011. The efforts of the Joint Task Force in these LGAs have resulted more in extra-judicial killings than the curbing of a prevailing state of insecurity.
The army (and police) have killed about as much persons as Boko Haram has done. The Baga massacre in April is clearly the sharpest example of the ruthlessness of the state, involving the brutal killings of hapless civilians. There have been several of such cases even if on a lesser scale since 2009 when the low intensity war between the Nigerian state and the Boko Haram sect commenced. After the April massacre in Baga, the Federal Government claimed that only 30 persons were killed, as against at least 200 civilians indicated by international human rights bodies. This shows what we should expect more of, with this state of emergency and “proscription”; massacres and denials.
The economic burden of this new stage of the Boko Haram and co versus Federal Government war is being borne by poor and working people across the country, as the prices of foodstuffs rose astronomically over the last few weeks. In the last couple of years the sect’s activities have resulted in higher prices for foodstuffs and livestock including tomatoes, onions, beef and rams. A lot of farmers have become more circumspect in going to their farmsteads for fear of their lives.
The number of trailers and long lorries that used to bring agricultural produce from the north down south have dwindled due to security considerations. This bad situation took a turn for the worse after the declaration of a state of emergency. The prices of foodstuffs shot up with a vengeance. Beef in particular is becoming less affordable for the poor as butchers in Kaduna, Lagos and Enugu amongst other places cry out that the price of cattle has risen by over 100% in just two weeks.
But, perhaps despite the costs in human lives and hardship that the state of emergency heralds, a stop could at last be put to the pervading state of insecurity that led to it? This might be what many Nigerians and even radicals that see the situation as a necessary “short term” solution that could pave the way for long term benefit for the working masses believe. This seemingly benign illusion is like the road of good intentions that however leads only to hell.
Leaving leprosy to treat eczema
The blatant face of war in the first place, fails to address the root causes of the insurgency. And these root causes are far deeper and more complex than the simplistic conclusion of that they boil down to “a failure of governance and leadership”. Secondly as we have seen with the “war on terror” state of emergency of the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, such strong arm tactics merely drive even the moderate adherents into taking up arms, and ignites flames of anger in the minds of many a youth, leading them to join the sect being “persecuted”. Proscription of these groups, which were never legal bodies in the first place, will not lead to their extinction. On the contrary, they will be forced to work more effectively underground, with support from their allies (and members) within the elite class.
It is not impossible that “Boko Haram” (and Ansaru) as particular groups are snuffed out militarily. But if this unlikely eventuality happens, dozens of “Boko Harams” (and Ansarus) will rise in no time to take their places. In fact, the emergence of groups such as Ansaru and the splinters within Boko Haram point at this reality. The rise of these “Jihadist” sects and the incidence of religious crises in the past 35 years reflect the arc of sharpening systemic crises of capitalist development in the country and globally. It is impossible to properly understand what Boko Haram represents without situating it within the context of this broader history.
Fundamentalism, violence and the crises of capitalism
Religions and religious conflicts have been some of the forms within which deeper social, economic and political struggles have always been waged for centuries across several lands. Irreverent interests and demands get clothed in the more revered garb of religion, with which divine authority is assumed for nonetheless profane things like how society should be organised by humankind. This religion-as-politics has clothed progressive, reactionary and contradictory social movements. Such politics rise to the fore in periods of social decline and crisis, particularly when secular organisations that could pursue the kernel of their mixed up goals are weak and do not wield much influence amongst the masses, or lack the ideological compass to provide required leadership for the rising poor, disposed people.
The pathway of emergence and development of Boko Haram, Ansaru and similar groups in several countries goes way back to 1978-79, a moment that could be considered as a turning point in world history. The Iranian revolution at that period started as a secular uprising but ended with the establishment of a theocratic state, becoming a symbol for fundamentalist Islamists. At that same point in time, the rottenness of the so-called “socialist” USSR played itself out with its invasion of Afghanistan. It was forced to retreat in disgrace, as militant fundamentalists from (mainly) Arab countries such as Osama bin Ldin flocked in to wage a Jihad against the “infidel” “communists”. This was with the active support of the United States and other Western imperialist countries that funded and trained the Mujahedeen.
But 1978-79 did not mark a turn in global capitalist development because of the Iranian revolution or the invasion of Afghanistan. These were symptoms of a far deeper crisis. The world economy had entered a period of relentless decline marked by perennial crises. The elite class of bosses and their governments could strive to maintain (even if in futility as we now see), some level of profitability for big business only through massive attacks on the rights and living standards of the working masses.
The weapon of that brutal striving was neoliberalism, characterized as “globalisation”. It involved and still involves; privatisation, cuts in social spending (for education, health care, etc), and the liberalisation of markets. Its programmatic expressions came as “austerity measures”, “structural adjustment programmes”, NEEDS, NEPAD etc. The apostles that heralded its creed were Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, with the Shagaris, Babangidas, Obasanjos, and Jonathans of this world as loyal disciples of “the word” of Mammon, which it propagates.
The suffering neoliberalism in particular and capitalism in general wrought and continues to foist on the immense majority of the human population first led to attempts at coping by the increasing jobless poor. We see this in the expanding informal economy and marginalised mass such as area boys, almajari, and other street urchins that have become ready tools for the devil of riots. But as these coping strategies continue to fail, resistance in different forms began to take an upturn on one hand, while the turn to God for salvation also became more profound on the other hand, particularly (but not limitedly) in the economically backward countries.
This is largely why there has been a rise in religiousness across the world over the last three decades. It is not restricted to Islam, nor is it restricted to religious crises. We have seen the flourishing of “prosperity churches” from Nigeria to the Americas as well, for example. As hope for a better world now eludes more people courtesy of the systemic crises of capitalism, religion has become more and more so, the hope of the hopeless in a heartless world.
Religious violence as an expression of religiousness has many sides to it. Quite often, some people try to reduce its expression to the Islamic faith. This is arrant nonsense. Those who fight their earthly battles in the name of God, of many a faith have at some time or the other been armed prophets. Indeed a look at the crusades shows the extent of killings, plunder and pillage perpetuated by Christian gentlemen. And the inquisition tells of how intolerance could be stoked to fever high pitch to justify the most unthinkable of horrors human beings ever passed through.
Those are experiences that stretch back to centuries, but we are talking of now, the cynic might say. But the reason why fundamentalist violence has been more prominent with Salafi Jihadist than with other (particularly the Christian) faith’s armed adherents lies in the conflation of what is Western, and what is Christian. While on one hand upholding secularity, the establishments in Western imperialist countries actually promote this same conflation with their “cultural” narratives.
“In God we trust”, “for God and country”, etc, are just a few of the slogans such narratives use. Which “God”? Is the word “God” simply English for Allah, Olodumare or Chineke? Does it not have a Judeo-Christian connotation? These are just a few questions that could trouble the minds of a few of the young men (and women) drawn into militant Islamists groups that identify America for example, as “the big Satan”.
It is however worthwhile as Chris Harman succinctly notes “The Prophet and the Proletariat”, to keep in mind the fact that “most so called Western values are not rooted in some mythical European culture, but arise out of the development of capitalism over the last two centuries”. “Western” values, education and institutions as we know them today are much more representative of the capitalist system in general than some particular European past or nature.
The Nigerian face of a global problem
Back to Nigeria, it is not accidental that what seems to have become a perennial state of “religious conflicts” started also in the 1978. This was with the Shari’a controversy at the Constituent Assembly which drafted the 1979 constitution. Four years later, the most dreaded fundamentalist sect before the Boko Haram organised around Mallam Mohammed Marwa aka Mai tatsine went on rampage in Kano state. Since then, “spontaneous” religious riots rocked several northern states from time to time. Several militant sects have been formed, some collapsed, while others, like El-zakzakky’s syncretist Shi’ite group, became more “responsible”.
It is noteworthy that the rather moderate Shabaab Muslim Youth Organisation was transformed into the now dreaded Jamā’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lādda’awatih wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad), better known as Boko Haram in 2001, on the heels of the Al-Qaeda “9/11” attack on the United States. Boko Haram has now become the face of a “global jihad” in Nigeria, and equally the Nigerian face within the global jihad.
It is rather naive as most socialist groups do, to simply write off Boko Haram and its corollaries as “right wing” or “terror groups”, because of their “reactionary activities”. This is very much like failing to see the woods for the trees. It is also grossly inadequate to merely see the elites behind Boko Haram and co as their “sponsors”. Reality is much more complex and full of contradictions. The task for activists who seek to change society is to understand these contradictions and the linkages between them with the aim of furthering the enlightenment of poor and working people on the issues at stake and thus foster qualitative intervention in history, as much as possible.
The contradictory class nature of Boko Haram and its ilk
Boko Haram, Ansaru and co, like most of the new militant Islamist sects that have blossomed in the period of neoliberal globalism have a contradictory nature. On one hand, they involve sections of the ruling elite for whom religion-as-politics is a tool for mobilisation of mass support for their aims. These include electoral aims of winning gubernatorial and other political positions or as bargaining chips for access to state power (and with it the treasury). We saw examples with the political Shari’a wave that swept through twelve northern states in the early 2000s. Specifically, it has been established that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, courted Boko Haram in his successful bid for the governorship of Borno state in 2003. Apart from mass mobilisation, Boko Haram supporters played the role of armed hirelings not unlike that which some Niger delta “militants” played for Peter Odili and co, that same year.
On the other hand, elements of the anti-establishment demands of Boko Haram and its sister organisations, find resonance in the hearts of many poor and dispossesed people within their localities that are fed up with the corruption and flamboyant lifestyle of the elites, in the face of their own poverty and hopelessness. At the earlier point before it went underground after the murder of its founding leader, Boko Haram had also aided the spread of its ideology’s influence with social work, very much like Hezbollah in Lebanon. It had provided housing, (Koranic) education, healthcare and the offsetting of debts for hundreds if not thousands of the wretched of the earth, winning hearts and minds, as much as souls to its standpoint.
While a nominal roll of Boko Haram membership might not be something we could secure, the group’s membership including its armed insurgents and unarmed supporters cannot but be in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, with a significant proportion of these being poor and working people. This would dwarf the numbers of “radical” or “revolutionary” groups in the country added up together, several times over, and could equal the sizes of many a trade union.
Of course, the large presence of the poor and oppressed people in an organisation does not make it, pro-workers, talk less of being revolutionary. Fascist parties such as the Nazis in Germany or Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, did have significant mass following while pursuing anti-workers’ causes. It is also not being suggested that Boko Haram is in anyway a revolutionary or “progressive” group.
Indeed, the sect must have lost a considerable extent of whatever goodwill it might have had before 2009, in the states where it operates, haven become oppressive with its tactic of terror. And few of its adherents would have been worker class. But only one-dimensional thinking would sum all these up to mean that the sect “is nothing but a set of foot soldiers of sections of the Nigerian ruling class that went berserk” or worse still conclude that “Boko Haram is part and parcel of Nigerian ruling elite”.
This would at best be akin to throwing away the baby with the bathwater, rather than actually understanding “the true face of Boko Haram”. It could however be worse. Radical “Islamism”, with associated spontaneous and organised violence, has come to stay as one of the macabre symptoms of the period we are living in i.e. where the capitalist system has become a putrid living-corpse holding down the progress of human society, on one hand, but the poor and working class have not risen to consuming the task of overthrowing it, due to the weaknesses of revolutionary forces’ influence within it.
In drawing lessons from the particular, through the concrete analysis of concrete reality, our examination must have the power to give us a general picture of what the jigsaw pieces add up to.
At the centre of the multi-layered class nature of Boko Haram and similar groups, providing leadership, is “the Islamism of the new middle class”. This class of: former students (most of whom were the militant elements of the Muslim Students Society); unemployed secondary and higher school graduates; teachers, nurses, and other professionals, etc, “provide the vital element which sustains revivalist, political Islam” e.g. Boko Haram and Ansaru. They risk life, liberty and limbs to organise and mobilise the working people drawn to their ideology and establish the links for funding from the elites whom they can as well relate with.
The scandalous rate of youth unemployment which official figures put at between 45% and 60%, nationally will feed Boko Haram and its likes with cadres. Interestingly, the National Bureau of Statistics notes that the unemployment situation in the north eastern region is the worst across the country, with Yobe state topping this socially criminal list. Situate the anger from emergency bombings and bayoneting of loved ones, and you get a keg of gunpowder which would make what we have seen so far with regards to political Islam’s violence appear like child’s play in the very near future.
The vacillatory nature of the middle class in general is a matter of critical importance for understanding the possible tides and ebbs of political Islam in general, and the changing dimensions of its tactics, which emerge from struggles within in. While being dispossessed by the big money bags and corporations of the elite class of rulers and condemning this oppression, members of the middle class aspire to become and live like the “big men” even while here on earth.
The lifestyle of Mohammed Yusuf, during the first and more peaceful phase of Boko Haram’s life, presents a very vivid example. He cruised around Maiduguri in the latest SUVs and his children attended the best private schools, despite his scathing criticisms of the ostentatious and supposedly sinful-Western lifestyles of the “godless” rich elites.
The crux of the matter here is that as political Islamists sects grow in size and influence there is a tendency for them to become co-opted into the ruling class’ establishment. They become more “respectable” even when they maintain some verbiage anti-establishment rhetoric. Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky and his Islamic Movement of Nigeria is an example, as pointed out earlier, of this trajectory of most Salafi Jihadist groups like Boko Haram. But what tends to happen is that new and more virulent groups emerge and grow to replace those sects that have become laundered.
On one hand, the drama of an amnesty carrot which preceded the emergency stick of a war on terror is a long-winded reflection of this tendency for yesterday’s radical leaders of political Islamist sects to become today’s responsible, even if still fire-spitting cleric. On the other hand, it represents the fears of sections of the elite, particularly those within firing distance of the sects’ guns, to save their hides.
Between the tactic of amnesty and that of repression
There appeared to have been a series of inconsistencies over negotiations with Boko Haram. At the beginning of March President Jonathan had declared that he could not negotiate, talk less of grant amnesty to “ghosts”. Before that month was over, he had initiated the process for granting amnesty to members of the same phantom, Boko Haram. And in April whilst the members of the amnesty committee where still holding their first series of meetings with suspected Boko Haram lynchpins in jails, supporters of the sect were routed out of Baga with the “collateral damage” of a massacre.
This “inconsistency”, actually holds a thread of consistency. It is not merely about the fickleness of a president who turned to be a lion overnight as many now hail him to be. Rather, it is about contending interests and views amongst different sections of the elite on the way forward in “resolving” the problem Boko Haram and co posed, for their rule and the interests of their pay masters in Washington, London, Brussels, etc. The unity of Nigeria is related to this concern, to the extent that it means the continually negotiated unity of the ruling elite despite whatever other differences they have, to exploit the resources and labour of the oppressed poor and working people.
Within this “consistency” we also find lies and half truths, hiding the immediate interests and fears of the contending elite power blocs, and Boko Haram alike. It is instructive to note that (a faction of) the sect had called for dialogue on November 1, asking for General Muhammad Buhari, to serve as mediator. The government turned down the offer (and Buhari also extricated himself), only to sneakily meet with the group a few weeks later in Senegal, with the Senegalese and Malian governments playing “significant roles” in facilitating the meeting. But obviously no resolutions were reached. Neither Boko Haram nor the FGN have been bold enough to even give any inkling of what transpired.
It is quite conceivable that the quest for dialogue at different times by first, a faction of the sect and later, the FGN aided by its ECOWAS class mates was spurred by fear. Boko Haram’s “offer” came in the wake of a barrage of onslaughts against its members. The ECOWAS states that intervened were also obviously bothered by the spread into (as in the case of Senegal) or deepening (as Mali eventually played out) of armed Islamist politics into their territories.
But the clearest expression of fear leading to the shared quest for dialogue can be found in the call for amnesty, and current lamentations of conservative groups like the Northern Elders Forum at how the state of emergency jeopardizes any hope for peaceful resolution of the Boko Haram and co dilemma. The clarion for an amnesty, was first raised on January 30, by Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, who is considered as the Amir-ul-Momineen i.e. leader of the Moslem faithfuls. A more prestigious religious leader cannot be found to speak out on the predicament Islamist insurgency has thrown the country into.
His call was immediately after a faction of Boko Haram had indicated its willingness to dialogue. But more importantly, this was just days after (probably another faction of) the group had attempted to kill the highly revered Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero. Earlier in July 2012, attempts had also been made on the life of the Shehu of Borno, Mustafa Ibn Umar El-Kanemi. These three hereditary rulers represent the apex of traditional and spiritual reverence in “the North”, and it would have been unthinkable at a time that anyone could even conceive of laying a hand on any of them.
Shock at such impudence has given way to the self-preservation instinct. The strident call for amnesty which now waxes stronger amongst “Northern elders”, including those of the Northern Elders Forum and the Arewa Consultative Forum is simply put, to save their hides. This also explains why some Emirs, outside the immediate locales of the state of emergency, such as Alhaji Umar Farouk Umar of Daura have resisted house-to-house searches for Boko Haram adherents in their domains, while asserting that; “we traditional rulers are the custodians of the people and are ready to support and cooperate with security agents with a view to achieving a common goal”, and then going ahead to lambast the Federal Government for failing to address the problems of unemployment and insecurity, because it is corruption-ridden.
While fear propels the “pro-amnestyists”, electoral hope drives those behind the stick. One cannot but see some semblance between GEJ and “GWB” of the “United States of (some parts of) North America”. Neither was actually ever considered to be bright as much, but like George Walker Bush after that “9/11”, Goodluck Jonathan’s calculation of emerging as a conquering lion of whichever tribe in the north east, is central to the battle he has surreptitiously started to wage all over Nigeria, for a second term, come 2015. But he might not be so dense as to imagine that the force of arms alone would win him either of the wars i.e. against Boko Haram and for a return to Aso Rock.
This explains why the amnesty committee is still going about holding genteel meetings with Boko Haram adherents in jail, and scouring the support of Emirs and other leaders in the northern states for the amnesty programme, and not the state of emergency which had been presented to them as a fait accompli.
Those that for whatever naive or mischeivously self-serving reasons chastise the FGN for waiting so long to decisively intervene with the emergency stick in the states now under martial rule lose sight or choose not to see a simple fact, consideration about the lives of the poor and working people or “national security” are secondary to the political calculations of President Jonathan. What is uppermost to him and the sections of the elite he represents is the laurel of 2015, and with it, of course, the booty of access to the treasury that goes with it.
In lieu of a conclusion; what is to be done?
Perspectives are of little use if they do not serve practice, and become shaped through the application of theory to practice. As an axiom goes “practice is the sole criterion for truth”. But then, quite often when we ask the question “what is to be done?” we fail to also ask; “by who?” and “why?” When change-seeking radicals fail to ask these further questions, or fail to critically think through their answers to them, it is not difficult to fall into such effusions like those of Jaye Gaskiya, a leading cadre of the “Democratic Party for Socialist Reconstruction” groupuscule. I was shocked when shortly after the state of emergency was declared I read in his statement that “for once, the president has acted like the Commander In Chief of the Armed Forces”, in a face book posting that also called for support for this imposition of martial law! Whose armed forces and “commander in chief” for which class’ interest?
The war being waged by the FGN against Boko Haram is not in the interest of the poor and working people. Similarly, while it would be grossly inadequate to simply consider the sect or militant Islamists in general as being “reactionary”, elements, working class activists cannot support the sect and its tactics of terror. Can the answer to this be a form of support, critical or otherwise for the Federal Government and its declaration of martial law (which is what a state of emergency amounts to) in the north east?
The clear answer must be NO! The exercise of “law and order” in moments of crisis is meant to safeguard the rule of an obsolete class in general, and the interests of its obdurate section which wields power on behalf of the class as a whole, in particular. While we could be flexible with tactics, we must be firm in standing by principles if we are not to lose focus in the struggle.
In principle, working class activists have to be against any form of “state of emergency” and the curtailment of democratic rights of the poor and working people. One does not have to be a revolutionary to understand this. I was particularly impressed, for example by the May 17 condemnation of “Declaration Of State Of Emergency As A Set Back For Nigeria’s Democracy”, by Nelson Ejujumi of the Centre for Rights and Grassroots Initiative (CRGI), from a liberal democratic perspective on the Sahara Reporters website.
What then is to be done, by the working class? In principle, it is apt to call for the establishment of workers’ self-defence militias. But while this is possible as the situation in the region assumes new dynamics (for we are seeing the unfolding of a new phase in the matter at hand), the combined suffocation of Boko Haram’s non-state terror and the Federal Government’s institutional state terror makes that illusory at the moment.
To expect the trade union bureaucracy to rise up to the challenge of posing an alternative of workers’ power to both forms of terror is as well akin to expecting tigers to eat grass. In fact, the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress on one hand threw their weights behind the amnesty process during the last May day and on the other hand organised a rally for “peace and unity” which was attended carnival-like by representatives of the Federal Government in September last year.
We thus seem caught between the anvil and a hard place. But this is when we restrict our understanding of the labour movement to the trade union bureaucracy. This bureaucracy occupies a central, yet ambiguous place in the working class movement. Revolutionary change can be brought about only through the self-activity of the working class from below. Further, the working class will not come to self-consciousness as a whole, at once, particularly in the immediate instance.
There is a ray of hope from below within and beyond the north east, which I can attest to. I had the opportunity to visit two of the states now under martial rule, barely a year ago, to supervise the NLC State Level Schools. It was a very pleasant surprise for me to witness the discussions from the floor, as I quietly took my seat without much ceremony at the back of the class, on each occasion. In an average class of fifty persons half in both instances belonged to the Labour Party, but equally felt frustrated by its politics, and were of the view that its standoffishness from a working class viewpoint is what allows groups like Boko Haram to thrive.
As I pointed out on the two occasions, this poses the challenge of building both within and beyond the Labour Party from below. In the particular instance that now confronts us, intensifying work within the labour movement entails agitation and propaganda work within the states where the “war on terror” now rages. Of course, this is not to suggest limiting such work by revolutionary groups to these states. But if we are to go beyond merely mouthing principles like the need for workers’ self-defence in the unfolding period, at the risk of life, limbs and liberty, leaflets, posters, graffiti, newspapers etc must, find their way behind the enemy lines of the gendarmes. This would be difficult, but can be done, and has to be done.
The various international dimensions of the struggle at hand also have to be taken into consideration. The Baga massacre where a quarter of a century-old multilateral defence pact was exhumed for Nigerien, Chadian and Nigerian soldiers to join forces in killing defenceless citizens, points at one aspect of the elite’s international collaboration. The other key aspect is that Jonathan’s war on terror is a subset of the broader Washingtonian “war on terror”, with its murderous pathway which Manning Bradley and wikileaks helped confirm with words and tapes from the horse’s stables.
The Islamist insurgents equally have their own “internationalist” dimension. Boko Haram has issued a clarion call for its “comrades” in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, amongst other places to join it in repulsing the state’s terror. Thus far, this does not seem to have materialised. But as the plot thickens, it is to be expected that the ante of several forms of international support for it, including technical and financial ones would be upped. Indeed, Boko Haramists themselves have received training and/or fought alongside other Islamist insurgents in Somalia, Mauritania, Mali, etc. Links and relationships would have been built in the course of this that could facilitate the sect’s appeal receiving fruitful responses.
Internationalism is, traditionally and contemporaneously, much more at the heart of working class politics than those of the elite or militant Islamists. The struggle for revolutionary transformation in Nigeria is part and parcel of the working class and oppressed strata for a better world. We saw two sides of this internationalism during the January revolts, last year.
On one hand, in the classical sense of working class internationalism trade unions, socialist organisations and other progressive groups took action in support of the struggle in Nigeria, just as has been the case with the sparks of revolts in Greece, Mexico, Spain, Chile, Italy, Portugal, United States, South Africa, and now Turkey, and of course as was the case with the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.
On the other hand, Nigerians in the diaspora marched on Nigerian embassies, heckled government functionaries and generally spoke out against oppression and repression in their home country. The two hands clapped together, as working class and other radical activists fought besides Nigerians in the diaspora, on the side of the uprising.
The January Uprising also showed us how superfluous ethno-religious conflicts could become when social-economic issues are placed squarely at the centre of the political struggle for a better society. It could be recalled that Boko Haram had issued an order for non-northerners to vacate those parts of the country, just before the working masses shock the country to its foundations with an 8-day general strike and mass protests across some 57 cities and towns in the country, with demonstrations in support of the revolts in almost all continents.
It was in the heat of such a moment that working people did establish self-defence militias in places like Zaria and Dutse, which guarded churches during their services, against Boko Haram and its like. Boko Haram was forced to play to the populist gallery, threatening to bomb the NLC office because the trade union federation betrayed the people by calling off the mass strike.
This leads us, in conclusion, to what I see as the way forward, in a way and manner that links the current dilemma with the entire pursuit of our struggle for system change and a better lot for the working class as the master of its own destiny.
The point of departure on this matter, as we see it is that: we cannot support either the institutional terror of the Nigerian state, nor can we support the non-state group of Boko Haram and co. From a working class standpoint, we would say, we stand for “neither the FGN state of emergency or Boko Haram insurgency”. Such an approach is not new as the correct line, in or out of Nigeria. We stood for neither Washington nor Moscow during the “cold war”, as workers were exploited and oppressed in both the Western “democracies” and the Eastern “socialist” states.
We were also not alone in taking a “neither MKO nor IBB/Abacha” position during the June 12 revolution. Further, when the world rose to “stop the war” in Iraq a decade back, it was not because the international working class supported Saddam Hussein. While the war was not stopped, it threw up one of the largest mobilisation of international resistance in a generation, serving as a part-template of sorts, for subsequent struggles that are ongoing.
But our argument would not be complete by only grasping what, in summary, we are against. What we stand for should as well be clear flowing from this, and it should firmly grasp what the key link in the chain is at the moment. A state of emergency is equal to the de facto imposition of martial rule. The FGN is deemed to be of a democratic republic. We have the right to demand an end to the state of emergency. This is particularly so, as it has no specified time limit.
The most urgent task at this hour might be the establishment of a united front to stop the state of emergency. There are several social forces that are against the state of emergency for diverse reasons. While collaboration with as broad a spectrum of these forces as is possible could be pursued, pro-poor people activists must stamp the focus of a working class standpoint on such a possible platform. The Joint Action Front (JAF) of pro-working class civil society organisations might be best suited to take up the challenge of pursuing this cause.
June 7, 2013
 Harman, C 1994, ‘The prophet and the proletariat’, International Socialism, vol. 2, no.64, autumn, http://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/1994/xx/islam.htm
 literally “the one that curses” as he rained curses and abuses on personages and structures of government for their corruption, ineptitude, etc
 Harman, C, Ibid