War and General Elections in Nigeria


buhari-jonathan-10On Tuesday, President Barack Obama spoke “directly to…the people of Nigeria”, reminding us, so to speak of our triumphant struggles for independence and subsequently against military dictatorship. He then pointed out that: “a historic opportunity to help write the next chapter of Nigeria’s progress” lies in the general elections which commence on March 28, with the most keenly contested presidential election in Nigeria since Independence in 1960. Elections for national legislators will hold on the same day, while those for governors and state legislators are scheduled for April 11[1]. The two sets of elections were earlier scheduled to take place on February 14 and 18, respectively. A week before they were to commence, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced a six-week postponement.

The military service chiefs had written a letter to the electoral umpire demanding postponement. The excuse was that the military was in the midst of an offensive against Boko Haram in the north east, and the extension was required not only for victory in the 6-year war against the militant Islamists, but also for the state to be able to guarantee security across the country, during the elections. It was obvious that this was a gambit of the PDP, with the odds being against it if the elections had held as earlier scheduled. The National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) flew he kite earlier at Chatham House London. The main reason he gave then was that barely half of the number of registered voters had as at then collected the Permanent Voters Card required to vote.

APC and most Nigerians declared disbelief that a war which had dragged on for six years could be won in six weeks. But, while Boko Haram might be far from being defeated, most of the territories the sect seized over the last six months have been “liberated”, shoring up some level of confidence in President Jonathan’s campaign. However, the presidential election still remains too close to call. Drawing from the history of Nigeria, this establishes an incendiary political context for the elections aftermath.

APC and electoral politics in Nigeria

The Peoples Democratic Party has been in power at the centre since civilian rule was reinstated in 1999. On one hand, mass discontent against its anti-people’s policies and inability to tackle the war in the north-east has rendered it very unpopular. On the other hand, APC presents a new dimension to the bosses’ politics; an opposition party with national spread. In contrast, during the first two republics, each of the main parties of the bosses had a region as its “catchment area”, based on the manipulation of ethnic affiliation.

Political mobilisation of ethnic identities was central to the strategy of the different sections of the ruling class, garnished with neo-patrimonial patronage. PDP is arguably the first “national” party of the ruling class in a sense The National Party of Nigeria which ruled during the 1979-83 2nd Republic was probably the earliest attempt to build a national party of sorts by the Nigerian elite.[2] It emerged from the “G-34”, a group of 34 “statesmen” from across the ethno-regional divide that had written to General Abacha not to transform into a civilian ruler shortly before he died in mysterious circumstances on July 8, 1998. Their fear was that a seething upsurge from below which that would open the gates for, would threaten the stability of the bosses’ rule. Once it won the elections in 1999, the state purse became nectar for a broad coalition of the elite, sustaining its hegemony, albeit fractured.

APC was established barely a year ago, from the merger of three major opposition parties and a fraction of a fourth, all of which had governors and national legislators from the six geo-political zones of the country. There were also five governors elected on the platform of the PDP defected into the APC as well as several legislators (including the Speaker of the House of Representatives). The party claims to stand for the masses. But in practice, there is little or no difference between the policies of PDP-ruled states and those ruled by APC: they are all anti-poor. APC states have raised tertiary school fees and are amongst the dozen out of 36 states that owe public sector workers wages, for up to five months, in some cases.

The contradictory figure of Buhari

For many people, the issue is not about APC, but about confidence in its flag bearer. General Muhammadu Buhari contested thrice before. He lost on each occasion, while winning the majority of the votes in the northern region, particularly from the poor talakawas[3]. He is reputed to be very disciplined and incorruptible. If elected, he promises to: defeat Boko Haram, stamp out corruption and reduce unemployment. These are all issues of concern for the working masses and have further endeared him to many. Some on the Left have in fact described his bid for presidency as a “spectre of Buharism-socialism”!

Ironically “proof” of his ability to deliver on all counts, to his supporters, is the record of the military junta he led between 1983 and 1985. After overthrowing the 2nd republic, it jailed politicians, instituted a War Against Indiscipline (WAI), quelled the militant Islamist Maitatsine revolt and defended the naira. But it also: repressed mass democratic organizations and professional bodies like the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA); gagged the press with the notorious Decree 4; passed Decree 2 with which allowed indiscriminate detention of perceived enemies of the state; and despite its “discipline”, allowed the Emir of Gwandu’s 58 suitcases full of money to pass through customs.

Many of his supporters acknowledge these shortcomings of his record, but see him as the lesser evil. His strongman visage is also courted as the precise antidote for the triple evils he identified. But, these are largely beyond his capacity or that of any other person elected as president. There are material roots for the problems which can be solved only with the overthrow of capitalism by the working class’ self-emancipatory struggle.

Defeat Boko Haram today and ten Boko Harams by whatever name would arise. Jihadist ideology thrives on the pauperization and the (real or perceived) oppression of millions in the region whom the Jihadists appeal to, and replenish their numbers with. Corruption could be minimized in general, but it plays such a central role in the cycle of permanent primitive accumulation by the bosses and their dispensation of patronage that it cannot be wiped out, by a party of capitalists. It is impossible to significantly address the problem of unemployment when the capitalist system is in crisis, particularly for parties of the bosses. The Nigerian government is broke. Victory for Gen. Buhari will not change that.

The “contending” electoral platforms

President Jonathan’s campaign message is centred on the “Transformation Agenda” he is supposed to have been pursuing over the last five years. That of General Buhari and the APC is “change”. There has however been little debate on the contents of these misguiding synonyms, both of which in reality amount to little more than nought. President Jonathan “vows to do more”, of what he is already doing, thus, within the context of the essential sameness of both campaign platforms, a concrete analysis of the so-called “Transformation Agenda” is arguably more feasible.

To deny any quantitative “change” in the country’s economy from President Jonathan’s “transformation”, though, might not be apt. The economy has witnessed relatively impressive growth of 6.3%, over the past ten years. Trains that had been grounded for ages are back on the rails. There has been massive growth in agricultural production. Twelve new federal universities have been established. And for the first time ever the 35% threshold for women on the Federal Executive Council has been achieved. All these and more have made President Jonathan to declare himself as Nigeria’s best president ever. The recent capture of territories from Boko Haram, might further strengthen this claim.

The questions to ask might be why is there so much discontent in the land despite such arguably laudable successes? Why is it that so many people that voted for Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 have publicly vowed to vote for General Buhari, now?

There has been stupendous growth, but the beneficiaries have been the 1%. Nigeria. There has been a sharp rise in the number of billionaires and the nouveau riche. There is none of them without “oily” crony ties to the state and they include quite a number of politicians. The increasing mass of the impoverished can see this contrast between their pauperisation and the increasing wealth of the few, stoking popular anger.

Two things emerge from this. In general, capitalist development unleashes the astounding creation of wealth. But this largely benefits just an infinitesimal minority of the population whilst condemning the lives of the immense majority who toil, to perpetual misery. And particularly, in (resource rich, but) economically backward countries like Nigeria, cronyism as a strategy for intra-class distribution of the wealth being appropriated is central, displacing production in the face of a poor level of industrialisation. Thus, President Jonathan might very well be the best president Nigeria has ever had, questionable as this might be. But, that shows the essential limits of what the best of capitalist “transformation” could deliver for the teeming working masses.

On the part of General Buhari and the APC’s mantra of “change”, a series of articles by Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the multi-billionaire former governor of Lagos state (the wealthiest in Nigeria and from which monies still trickle into his purse) and the undisputed leader of the APC over the last few months, clearly spells out the how the party intends to consummate its slogan.

The first, in November 2014 dwelt on a “progressive way out” of the slump in oil prices. Subsequent to a response by Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former World Bank president who serves as Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, the second was issued in January, titled: “the chance of prosperity versus poverty of austerity”.

The first essay argues for the state’s enthronement of “countercyclical fiscal policy by using its Naira sovereignty to fund fiscal deficits” towards fostering “economic growth and development in such a way that brings the fairness of prosperity to all of society”. It dismisses the turn to austerity as “pessimism” which “weakens aggregate demand, deflating an economy already fatigued”.

In response to Okonjo-Iweala’s take on this neo-Keynesian perspective that such prescriptions would merely lead to such bottomless economic crisis as subsisted in Weimar Germany, Argentina at the turn of the century and which currently holds sway in Zimbabwe, the second essay dismissed the PDP’s “conservative economics”, describing economic policy as being “more a matter of subjective preference than of inexorable conclusions”. Arguing that “money is an idea, a social convention”, he posited that both banks and governments can and do create “money from thin air” (the former as loans, the latter as deficit spending), and advances the view that “in the end, government deficit spending has been the most reliable method to lift a nation from economic downturn or to divert that downturn”.

The economic problem in Nigeria is thus reduced to one of the “correct” policy. As the APC leader sums up: “if only wiser policy had been known by those entrusted to have known”, all would have been well. The party would thus fulfil its promises simply by pursuing the neo-Keynesian policies outlined in these essays.

Reality is however far more complicated. What we have at hand is more of a structural problem than merely one of “policies”. The international character of capitalist development and the concomitant stranglehold of imperialism on the Nigerian economy make it near impossible, particularly for a capitalist government, to get away with such “Keynesian welfare nation state” schema at this period in history. More importantly, for the moment at least, its economic programme has not been at the fore of its campaign platform. Its selling point at rallies has been Muhammadu Buhari as an austere no-nonsense General.

Introducing the “peoples’ General” as they fondly call him, Bola Tinubu often asserts that: in the Britain at a moment of crisis, the people called on a war hero(?) Winston Churchill; when it was in crisis, the United States called on Ike Eisenhower to rescue it, and; the French rallied around General Charles de Gaulle to pull them out of catastrophe. Putting aside the obviously dubious “truth” of this, it is opportune to take a closer look at the Boko Haram insurgency which APC claims can be crushed only by General Buhari, as well as other sites of violence in Nigerian politics.

Boko Haram, the war in the North East and political violence

Violence has been a central element of elite (electoral) politics in Nigeria. In the 20th century, this was largely along ethnic lines, flowing from the mobilisation of ethnic identity by different sections of the ruling class.[4] The explosion of violence that trailed the 1964 general elections in post-colonial Nigeria paved the way for the first coup d’état on January 15, 1966. The pogrom against Igbos from the eastern region in the north and a counter-coup by junior officers of northern extraction months after this, led to a 30-month civil war which left over a million people dead.

Religion became an added item in the combustible recipe of ethno-regional conflicts in the run up to the 1979 general elections that ushered in the 2nd Republic. Partly inspired by the Iranian revolution and the Mujahedeen’s resistance in Afghanistan, a new and militant wave of political Islam sprang up. Its umbrella body was, the Sunni Jama’t Izalat al Bid’a Wa Iqamat as Sunna (Society for Removal of Innovation and Reestablishment of the Sunna), otherwise known as Yan Izala. It gave support to the Moslem candidate of the National Party of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari who became President till the republic was overthrown by the military in 1983. Its main mentor, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi actually charged Moslems not to vote in an “infidel”, on network television.

Yan Izala’s political Islam was obviously not anti-establishment. The atavistic Yai Tatsine movement which “blended syncretism with an anti-technologist ideology that condemned the use of anything modern from cars to wristwatches, radios and even spectacles” threw up the first Islamist challenge to the establishment. Between December 1980 and 1984 when the military junta of General Buhari smashed it, the movement organised a series of revolts which claimed over 5,000 lives.

It was within the Yan Izala that the seeds of the anti-establishment Islamist politics of Boko Haram and other Salafist groups were sown in the ‘90s. They rose as opposition to the corruption of the movement’s leadership who had been won over by the military government. Mohammed Yusuf, the founding leader of 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, established himself in this period as a voice for poor and disillusioned Moslems against the corruption and excesses of both the state and the Yan Izala leadership.

Elite mobilisation of religion and ethnicity created the context for the eventual emergence and development of Boko Haram as a lethal version of militant Islamism. In the largely Moslem far northern states, this started with Alhaji Sani Yerima’s electoral platform for Sharia in 1999 and the resounding victory he won. By 2002 when Boko Haram was formed, there was a strong pro-Sharia movement with some 12 of the 19 northern states implementing or considering the introduction of Sharia.

Boko Haram, was courted in Borno state by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, a gubernatorial candidate in Borno state, in 2003. By this time, the group had established a mass following of about a quarter of a million persons. It ran health care centres, Koranic schools, shelter and soup kitchens for the poor. Its collaboration with Sheriff which brought in resources and arms for it[5] strengthened the group organisationally and helped to further broaden its ideological and political influence. This marriage of convenience however fell apart in no time, as the sect felt that the governor did not go far enough in implementing Sharia.

This set the stage for confrontation. The acme of this when Mohammed Yusuf was alive and in which he died, was in July 2009. It started spontaneously. Members of the sect riding commercial motorbikes refused to use helmets as ordered by the state, on religious grounds. Altercation between police and one of such members resulted in his being shot. By the time the uprising which then erupted was subdued, 186 persons had been killed. Mohammed Yusuf was shot in questionable circumstances whilst in police custody, a day after. That was the beginning of a six-year bloody war. It has claimed over a 20,000 lives according to the Federal Government, with much more maimed and over 900,000 persons displaced. To put it graphically, last year alone the number of persons killed in this war was higher than those in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The war has gone through several phases, with the federal government dithering between negotiations and brute force. The numbers of persons killed by the security forces are, according to Amnesty International, as much as those killed by the sect. This has helped the sect’s recruitment in a region which is the most impoverished in the country. But the brutality of Boko Haram’s indiscriminate killings and abductions, including those of the Chibok Girls Secondary School students, have also made it unpopular with the working masses in the region and nationally. By August last year, partly inspired by the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it commenced the seizing of territories as part of a Caliphate it claimed to be establishing.

A Joint Task Force (JTF) with the army as its backbone but encompassing other security services failed to defeat Boko Haram. It was scrapped and a regular army Division (the 7th Infantry Division) instituted in its place. But that brought no improvement in the military offensive. Ill-equipped, underpaid and frustrated, rank and file soldiers have mutinied time and again and, along with officers have also deserted the war, crossing over into neighbouring Cameroon in their hundreds only to be returned. At least three General Court Martial rulings have condemned over 66 soldiers and officers to death. 200 soldiers have also been dismissed, while a Brigadier General and 21 other officers are also presently facing Court Martial.

The most successful fight back against Boko Haram before now has come in the form of the Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF). In April 2012, angry youths in Maiduguri armed with sticks, clubs, machetes, axes and shot guns beat back a Boko Haram attack. They then constituted themselves into a network of standing militias in the neighbourhoods, where they were welcomed with open arms. They are mainly de classe and urban poor. Their commendable example of self-organisation from below has been replicated in several adjoining towns and cities.

It is however a contradictory phenomenon. While independently established, it considers itself more as an extrusion of the state i.e. as the civil society extension of the JTF, if you will. The state leveraged on this to incorporate their fighting spirit. Official para-military bodies have been formed basically to absorb some of them, while the central CJTF reports to the General Officer Commanding the 7th Infantry Division.

The Nigerian army cannot solely claim the successes of the current offensive, with all honesty. A Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) of soldiers from Niger, Chad and Cameroon as well as mercenaries (from South Africa, Ukraine and Georgia) confronted the Boko Haram strongholds with massive fire power. The MNJTF had been established via a treaty in 1989 but was not actually put together as a standing body till just two years ago when Boko Haram fighters started rampaging into the territories of other Lake Chad basin countries.

After the abduction of the “Chibok girls” on April 14, 2014, the United States, Britain, France, Israel and China offered assistance in terms of training and intelligence to the Federal Government. Training centres were established for Nigerian soldiers, the main technical advisors in these were from the United States. But their expertise was to no avail. The more recent involvement of mercenaries shows the level of desperation of the state and suave business negotiations by private military companies. Erik Prince who founded Blackwater struck a deal with the Nigerian presidency to deliver military contractors (from South Africa) through his Frontiers Services Group. French mercenaries are also fighting alongside the MNJTF as part of the Nigerien contingent.

It is very unlikely that Boko Haram could be militarily defeated. What has been done against it in the current war is to roll back its conquest of territories which only started barely six months back. There have been continued bomb blasts by the sect with dozens killed in cities across the North East and also Jos in the North Central, even as the offensive waxes stronger. The sect is likely to continue with the sort of urban guerrilla tactics that initially gave it notoriety for a while.

The offensive and its relative triumphs have thrown up a question making the rounds; why did it take the presidency so long, to take such action? It would also be difficult to forget that President Jonathan did not say a word about the abduction of the Chibok pupils for three weeks. And this was after celebrities and politicians across the world had raised their voices to join the chorus of #bringbackourgirls (BBOG). Campaigners of BBOG have also been hounded by security forces. Also, while Jonathan condemned the “dastardly terrorist attack” against Charlie Hebdo, within hours, he never so much as uttered a word regarding what Amnesty International described as the “deadliest massacre” by the Boko Haram, with about 2,000 persons killed, in the same period.

There is a strong likelihood that in the next few days or weeks, the Nigerian state will have to contend with another form of violence; post-electoral violence. Over 900 persons were killed in violence that erupted (mainly in some northern states) when Goodluck Jonathan was declared president. There was also more localized fracas flowing from contestations of the gubernatorial elections in some volatile states.

The signs are ominous that things could be worse this time around. According to the National Human Rights Commission, not less than 58 persons have already been killed in political violence related to the two major parties’ campaigns. This is despite the signing of an “Abuja Peace Accord” by all the presidential candidates and the signing of similar “accords” by gubernatorial candidates in several states. And presently, hours to the elections, the two leading candidates are still running more or less neck to neck, according to opinion polls. Victory for either could thus be quite easily alleged to have been falsely won.

The PDP might be setting the stage for denying the veracity of elections results with its demand that the Permanent Voters Card (which over 80% of registered voters has now collected) should not be used. APC’s support for the use of PVC and the card reader might possibly constrain its leadership’s public cry of foul. But its foot soldiers, particularly in the northern states would most likely challenge such loss with violent protests. Tens of thousands of southerners living up north have travelled back home, to avoid being caught up in a fratricidal backlash. If there is any credible basis for supposing some level of rigging, an APC loss could very well ignite a return to the streets, not unlike the opening chapter of the “June 12 struggle” when the June 12, 1993 presidential election was annulled.

The labour movement, the war and the current situation

The one thing that there is an agreement on in the labour movement, regarding Boko Haram, is that, its reign of terror is condemnable. Within the socialist left though, there are quite significant differences in perspectives on what Boko Haram is or represents, and consequently on what is to be done, regarding this phenomenon. While the views of the different groups have evolved over the last six years of the war in the north east (and particularly become sharpened in the wake of the declaration of a state of emergency in the region on May 14, 2013), each tendency’s line of argumentation has in essence, maintained coherence and continuity.

The trade unions are further agreed on; charactering the sect as a terrorist organisation, demanding the military’s crushing of Boko Haram, and prioritising the need for peace in the north east. On the bases of these, the two trade union federations (Trade Union Congress and Nigeria Labour Congress) have issued several press statements and communiqués denouncing Boko Haram’s violence and mobilising public opinion for a military solution[6]. NLC has also organised several symposiums and rallies on the state of insecurity in the country and a national peace summit.

The perspectives of the Marxist-Leninist left (which is the dominant socialist trend within the NGOs community), could basically be considered as the same with those of the trade unions. The Protest to Power Movement, with a past in the International Socialist traditions takes a stance very close to that of the Marxist-Leninist left, being probably influenced as well by its mainly NGOist milieu. It considers the “root causes of the crisis” in the north east as simply being “a failure of governance and leadership”. It was of the view that: “the declaration of a state of emergency is welcomed, and should be supported”, albeit with such support being “qualified and contingent on how it is to be implemented”. It however “come(s) to the inevitable self revealing conclusion” that a “far reaching political solution” is necessary to resolve the dilemma which Boko Haram poses. This “transformative change” required boils down to “power” being won at the polls, if not in 2015 which is already beckoning, by 2019.

The Democratic Socialist Movement affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International does go deeper in its diagnosis and prognosis. It argues, not incorrectly, that “the Boko Haram menace, just like other ethno-religious violence in Nigeria, is inseparable from the unresolved national question flowing from the colonial past of this Nation as well as the unjust capitalist socio economic arrangement” and calls on the trade unions “to go beyond mere condemnation of the violence and calling on government to improve security by strengthening the police etc”. It also condemns “the so-called security forces illegal actions” against Boko Haram (such as extra-judicial killings) while denouncing the sect’s tactic of individual terror which could help the state justify broader repression.

The perspectives of the Grantist group, campaigning around the Workers Alternative appears profound but is fraught with internal incoherence. On one hand it considers Boko Haram as “nothing but a set of foot soldiers of sections of the Nigerian ruling class that went berserk” and adds that “Boko Haram is part and parcel of Nigerian ruling elite”. While agreeing that the base of the Boko Haram insurgency might be the petite bourgeois and lumpen proletariat, it argues that “these intermediate classes have no independent political character”. With this point of departure it concludes that “the war on terror is (a) continuation of intra-class war that is going on within the ruling elite”.

But, on the other hand, the group equally argues that “Boko Haram had its origins in bourgeois Sharia” but “maintains its independence from the intra-class struggle of the APC and PDP”. Further, while it accepts that the development of Boko Haram as a phenomenon “lies seriously in the extreme poverty in north eastern Nigeria combined with a highly repressive and oppressive state apparatus”, it would later ask thus: “if economic conditions and frustrations with the system created Boko Haram, why those same conditions fail to create Boko Haram in other parts of the country? Secondly, such frustrations had always been in existence in Nigeria but why Boko Haram did not emerge untill very recently?” Answering itself, it argues that the SWL perspectives which situate the emergence and development of the sect in material reality amount to a “mechanical economic determinist theory”.

The point of departure of the Socialist Workers League, associated with the International Socialist traditions is that Boko Haram can be best understood only within a context of totality: of the evolution of political Islamism (in Nigeria and globally); the nature of the ruling, working and intermediate classes; the national question, and; the state of the left.

We have identified three phases of the evolution of political Islamism in the country and this as part of a more global process (with two milestones at the international level: the Iranian revolution and 9/11 respectively) being: benign and mainly ruling class propelled from independence in 1960 to 1978/79; militant but still largely contained within and as part of the establishment from 1978/79 to 2001/02, and; the lethal phase, which Boko Haram is representative of. This last phase which commenced largely as a Sharia movement was only potentially a lethal “menace” until the turning point of 2009 when the insurgency started. Boko Haram had propensity for growth at the beginning of this phase, precisely because its roots were not in the Sharia movement. Its leadership had won respect and influence from a teeming mass of the poor in the earlier phase, for speaking out against both the secular and pro-establishment Islamist powers that be.

Central to Marxism is the truism that class struggle is the motive force of history. Understanding the class nature of movements as part and parcel of the broader class dynamics of the society in which these movements evolve, is thus of fundamental importance for defining them and propounding perspectives as guide to action for revolutionaries. Boko Haram[7] has a contradictory class character. It “involve(s) sections of the ruling elite for whom religion-as-politics is a tool for mobilisation of mass support for their aims”. These made money and land available to the sect in its early years to prosecute its Islamic “welfarism”.

“Many poor and dispossessed 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” also flocked to its banner. It is important though to stress that core working class elements within this rubric cannot but be minimal. In the first place, an extremely low level of industrialisation and formal sector production leaves the working class as basically one comprising the public sector workforce.

The leadership of the burgeoning Islamist movement at the time was drawn from the petite bourgeois strata of artisans, lower cadre professionals, and former students (many of whom were very active in the Moslem Students Society of Nigeria whilst in school). As it grew, this cadre of the group expanded in numbers. Hundreds, if not thousands of new converts who were graduates, tore their diplomas to shreds, in condemnation of Western education, presented as corrupting. The outright turn to armed struggle, using terror tactics has drastically reduced the number of active members of the group. But, while the support from sections of the ruling class might have become more surreptitious, this class mix of Boko Haram could arguably be said to still subsist.

In a country with not less than 250 ethnic nationalities, of which the largest three make up about a half of the population, the national question has been a major factor in both mainstream and resistance politics. The simplistic picture of a predominantly Christian south and a mainly Moslem north common in the Western press is very misleading. The north, which is now divided into three geo-political zones, was dominated by the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) in the 1st republic. It had the largest number of votes (though it could not constitute a sole majority in parliament), without fielding a single candidate in the Western and Eastern regions (comprising the “south”). But underneath this dominance lies a picture of resistance, not the least in the north east.

NPC was led by Sir Ahmadu Bello a scion of the Sokoto Caliphate established through a Jihad in 1804-09 which had overthrown the kingdoms of the Hausa in the North West (which it integrated, up to the borderlines of the North Eastern region). The myriad of ethnic nationalities in the North Central zone are mainly Christian. They heartedly accepted this religion and its missionary bearers as a mark of resistance to the “Hausa-Fulani” hegemony. But in the North East, the Kanem-Bornu Empire which stretches back a thousand years had adopted Islam as official religion centuries before the 19th century Jihad led by the Sufi scholar, Usmanu dan Fodiyo, but was still (unsuccessfully) attacked.

The modern period which unfolded with de-colonization saw old ghosts emerge in the relations between these two zones in the “Great North”. A major secular resistance to the NPC’s domination of the north was from the Borno province, where the Borno Youth Movement (BYM) formed in 1954 appealed to the mass, winning two seats in the 1961 elections. It forged an alliance with the radical Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) in the North Western heartland of Kano metropolis. Subsequently both allied with the social-democratic Action Group (AG) in the Western region.

For decades, it appeared that the marginalised nationalities in the country were those in the south. While almost all the juntas in the long military interregna were not Hausa-Fulani, they latched on to, and where identified as representing this “Northern” power bloc. “Power shift” to the South West in 1999 presented the northern elite with a ruse of “marginalisation” hinged on to religious identity (expressed in the Sharia movement), as a powerful tool for mass mobilisation.

It was the context of pauperisation and real (or perceived) marginalisation on one hand and identity politics mobilisation by the sections of the elite in each concerned region on the other hand which deepened resistance in the creeks of the Niger Delta into a guerrilla war (with perceivable strands of criminality) before the amnesty deal five years back. With the history of the peoples in the North East, this same context’s birth of an upsurge, could not have but been with a religious colouration.

The level of influence of left politics at different times has been very important in determining the particular course of development of mass movements. Such left parties as the Borno Youth Movement, Northern Elements Progressive Union and the Zamfara Commoners Front ensured that the masses resistance to oppression and yearning for a better system was propelled along secular lines. In the early 1980s, the Peoples Redemption Party (inheritor of NEPU in the 2nd republic) which won the governorship seats in the North Western states of Kaduna and Kano, as well as the fighting trade unions, provided secular radical leadership to the poor working masses. This was pivotal in undercutting the ideological and physical growth of the Yai Tatsine movement.

The impact of the collapse of revolutionary and radical forces presence and influence within the trade unions, on the campuses and in partisan politics has been quite dire across the country. In the Niger Delta, it contributed to appropriation, in the main, of what had started as a radical self-determination movement during the era of military dictatorship to a money making machine for “militants”, some of whom have vowed to take up arms again if their “son” Goodluck Jonathan loses the presidential election. Of the few registered left parties, the Peoples Redemption Party, which is in more ways than one a mere shadow of the 2nd republic PRP has “painfully” adopted President Jonathan’s bid, while the candidate of the National Conscience Party which the SWL is campaigning for is unlikely to make any significant impact.

More importantly, from several quarters on the left, the APC and particularly General Buhari its candidate have been supported as the “pragmatic” thing to do, in pursuit of, for some, a “national democratic revolution”. Others, rooted in the NGO community are more concerned with ensuring the institutionalisation of free, fair and credible elections[8]. This is supposed to consolidate the democratisation process necessary for left elements to be able to win “power” today or someday, through the polls.

Indeed, not a few leftists participated in primaries of the two leading parties of the bosses (particularly more so in the APC). But, they learnt the hard way that big money is the life blood of bourgeois politics, falling aside in the face of better oiled campaign machineries of more established rich aspirants. Civil society organisations like the Centre for Social Justice have condemned the excessive monetisation of the electoral process to the tune of billions of dollars in contravention of relevant laws limiting campaign funding, to no effect.

Conclusion: beyond the general elections

The likelihood of crisis in the aftermath of the elections is very high. The seeds for this possibility have already been sown. On the part of the radical left, there are also frantic efforts to forge a broader coalition in the face of austerity measures and the possible upheaval that could flow from the keenly contested elections. The trade unions are equally undergoing a re-birth, albeit with some friction. In the wake of the 11th National Delegates Conference which produced a fighting leadership, a splinter group was declared by unions which lost out in the elections. While attempts at reconciliation are ongoing, organised labour is still better placed now to give leadership to an emergent mass movement than was the case during the military era when such a situation arose after the annulled 1993 elections.

The PDP tried its utmost to ensure the Permanent Voters Card is not used, and even if it will be used, not with the card reader machine, claiming this amounts to “electronic voting” which violates the electoral law. Several attempts were made to remove Professor Jega as INEC Chair when he refused to budge, with the argument that since he is billed to leave office by June, he should proceed first on a pre-retirement leave. The general mood in support of the use of both the PVC and the card reader to check electoral fraud however tied the hands of the PDP. But if it loses, this will definitely serve as an excuse to dispute the results.

Confident that it would be victorious, the APC has thrown its weight solidly behind the use of the PVC and card reader. It has however raised its voice against the deployment of troops to provide security during the elections, fearing that it is a ploy by the PDP to rig. A court ruling few days to the elections in favour of an APC legislator bars the military from being deployed without a resolution of the National Assembly. But it appears that the military would be used all the same, supposedly at the outer periphery of electoral areas. This would be something for APC to hold on to if it loses.

Irrespective of how things work out, with or without such an envisaged implosion, the state’s depleted resources would engender mass anger. An APC government might try to implement its Keynesian pipe-dream, but the cold water of reality would douse this in no time. Austerity measures, which have commenced are likely to bite harder. A series of fierce anti-austerity battles most likely lie ahead. The NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba at his first media briefing on March 9 gave a signal of the shape this could take when he pointed out that the current minimum wage is take home pay that is not enough to take any worker home.

The myth of a defeat of radical Islamism is also likely to unravel in no distant future. While territories seized by Boko Haram have been retrieved by the military, suicide bombings have not stopped. The likelihood of militarily defeating Boko Haram as an urban insurgency is very slim. But even if it is defeated, similar groups in gestation are likely to take its place.

Now more than ever, the revolutionary left has to throw itself into the tasks of organising and spreading the influence of socialist ideas. Avenues for these are expanding with the recent/ongoing fight back against tuition fees increases on the campuses, the commitment to a return to the founding principles of the trade union movement in the NLC, and a restive mass, seeking much more real change than APC could in the final analysis give.

In the unfolding moment, working people across the world as well as Nigerians in different countries as happened during the January 2012 Uprising must join us in the struggle against the bosses, who merely seek to perpetuate the bondage of we, the 99%, irrespective of their party colours. The struggle against the exploitative system which capitalism is is an international one, even as the frontline for us all is against the bosses on the lands we live. Our allies are not a Barack Obama with fine sounding but empty letters, or a junketing John Kerry. Only we, as working people anywhere can stand by and stand by us as working people anywhere.

Beyond the 2015 elections, a renewal of mass struggle and the reawakening of workers’ power beacons on the horizons. United and determined, we will win.

[1] The major parties in contention out of fourteen with presidential candidates are the Peoples Democratic Party of President Goodluck Jonathan and the opposition All Progressives Congress with a former military Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, as its candidate.

[2] In 1989, the military tried to artificially forge such parties by decreeing into being two parties, the National Republican Party (“a little to the right”) and the Social Democratic Party (“a little to the left”)

[3] often translated as “peasants”, but more correctly as “the poor” or “propertyless”.

[4] The roots of such mobilisation, particularly in the north, can at least partly be seen in colonial policy of enforcing the segregation of cities into quarters for: Europeans, Lebanese and Syrians; the indigenous population; other northerners, and; “‘native foreigners’ who were largely Christians from southern Nigeria”.

[5] as brawn in defence of the ballot boxes, something common in Nigerian electoral politics

[6] however, they also supported a negotiated settlement after the Federal Government announced a peace deal with the group, which came to nought.

[7] its fractions really, and similar, but as at the moment smaller Salafi-Jihadist groups like Ansaru

[8] something not bad in itself, but definitely a side step from challenging for power itself



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