Generalised insecurity of lives has become the new normal in Nigeria. Across the country, and particularly in the northern states, hundreds of lives have been lost this year alone. And many as well have been kidnapped for ransom by bandits. The rural state of Zamfara with 4.5million residents is in the eye of this gruesome storm of death. Hundreds of protesters from the state marched from the Unity Fountain to the Presidential Villa at Abuja on 6 April to vent their anger at the inability of government to guarantee their security.
Speaking during the protest, renowned journalist Kadaria Ahmed said: “We have the challenge of security situation all over the country, but that of Zamfara is clearly bad. We are tired of mass burial and that is why we are calling on PMB to intervene.” But President Muhammadu Buhari appears to have no clue on how to end the bloodbath in Zamfara or anywhere else in the country. All he could say is that he is not happy about the situation and cannot be indifferent to it.
The First Lady, Aisha Buhari who considers the situation “unfortunate”, asked the affected people to embark on prayers and seek for Allah’s intervention in the problem, while doling out relief materials to 5,000 Internally Displaced People (as a result of the killings). And Abdulaziz Yari, the state governor who also doubles as chair of the governors’ forum can only lament that he has no control over security. But while he claims to have resigned as chief security officer because it is a constitutionally ineffective role for governors, he continues to collect and pocket billions of naira as security vote!
These uninspiring half-hearted responses can no longer be tolerated. But the question is – can the bosses’ class and their government in Aso Rock stop this bloody madness? Answers to this question require a critical understanding of the problem.
According to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations’ (CFR) “Nigeria Security Tracker”, 269 civilians have been killed in Zamfara within roughly the first 100 days of the year (residents of Zamfara are of the opinion that this is a gross underestimation of the deaths. There are large numbers of undocumented massacres in the killing fields that the state has become). 63% of these were killed between March and the first week of April, while in the same period 28 and 14 people were killed in Borno and Adamawa respectively – a low intensity war zone between the Nigerian state and Boko Haram insurgents.
The killings by bandits started in Zamfara eight years ago in Lingyado village of Dansadau district. The earlier bandits were small-scale cattle rustlers. The affected cattle rearing villagers organised as vigilante groups which tried to repulse those attacks. Over the last two years, the situation has gone from bad to terrible. There has been an escalation of attacks and killings. 52 persons were killed by bandits in 2017 and 288 last year.
Illegal mining of gold has been fingered as the main cause of the recent atrocious turn. The federal government announced a ban on illegal mining in the state on 7 April, saying there is a “strong and glaring nexus between the activities of armed bandits and illicit miners, with both mutually re-enforcing each other”.
The acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu also issued an order that “all foreigners within mining sites are to leave immediately”, as the police launched “operation puff-adder” in the government’s attempt to crush the banditry. But the problem is much more complex and sowing xenophobic sentiments is a reactionary ploy to win support for the incompetent police and armed forces.
Already, speaking on behalf of the Zamfara state council of chiefs, Hassan Attahiru Bungundu, the Emir of Bungundu said many innocent villagers have been killed in misdirected air strikes by military. The Nigeria Air Force still stubbornly claims it was bandits’ locations that it bombed. But we all know NAF is lying through its teeth.
In a similar manner, it killed over 100 people in Borno state two years ago, when trying to bomb a Boko Haram base. It was however difficult for the military to lie its way through that massacre because it was in an IDP camp that was bombed, while those killed in Zamfara were in their villages.
High-powered intrigues are already at play to absolve the wobbling military. The Emir of Anka and Chairman of the Council of Chiefs, Attahiru Ahmad has disowned the list of civilians recently killed by the NAF. But he could not outrightly deny military “mistakes” that cost civilian lives, saying the killings were spread over two years and across just four of the seven emirates in the state!
There is indeed a glaring nexus between resources and banditry in Zamfara and generally. This is the logic of capitalist development. The banditry of governments, particularly those of imperialist states such as the United States with their soldiers killing over a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians for example, is not at all dissimilar to the reinforcement of deaths and resource grab in Zamfara. The only difference is that of a questionable institutional “legitimacy” of the governmental terrorism asa against terrorism by so-called “non-state actors”.
In Zamfara, just as in Iraq, Congo and everywhere people are being killed over resources, the “big men”, capitalists organised as different competing cartels, are behind the killing fields. These include politicians like Yahuza Wuya, the Vice Chairman of Anka Local Government Area who was recently arrested for providing information to bandits, and business men, still lurking in the shadows. The gun-toting bandits are their hired hands.
Capitalism is a systemic catastrophe for humankind. It furthers underdevelopment of life for the working masses economically and socially. Specifically, in Zamfara; poor masses have been drawn into the artisanal mining for years, without protection, as a means of making ends meet. This led to the exposure of thousands of residents to lead poisoning between 2010 and 2015, with 163 of them dying. The bandits, on behalf of big business men, are muscling out the poor and hapless artisanal miners for more rigorous illegal mining. This is what is at the root of the banditry.
Zamfara state is one of the poorest states in the country, with 70.8% poverty rate. The level of infrastructural development and provision of social services is abysmal. More than 300 public primary schools have just one teacher each! That is why there were only 28 candidates from the state for the common entrance examinations into 104 Federal Government Colleges in 2018. And the entire state has just 24 hospitals, which altogether have only 23 doctors.
To divert attention from the systemic failure of capitalism the ruling class often plays the card of identity politics using ethnicity, religion, regionalism etc. In a state like Zamfara where this failure is so immense, the ruling class plays such cards with even more alacrity than its peers elsewhere. That is why the elite in Zamfara was the first state to introduce Sharia law – in 1999.
It is working-class people and not the bosses’ state that can put an end to banditry in Zamfara. Kadaria Ahmed was probably right when she said Governor Yari is “the most useless governor in Nigeria’s history”. And it says a lot about the governors across the length and breadth of the country that he is their chair. Indeed, “Abdulaziz Yari Must Go”, as governor. That is however not enough.
The working-class must provide leadership to finding alternatives. The vast majority of Zamfarans are poor, but the state is rich in gold and other mineral resources, which are being plundered by a few who stand behind the bandits. Working people must demand public takeover of mining and control with active involvement of the trade unions and communities in the process, to avoid corruption by government functionaries.
Immediate massive scale-up of social services is essential to improve the lives of working-class people and their children. Equipped schools and hospitals must be built with a sense of urgency to provide free and qualitative education and health care. The colleges of education and health technology in the state have to be expanded to ensure adequate human resources for delivery of education and health services.
It is also important to note that working-class people should not put any faith in the traditional leaders to provide leadership as shown by the disagreements between the Emirs of Bungundu and Anka on one hand, and the Minister of Defence, Mansa Muhammad Dan-Ali, who alleged that some traditional rulers are part of the big men behind the banditry on the other hand.
Equally, the working masses cannot entrust their security in the hands of the government’s security forces. The military’s killing of civilians is just a tip of the iceberg. And we have seen just how much of a friend the police is with its harvest of murders of innocent citizens across the country.
Independent community-based vigilante groups that have sporadically emerged over the last few years such as “Yan Banga” and “Yan Sa Kai” demonstrate the need for self-defence. Working-class influence must be exerted on them to prevent their being incorporated by the bosses’ state as was the case with the Civilian JTF which is now merely an extension of the army in the north east.
Zamfara has a vibrant trade union movement that has at times stood up to the government. It has a great task before it, to provide working-class leadership. There is a rich history of independent struggle of the working people for it to draw from, such as the Zamfara Commoners Party six decades ago. ZCP joined the Aminu Kano-led NEPU and the Tiv-based UMBC to form the Northern Progressive Front in defiance of the conservative Northern People’s Congress.
It is also clear that the situation in Zamfara is part and parcel of the repulsive crisis of capitalism in Nigeria as a whole. Trade unions in the state, which was also one of the more radical strongholds of the Labour Party at its formation 17 years ago must equally issue a call to the national leaderships of NLC and TUC for the founding of a new worker’s party with a socialist programme for working-class people’s self-emancipation as enunciated in the 2003 NLC policy on labour and politics.
by Baba AYE