SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 169 June 2013

Nigeria’s state of emergency

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on 14 May, as part of his government’s so-called ‘war against terrorism’. It is being imposed in three states in the northeast: Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. Even if it curtails the violence that has taken over this part of the country for the last three years in the short term, it is bound to be a temporary respite. Far from a solution, this state of emergency – another name for a brutal and indiscriminate military clampdown – will lead to the escalation of the conflict to unimaginable proportions, especially in the medium and long term.

This is because, just like other strong-arm measures taken by the government in recent years, this new step fails to seek an efficient solution to the root cause of violent extremism. That would only be possible by resolving the crisis of poverty amidst plenty, the absence of social infrastructure and the alarming wealth inequality in Nigeria – the fertile soil of alienation upon which violent extremism flourishes.

The state of emergency means the intensification of the on-going militarisation of the country under the guise of fighting Boko Haram terrorists. The special military squad, the Joint Task Force (JTF), has been in the region for several years. It is notorious for attacks on the democratic rights of innocent working people. The emergency proclamation, therefore, represents nothing more than the deployment of more troops and tanks to the states and the further curtailment of democratic rights. It is instructive that the proclamation came several weeks after the massacre of about 200 civilians in Baga by soldiers in just one day.

The Socialist Party of Nigeria is completely opposed to the reactionary activities of terror groups like Boko Haram. We are against any act or method of individual terrorism in the struggle against the policies of the thieving ruling elites. But the root cause of the Boko Haram insurgency is the unresolved nationality question, as well as widespread discontent over poverty, unemployment, homelessness and the unbridled corruption of the capitalist ruling class in a country endowed with vast oil and mineral wealth.

A brutal military and police clampdown will only escalate the crisis. It should not be forgotten that the 2009 killing of Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, after he had been arrested and paraded before the media, only strengthened the group. Though on a much bigger scale, now, this is not the first time that a state of emergency has been declared on some parts of the north by the Jonathan administration. Since December 2011, 15 local council areas across four states – Niger and Plateau, as well as Yobe and Borno – have been under intensive military occupation. Nonetheless, Boko Haram has not been reined in.

Although this current military offensive may tame the situation, temporarily, the examples of Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, etc, show that it cannot stamp out insurgent and terrorist activities so long as the fundamental causes of the problems are not addressed. The crackdown in the northeast has started to provoke a surge in terrorist activities in other parts of the north.

The state of emergency, which arrogates power to the military, subjugates the civilian authorities and suppresses democratic rights in the affected states. It is an open invitation, albeit inadvertently, to military adventurers to take political power in the country. It has given the impression of the incapacity of civil rule to tackle the security challenges in the country.

Therefore, against its support for the military offensive under the guise of state of emergency, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) urges the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to support the demand for the formation of democratic mass self-defence committees in workplaces and communities under the democratic control of the trade unions and mass organisations of poor farmers and working people. This would be the first step in confronting the menace of Boko Haram and other terror groups. Such democratic defence committees involving working-class people, poor farmers and youth, and cutting across all ethnic or religious divides, would have the duty to patrol and maintain security day and night, carry out surveillance and any investigation necessary to identify terrorists or criminals, and mobilise en masse to defeat them.

It is only if Labour leads such an approach that it can be possible to begin to tackle the Boko Haram menace in a pro-working peoples manner, and prevent a nationwide descent into bloody ethnic and religious strife. The military Joint Task Force cannot endear itself to the ordinary people whose support is a major requirement to defeat Boko Haram.

The SPN also stands with rank-and-file soldiers, police and other working-class members of the armed and security forces. They are also victims of terrorist violence created as a result of the policies of Nigeria’s corrupt ruling elite. The rank-and-file soldiers and police are poorly paid yet have bled and died in the discharge of their duties. We urge the labour movement to issue a public appeal to rank-and-file troops not to turn their arms against the ordinary people under the guise of fighting Boko Haram.

This requires, however, that the activities of the police and armed forces be subjected to the democratic control of elected representatives of the affected communities. Labour should also show an interest in the welfare and conditions of the police and armed forces by leading the demand for the rank-and-file police and other forces to belong to or form trade unions through which they can agitate for a living wage and better conditions.

Also imperative is for the labour movement to come up with a programme of action that recognises the undemocratic nature of the founding of Nigeria, as well as the exploitation and mass poverty of a majority of the population. These are the fundamental causes of the rising ethno-religious violence in the country. Such a programme will have to include the trade union movement building mass campaigns nationwide and actions involving strikes and mass protests that can unite the working masses and poor youth in a struggle against unemployment, homelessness, education commercialisation, for a living wage and against the capitalist system that breeds inequality and chaos.

The labour movement and pro-working peoples organisations must lead a campaign for the urgent convocation of an independent sovereign national conference with the full democratic representation of the working class, youth, ethnic groups, etc. Its primary aim would be to debate whether or not Nigeria ought to be a single nation state and, if yes, on what terms and conditions. In essence, the much touted unity of Nigeria should be democratically negotiated and not taken for granted.

The rapid deterioration of the situation is a dire warning of how Nigeria’s crisis can quickly worsen the ethno-religious divisions, and the repressive measures that can be implemented by the government. Labour needs to act now and not throw away opportunities – like it did most recently with the January 2012 mass protest and general strike. Only the working masses can unite the country through joint struggle against the ruling elite. There can be no confidence in this government which has, like its predecessors, acted to defend the power and wealth of the elite.

To prevent total ruin, the labour movement needs to come out fully as a social force that can lead Nigerians out of the mess and chaos created by the ruling elite. It should convene an independent sovereign national conference and build a mass working people’s political party to implement the resolutions of such a conference by taking political power from the corrupt ruling elite and forming a workers’ and poor people’s government on a socialist programme.

Segun Sango, Socialist Party of Nigeria

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