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Issue 31, October 1998

The national question in Nigeria

THE FACT THAT the northern elite blocked Abiola, a southerner, from becoming president in 1993 has led to growing support, especially among Yorubas, for secession.

Traditionally the workers' movement stood for maintaining the unity of the country, against attempts to 'divide and rule'. But with the dead end capitalism offers Nigeria the question is starkly posed that either capitalism is overthrown or the country will break up, or at the very least be wrecked by ethnic/religious conflict.

Given the fact that there are over 250 identified ethnic groups in Nigeria a break-up could be extremely brutal. There are minorities within minorities. For example Ogonis, who were brought into the spotlight by the 1995 execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists, are not simply one nation. Reflecting the region's low level of development they themselves are divided into six kingdoms and speak four languages.

Desperate struggles for land and work can, in the absence of an alternative, spark off bitter struggles. The military's March 1997 relocation of local government offices has sparked off tribal clashes in different areas. Around the eastern city of Warri over 1,000 were killed in 1997 in tribal battles in which automatic weapons were regularly used. This year has seen fighting between Ife and Modakeke tribes, both of which are Yoruba-based, over the location of a local government headquarters.

The Democratic Socialist Movement's founding declaration states that "as socialists, we advocate a united socialist Nigeria, based on free and voluntary association and built on social justice and the principle of equal and fair treatment for all the nationalities that make up the country... It is only a workers' and poor peasants' government, built on socialist foundations, that has the potential and capacity to forge a truly harmonious relationship between the different nationalities that make up Nigeria. Consequently, we are totally opposed to, and will strongly resist, any process whereby any section(s) of the country attempts to use force of arms to keep any other section(s) of the country to remain within the geo-political entity called Nigeria (or any other name)".

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