Boko Haram & Imperative of a Working class alternative
A government that has destroyed the foundation of a sane society will find it comfortable to vent its frustration on the symptom of the decay than redressing itself. This actually captured the recent mass slaughter of members of the Boko Haram sect.
I am much worried about the manner in which the media addresses the issue. While reports were revealed that over 700 people were killed in Borno State alone and several houses destroyed, public commentators especially the media concentrated on the criminal murder of the head of the sect, Muhammed Yussuf. There were attempt to obscure who actually killed hundreds of people while there seems to be a sigh of relief after the mass murder and in fact the murder of Muhammed. Aside the over fifteen Christians reported to have been gruesomely murdered, few policemen and scores of churches and public institutions, by the senseless Boko Haram sect, there was no full report to indicate who killed the remaining hundreds. But according to a conversation with Yussuf before his murder, it is clear that it was the police and the army that were behind the orgy of terror on Maiduguri and other cities in the north, despite all attempt to put this on the Boko Haram (no matter the wildness of the group).
As far as I'm concerned, the killing in hundreds of ordinary members of the sect is grievous than the death of Muhammed Yussuf. Several members of the group may not completely understand the ideas of the sect as media report even confirmed, many were coerced by the sect leaders. There is possibility of factions within the sect, as Yussuf himself hijacked the sect from some former leaders. This is aside several innocent persons killed. Consequently, any genuinely minded person should hold the police, the military and the government (both state and federal) responsible for the crisis. This however does not absolve the sect especially its leaders and their faceless backers, who started the crisis with their wield idea that western education/civilization is bad when in actual fact, western education/civilization, no matter the limitation imposed on it by profit-oriented capitalism is a continuation and improvement over previous civilizations - Egypt, Greek, Chinese, Roman, Arabian, Germanic, etc. But the point must be made that majority of the dead in the crisis were murdered in cold blood. In fact, some soldiers, policemen and indeed military officials, themselves awed by the degree of brutality, were forced to reveal some classified information, including footage and pictures of the killings, data on number of people and houses destroyed and the involvement of political officers.
To add insult on injury, the dead were mass buried by the police obviously to avoid a full investigation on the circumstances of their death or even allow their family members to identify their corpses. Some of the dead are breadwinners in their families, how will government help their families to survive when the bodies of their breadwinners have been covered up. The excuse of the police authorities that the bodies are decomposing and could not be preserved simply underlines the lack of basic health facilities in the country which reinforces the failure of governance in Nigeria. Only a sick society will feel relieved that a graveyard peace was achieved on the carcasses of over seven hundred lives.
The criminal manner of handling the Boko Haram issue should not be seen as a crudeness of policemen and foot soldiers alone, but that of the Nigerian state. Immediately the riot started, Yar'Adua was quick to sanction the use of maximum force to quell the crisis. Immediately after the murder of Yussuf, the information and communication minister, Dora Akunyili, throwing caution to the wind, asked Nigerians to be happy that at least the riots have been put down even if in the most criminal manner. Therefore, the removal of Police Commissioner in Borno State and the so-called probe panel set up by Yar'Adua is a smokescreen to silence critics of the mass murder. How can a government that ordered and justified the mass murder set up a panel to probe the killing. Reports have shown that the government including Yar'Adua and the police ignored several red signals sent by the State Security Service (SSS) on the activities of this sect while the judiciary and the highly powerful who protected this and other sects are indictable. Will the probe panel expose Yar'Adua too?
But why will a government preferred to kill its own citizens in order to achieve “peace”? In the first instance, Yar'Adua government is in serious crisis. The Niger Delta has refused all government ridiculous solutions, workers' organizations are in continual battle with it, there is widespread public rejection of the government and all basic facilities especially electricity have remained debacles. Consequently, the Boko Haram crisis only helped the government to divert attention from these central issues. This is not new. Whenever government finds itself in a fix, it uses various means to engage the attention of the people; and no thank to our pro-ruling class media, government most times has its way. Secondly, for a seriously weakened government which has failed in all ramifications, use of brute force helps it to show fake strength and also send jitters to the spines of its critics. Use of brute force against Boko Haram sect is meant to send message to all dissidents of government that the status quo cannot be challenged. One should not be surprised when police and army are deployed against striking workers or protesting youth and students. Thirdly, the heavy attack on Maiduguri helps the anti-poor government to justify billions budgeted for military and defence, most of which find their ways to the account of big business and their acolytes in politics. In 2008 alone, the budget for defence of over N440 billion was more than the budgets for education and health.
It is an open secret that various crises in the country have been fueled by sections of the ruling class who uses the agitation to further their nests. For instance, in the early 1980's, destitute were mobilised to the streets by Kano feudal oligarchy to cause mayhem when the Abubakar Rimi/PRP government issued a query to the emir which led to the death of Bala Muhammed. In the south-south, several official and unofficial reports confirmed the roles played politicians in fueling oil bunkering, kidnapping and fake militancy. More than this, it is pertinent to state that the rise and growth of wild religious sects such as Boko Haram were engendered by northern ruling class and Nigerian government. It will be recalled that some years back, many northern governors, including Umar Yar'Adua, were the advocates of the Sharia law thus setting the foundation for divisive religious fundamentalism. While it is true that people have right to self-determination, the reality is that the implementation of Sharia is ill-conceived and fraudulent. Where was any referendum conducted to determine whether the people in these states wanted Sharia law? The reality is that the northern section of Nigerian ruling class, fearful of losing power to their southern counterpart, needed to hold on to a divisive stake which they can pull anytime in order to sustain their share in the national loot.
With pervasive poverty and misery in the north and the country as a whole, religious bigotry engendered by the northern ruling class has blossomed into full blown fundamentalism with various smaller sections of the ruling class using it to fester their pecuniary interests while younger disillusioned minds, who have been deprived of basic living means have found solace in religious fundamentalism. The northern oligarchy, having achieved their aim of controlling power, now sees religious bigotry, as a fetter to their interests. Thus they have to curb it even if it involves destroying a whole city. It is worth stating that many of this northern ruling class who introduced the Sharia are as corrupt as their southern colleagues. Most of the governors and legislators in the north were rigged into office with billions of looted behind this. This is bound to continue in 2011 if there is no genuine working class platform with a socialist orientation to defeat neo-colonial capitalism. The problem with Nigeria is not implementation of one Sharia or another stricter law, but with the ruling capitalist class and the neo-colonial, neo-liberal capitalist system they represent, which has continued to 'legally' (through over-bloated salaries, allowances and contracts) and illegally looting put the huge public wealth in the hands of the tiny ruling clique while the poor continue rot in poverty, misery and squalor.
The Boko Haram sect riot will not be the last in the country, going by the nature of ruling class in the country. It is worth stating that the wanton destruction of lives and properties in the north in the name of curtailing fundamentalism will further fueled anger amongst the people, most of whom have seen nothing positive about Nigeria. Critically examined, the idea of Boko Haram (western education is a taboo) reflect the rotten state of the country. How will you tell a young chap of 20 years, who have not seen the wonders of titration in the chemistry laboratory or what mechanical advantage means, that public education is good. For the past ten years of civilian rule, nothing could be shown as gain of civilian rule in the country. Thus, a young boy of 10, 15 or 20 years is a potential religious fundamentalist, ethnic militant or social miscreant. You only need to visit Nigerian cities to see army of potential social miscreants. For the north, it is even worse: with education rates very low while gainful jobs are hard to come by, Boko Haram and other religious crises before it are natural expectations.
The ruling classes who have held sway in the country at least for the past ten years should be held responsible for the various crises in the country. While the reactionary ruling class in the north was quick to introduce Sharia law, in order to retain their privileges, provision of free and quality education, healthcare and gainful employment for the youth are elusive. It should be recalled that tens of thousand of jobs were lost in the past ten years as a result of collapse of hundreds of medium-sized industries in the north. Today, the remaining big firm, Peugeot Automobile Nigeria is already in doldrums. Yet, a few moneybags have emerged from the north through corrupt politics. Despite over N20 trillion that had accrued to the nation's purse, nothing could be shown in terms of social infrastructures, but the ruling class was content with officially looting of over N5 trillion naira from the coffer: for salaries alone. Rather than put under the democratic public ownership, the collapsed firms especially the over 820 industries, banks and corruptly run big companies, the Nigerian ruling class have continued to loot more. In the past two years of Yar'Adua's rule, over N5 trillion had accrued to the purse of the country. This amount coupled with massive exploitation of the various resources in the country, reduction of salaries of political officers to workers' level and retrieval of trillions stolen by public officials, could to improve the social infrastructures of the country – provide free and quality public education and health at all levels; massive industrialization (through public ownership) and provision of public infrastructures – sustainable energy and power sector (solar, wind, hydro, biomass, etc), integrated transport system (rail, water, expanded road), environmentally-sustainable, poor peasant-based, mechanized agricultural and agro-industrial system, massive but cheap public housing, etc. But do you expect a government instituted by corruption and based on neo-liberal capitalism to do this. Those who have continued to loot the country are strutting round the country, yet another $2 billion (about N300 billion) is to be shared by the tiers of government.
It should however be raised that the Boko Haram crisis is not a special case but like every reactionary and far-right group, is a product of pervasive disillusionment. In the absence of genuine revolutionary mass organization that will galvanize the anger of the working and poor people together for radical changes, far-right and backward groups in the form religious, ethnic or racial colouration are bound to grow. In Nigeria, while we have Boko Haram in the north, we have Niger Delta militants in the creeks, many Yoruba jingoist groups in the south west and Igbo secessionists in the south-east. Of course, there should be right of self-determination, the reality is that without a genuine revolutionary, socialist mass organization of the working people, even secession can bring more miseries than under a repressive state. For instance, while Niger Delta militants complains about the use of oil resources, the monies realized by the militants from oil bunkering do not go to the poor people of the region but only in the service of few clique of gun-wielding thugs, their godfathers and multinational collaborators.
For a On the other hand, experience have shown that when the masses through their organizations like NLC and LASCO embark on national struggles, ethnic cum religious jingoist tendencies are subsumed. Experiences outside the country give credence to this. For instance, in Europe and America, there are far-right tendencies which tend to divert the agitation of the people for better living to racial lines without providing a genuine way for the European poor; with a strong working class movement, many of these groups are unpopular. However, in the last European elections, as a result of growing misery of millions of European working class coupled with treachery of labour leadership, some far-rights are gained vote. Notwithstanding this, where there were strong socialist forces like in Dublin, Ireland where socialist Joe Higgins contested and won, far-right tendencies hardly surfaced. Racial and far-right tendencies show their strength at a period of social and economic crises which require a radical intervention of the working class organizations. It should also be recalled that the failure of socialist forces to lead the masses to a revolutionary change led to the triumph of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi forces.
All this point to one thing: working and poor people need a fighting organization that will raise the demands of the working people for a genuine government in Nigeria. This is the time for labour and pro-labour organizations to build a working class political party with a socialist orientation which will demand public ownership of commanding height of the economy under the democratic control of the working people themselves which will provide adequate resources to make lives better for the poor people. The current protest marches of the labour and civil society across the country should naturally lead to this. There is also urgent need to restructure the labour movement across the country (especially the state chapters and affiliates) so as to serve as a fighting platform of the working people which will link the anger of the poor people across the country rather than being diverted to reactionary ethnic lines. This is the central challenge now!
Kola Ibrahim (08059399178, [email protected])
Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU),
P.O.Box 1319, GPO, Enuwa, Ile-Ife.