Nigeria: The Jos mayhem: Characteristic of a failed state

Only working class solution can hold Nigeria together in harmony and peace

Below is an article written by Segun Sango, General Secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria) on the violent sectarian clashes in Jos, in central Nigeria. The article was also carried by The Vanguard and The Guardian, two established Lagos based Nigerian national newspapers.

The Jos mayhem: Characteristic of a failed state

The Jos mayhem that has claimed about 400 lives and several million Naira worth of property and displaced about 500 people from their houses is a big tragedy for the poor working masses of the city. Yet again, calamity has hit working people as the apparent helplessness produced by continuing despair, along with the seeming absence of a way out, has produced new victims. The spark that produced this crisis has further shown that the conduct of election which is always characterized by riggings and manipulations has become a permanent festering sore in Nigeria. Also, it is a further proof on the inability of the government to guarantee peace and harmony on the basis of capitalism, which has proved incapable of developing Nigeria.

Newspapers have reported that the violence broke out after an attempt by ANPP (All Nigeria People’s Party) supporters to prevent their candidate from being rigged out. Against the background of numerous unresolved national questions which largely arose from the undemocratic manner in which the country called Nigeria was arbitrarily created by British imperialism, a seemingly simple electoral dispute has unfortunately degenerated into a morbid ethno-religious crisis.

Like the previous one, the 2007 election was chiefly characterised by riggings. The opposition parties that cried blue murder then, have shown themselves to be equally fraudulent by ensuring that they win all the local government councils in the states they control. This has shown that the electoral fraud extends far beyond the PDP (People’s Democratic Party). It is characteristic of the whole thieving ruling elite irrespective of political parties, who see politics as a big racket and minefield for their self-serving interests. As the BBC commentated, "while ethnic and religious violence has claimed thousands of lives in Nigeria in recent years, the real trigger for the violence is usually competition for resources … And in Nigeria political office is perhaps the most powerful resource of all as it gives the holder access to some of country’s huge oil revenues."

Conflict rooted in rotten policies of government

Thus, beneath the crisis is a tumultuous socio-economic problem that has made available a huge number of young people who are jobless and at the disposal of politicians to achieve their greed-driven goals. In spite of huge resources realised from the oil boom that have lasted almost a decade, until recently, there was no fundamental improvement in the standard of living and infrastructure development, only brazen looting by thieving fat cats in government at all levels. In fact, basic needs like education and health care were taken out of reach of poor people by heavy commercialisation, while unemployment increases in leaps and bounds year in, year out. Now the slump in government revenue will attract more virulent neo-liberal attacks as the ruling elite attempt to make the poor working masses pay the price for this capitalist crisis. In Jos, poor masses have unfortunately vented the social tension and pent-up anger thrown up by anti-poor neo-liberal policies on each other. This is not inevitable; when Labour has shown that it is willing to struggle it can unite the mass of working people. But in the absence of a working class platform that could guide working class elements towards a political agenda, there is always potential for an ethno-religious crisis.

Military intervention no solution – socialist change needed

As usual, the government has deployed military tanks and personnel to the trouble spot. As has been shown in the past, this could at best bring a temporary solution, albeit with daily harassment of people by the soldiers. This is not the first time there has been violence in Plateau State. It will be recalled that in 2006 there was a mayhem that attracted an imposition of an undemocratic and unconstitutional state of emergency by the Obasanjo government on the state. Despite all the hot air blown by the government and ruling elite, here comes another crisis. Unfortunately however, sooner or later, there will be another one, not only in Plateau but also elsewhere in the country as long as the rotten capitalist system prevails.

The deployment of soldiers in itself could turn into another problem for poor working masses of the state with harassment and extortion. It is also possible for an agent provocateur to kill a soldier. The reaction of an army of occupation in such a situation is to unleash terror on the entire community, as was the case in Odi and Zaki Biam. This is one of the reasons we (DSM – CWI in Nigeria) call for withdrawal of the military. To defend working people it is vitally necessary to form peoples’ defence committees, with elected representatives of workers, youths, community people and security operatives, in all the communities in the state. The latest ethno-religious mayhem in Jos has been appropriately condemned by the Nigerian Labour Congress. However, we urge that further to this, labour should use its authority and influence to put in place practical measures like the formation of "peoples defence committees" to ensure that working class people of different ethno-religious backgrounds are protected from sectarian violence and also the mindless state repression of rights that normally goes along with the so-called "military solution".

More importantly, the perennial ethno-religious crisis has further underlined then necessity of a working class alternative and a socialist solution. This is one of the reasons we have been calling on leadership of labour and pro-masses’ organisations to facilitate building of a working class political alternative that could wrest power from the thieving ruling elite and use the resources of the society for infrastructural development, job creation, education, health care, etc. Such party could be able to ensure working class unity and would have no cause to rig elections to ascend political power. However, to establish a strong bond with working class elements, that party, in and out of power, has to intervene and mobilize working people for joint struggle for their immediate demands. Most importantly, the party, and if in government, has to be run on the basis of genuine socialist programme that will entail public ownership of commanding heights of the economy with democratic management and control by the working people.

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December 2008