Terrorism Takes Root in Nigeria amidst Deep Social and Economic Crisis
At approximately 10:20 am on Friday 26 August 2011, Nigerians were thrown into panic as a suicide bomber rammed a car laden with deadly explosives through two security barriers and into the reception area of the office of the United Nations in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja. According to eye witness accounts, the explosion caused a huge blast that shook the entire building to its foundation, sending violent shock waves into the surrounding neighbourhood. Incidentally close to the United Nations office is the embassy of the United States and Nigeria’s national defence headquarters.
The impact of the explosion was so devastating that it destroyed the lower floors and caused “extensive damage to the entire building”, according to a statement released by the UN. Trapped amidst the debris were scores of United Nations’ staff including low pay security staffs and visitors. At the last count on Sunday 28 August 2011, 23 deaths were confirmed with about 73 injured and hospitalized. Among these are eleven United Nations’ staff but according to the organisation “the casualty number may change”.
The Islamic fundamentalist group Yussufiya movement, also known as Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility. This sect based in the North East of Nigeria has carried out several bombing and attacks of public buildings, police stations, military patrol vehicles, banks and public infrastructures including the audacious bombing of the National Police headquarters in Abuja on June 16, 2011. The demands of the group which became publicly known in 2009 include the establishment of Sharia law, prosecution of those responsible for the extra-judicial killings of their leaders in 2009 and the release of detained members.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – CWI Nigeria join working class people, youth and students to condemn this indiscriminate attack and sympathize with the families of the dead and injured. To us in the DSM, the methods of Boko Haram, which include bombing of public buildings and setting off explosives in streets and public places aimed at putting pressure on the government to concede to the demands of the sect, inflict more pain and untold hardship on the oppressed working masses who are already suffering from the anti-poor and neo-liberal policies of the corrupt capitalist ruling elite in power. In fact the attacks in public places indicate Boko Haram’s contempt for working people and the poor, even if they dress up attacks on places like beer parlours as defending Islam. There is a great danger that these attacks will help strengthen ethnic and religious divisions and lead to even more sectarian clashes in different parts of the country, just as we are seeing now in Jos.
But the DSM also warns that the government will try to utilize the terrorist attacks of Boko Harm and other groups to gain support for itself and justify repressive measures. The rotten elite that governs this country has no right to preach morals or denounce terrorism. Since when do they “play by the rules”? Initially they made no complaint when, two years ago, the Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf was captured alive in Maiduguri, paraded before the media and then killed. But when confronted with public outcry over the extra-judicial killing, the government in 2010 suspended four senior police officers and dismissed from service some junior police officers. However it was only after increased bombing activities of the sect that the government went on to arrest and put on trial seven police officers for “terrorism and murder” all in attempt to appease the sect members, a development which has equally created disaffection in the police.
Dysfunctional Health Sector Caused Death toll to Rise
This tragic incident has again highlighted the deep rot and infrastructural decay in the health sector in Nigeria. In the first few hours after the explosion, doctors, fire fighters, rescue teams and sympathizing members of the public worked heroically to rescue the trapped and injured. Television footage showed members of the public, medical operatives and members of the Red Cross and other rescue teams working together to rescue victims and carry away the dead. This was in spite of the potential dangers to themselves given that the building could collapse under the impact of the blast.
Unfortunately this heroic effort of ordinary Nigerians was defeated by the age-long crisis of dysfunctional and rotten heath facilities and hospitals which are products of the anti-poor policy of cuts in funding of public health. As at Friday the death toll was not more than seven. However that the death toll is now 23 shows more died after getting to the hospital.
There was obviously little doctors and nurses could do to save lives against the background of the dysfunctional state of public hospitals in Nigeria. According to various newspaper reports, hospitals including the National hospital in Abuja, were overwhelmed within the first 48 hours of the attack. At a point the Health Minister Mohammed Ali Pate had to make a public appeal for blood donations when the blood bank fell short of requirement showing the incapacity of most of the nation’s hospitals to cope with a large scale medical emergency. Perhaps it was for this reason the United Nations had to fly out to Johannesburg, South Africa, nine of its critically injured staff for medical treatment.
All these raises concern about the effectiveness of the several contracts worth billions of Naira done by successive governments ostensibly to overhaul equipment and facilities in general hospitals. For long, members of the ruling elite in Nigeria have cultivated the habit of travelling abroad for medical attention leaving the mass of impoverished Nigerians to grapple with the reality of a live where the smallest accident or illness could prove fatal owing to the rot of public hospitals and the high cost of private hospitals. If public hospitals are properly funded and provided with modern facilities as medical and health workers have been demanding for years, perhaps the live of more victims of the attack could have been saved.
Could The Attack Have Been Averted?
Anger has justifiably been directed at the ineptitude of the nation’s security and the police. In commentaries in the public and social media, anger and frustration is the dominant feature of people’s reaction. This is not surprising. Despite the increased militarization of the polity in the wake of the violent activities of the Boko Haram sect, the group has grown more audacious, successfully launching deadly attacks on public buildings, police stations and military patrol vehicles. Almost not a week passes without some attacks linked to the sect. In fact, just days after the bombing of United Nations, two new attacks in Bauchi and Maiduguri have been linked to the sect.
What is more worrisome is the revelation that high level intelligence had warned of the possibility of such attacks days before Friday. According to media reports, not least the commander of the U.S military command covering Africa (AFRICOM), General Carter Ham, had revealed weeks ago intelligence showing that Boko Haram may be trying to coordinate attacks with two al-Quaeda –linked groups – al-Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in northwest Africa, and with al-Shabab in Somalia.
Unfortunately, nothing was done to ensure the security of lives and prevent the avoidable death and injury. According to expert opinion of security consultants, it would have been possible to avert much of the attacks with modern means of intelligence gathering and surveillance like CCTV etc. But tragically, in Nigeria where the most basic public infrastructures like electricity, water, schools, hospitals, modern transportation and telecommunication facilities are lacking or dysfunctional, provision of such high-tech security systems to guarantee security of lives and property is absolutely beyond the corrupt, clueless and anti-poor capitalist ruling class.
Connected to this are the poor pay and grave working conditions under which the lower cadres of the police are placed despite the hazards of their duties. Families of police officers injured or killed in the course of duty are not paid adequate compensation. This contrasts sharply with the huge salaries and allowances of the top cadres of the police. All these have led to corruption, ineffectiveness and low morale among the lower cadres of the police who are often in the direct line of fire, thus compromising the ability of the police to effectively combat crime and ensure safety of lives and property.
For many ordinary Nigerians however, the increasing brazenness of the Boko Haram attacks, especially coming on the heels June’s similar bombing of the National Headquarters of the Police, shows that the official security agencies of government cannot be relied upon to provide security of lives and property. While police need to be paid a living wage and brought under genuine democratic control, the key to preventing sectarian attacks is the mass mobilisation of working people. This raises the urgent necessity of the formation of mass defence committees at workplaces, communities and streets under the democratic control of the trade unions and other genuine popular bodies. With mass democratic defence committees, it will be possible to begin to protect human live and property against crime and the deadly activities of Boko Haram, something that can only be completed when there is an end to the scarcities and the bitter struggle for survival of capitalism.
However the deadly bombing of UN office as well as the age-long crisis of insecurity of lives of property again underlies the high cost in human live which the continuation of the corrupt ruling elite in power and their ruinous system of capitalism portends for the working class and ordinary Nigerians.
Capitalism and Imperialism’s failures are the root causes
The Yussifiya movement (Boko Haram) when claiming responsibility for the bombing said “it attacked the United Nations (UN) building in Abuja because the United States (US) and the UN are supporting the Federal government to persecute Muslims in Nigeria”. Kakah, who spoke on behalf of the sect, said they consider the UN and the Nigerian government as common enemies and would continue to attack them because they are infringing on the rights of Muslims and they would only accept dialogue unless all their members in prison are released unconditionally (Vanguard Newspaper, 28 August 2011).
Capitalist political parties like the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress of Progressive Change (CPC) as well as all shades of politicians have all joined the bandwagon condemning the attacks in strident tones. Equally foremost capitalist countries like the United States and Britain have expressed outrage. While condemning Boko Haram’s methods and policies, Nigerian working masses and youth must understand that it is the anti-poor and neo-liberal capitalist policies of the political parties in power and the role of imperialism in Nigeria and Africa that created the basis for this senseless orgy of violence and terrorism which seem to have found a fertile soil in the Islamic-dominated North of Nigeria.
Discredited politicians and other members of the corrupt capitalist ruling elite will not own up to their responsibility for the growth of terrorism and violence in Nigeria. Equally imperialism will not also publicly admit that the actual role of the United Nations is to further the economic and military interest of big capitalist countries while the humanitarian façade is just a cover up. The current role of the United Nations in Libya where it authorized NATO air strikes is beginning to unfold as not a fight for democracy or to protect civilians from Gadaffi’s repression, but a grand scheme by the United States, Britain, France etc to control the revolutions unfolding in Arab countries while also laying hold of the vast crude oil reserves of Libya. In comparison with other countries in the Middle East, for instance Syria where protesters have also been brutally repressed for months on end by regime forces, we have seen how the United Nations has been foot dragging!
It is because of this and similar roles of the United Nations in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America that frequently exposes United Nation’s staff to attacks in different countries for the hypocrisy and crimes committed by Ban Ki-moon and imperialism. Despite brutal repression of Boko Haram in 2009 by government leading to the killing of over 700 of its members, including two leaders of the sect who were arrested and then killed extra-judicially, the United Nations did not raise any protest thus indicating tacit approval.
This is not at all surprising because the presence of the United Nations in Nigeria as well as the AFRICOM, which is the United States command covering US military activities in Africa, is to act as a diplomatic and if necessary military reinforcement for the anti-poor capitalist regimes in Nigeria and other African countries, especially against possible revolutionary movement of the masses. Should a mass movement occur in Nigeria or any other country in Africa which directly challenges capitalism and the corrupt regimes based on them, the United Nations and other imperialist countries should be expected to back the ruling regimes to the hilt.
Boko Haram: Symptom of a Failed Society
This suicide bombing again highlights the deep social and economic crisis in Nigeria’s society. The background to the rise of Boko Haram (which translates as “Western education is a taboo”) is the terrible condition of mass poverty to which vast majority of the population of the North, South, West and East are condemned amidst abundant wealth.
Particularly in the North, excruciating poverty compete with illiteracy, underdevelopment and lack of basic amenities like electricity, water, road infrastructures, conducive shelter for vast majority of the population. The North of Nigeria has one of the highest rates of illiteracy, low school enrolment and record failure in entrance examinations into higher institutions. Of course, this is a result of the destruction of public education by the capitalist ruling elite through policies of underfunding and privatization. There is also high rate of disease like polio, meningitis, leukaemia etc in the country due to the virtual collapse of public health care system. Fundamentally this is a result of capitalism being unable to develop the country, especially the north. There is a bitter irony that northern Nigerians are amongst the poorest in the country in spite of the record number of years that members of the Northern ruling elite have held power whether as military dictators or civilian presidents and the huge billions of dollars they, together with other members of the ruling elite, stole from the public treasury in those periods.
This however is not a feature exclusive to the North. In other parts of the country, things are not much different. In the big cities in the South, East and West of the country, millions of able bodied men, women and youth most of whom migrated from rural areas for better chances of education, jobs and live have suddenly found their dream brutally cut short. This is because due to the anti-poor and neo-liberal policies of privatization and commercialization adopted by all the big capitalist political parties in Nigeria, including the self-styled opposition of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Labour Party (LP), the living condition of the working masses and youth have come under attacks and consequently worsened over the years.
Consequently, destitution, poverty and lack of basic amenities are the lot of the masses whether from the North, South, East or West. Due to government neo-liberal mantra of private public partnership which carves roles for private profiteers in a housing sector that should naturally be the responsibility of the government, most people have no shelter and have to sleep under bridges even in harsh weather. There is also over 42% youth unemployment with thousands of university graduates having no hope of getting jobs. Not surprising, the average life span in Nigeria is a tragic 49 and 59 years for male and female respectively. Meanwhile all these contrast sharply with the life of opulence and corruption of members of the ruling elite and political office holders whose take home pay alone is about 40% of annual government budget. This, coupled with the deep gulf between the rich and the poor manifested in a tiny 1% of the population laying hold of the oil wealth of Nigeria while over 80% of Nigerians exist on less than 2 dollars per day has created, all combustible materials for social implosion.
It is these conditions that provide breeding ground for religious fundamentalist groups like Boko Haram to thrive and, in a different way, the growth of other religious groups claiming to offer a way out of poverty and suffering. Separatist ethnic groups like Odua People’s Congress (OPC), MASSOB and militant groups in the Niger Delta have been active before in the past in the South, West and East of Nigeria. Given the condition of excruciating poverty and mass misery that confronts the working masses and youth of Nigeria irrespective of religion of ethnicity, it cannot be ruled out that such fundamentalist or violent ethnic sects and groups cannot also thrive in other parts of the country outside the North. These would not necessarily all claim to be Islamic. In Uganda for instance there is the long horror story of the murderous; supposedly Christian-based Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA led by Joseph Kony, who proclaimed himself the "spokesperson" of God, was formed in 1987 and until about 2007 was engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government during which time the group committed widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, sexual enslavement of women and children and forcing children to participate in hostilities. This shows that religious fundamentalism and terrorism are by-products of the social and economic crisis of capitalist society.
Ruling Class Solution is bound to Fail
This is why the capitalist ruling elite continue to miss the point by advocating increased security measures and deployment of the military as the only solution to the Boko Haram insurgency and other instances of insecurity in the country. According to a recent report in the wake of the UN office bombing, the United States and United Nations have offered to join the Nigerian government to combat the Boko Haram menace. For this purpose, operatives of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) have been drafted to the country.
Without mincing words, the point has to be stressed that neither increased militarization nor the involvement of international crime agencies of the FBI or CIA will, either in the short or long run, resolve the menace of terrorism and ethno-religious fundamentalism in Nigeria. Equally, neither will the method of the infamous “Ghana Must Go” (bribe paying) large-scale settlement of armed militant groups in the Niger Delta under the guise of amnesty work in this case. The global record of imperialism, particularly US imperialism, shows that any country it steps into ostensibly to maintain so-called internal security or stabilize ‘democracy’ ends up with a further worse polarization and sharpened conflict. Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which have been transformed into bloody clots today are worthy examples of the antecedents of imperialist interventions.
This will prove even more disastrous in a country like Nigeria. Especially against the background of the unresolved nationality question in Nigeria which manifest in the polarization of the country between an Islamic-dominated North and a Christian-dominated South, the involvement of United States and any other imperialist country or agency will only worsen the situation and transform Nigeria into an internecine battleground of ethnic and religious nationalities and hotbed of anti-imperialist Islamic-terrorist operations.
Unfortunately, the trade union leadership instead of outlining a strategy to unite the working masses, youth and poor of Nigeria irrespective of religion and ethnicity around a programme of struggle for change in society are parroting essentially the same view as the rotten capitalist ruling elite. In particular the Trade Union Congress (TUC) called on the federal government to apply “the same level of force used to cripple MASSOB, OPC and MEND which operations were not as dastardly as what Boko Haram has brought on the nation”! (Vanguard newspaper, 31 August 2011). In the view of the leaders of the largest trade union centre, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) “This attack is a wake-up call on the Nigeria Government to take security matters much more seriously.” (Leadership newspaper 26 August 2011). For avoidance of doubt, this terse statement of the NLC is merely a veiled variant of the TUC’s.
Blinded by their own pro-capitalist illusions, the elements in the leadership of the NLC and TUC do not see that their calls for increased police and military actions, even in the unlikely event that it proved effective in battling terrorism, will only assist the capitalist ruling class to deploy violent repressive police measures, under the guise of fighting terrorism, against the mass of the populace and especially against any genuine struggle of the working masses, youth and students against neo-liberal policies. It should be recalled that some months ago, soldiers of the Joint Task Force (JTF) armed with military assault rifles, armored patrol vehicles and advanced communication gadgets were deployed to flush out members of the Boko Haram sect from Maiduguri in Borno State. Today not only does Boko Haram still flourish in that state, but hundreds of residents of Maiduguri were forced to flee to neighboring states not only because of the deadly activities of Boko Haram but equally due to the indiscriminate shooting, killing and arrest of innocent citizens by JTF soldiers under the guise of fighting terrorism, a situation which led to strident calls for the immediate withdrawal of troops.
Instead of exhibiting illusions in the rotten capitalist ruling class to guarantee security, the trade unions have the duty and responsibility of organizing mass democratic public defense committees composed of workers and active youth irrespective or religion and ethnicity. Only such popular committees built at workplaces, communities and streets and drawing into active duty the working masses and youth angry at Boko Haram and the ineffectiveness of official security can begin to guarantee the protection of lives and property while also undercutting ethnic and religious tension.
However the only way to permanently resolve the crisis of insecurity, ethno-religious violence and Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in Nigeria is for the underlying socio-economic crisis of underdevelopment, poverty and destitution to be tackled through direct government investment in the building of road and power infrastructures, creation of jobs, funding of education and health care and improvement in the living standards of the poor working masses and youth. This however must be combined with the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) where elected representatives of the working masses as well as ethnic nationalities can come together to frankly discuss whether Nigeria could remain one and under what terms and conditions unlike the prevailing situation wherein ethnic groups are yoked together by state force without permitting genuine democratic debate on Nigeria’s unresolved national question.
Socialists support the right to self-determination especially when it is a genuine demand of the mass of people. However we must warn against the illusion being spread by bourgeois public opinion that separation is the ultimate solution to the crisis of Nigeria. Contrary to this, the fundamental problem of Nigeria is the unjust capitalist system which permits the robbery of the collective wealth of Nigerians by a tiny ruling elite whose members come from all ethnic groups. Therefore should Nigeria separate on the basis of capitalism, it is merely going to be a transition from “frying pan to fire” for the working masses and poor of all ethnic groups as each ethnic ruling elite that takes power will preside over the same ruinous anti-poor and neo-liberal attacks on the working people. The ultimate solution is a revolutionary struggle of the working class, youth and oppressed masses to defeat neo-liberal attacks and change society.
Labour Must Provide Leadership for Working Masses and Angry Youths
Based on the anger boiling among frustrated youths and ordinary Nigerians and the failure of the trade union leaders to harness this anger in the direction of revolutionary change of society, every parts of the country is potentially a time-bomb waiting to explode. We have witnessed this in recent small outburst and violent street clashes among street urchins (popularly called area boys) in Lagos. These are signs of increased frustration and anger finding an opportunity to be released.
In the wake of the Christmas day bombing attempt by a British-born Nigerian Abdumatallab on a US bound flight in 2009, Nigeria’s government spared no argument to prove that home-bred Nigerians are incapable of suicide bombing. However the June 16 and August 26 bombings have shattered these illusions and placed Nigeria firmly in the Global Terror Watch list. The fact that Boko Haram could find recruits in Nigeria for suicide bombing shows the depth of the frustration across the country and a foretaste of the tragedy waiting to unfold.
Unfortunately, the pro-capitalist trade union leaders are adding to this increased frustration by their inability to work out a strategy of struggle that can unite working people, with oppressed youth, students to fight for free and functional education, living wage and jobs. The rise of Boko Haram is also due to the inability of the trade union leadership over the years to provide a way out of the crisis of mass poverty and unemployment for the mass of oppressed workers and youth. Over the last eleven years labour has led mighty struggles and protests, in total there have been since June 2000, six general strikes, five other general strike calls that were cancelled at the last minute, the September 2005 mass NLC rallies around the country and now the battles in different states over the minimum wage. But despite these generally massively supported actions, labour has not secured big advances in living standards let alone challenged the system which keeps the mass of Nigerians in poverty. This can create both apathy amongst some and a search by others for alternative ways out of this morass. Unless the labour leadership provides working people and youth justifiably angry at the condition of poverty amidst plenty the alternative method of mass struggle to defeat capitalism, many may begin to look on violence and terrorism as effective alternative to hit back at the corrupt ruling class.
It is not for nothing that the trend of terrorism is particularly growing at a period when labour is retreating in the struggle against privatization and deregulation – both policies that have and will continue to worsen the condition of the working masses and youth. The Labour leadership has equally being unable to firmly challenge the capitalist ruling class on corruption as manifested in the jumbo pay and outrageous salary of political office holders. Instead of fighting for the N52, 200 (335 US$) it first demanded, Labour accepted a new National Minimum wage agreement of a paltry N18, 000 (115 US$) a month for workers from elements who feel no scruple in paying themselves and their cronies millions of naira monthly. Also the Labour leadership have been unable to draw up a fighting strategy and campaign that unites the grievances of workers with all oppressed people including unemployed youth, students fighting against education cuts, artisans, traders and peasants ruined by the economy and all those who fall outside organized trade unions but are victims of the unjust capitalist system.
Nature abhors vacuum. Having retreated from its role of mobilizing the mass of workers, youths and all impoverished Nigerians in a fight back against neo-liberal policies and for a change of society, the centre stage was unwittingly left for religious fundamentalists of all stripes and terrorist groups to occupy. This is why it is not surprising that Boko Haram have, through its spokespersons, attempted to use issues of corruption of the ruling class, jumbo salaries of politicians etcetera as populist slogans to gain acceptance in the eyes of ordinary working class Nigerians and youth who abhors their method of indiscriminate bombings and sectarian demand for a Sharia state. Therefore if Nigeria is to be saved from imminent peril, the trade unions have the responsibility of putting themselves at the head of workers, unemployed youth, students and all oppressed masses who desire a fight back for education, jobs, living wage and a change of society.
The on-going struggle for the implementation of the N18, 000 minimum wage gives an inkling of the explosive anger among the rank and file of workers and the potential for a mass struggle to take on the government on all these issues. The strike actions that have been organized by workers struggling for minimum wage although small in dimension contain in them a concentrated anger of the entire working class against anti-poor capitalist policies and labour’s half-measure strategy of fight back.
More urgently than never before, labour need to come forward with a serious strategy of mass mobilization for strikes, mass protest and demonstrations to fight for education, jobs, living wage and improvement in living standards through mass public works to provide conducive housing, adequate schools, equipped clinics, motorable road networks and modern means of transportation, electricity, pipe borne water etc. This struggle linking the working class with youth, students and all oppressed people can effectively undermine the growth of ethno-religious fundamentalism and terrorism by uniting all the oppressed masses behind a revolutionary program of mass struggle to defeat capitalism and establish a government of representatives of the workers and poor. Such a government would start to use society’s resources for the interest of the masses through the nationalization of key sectors of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working masses, the starting point in creating a democratic socialist society.