Nigeria: Boko Haram’s Christmas bombings

Working masses must unite against descent into anarchy

Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – CWI Nigeria – joins all working class people, youth and students to condemn indiscriminate bombing attacks by the Boko Haram group.

Boko Haram has attacked many and together with their pursuers – the Nigerian security apparatuses – have caused the death of many ordinary Nigerians; either at street battles or bombing of targets. Understandably, the recent killings happening on Christmas Day would have aroused deep feelings among Christians, but the mass of the working peoples need to unite against militias that are backed and sponsored by millionaire capitalist politicians sometimes to settle political differences in order to gain access to and control state resources for their selfish ends.

The mass of the working peoples also need unite to defeat anti-poor neo-liberal economic policies that drive the majority of the population to a life of poverty and desperation including terrorist bombings, armed robberies etc. Millions of youths are unemployed while inflation ravages the land.

The December 25 Christmas Day bomb explosions wreaked havoc in three states across Nigeria: Suleja in Niger State, Jos in Plateau State and Gadaka in Yobe State. Scores of people were torn apart and many more injured as Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that the Boko Haram sect had claimed responsibility for the terror attacks.

Some of the dead were whole families, including children and a pregnant woman, torn to pieces by the blast or trapped and burnt alive in their vehicles as they prepared to go home after church service.

Among the more audacious previous attacks of Boko Haram were the bombings of the National Police headquarters in Abuja and the United Nations office in Abuja. 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.

While giving no support to so-called security forces illegal actions the DSM totally condemns the Boko Haram policy of deliberately attacking ordinary citizens, a policy which is clearly aimed at provoking and deepening religious and ethnic divisions amongst the population.

This bombing just like others has again highlighted the helplessness of the security agencies to curb or tame the menace. A few days before Christmas, the Federal government and security agencies talked tough about maintaining security during the festive seasons. Indeed troop mobilization and police convoys were reported in many cities across the country in an apparent show of strength by the State. Yet all this did not stop the deadly bomb explosions on Christmas Day.

To us in the DSM, the terroristic method of the Boko Haram sect only inflicts 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. Insecurity has now been added to the economic hardship and poverty which overwhelming proportion of the populace confront on a daily basis as a result of government’s anti-poor and neo-liberal policies.

Now, as the New Year festivities approach, there is a sense of foreboding as to where next Boko Haram will strike.

However, rather than effecting real change, acts of individual terrorism only allow the anti-poor government to justify outrageous spending on police, stockpiling of arms and repression, under the guise of fighting terrorism. When faced with mass revolt, they will use the same weapons to crush the legitimate protests of workers, students and the youths against anti-poor policies. In this context, the whopping N900 billion (5.5 billion US Dollars) that Jonathan proposes to spend on security in the 2012 budget, can only be for the twin purpose of attacking the masses and safeguarding their own existence through the purchase of bullet proof cars.

This is an ominous sign of what is to be expected in the big battles – strikes and mass protests of workers, youths and the poor – that may break out next year in response to neo-liberal policies of removal of fuel subsidy and other anti-poor policies. As far as the Nigerian ruling elite is concerned, the imminence of powerful movements of workers, poor and youths challenging government’s anti-poor policies is more dangerous to their corrupt and unjust capitalist system than Boko Haram.

It should be recalled that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC – Nigeria’s main trade union centre) nearly called off last September’s protest in Abuja against the anti-poor privatization program on the basis of the security situation. In order to frustrate that planned action the government had issued “security intelligence” that the mass protest could be infiltrated by Boko Haram terrorists. Indeed the NLC president Abdulwaheed Omar confessed that Labour consciously mobilized few people for the protest because of the state of insecurity in the country heightened by the activities of Boko Haram.

Already there is creeping militarization of the polity as more and more soldiers are drafted to the streets to maintain internal security as we now have in Jos and Maiduguri. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the anti-poor government will turn the full weight of military and police infrastructures on the working class, youth and the poor fighting against neo-liberal policies and for change. This will also include rolling back democratic rights won over the decades through struggle including the rights to unionize, protest and strike with the charge of “heating up the polity” or causing “civil disobedience”.

This is why the response of the labour movement to this menace is of extreme importance. First and foremost, labour have to recognize that the Boko Haram menace, just like other ethno-religious violence in Nigeria, is inseparable from the unresolved national question flowing from the colonial past of this Nation as well as the unjust capitalist socio economic arrangement which ensures only 1% of the population steals 95% of the oil wealth while over 80% live below poverty line. According to government statistics, about 28.14 million youths are unemployed, a 42% unemployment level among youths alone!

It is against this background that the Boko Haram menace as well as the increasing and vicious spate of armed robbery and kidnapping has continued to defy all measures advanced by the government, police and security experts to curb it. This scourge of Boko Haram is not going to stop even with the N900 billion security vote in the proposed 2012 budget unless the underlying socio-economic issues are resolved. Unfortunately the Nigerian capitalist ruling class is unable to resolve this especially because the unjust system of greed, corruption and exploitation they preside over is actually the cause.

Therefore, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have to go beyond mere condemnation of the violence and calling on government to improve security by strengthening the police etc. All these statements amount to window-dressing a government that has lost legitimacy. Labour should not forget that well before Boko Haram appeared on the scene it was “normal” for the rival gangs and factions of the ruling elite to deploy the weapons of provoking sectarian conflicts, assassination and violent vote rigging in their fight to get their bloody hands on the country’s wealth. We cannot expect the looters running the country to act in the interest of the majority.

Today if the spate, brazenness and sophistication of Boko Haram attacks as well as the high-profile assassinations, kidnappings and crimes are anything to go by, they show the total collapse of security outfits (police, army etc.) and the inability of the President Jonathan’s regime to maintain control. Even members of the capitalist ruling class including political office holders no more depend on the police for their security, instead as often happens now, they build a small private army of thugs to protect themselves and their families.

Against this background, for the labour movement to call on a government that has lost control to “improve security” is a joke. Instead Labour needs to call on the working class and poor people to begin to take their destiny into their own hands by forming democratic mass defence committees at workplaces, communities and streets under the democratic control of the trade unions and pro-masses’ organizations. Such democratic defence committees involving the working class and youths and cutting across all ethnic or religious divides will have the duty to patrol and maintain security both day and night, carry out surveillance and investigations necessary to identify terrorists or criminals and mobilize en masse to liquidate them.

The democratic mass defence committees we advocate for will not be like the state security agencies of the police or the army which are ultimately organs of repression of the corrupt ruling class. It is equally not like armed ethnic groups like the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) or the Bakassi Boys which are ultimately instruments for separatism and ethnic jingoism.

The democratic mass defence committees we advocate for is a budding peoples’ army composed of militant working class people and youths of all tribes and ethnic groups united only by being members of the oppressed class and whose duties will be totally subjected to democratic debates in popular assemblies and other mass decision making bodies at workplaces, streets and communities. The primary duty of the democratic mass defence committee will be to ensure the security of lives and properties in the face of Boko Haram attacks and bombings. If necessary to fulfil its tasks, such mass defence committees will have to be armed. It is only if Labour leads such approach that it can be possible to begin to tackle the Boko Haram menace while also preventing a descent into bloody ethnic and religious strife.

But such self-defence measures outlined above are simply the first step. Labour urgently needs to show that it is serious in fighting to defend and improve the lives of working people and youth. If this is not done then groupings like Boko Haram can rally support and we could be faced with conflicts between rival religious and/or ethnically based forces spreading throughout the country. Labour must act to prevent Nigeria descending into the type of bloody chaos seen in other African countries.

This is why Labour needs to urgently step up its resistance to all neo-liberal and anti-poor policies like removal or fuel subsidy, privatization, education commercialization etc. In line with DSM’s call in the past months, now the NLC and the TUC need to immediately call a 48 hour warning general strike and mass protest as the next step in fighting against the proposed removal of fuel subsidy. Such a struggle against all anti-poor policies can begin to offer a way out for impoverished and frustrated youths, poor and the working class.

However, only a programme that recognizes the link between the rising spate of ethno-religious violence and the undemocratic nature of the founding of Nigeria as well as the condition of exploitation and mass poverty that a majority of the population is confronted with can be successful in curbing or totally stopping the menace of Boko Haram. Such a programme will equally recognize the urgent need for an independent Sovereign National Conference (SNC) called, not at the permission of the government, but by the labour movement with the full representation of the working class, the youths, ethnic groups etc. having the primary aim of debating whether or not Nigeria ought to be one 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.

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 by convening such an independent Sovereign National Conference (SNC) and building a mass workers’ party that can 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.

Such a workers and poor people’s government will be able to diffuse ethnic and religious tension by running society democratically in the interest of the majority through nationalizing the key sectors of the economy under public democratic management, massive investment in education, health, public infrastructure, job creation etc., unlike the present unjust capitalist system which runs society in the interest of a rich few.

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December 2011