Nigeria: Boko Haram’s abduction of school girls horrifies the world

Can a solution to the insurgency be found under capitalism?

The abduction on 14 April by Boko Haram of over 200 girls from a public secondary school in Chibok – a small town in Borno State – has sparked global outrage. Widespread condemnation has come from far and near and almost the entire world is following the horrendous situation in Nigeria as a result of daily coverage by the international media. Together with a big campaign that has taken off on social media sites (twitter and facebook) under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, protests and demonstrations have been held in several cities within and outside Nigeria and they still continue.

While the most audible demand, so far, is for the return of the abducted girls, there is no doubt that many people are seriously angry and seek an immediate end to the Boko Haram insurgency whose deadly attacks have continued non-stop since 14 April.

The Democratic Socialist Movement wholeheartedly supports the demand for the return of the abducted girls. The pain and anguish of the parents and families of the girls can only be imagined especially as they cannot even take solace in the assurance that the government is effective enough to obtain their rescue.

The origins of Boko Haram

This crisis has again highlighted the failure, weakness and ineffectiveness of President Jonathan’s government. However the working masses and youth must not for a moment make the mistake that all it takes to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency is a strong President. In reality, President Jonathan’s failure and weaknesses are reflections of the failure and weaknesses of Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalism. In the same way, the Boko Haram insurgency is itself a creation of the capitalist-engendered conditions of mass misery, hopelessness, joblessness and poverty in the midst of abundance.

Perhaps the first time most Nigerians became aware of Boko Haram was in 2009 after its leader, Yusuf Mohammed, was captured by the army and handed over to the police. After parading him on television, the police summarily executed Yusuf Mohammed without trial. Before then, the group existed as a fundamentalist religious sect, largely tolerated by the rest of the Muslim community and the people. The group’s official name is ‘Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad’, which in Arabic means ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’. But just like the history of most fundamentalist religious groups, Boko Haram offered much more than religious vitriol. The group also condemned social and economic injustice and the corruption especially of members of the northern Nigerian ruling oligarchy, which Boko Haram often bitterly denounces as “infidels”.

Behind Nigeria’s corrupt capitalist ruling elites are often Western imperialist countries, like the US and European powers. Their global financial institutions, the IMF and World Bank, prop up corrupt regimes in Nigeria, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, for their own strategic and economic gains. Now the western powers, worried that the combination of social crisis and a corrupt, incompetent government will destabilize the whole of West Africa, are using Chibok as an excuse to intervene. Already small numbers of US troops are reportedly been on the ground, in Abuja and in Borno. Some may welcome them as being more efficient than Nigerian forces but, despite the propaganda, they are not here on a humanitarian mission. The western powers’ humanitarian concerns are always linked to their strategic interests. When the western powers previously backed Obasanjo’s presidency, they did not complain about the November 1999 massacre of Odi villagers in Bayelsa. But now they see Nigeria as being in a more precarious state.

For years, US governments have been concerned about Nigeria, believing “that Nigerian governments were inherently unstable because of the country’s economic and religious division. In 2008, the army war college in Pennsylvania carried out a war game in which the Nigerian government is on the brink of collapse and the US intervenes to protect the oil supply.” (Guardian, London, 9 May 2014). This crisis has shown again the weakness of both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP Federal) and the All Progressives Congress-led Borno governments. Against this background, the western powers want to strengthen their presence in Nigeria. This is the reason why already there are reports that “the Americans and other foreign troops are expected to remain in the country till after the 2015 elections” (Punch, Lagos, 10 May 2014).

Boko Haram’s solution was the introduction of Sharia. Without an alternative working class ideology on offer, this kind of religious fundamentalist teaching, tinged with some form of radicalism, is bound to draw support among the huge swathe of poor and mostly uneducated youth in the North, who feel left out of the proclaimed prosperity of the country. Besides, the sect also offered shelter, food and sustenance to the poor and dispossessed youths who flocked to it. It soon rapidly grew to become a big sect, with a large youth following that politicians in Borno State could not ignore in their bid to win political power.

In 2002, the former Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, reportedly approached Boko Haram for electoral support in exchange for implementation of Islamic Law of Sharia as the law of the State. Although this story has been vigorously denied, the reality is that it was the State that literally lit the fire of Boko Haram insurgency. In in 2009, State forces started a clampdown on the sect, to clip its wings. The extrajudicial murder of Yusuf Muhammed and the arrest and detention of the wives and relatives of Boko Haram members who escaped police arrest, became the rallying cry for jihad. Very soon, the group fell under the leadership of more hardcore fundamentalists, like Shekau, and afterwards splintered into Ansaru and several cells, which maintain some relative independence.

Capitalist-engendered mass misery

Boko Haram is a testament to the failure of capitalism to develop Nigeria and provide a future for youth. The ruling elites of the north ruled Nigeria for more than half of its history since gaining independence from Britain. While little has been done to develop formal education, healthcare and job creation in the whole of Nigeria, even less has been done in the north. It is against this background that a movement emerged from the north, questioning the legitimacy of western education, both from a religious standpoint and because the corrupt elite is itself largely western-educated. This paradox is only possible as a result of the decades of looting of Nigeria’s wealth by the local capitalist ruling elites, from different ethnic and religious groups, who are linked to their imperialist masters.

Although Nigeria is endowed with great natural and human resources, the for-profit system of capitalism ensures that over 80% of the country’s oil wealth is cornered by a few while the vast majority are condemned to struggling to benefit from the remaining 20%. According to latest statistics, Nigeria is now the biggest economy in Africa. In addition, the richest person in Africa is a Nigerian, while Nigeria is home to hundreds of private jets to support the exotic lifestyle of the rich. Yet over 100 million Nigerians (about 70%) are said to be poor. Over 50 million youths are unemployed and the number of homeless is unknown. On March 15 2014, over half a million graduates turned up at test centers all over the country to seek employment for less than 5,000 advertised vacancies at the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). Tragically over 20 people died in the process due to crowd stampeding.

Alienation and mass misery came together to create the conditions under which Boko Haram and other violent insurgent groups thrive. Insurgencies and violence, as we have seen with Boko Haram, will not end unless its root-cause, the exploitative system of capitalism and the mass misery and hopelessness engendered by the poverty and joblessness of the vast majority, is tackled fundamentally.

No solution under capitalism

Examined against this background, the responses of so-called opposition political parties in Nigeria and the labour movement are appalling. They go to show that the Boko Haram menace can actually worsen given the lack of clear and effective alternatives either from the bourgeois opposition or the labour movement. For instance, after a second bomb blast in Nyanya, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) only released a bland statement reeking in fatalism – “We shall overcome” – that appealed to the government to provide more security. Without being able to provide a working class alternative and leadership, the NLC leadership appears as clueless as the rotten ruling elite. As we go to press, the NLC has not rejected the imperialist military intervention but, as it has done in the past, endorsed an increasing military expedition in the north east of Nigeria.

Understandably many Nigerians and people across the world desperately hope that a military intervention will see the safe rescue of the Chibok public secondary school students and an end to the violence. But increased militarisation will not solve the problem. Neither will the intervention of security experts and troops from Western imperialist countries of the US, UK and France.

In the first instance, despite the state of emergency declared in three states in the north east and the billions of Naira already spent on procuring military hardware, training, deployments etc, the Boko Haram insurgency has only become stronger. Not only has the sect’s attacks and killings continued largely unabated, Boko Haram has also been able to carry out some attacks outside of its territory in the north east. Checkpoints, patrols and surveillance teams inside Abuja city did not stop Boko Haram embarking on successful attacks inside the Federal Capital Territory.

This is because military action without the active support of the people is, on its own, incapable of rooting out an insurgency of this character. Due to the characteristic brutality and atrocities of the military in the north eastern states, where they were posted, the government cannot hope to rely on the sympathy of the people to provide the information required to locate and engage the Boko Haram insurgents. This is because many people in the north east largely feel caught up in the violence of both the army and Boko Haram and do not have a shred of sympathy for either. In March, Amnesty International claimed that six hundred mostly unarmed detainees were extra judicially executed by the army in a single day. And even in situations where people have had cause to alert the military and security forces of impending or on-going raids by Boko Haram, they have been alarmed at the ineffectiveness of the military, despite the grandstanding of President Jonathan in the media.

So far, all that militarisation has achieved is the empowerment of the repressive capabilities of the State and clampdown on the democratic rights of the working masses. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the Federal Government now routinely bans protests and breaks up any “unauthorized gathering”. Encouraging further militarization, as the labour bureaucrats are doing, will have terrible consequences for the labour movement and the working masses.

Imperialist intervention

The US, UK, France and other imperialist capitalist countries are also responsible for the growth and spread of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism across the world. This is as a result of brutal wars orchestrated in order to control the crude-oil and mineral reserves of countries in the Middle East and for other imperialist geo-strategic motives. In the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks on Pentagon and World Trade Centre, the United States invaded Afghanistan to crush “terrorism” and then Iraq, under the guise of seeking Weapons of Mass Destruction. This imperialist aggression became the tipping point for the growth of a feeling of repression among Muslims all over the world. This, in turn, strengthened Al Qaeda and led to the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and splinters of Al Qaeda beyond the Middle East into Africa. The killing of Osama Bin Laden by the Obama administration in 2012 has not halted the chain reaction which the imperialist military aggression set off by the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. If the imperialist countries of the US, UK and France are part of the problems of the rise of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, it is illogical to expect them to be part of the solution.

The history of the intervention of western imperialist countries in the domestic affairs of other countries is very instructive for Nigeria. From Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia to Libya, imperialism has always hugely compounded domestic problems. None of the countries mentioned above have regained stability since Western imperialist troops intervened ostensibly to maintain ‘law and order’. This is because the imperialist countries are ultimately only out to protect their own economic interests and the profit of their multinational companies. As a columnist with the Guardian (London) aptly put it the “Western intervention will turn Nigeria into an African Afghanistan”.

The only assistance that the working people of Nigeria should accept in the fight against Boko Haram’s insurgency is the international solidarity of the working class and youth of other countries. But the acceptance of any so-called ‘assistance’ from foreign capitalist governments will, sooner rather than later, contribute to the festering of the crisis.

For a socialist solution

Those who invest hope in a military solution and outside powers’ intervention fail to understand that even if somehow the Boko Haram insurgency subsides, or is driven underground or crushed, so long as the terrible condition of mass misery and desperation caused by capitalism continue, more deadly forms of religious or tribal insurgency and barbarism will arise. With exploitation and poverty becoming more acute and for as long as the labour movement fails to give a clear socialist alternative, all forms of barbarism will be on the rise.

We are already seeing signs of this. In the past few weeks, the Plateau and Zamfara States have seen hundreds die in what are called “tribal clashes”. In southwest Nigeria a menace has resurfaced – that of kidnapping and ‘ritual killings’. In Ibadan, in Oyo State, a den of kidnappers and ritual killers was discovered. Not only were rotten and mutilated bodies discovered, a few victims in different stages of emaciation were rescued alive. Newspapers and television news has been awash with almost daily gory reports from across the region of the setting ablaze or lynching of alleged kidnappers and ritualists by mobs.

The act of kidnapping for money ritual is concocted by desperate and barbaric minds to get rich in an unjust capitalist system. The act of setting alleged kidnappers ablaze on the street in broad daylight – while it shows the breakdown of the authority of the state – is a also a barbaric act that can only be perpetrated by increasingly desperate people. This should serve as a warning that more brutality and barbarism can quickly envelope the whole of Nigeria or large parts of the country, if the condition of mass misery in the midst of abundance continues.

This experience confirms that it is only by ending capitalism and putting in place a democratic socialist system that Nigeria’s stupendous wealth can be utilized to end poverty and create jobs, eroding the basis of support for the Boko Haram menace and other form of barbarism.

The only effective strategy that the labour movement can offer is to begin to mobilize the workers and the oppressed masses to take their destinies into their own hands. There is no army or terrorist group more powerful than the working masses organised and mobilised. To start with, a one-day general strike and mass protest called by the labour movement can send the message to both the corrupt capitalist ruling elite and Boko Haram that the organized working people are prepared to defend themselves against the onslaughts of both. Through a general strike and mass protest, the labour movement will be able to demonstrate that it is capable of fighting poverty, joblessness and homelessness, which may have pushed some youth into the ranks of Boko Haram and other reactionary forces. This is crucial to begin to undermine the support base of the Boko Haram sect and other such forces. The organized working class can cut across terroristic organisations as well as take on the interests of the ruling elites. During the January 2012 general strike and mass protests against the removal of the so-called fuel subsidy and hike in fuel prices, not a single bomb exploded in Nigeria.

In the north eastern states threatened by Boko Haram raids, as well as other areas where there is sufficient reason to fear a raid or some forms of attacks, the labour movement has to take the lead in mobilizing workers, masses and the youth to begin to take on the responsibility of securing their neighborhoods and communities. This can only be possible by setting up democratic, multi-tribal and multi-religious self-defence committees. These committees, subject to the control of the entire community, would be responsible for patrolling, gathering information, defence and cooperation with security agencies, which themselves must be placed under democratic control. But for such steps to have a lasting effect they would need to be linked to the building of a united campaign of working people, the poor and youth across Nigeria, that would struggle to end the economic and social crises bred by capitalism. Only this could begin to undermine whatever popular support Boko Haram has and also prevent working people fighting amongst themselves over resources like land or water.

Unfortunately the present Labour leaders are not prepared to take this course of action because they have no vision of a better society beyond capitalism. Many of them are currently looking towards supporting Jonathan’s re-election next year, as the leaders of the mis-named ‘Labour Party’ have already said they will do. These bureaucrats, happily enjoying a privileged lifestyle, refrain in trepidation from taking any step or course of action which can undermine the current corrupt ruling elite and threaten a revolutionary situation. They are afraid that the working masses and youth could take control of their destiny and bring about the destruction of capitalist rule. The fact is that the labour leaders were shaken by the huge support for the January 2012 general strike and mass protests. They feared that working people and poor could move in the direction of sweeping away this rotten system.

In opposition to the current Labour leaders, this is what we in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) strive for. We fully support a social revolution to bring an end to the Nigeria’s corrupt capitalist system because that is what is fundamentally responsible for the condition of mass misery, in the midst of abundance, which is the basis upon which Boko Haram insurgency emerged and now thrives. We believe that only a new government formed by the working class and armed with socialist policies can begin to restructure Nigeria and ensure that the huge wealth of the country is used to better the lot of the majority.

To achieve this, the DSM has consistently called for a mass working class people’s political party on socialist programme. As a step towards this, we have begun the process of seeking the registration of a ‘Socialist Party of Nigeria’ (SPN). This would allow the Nigerian working masses and youth to have a platform to organize around. It would provide them with a vehicle to step up the fight to take political power from the corrupt capitalist ruling elite.

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May 2014