Frequent Ethno-religious Killings Will Only End When a Truly Working Peoples’
Government Comes To Power o Reconstruct Nigeria’s Warped Polity and Unjust Economy
By Segun Sango, General Secretary, Democratic Socialist Movement
In the early hours of March 7, 2010, between 3.am and 6.am, armed elements invaded three villages namely: Dogon Nahawa, Ransat and Jeji in the Jos South Local Government in Jos city, the capital of Plateau State, to attack the sleeping residents of these communities. By the time these armed assailants left their scenes of crimes, hundreds of innocent and defenseless persons had been killed. There are conflicting reports as regards the actual number of persons killed in this gory incident. The police gave the number of those killed as 109 while the Plateau State Government and some NGO’s claimed that over 500 people were killed in this horrendous attack.
This particular violent attack and killing is the fifth of its kind in the history of Plateau State and Jos in particular since 1994. According to an estimate by Human Right Watch, over 2,000 persons have lost their lives with other tens of thousand maimed and or dislocated from their homes and places of abode. The first one happened on April 12, 1994 as a result of a dispute over who should become the chairman of the newly created Jos North Local Government Area. The clashes and killing of September 7, 2001, November 28, 2008 and January 17, 2010 were all said to be fallouts of the 1994 violent conflict. The March 7, 2010 violent attack in issue itself is said to be retaliatory attacks by the Hausa-Fulani elements, who hold the position that the majority of the victims of last January’s killings at the village of Kuru Karama, also near Jos city, were mostly Hausa-Fulani elements.
Meanwhile, it is very essential to stress the point that this kind of ethno-religious violent killings and tragedies are by no means restricted to Jos and Plateau State in particular. In fact, it has been estimated that over 30,000 Nigerians across the country have lost their lives through ethno-religious conflict or similar violence since the advent of civil rule in 1999 and now. Violent killings have occurred in different parts of the country in both the North and the South. There have been ethno-religious killings and violence, which claimed tens of thousands of lives in Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Maiduguri, Benue, Taraba, amongst other states in the northern part of the country. Also similar violent killings have also taken place in Warri in Delta State, Sagamu in Ogun State, Amuleri/Aguleri in the Ibo part of the country and also in Ife/Modakeke in Osun State, in the western part of the country.
The latest killings in Dogon Nahawa on March 7, 2010 have attracted widespread media attention from both local and foreign organisations and governments. The special and massive interest shown by the world media is probably due to the fact that most of the victims of this particular slaughter were children and women. There are some however, that have argued that the massive coverage being given to this latest tragedy was as a result of the fact that the victims, this time around, happened to be mainly Christians and that similar coverage was not given to the violent killing at Kuru Karama on January 17, 2010 wherein about 200 people of Islamic faith died. In other words, there is still a prevailing strong sense of injustice being felt by some Muslims who believe that most of the media, locally and internationally are under the control and influence of owners with bias towards Christianity, as against Islam.
Expectedly, those on the other side of the divide equally harbour serious hard feelings over this unresolved social political crisis. For instance, elements which the media referred to as Berom (one of the majority tribes in Plateau State) hardliners have demanded the expulsion of those they regarded as “outsiders”, meaning of course, the Hausa-Fulani elements from Plateau State. At the site of the mass burial given to the victims of March 7 massacre, New York’s Wall Street Journal of March 9, 2010 reported an elderly woman praying thus: “By God’s grace, we will enter their villages and kill their children and women”. The paper also quoted a man saying: “we will do much worse to them”. Against the above outlined background, no one needs to be an expert or security consultant to know that the calm that has returned to Jos in the aftermath of March 7, 2010 killings can only be hollow before another open outbreak of similar violence and killings.
RESPONSE BY GOVERNMENT AND BOURGEOIS ELEMENTS IN GENERAL
In the wake of the March 7, 2010 killings, government spokespersons at federal and state levels have, as usual, been making strong speeches to deal with the perpetrators of the latest tragedy. One Mohammed Lerema, police spokesperson in Plateau State, told the London Financial Times of March 9, 2010: “the military and police are on top of the situation”. Various government spokespersons and bourgeois commentators including those in the media have been calling on government to prosecute all those responsible for the particular killings in issue to act as deterrent in future against those that may be planning to commit similar heinous crimes. On his part, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, a former Vice President under Obasanjo’s presidency, has urged that the level of intelligence gathering by the security agencies be upgraded so as to be able to nip in the bud similar violent killings in future. Meanwhile, the police have claimed to have arrested 96 persons whom they hope to charge to court for the offences of conspiracy, arson and murders, etc. In addition, Ogbonna Onovo, Inspector General of Police has promised to henceforth hold police officers responsible for any such violent killings that happen under their divisions.
While not expressly stated, it is the general belief that General Muktar was removed as a Chief Security Adviser on the basis of the perceived security lapses that had enabled the killers at Dogon Nahawa to carry out their dastardly acts without any form of resistance and or apprehension by the security forces. Typically, like those without any sense of shame and memory, government spokespersons have been calling on people to go about their lawful activities. This is why one Mr. Gregory Yelong could come out to tell people to: “remain calm and be patient as government has stepped up security to protect lives and properties in this state”, forgetting that similar words were uttered by government spokespersons in the aftermath January 17, 2010 killings and in fact in the aftermath of every ethno-religious killing that has engulfed the country in recent years.
In fact, before the ink used in printing the above quoted statement literarily dried up, armed ethnic fighters of the Hausa-Fulani extraction once again struck, this time around, at Byei, another suburb of Jos City, brutally killing about 15 persons including children and a pregnant woman.
The reasons why several government pronouncements in this respect and the recommendations of bourgeois analysts alike have not been able to stem the tide of these ethno-religious killing and violence need to be properly addressed before Nigeria’s long-suffering people across the country can know genuine peace and harmonious co-existence.
First and foremost, the point must be stressed that government spokespersons and bourgeois commentators in general always tend to address this particular problem just as they treat every major issue from a superficial and sensational perspective. For instance, boasts of prosecuting culprits of ethno-religious violence is often more designed to assuage for the moment the feelings of anger by the relatives of the victims of such attacks. More often than not, the real culprits of these dastardly killings don’t ever get arrested. Beside, the sheer incompetence and perfidy of state security agencies vis-Å•-vis their conducts in apprehending and prosecuting elements found involved in ethno-religious killings means that even if real culprits are arrested and prosecuted, most of them may end up being set free for lack of sufficient evidence to convict them.
For instance, about 500 persons were reportedly killed in the Dogon Nahawa massacre. As reported by the media, all of these elements were given mass burial a few days after their tragic death. Even if security agencies subsequently charge some people to court for these horrendous killings, they will never be able to proffer sufficient evidence to sustain charges of murders against the suspects. Consequently, notwithstanding the several boasts and pontifications by bourgeois politicians and analysts, the real assailants of the recent Jos killings will remain untouched and unpunished as in other previous similar occasions. Therefore, those who suffered most casualties from the latest ethno-religious violence will naturally be preparing for a very propitious occasion to strike back in its retaliatory version. After all, the March 7, 2010 massacre in issue itself was said to be a revenge mission for that of January 17, 2010 in the same Jos area. At that time, about 200 persons, mostly women and children of Hausa-Fulani nationality and Islamic persuasion were said to have been killed. Now with the killings of about 500 people of Berom nationality and Christian faith by assailants suspected to belong to Hausa-Fulani nationality, the question is not if, but where and when the next ethno-religious will take place in Jos and Plateau State in general.
HOW TO END THE VICIOUS CIRCLE OF ETHNO-RELIGIOUS VIOLENCE
The frequency and ferocity of ethno-religious violence and killings in Nigeria have become very worrisome and alarming. This has raised serious fears locally and internationally of a possible violent break up of Nigeria with consequences greater in scale and size than the ethno-religious tragedy, violence and war, which engulfed ravaged countries like Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra-Leone, etc or the millions who died in our own 1967-70 civil war.
Against this background, various bourgeois leaders within and outside the countries including the US, UK and even the United Nations, have all severally and collectively been calling on Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to find a lasting solution to the dreadful but incessant ethno-religious violence. As usual, loud but empty proclamations are being made about government willingness and capacity to maintain law and order. Unfortunately however, the nightmare of ethno-religious violence will remain, for as long as the fundamental issues given rise to this phenomenon are not frontally tackled.
Why for instance, would people that have been living together for centuries in relative peace suddenly become vicious enemies that kill themselves like beasts? The answer to this question must look beyond the usual stereotype of ethno-religious differences. Yes, there are differences in nationality and religion. However, it is the particular manner with which the country called Nigeria was created by the colonialists and the way it has been run since independence in 1960 that is largely responsible for the intractable crises and violence that have dominated social relationship among the different nationalities and tribes that make up Nigeria.
Up till 1914, there was never a single country in the whole world called Nigeria. It was the British colonialism for its own imperialist economic and political calculations against its rivals, particularly French imperialism, that was responsible for the creation of Nigeria as a single geographical and political entity. Before the 1914 amalgamation, many of the territories and nationalities that were lumped together to form Nigeria never existed under one political authority. No sections of Nigeria either from the north or south were consulted or participated in the discussions of how Nigeria became one country with one political authority. While increasing opposition to British rule did help to create elements of a Nigerian national consciousness, big symptoms of national and ethnic divisions remained within the country. In line with its own imperialist interests and calculations, the British government played on these divisions when it handed political power over to the elites of the major nationalities of Hausa-Fulani, Yorubas and the Ibos after independence. Many territories and nationalities that had always existed independently and politically suddenly found themselves under the rule and political domination of the elites from the most powerful nationalities.
Right from the colonial times, especially towards the formal end of colonialism, there had been various agitations for self-determinations of one type or the other by the minority nationalities. Unfortunately, the colonialists and the local capitalist elites that took over power after independence have always thwarted the need and efforts to discuss in a truly democratic fashion the issue of whether the colonial contraption called Nigeria should remain or not and if yes, to freely negotiate the terms and conditions for peaceful co-existence among its diverse nationalities.
The imperialist and the capitalist elements may be moaning loudly and making pretty speeches against ethno-religious violence, the truth of the matter however is that they are and will remain incapable of taking the necessary steps that can guarantee genuine peaceful co-existence among the people of Nigeria because of the fact that their own wealth and power is largely derived from the manipulations of ethnic and religious differences. For instance, the ruling elites concept of power rotation along ethnic and geographical lines constitutes the permanent source of conflict between the different nationalities than make up Nigeria.
Thus, instead of fighting for a government that will be able to use Nigeria’s abundant natural and human resources to develop the entire country, “rotational presidency”, “federal character”, etc tend to promote the illusion that material progress will only come to people when somebody from their own tribe becomes president, governor, local chairman, etc. This is why the struggle for political posts have always been very acrimonious as different elites set out to pit peoples against one another.
Contrary to what is often assumed, powers acquired through these diabolical means have always been used for the selfish interest and prestige of the few elites dominating the economy and polity. Nigeria as a country is stupendously rich in diverse mineral resources. It has extensive fertile land across the country that can guarantee foods and crops much more than can be consumed within the country. Oil resources alone is a source of abundant wealth running to trillions of dollars. Nigeria’s huge population constitutes special assets that can lay a basis for flourishing socio economic activities. However, despite these prodigious advantages, Nigeria today is mired in an insoluble socio-economic crisis with the vast majority of the population living in perpetual misery in the midst of inexhaustible abundance.
This paradoxical absurdity is due to the fact that Nigeria’s ruling elites, in concert with foreign capitalist cartels and corporations, deliberately run the economy to enrich a few at the expense of the majority. That is why most of the time, Nigeria’s ruling elites engage in outright looting of the treasuries and or manipulate state powers to convert public wealth into their own private properties under the guise of “reform”, “deregulation”, “liberalization”, etc. Consequently, to begin to talk seriously of addressing the political and social factors promoting and deepening constant ethno-religious violence in Plateau State and the rest of Nigeria, the prevailing unjust capitalist system and looters masquerading as leaders must be brought to an end. A genuine government of the working people that is prepared to use Nigeria’s resources to meet the aspirations of all Nigerians and not just a few capitalist elements must be brought to power. Only this kind of government would have a necessary mass support and confidence to expressly table the issue of whether Nigeria should remain one country or not without the usual bourgeois blackmail that such a process would necessarily lead to a break-up of the country.
Truly, within the framework of capitalism and based on self-serving calculations of the different capitalist elements, there is no way the issue of democratic self determination will be raised without the self serving bourgeois elements trying to fan the ember of total break up or spectre of disintegration. However, a genuine working peoples’ government would not have the inherent limitations of capitalist politicians who would always, for self-serving pecuniary reasons, seek to manipulate every political process to favour their own family, companies, religion, tribes, etc.
WHAT MUST BE DONE
Both in the long run and the immediate period, only the working class people can find solutions to the perennial ethno-religious violence that have claimed tens of thousands of live in the past 12 years alone. In the past Labour has stood for the unity of the working people of Nigeria and against divisions. But now is the time for action to build united struggle that, at the same time, defends the rights of all nationalities and religions in Nigeria.
Politically, this urgently demands the trade union movements, socialists and the working masses in general to immediately put in place an independent political party, exclusively based on the needs and aspirations of the working people with a view to contest political power with the various bourgeois parties like PDP, ANPP, AC, etc. Of course, a Labour Party currently exists but this is only so in name. There will be the need to transform its polity and activities in a consciously working class manner. It has to be built as a party of struggle for the masses to achieve permanent decent living and democratic liberty. The newly created working peoples’ party and or a transformed Labour Party being advocated will expressly appeal to all the working masses across the country with two central programmes. First, an express agenda of taking the commanding heights of Nigeria’s economy and natural resources under public ownership based on the democratic control and management of the working people themselves with a view to meet the needs of all instead of incessant strives and conflicts occasioned by the struggle to made ends meet.
Two, a bold commitment to convoke a truly sovereign national democratic conference not solely based on ethnic configuration but one involving all the different social forces in society to openly discuss, for the first time, the issue of whether Nigeria should be or not and if so, on what terms and conditions. Unless this kind of arrangement is made by the working class to intervene and struggle for power, the 2011 general elections will, as usual be an exclusive competition between the different capitalist parties and elites that are often behind the various ethno-religious conflicts and rivalries.
Before the victims of Dogon Nahawa were fully buried, another gory attack claiming 15 lives, mostly women and children was carried out at Byei also near Jos city. This was despite the fact that the entire Plateau State, especially Jos is literarily under military emergency rule and despite loud proclamations by government spokespersons of their willingness and capacity to protect lives and properties. This therefore raises the necessity for an immediate practical political intervention by the trade union movements and working class elements in general.
The DSM advocates the formation of democratically run community defence committees that cut across tribes and religion and especially composed by trade union elements, socialists and all genuine change-seeking elements with a view to prevent similar outbreak of violence, especially by nationalist or religious sectarian elements promising or planning a retaliatory attacks on other tribes or religious groups. This kind of community defence committee will be more effective in preventing matter from degenerating into violence and in preventing violence from being spread if it started at all. As things are, the police and other security agencies have proved their utter incapacity to deal with this kind of situation. Over time the motive and modus operandi of these security agencies are usually suspected by the combatants on the different side of the divide. This will not be the case with a defence committee formed by ordinary people and genuine change-seeking elements.
Only by this method and approach can genuine peace and harmony be achieved among the diverse nationalities and religious groups that make up Nigeria. Urging and or hobnobbing with a bourgeois government headed by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan can never solve any of the basic political and economic problems troubling ordinary Nigerians. In fact, Labour’s support for the bourgeois government of Jonathan will be the surest way to perpetuate the current inequities. Instead, the DSM urges the labour movement and the entire change-seeking Nigerians to immediately begin in earnest the struggle to bring to power a genuine working peoples’ government in order to achieve permanent economic and political respite for the long suffering Nigerians.