BOMBING OF UNITED NATIONS’ BUILDING
BOMBING OF UNITED NATIONS’ BUILDING
Terrorism Takes Root in Nigeria Amidst Deep Social and Economic Crisis
(By H.T. Soweto)
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 into the reception area of the office of the United Nations in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja. 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 defense headquarters.
Trapped amidst the debris were scores of United Nations’ staff including lowly paid security staff and visitors. At the last count on Sunday 28 August 2011, 23 deaths were confirmed with about 166 injured and hospitalized. Among these are eleven United Nations’ staff.
The Islamic fundamentalist group Yussufiya movement, also known as Boko Haram, 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 Haram 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 undermined by the age-long crisis of dysfunctional and rotten health facilities and hospitals which are products of the anti-poor policy of cuts in funding of public health. As at Friday August 26 the death toll was not more than seven. However that the death toll subsequently rose to 23 shows more died after getting to the hospital.
There was obviously little the 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 Minister of state for Health 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 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 this 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 traveling 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.
COULD THE ATTACK HAVE BEEN AVERTED?
Anger has justifiably been directed at the ineptitude of the nation’s security and the police. 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. Now there is a new threat from the sect to bomb some Universities across the country.
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, 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-Qaeda 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. 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 this has 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.
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).
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 faÃ§ade 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.
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. 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 in 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 life 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 thereby worsened over the years.
Consequently, destitution, poverty and lack of basic amenities are the lot of the masses whether from the North or South. Meanwhile all this contrasts sharply with the life of opulence and corruption of members of the ruling elite and political office holders, irrespective of political party, religion or ethnic background, whose take home pay alone is about 40% of annual government budget. This, coupled with the huge income gap 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. The same conditions also provide foot soldiers for separatist ethnic groups like Odua People’s Congress (OPC), MASSOB and militant groups in the Niger Delta who have been active before in the past in the South, West and East of Nigeria.
It would be instructive to note that religion fundamentalism is not peculiar to Islam. 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 and only a struggle for better society can undermine and defeat it.
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 whose 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 of 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. In Universities like UI, UNIBEN and others where bomb threats have been received, there is the urgent need for students to organize similar mass democratic defense committees. Such has proved effective in undermining cultism for instance in OAU and can equally defeat the bombing threats.
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.
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 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.