NIGERIA ON THE BRINK: Neither a declaration of State of Emergency nor Military Coup will halt descent into chaos
*Only the Independent Initiative of the Working Class can tackle insecurity and Prevent Looming Disaster
As insecurity, violence, attacks on security formations and personnel, Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, abductions and killings increases on a daily basis, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) strongly believes that no other force exists in Nigeria today outside of the working class that can provide a way out or prevent the looming catastrophe.
By T Soweto
The capitalist class is sharply divided and confused as to what to do. The Frankenstein monster of insecurity unleashed by their blood-sucking capitalist system of exploitation and oppression against the background of unresolved National Questions now threatens the whole of the country with a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. For purpose of definition of terms, by National Question we mean the challenge of ending all forms of oppression and discrimination, and developing a common and completely voluntary sense of nationhood among the disparate ethnic groups that British Colonial authority forcefully and undemocratically fused into a single nation called Nigeria.
The dilemma of the capitalist elite is further magnified a thousand fold by the characteristic clannishness, haughty hostility to any criticism or advice including from members of the ruling elite, indifference and aloofness of the Buhari regime and its absolute failure to elicit confidence in any section of society, including among large sections of the elite, in all parts of the country.
This is further supplemented by the collapse of the government’s social base which was quite sizeable during its first term. The ruling party’s recent report of threefold increase in membership from 12 million to 40 million (Leadership newspaper, 4 May 2021), if true, does not show the real picture. Rather it only further demonstrates the complicated situation in Nigeria today. This is because membership of the ruling party does not equate support for the regime given the scale of the crisis. People sometimes join any political party in power and even attend local meetings in order to increase their chances of benefitting from the chronically inadequate government social welfare programmes which are often hijacked by party tops for the benefit of their supporters. So it is not the same as support for the government or even a vote for it.
In the current situation today, disappointment and anger at the regime is not only very widespread among the working class and poor but also within the middle classes and the elite. This is not surprising. On top of the collapse of living standards, poverty and near-starvation, Nigeria has turned to a killing field. As an NGO, Enough is Enough (EiE Nigeria) recently reported, a total of 2,861 have been recorded killed between January and March this year in different violent attacks from Boko Haram, militia herdsmen, gang clashes and bandits. Of course this report, even though grim, does not give a full picture given dearth of data. The situation is even much worse and affects at least 34 out of 36 states and federal capital territory of Nigeria.
Now the Governor of Niger state has just recently raised alarm that bandits have occupied a portion of this vast state and are just about 2 hours drive away from Abuja – the seat of power. Horrified and panic-stricken, schools including elite private schools in Abuja, have begun to shutdown to avoid a repeat of Greenfield University kidnap where at least 23 students and staff were abducted since April 20 out of whom 5 have been murdered by the bandits in anger that the parents and state were not showing signs of yielding to their ransom demands. There are also a growing number of acts of individual terrorism and signs that an insurgency may be beginning in the Southeast with ceaseless attacks on security formations and killing of personnel in the last one month.
Situation pregnant with possibilities
The events of the past few days are telling. On the one hand, the security agencies and the Presidency have already raised the spectre of a military coup. On the other hand, the caucus of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – the capitalist opposition minority – in the National Assembly and a few members of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) have openly criticized the President and now there are calls within the Assembly, even though still low, for impeachment proceedings to be actuated. The ruling APC dominates the National Assembly so an impeachment move will not succeed and therefore if there is any such attempt to initiate impeachment proceedings, it can only serve a populist intent.
But then given the palpable anger and discontent in society as well as labour leaders refusal to provide a lead, protests and rallies could break out demanding Buhari’s resignation. This could cause sharp fissures and splits within the ruling APC especially if the movement grows. Especially as President Buhari is not going for a third term and therefore has nothing to lose, his aloofness and indifference will further anger the ranks of the party who have everything to lose. But because the PDP opposition of today is even more divided, rudderless and more riven by internal crises than the ruling party, it is not certain that it can lead a process towards providing an alternative should the Buhari government collapse. Moreso many have not forgotten that it was the 16 year rule of the PDP, which failed to transmit hope of civil rule into reality, that the Buhari regime has not fundamentally changed and which now is the foundation of its failure and the ongoing crisis in Nigeria.
What is behind the developing conflict within the ruling circles is their mortal fear that the abject failure of the Buhari regime on all fronts and its weakness in the face of raging insecurity could unleash mass anger against the regime which could lead not only to regime change but also system change. The EndSARS protest last year foreshadowed this. It showed the potential of a revolution in terms of mobilisation and how consciousness developed. Therefore what the PDP opposition and other bourgeois critics of the regime, including those from the ruling APC itself, want to do is effect a change at the top in order to prevent revolution developing from below and sweeping the whole system away.
However a situation where the bourgeois civilian politicians prove too weak to effect a change at the top can open the door to a palace coup, notwithstanding assurances to the contrary by the military chiefs. We call it a palace coup, that is, an arrangement or nod from power brokers within the ruling party and elite circles to military chiefs to ease President Buhari out of power, perhaps on ‘health’ grounds, in order to establish an interim government or a kind of ‘unity’ government consisting of an army and civilian diarchy with extraordinary powers to deal with the insecurity situation in the country within the shortest possible time.
This kind of extreme measure many not just be supported by wide sections of the capitalist elite if they see no other way out of the impasse, it could also be welcomed by imperialism. The imperialist powers are seriously worried about the continental impact of Nigeria’s crises. Western imperialism in particular is now fearful that the deteriorating security situation in Nigeria could magnify the problems already posed by the sudden death of long-time dictator and ally, Idriss Déby of Chad. A Nigerian regime able to take brutal measures to hold off the ascendance of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups like Boko Haram and ISWAP and Janjaweed militias from Central Africa is something Western imperialism can tolerate and support (they support worse despotic regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere) if that is what is required to keep the peace in the Sahel and bolster the weakened regime in Chad, but also the crisis-ridden regimes in Cameroon and Niger Republic.
However while not ruled out in the context of the prevailing internal and external situation, suffice to stress that a military coup will not be easy to accomplish without risking the violent disintegration of Nigeria. This is because any Corp of army men that takes over will be viewed not from its manifesto no matter how salutary but from the point of view of where they come from. This of course does not exclude, at least initially, some measure of support across the country for a regime change. This is what happened with Buhari’s 1983 coup and, to a lesser extent, with Babangida’s coup in 1985. Of course the situation has changed since then, there also is the memory of June 12 and Abacha’s rule. Nonetheless, a military coup may succeed and be popular in some areas, or amongst one religion, but not universally; thereby opening up a new crisis.
The 1966 Coup
In 1966, a group of army majors led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu struck in a bloody coup which ended the First Republic. The coup was provoked by the greed, corruption and pervasive political unrest of the First Republic as the capitalist elite of the major political parties (NPC, AG, NCNC etc.) jostled for power and influence. In a first of its kind, military officers on 15 January 1966 announced on radio that they had taken power and went around in a mopping up exercise arresting and assassinating corrupt politicians, army officers, and bureaucrats.
In a radio broadcast, Major Kaduna Nzeogwu speaking in the name of the Supreme Council of the Revolution of the Nigerian Armed Forces declared the coups intention as follows: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds”.
Some of these words ring true today. However a few factors would lead not only to defeat of the coup but the near violent disintegration of Nigeria. The first factor was the fact that the coup was carried out by army men mainly from Southern parts of the country notably the Igbos. Two, the coup plotters assassinated notable Hausa/Fulani politicians like Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello (The Sarduana of Sokoto) and others. Despite the fact that Southern politicians like Samuel Akintola (Premier of Western Region) and Okotie Eboh (Finance Minister) as well as many bureaucrats of Southern extraction were also killed, this did not stop the North from perceiving the coup as an anti-North coup.
Years later, Adewale Ademoyega, a co-conspirator with Nzeogwu in his account of the coup titled “Why We Struck” said the following in defence of the coup:
“There was no decision at our meeting to single out any ethnic group for elimination. Our intentions were honourable, our views were national and our goals were idealistic. Even those earmarked for arrest, four were northerners, two were Westerners and two were Easterners”.
In the throes of the crisis, events appeared differently to the participants and the populace. To make matters worse, either by omission or commission, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuana (Nzeogwu’s co-conspirator) had failed to assassinate Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo officer and the most ranking senior officer in the Nigerian army at the time. This further sealed the fate of the Igbos and of course the chaos that ensued as it became the duty of Aguiyi-Ironsi to form a new government, being the most senior military man.
This opened up a Pandora box of crises that led inexorably to first a counter-coup on 29 July 1966 by Northern military officers followed by an anti-Igbo pogrom and then a three year Civil War in which millions perished. Suffice to note that President Buhari, then a young lieutenant was a key participant alongside Abacha and Babangida, in the July counter coup and mutiny.
On the one hand, the above show the stubborn relevance of the National Question in every facet of the capitalist crisis in Nigeria. On the other hand, it shows how a military intervention rather than a quick solution can escalate the present crisis. Therefore, suffice to stress that even if supported initially by sections of the population, especially the youth, many of whom were born in the mid-1990s and have no personal recollection of the atrocities and brutalities of the uniformed despots of the 1980s and 1990s, a military regime will sooner than later become unpopular especially when it fails, as it surely will, to solve any of the contradictions afflicting Nigeria.
Declaration of State of Emergency
The other possibility posed by the unfolding crisis is the declaration of a state of emergency in the states affected by Boko Haram insurgency and insecurity. Given the scale of the crisis, this could mean the suspension of all elected and civil authorities in the affected states and imposition of martial law with a view to crush the insurgency and bandits within the shortest possible time. But even this option is not something the regime will find easy to take especially because of its implications. Consequently, it is possible that the state of emergency does not formally entail the suspension of elected and civil authorities, but just an increase in the power and presence of the military in affected states together with more funding as it obtained when President Jonathan declared state of emergency in the Northeast states. Of course this already, in a limited way, is beginning to happen in a ‘de facto’ if not ‘de jure’ way as the military is increasingly present and active throughout the country.
However, whatever the nature of the state of emergency, the first challenge is the sheer number of states that such emergency measures would be required especially considering how the army is already overstretched and the police nearly unreliable. Most likely states like Borno, Zamfara, Katsina Niger, Yobe, Kaduna, Benue in the North East, North West and North Central, and also some of the South East states like Imo, Ebonyi and Anambra states would be affected by emergency measures. Secondly implementing emergency measures in such large number of states will not only draw hostility from the mass of the population and sections of the local capitalist elite, it would also effectively mean a major increase in the role and powers of the military which ominous implication for the survival of civil rule. Already, the share of defence and military expenditures of the budget has increased exponentially over the years. So also has been the role of the army in quelling and intervening in civil disobedience and crisis. Alongside the federal security forces have emerged new regional security forces, vigilantes like “Amotekun” in the Southwest and “Ebube Agu” in the South East formed by state governors in response to the deteriorating situation.
Thirdly is how emergency measures could escalate the National Question by merging with existing anger and discontent over economic issues but also issues of “national oppression”. In the South East for instance, emergency measures may be interpreted as a “Fulani agenda”. This alongside all forms of attacks on democratic rights, indiscriminate arrest, extra judicial killings and excessive use of force by the army could rapidly close the ranks of the South Easterners in opposition to the regime and increase sympathy for the secessionists.
At the moment many Easterners, especially those whose lives, education, work and businesses are interconnected with that of other ethnic groups in Nigeria, view the Biafra agitation with concern. But this can change in a situation where it appears the might of the Nigerian state and army is deployed against their fatherland.
Independent action of the working class Urgently Needed
As is already obvious from the analysis above, neither military coup nor state of emergency can resolve the present impasse on the long run. Rather both measures will precipitate more crises and could worsen the situation. Unfortunately, there are not many options available to the capitalist elite and imperialism to try to keep the country together up till the next general elections in 2023. In fact, if events sharply degenerate further, the question of immediately taking either measures posed above may become a life and death decision for the ruling class with disastrous consequences for the working class.
Under either a state of emergency or military coup, the rights to freedom of expression and association, press freedom, rights of workers, youth and the masses to organize and strike etc. will not only be suspended but any attempt to express these rights will be forcibly repressed. It is to prevent this possibility but also, most importantly, to offer a way out of the impasse that it is urgent for the labour movement to step up now.
Unfortunately, the Ayuba Wabba-led Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Quadri Olaleye-led Trade Union Congress (TUC) still remain trapped in the method of class collaborationism and social partnership – a crass philosophy of trade unionism which starts from the categorical imperative … that the capitalist class is not a class enemy but a social partner of labour. From this universal law of class compromise has flowed all of the betrayals and defeats which have hallmarked the leadership of both congresses in recent times.
It is instructive to note that a recent 2nd National Peace and Security summit organized by the NLC on 29 April 2021 to respond to the grave dangers of the moment was chaired by Senator Ken Nnamani, former Senate President and a key member of the capitalist elite. But according to Ayuba Wabba in his opening remarks at the event, notwithstanding his capitalist and anti-worker credentials, Ken Nnamani was chosen by congress to act as the chair of such an important summit because he believes in “Nigeria’s unity”. But unity on what basis? As a key member of the capitalist elite, what Nigeria’s unity means to Ken Nnamani is not the same as what it means to a worker. To Ken Nnamani, Nigeria’s unity means the continuation of the prevailing capitalist system under which over 80% of Nigeria’s wealth including crude oil is held by a tiny fraction of the population while the mass majority wallow in squalor and misery. Whereas to a worker, Nigeria’s unity means first and foremost equitable access to the means of production and reproduction including adequate and decent shelter, decent jobs, living wage, free and functional public education and healthcare, respect of democratic rights, respect for the language and culture of ethnic minorities etc.
If Labour leadership refuse to act, activists need to organize from below
It is clear that the top of the labour leadership is sold to capitalism and unwilling to challenge the Buhari regime let alone organize the working people to take political power. They prefer to take on individual cabinet members or fight on issues of workers sack or minimum wage, albeit tepidly, so far it does not include openly condemning or clashing with the Buhari regime. As a whole, the pro-capitalist labour leadership has been a huge stumbling block against the possibility of the enormous anger and discontent in society finding a productive outlet. Workers need to urgently organize to rebuild the trade unions as combative organisations and replace this rotten leadership with those who can fight not just for the immediate needs of the class but also to lead the process of taking political power and run Nigeria in the primary interests of the workers, poor and youth.
In the present situation however, activists are faced with the dual task of organizing from below within the movement in order to compel the leadership to act and where this fails, organise workers to take their destinies in their hands. Such is the gravity of the current situation that workers cannot wait till the next delegate congress to elect a fighting leadership before they begin to urgently organize to defend themselves now both against anti-worker economic attacks like the proposed “rationalization” and wage reduction recently announced by the Finance Minister and the raging insecurity which is also a threat to the working class. This is why the DSM calls for the setting up of independent platforms within the unions to create opportunities for democratic discussion and debate among the rank and file about the crisis in the country and how the working class should respond. Such platforms can also campaign for building a fighting and mass based labour movement.
In the given situation today, a national day of action to protest insecurity and daily killings called by a group of pro-masses organizations can gather support of not just the unorganized masses but also the working class battalions organized in the unions regardless of the attitude of their leadership. Such an action even it only succeeds initially at mobilizing only a few can nevertheless help start a movement which puts enormous pressure on the labour leadership to act. The January 2012 general strike and mass protest against subsidy removal began as independent initiative of groups like the Joint Action Front, Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and others before the trade union leadership was compelled by the fact of the masses already taking the road of mass struggle to declare a general strike on January 9 after protests had broken out for days in different parts of the country.
However as experience has shown, the labour leadership only officially called the strike in order to assume the leadership of the mass movement and betray it later. To prevent a reoccurrence of a similar situation in a future struggle, it would be essential that the workers and masses organize and build their own independent and democratic strike/action committees of committed fighters in workplaces and communities. Such committees, if they have a solid popular base, can become the real power behind the strike and mass movement by ensuring they are rooted in every workplace and communities and also linking them across states, regions and nationally. In the absence of the labour leadership taking any initiative such bodies could be instrumental in building and guiding a movement from below that could challenge and overthrow the rotten system. The rapid growth of both the 2012 general strike and the #EndSARS movement shows how quickly such unofficial movements can develop. The development of such bodies would make it easier to fight any rotten compromise by the labour leadership aiming to take steam out of the movement thereby derailing the struggle as is often the case on many occasions in the past.
For a Labour and Civil Society (LASCO) Security Summit
In addition, we call for a new security summit to be held within the next one month. This time around, we demand that such a security summit be organized to reflect the urgency and the gravity of the situation. Most of those being abducted and killed daily across the country are either Nigeria workers or their relatives. Many teachers, lecturers and students have been abducted and also killed by either Boko Haram or bandits. The chairman of the NLC in Cross River state was recently abducted. Given the gravity of the situation, such a summit cannot be held in comfy venues like the second security summit which of all places held at the International Conference Centre (ICC) in Abuja. We propose that the new security summit be held at a public avenue, for instance the NLC headquarters in Abuja, easily accessible by urban workers and rural toilers who are the real victims of insecurity. Such a meeting can also be repeated afterwards in every state which should also serve as a mobilization for a national day of action on insecurity and anti-poor policies.
We also demand that this summit be called by the NLC and TUC in conjunction with pro-masses civil society organizations like the Joint Action Front (JAF), Alliance for Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Coalition for Revolution (CORE) etc. and populated by elected delegates from labour unions from across the country, pro-masses organisations, youth and students associations, community based groups and movements, professional groups like NBA and NUJ, socialists and left groups etc. We believe that this hour of grave danger is the time the labour movement should revert to its most combative traditions. Restoring LASCO at this period will help to restore the ideological backbone which is very much lacking in recent labour’s agitations, arguments and struggles.
Last, but not the least, such a summit should be utilized to discuss what needs to be done to tackle the unfolding situation of insecurity given how the state has mostly failed to act. The question of how to defend lives and property is a life and death question for many communities in parts of Nigeria where the crisis is the hottest. This matter cannot be left in the hand of the state. This is why the DSM calls for the setting up of armed democratically controlled and non-sectarian brigades/vigilantes of the working people and peasants across the 774 local governments to protect workplaces and communities from any attack. This is very crucial given how the state security forces have nearly collapsed in the face of mounting security. If the labour movement does not act now to build its own defence force, it might be exposing workers to grave danger. Moreso, such a non-sectarian defines force bringing all workers together, no matter which tongue they speak or which faith they profess, for collective defence of their workplaces and communities can also help to undermine ethnic and other divisions and foster class unity and solidarity.
However all of these steps can only succeed in the long run if linked with the building of a mass movement to resist all anti-worker and anti-poor capitalist policies and a workers alternative political party to take political power and establish a workers and poor people’s government armed with socialist policies. Only such a government having no need for class and national oppression can successfully tackle the raging insecurity by first and foremost taking Nigeria’s wealth into public ownership and democratic workers control and management in order to ensure equitable access to free education, healthcare, decent jobs, living etc. for all and by respecting the rights of ethnic and other minorities including their right to self-determination up to secession.