NIGERIA’S RAGING SECURITY CRISES
A Frankenstein Monster Created by the Failure of Capitalism
By H.T. Soweto
The 28 March 2022 horrific terrorist attack by bandits on a Kaduna-bound train will continue to evoke outrage for some time to come. Coming about seven years since the Buhari government came to power on a mandate to end rampaging insecurity whose main manifestation as at then was the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, this murderous but audacious attack close to the Nation’s capital is a testament to the regime’s dramatic failure. Armed groups had once attacked the same railway line in October 2021 and two days before the current attack, gunmen had attacked the Kaduna airport and reportedly killed a perimeter security guard before the army repelled them. The dare-devil attack left at least eight dead and about 168 either missing or in captivity.
Shockingly, it took the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) about a week to confirm the number of passengers on board let alone account for those killed and abducted – something which shows that the so-called railway modernization masterplan is only modern in name after all. The age-long issues of corruption and shady dealings mean that oftentimes passengers on board exceed the tickets sold with the bureaucrats pocketing the difference. In the context of terrorist attack and abduction, this creates a nightmare with many victims unaccounted for. Beside, nearly a month after, the federal government is neither close to rescuing the victims nor bringing the perpetrators to justice.
FAILURE OF THE RULING APC
No doubt, the attack is a damning indictment on the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) which took power following 16 years of failure of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) supposedly in order to save Nigeria from collapse. Now in a bitter twist of irony, it has turned out that instead of abating, insecurity and mindless violence of all kinds have actually increased exponentially under the APC government. Infact so bad is the state of insecurity today that many now look back towards the regime of former President Jonathan of the PDP with nostalgia. But it is not a question of which is worst, the APC or PDP. Both are rotten structures which have no answer because they base themselves on the capitalist system which has failed to develop the country. The insecurity emergency is not the cause of the crisis but it does worsen it.
At the moment, there are at least five simultaneously active trends of security crises distributed across the length and breadth of Nigeria. First, there is the internecine war between nomadic Fulani herdsmen and indigenous farming communities in the North Central (Middle Belt), North West and South of the country which ebb and flow in accordance with seasonal changes. Secondly, there is the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency in the North East with a transnational operational base traversing the Sahel. Thirdly, in the North West, North Central and parts of the South, there are hundreds of roving groups of well-armed bandits who have transformed human abduction into a thriving criminal enterprise. Fourthly, there is the IPOB and Eastern Security Network (ESN) in the South East whose militant activities and clashes with security forces over the past five years in pursuit of an independent state of Biafra have now turned the five states of the South East into a new theatre of insecurity in Nigeria. Lastly, there is the scourge of ritual killing, cultism, butchering and active markets for sale of human body parts which takes place generally in the Southern parts of the country.
Even though they are distinct trends, it needs to be stressed that there are often times overlapping in terms of personnel and theatre of operation. For instance in recent times, facts emerging show that the demarcation between Boko Haram/Ansaru/ISWAP and bandits is beginning to blur with evidence suggesting that occasionally joint operations are carried out by both groups. For instance, the abduction of 300 schoolboys from a boarding school in Kankara, Katsina state on December 11, 2020 is rumored to have been carried out by bandit groups on behalf of Boko Haram. Also in recent times, the mode of operation of the bandits and the kind of sophisticated weapons they wield suggests that they have evolved from a ragtag band of lumpen elements into a highly trained militia with knowledge of the making of IEDs and latest know-how in military weaponry as well as likely support from sections of the capitalist state and ruling class.
Without doubt, the combination of the different strands of security threat has turned Nigeria into a killing field. According to the US based Council of Foreign Relations (CRF), in 2021 Nigeria recorded its worst insecurity-related death toll since 2016 with at least 10,398 persons killed across the country between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021. Among the fatalities were 4,835 civilians and 890 security personnel (HumAngle, 4 January 2022). The Boko Haram insurgency which is Nigeria’s longest running security threat has, since 2009 when it emerged, led to at least 35, 000 death and over 2.2 million internally displaced in Yobe, Adamawa and Borno States. A UNICEF 2018 report says that more than 1000 children has been abducted by Boko Haram since 2013. This includes the 276 Chibok girls abducted by their school dormitory in 2014!
The impact of the insurgency on public education and healthcare is devastating. It will take hard-hit states like Adamawa, Yobe and Borno decades to recover from the losses of public infrastructures like schools and hospitals. According to UNICEF, about 11, 536 schools were closed in Nigeria since 2020 over abduction and related security issues while 1,436 school children and 17 teachers have been abducted from schools, and 16 school children lost their lives (Leadership, 18 April 2022). This is in addition to at least 2,295 teachers who have been killed and more than 1,400 schools destroyed in the region. According to Daily Trust (4 March 2022), there are more than 785,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Zamfara alone. Likewise in the South East, similar orgy of violence and killing has become widespread in the past few years.
None of the security crises plaguing Nigeria can be divorced from the failure of capitalism in Nigeria in particular and Africa as a whole. Take for instance the Boko Haram insurgency whose remote cause is the extreme condition of mass misery and penury faced by a majority of the Northern masses while the conservative Northern capitalist oligarchy (arguably the wealthiest section of Nigeria’s capitalist elite) whose greed and corruption is responsible for this state of affairs continue to use religion effectively to enforce a reactionary control and discipline on society.
Another cause of Boko Haram insurgency, which can be described as its immediate cause, was state repression. Boko Haram insurgency arose in 2009 due to the brutal extra-judicial execution of the sect spiritual leader, Muhammed Yusuf, following his arrest during a clampdown. In the same blatant manner the now defunct SARS execute innocent Nigerians at will, the police claimed Muhammed Yusuf was shot while trying to escape from custody! Unfortunately, Muhammed’s demise paved the way for his second in command, Abubakar Shehu who is by far more radical and extremist, to emerge and under him Boko Haram grew to become a formidable terrorist organization which the state has not been able to defeat 13 years after. The sect has also splintered with different groups like, Ansaru and ISWAP, emerging both of which respectively have connections with AL Qaeda and ISIS.
IPOB AND UNKNOWN GUNMEN
Despite the sharp differences, the root of insecurity in the South East are not so different from that of the North. Here, insecurity emerged from age-long perception of discrimination, grievances arising out of economic inequality and lack of opportunities, heavy state repression and injustice. In a region which has barely forgotten the memory of the 1967 to 1970 civil war in which millions died has arisen a popular organization, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which has managed to rally the South Eastern public around the call for restoration of Biafra. Just as in other crisis, the Buhari government has played a role in exacerbating this crisis by its insensitive utterances as well as by its refusal to recognize the right of Igbo people to self-determination and seek opportunities for dialogue.
Instead security forces have been regularly unleashed against the IPOB members with many often killed and jailed for simply participating in street rallies, public meetings or donning Biafra regalia. Also, IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who had escaped to London after an unsuccessful invasion of his home by security forces in 2017 was “intercepted” in Kenya and smuggled back to Nigeria in June 2021 and since then he has been detained on charges of terrorism and treason. As Kanu’s trial commenced, the IPOB declared Monday of each week a day of solidarity which required no movement and stoppage of all commercial activities. To enforce this, IPOB and its militant arm, Eastern Security Network (ESN) engage in shooting spree, arson and the likes against the Igbo people they are supposedly fighting for. But soon after, other forces generally referred to by the media as “Unknown Gunmen” appear to have taken over the enforcement. Despite that IPOB has withdrawn its order since September last year, the Monday restriction continue to be brutally enforced.
In the last few months, the violence has taken a different turn with frequent attacks on politicians, state officials and traditional rulers in Imo state for instance. Now the 2023 general elections appear threatened as militants are demanding referendum while vowing not to allow elections take place in the South East. On Thursday 14 April 2022, two INEC officials were killed with two others reported missing while conducting the Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) exercise at Nkwo Ihitte (PU 004) in Amakohia Ward (RA 02) of Ihitte Uboma Local Government Area of Imo State.
HERDSMEN AND FARMERS CONFLICT
In the same vein, the herdsmen and farmers conflict has as its roots the failure of capitalism to address climate change especially the shrinking of Lake Chad, drought and desertification. Lake Chad is a fresh water lake which is at the centre of the survival of human, animal and plant population of the Sahel region. The lake provides water and nourishment to more than 30 million people living in the four countries surrounding it (Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria) on the central part of the Sahel.
Unfortunately, due to climate change and human use, the lake which used to be one of the largest in the world has shrunk by as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998 thereby leading to stiff competition among nomadic herdsmen, fishing and farming communities each of which needs the lake for their own economic activity. As the condition surrounding the Lake becomes unable to support cattle grazing due to drought, nomadic herdsmen often move their animals towards the North Central, North West and the Southern areas where greater rainfall and greener vegetation exist. By so doing however, the nomadic herdsmen enter into cultivated farmlands where their cattle eat up crops which is the mainstay of the agricultural populations in this area thereby leading to violent conflict.
So bad is the situation that in 2015 the Fulani militants were labelled by the Global Terrorism Index as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world. Their carnage in the South West for instance is phenomenal. The losses are unquantifiable. The Fulani militants have maimed, raped, abducted and killed many. Several villages have been left desolate as a result! Due to pre-existing national tension, the conflict also tend to exacerbate Nigeria’s national question by deepening ethnic and religious faultlines. This is because the herdsmen are predominantly Fulani and Muslims while the farmers are sometimes Hausa Muslims from the North who resent Fulani’s historic domination and Southerners who fear that the frequent Fulani herdsmen Southward movement is a devious plan to resurrect the 19th century expansionist aims of Othman Dan Fodio to annex the South into the Fulani Islamic caliphate.
Furthermore, the bandits – heavily armed criminal gangs tormenting the North Central and North West – appear to have grown directly as a bye product of the herdsmen and farmers conflict. Evidence suggests that the bandits are predominantly made up of remnants of the Fulani militia as well as former Fulani herdsmen dispossessed of their cattle through rustling and due to the tit-for-tat clashes with farmers in Zamfara, Taraba and other states in the Northern region where the conflict is most severe. Having lost their principal source of wealth and sustenance, all they have left is to turn to criminality to survive. Some of them also abhor grievances against the state over what they consider as discrimination or lack of justice for herdsmen wrongfully attacked or killed by self-appointed vigilantes like the Yan Sakai which is accused of killings and other atrocities against Fulani herdsmen.
In an interview with the Daily Trust newspaper (6 March 2022), a notorious Bandit leader, Bello Turji alleged of “genocide being committed against the Fulani”. When further questioned on what the bandits wanted, Bello said the following:
“I want them to treat all of us as Nigerians; whether we are Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba or indeed any other ethnicity one may come from. There is also the Yan Sakai group with whom we started all this fight before the government came in. If the government had brought them to order, things wouldn’t have been this bad. Because it’s a volunteer group—they were not established by law. If a farm is encroached on, one would be taken to the village head or the DPO (Divisional Police Officer) and the person would be fined beyond proportion. That enraged some of our people and some took up arms. What did the government do? They went ahead to legalise Yan Sakai group.
“You will find a vigilante has become a leader in a town and has armed everyone –the lunatic, the sane person and drug addict. How could they serve justice the same way? In all these happenings, the security agents looked on. They (Yan Sakai) will catch and slit the throat of a person in their (security personnel’s) presence. The first time I saw someone slaughtered was on a market day in Shinkafi when vigilantes brought a man close to the abattoir and cut his throat”.
The above shows how complex the conflict is and why a one-sided analysis is inadequate. For instance, while Bello paints the Fulani as the victim of genocide at the hands of farming communities and vigilantes in the North central and North West, this contradicts the picture in the South where the Fulani herdsmen are the belligerent foe while farming communities are at the risk of being wiped out by frequent raids. Infact, the predominant sentiment in the South is that the Fulani herdsmen are able to commit atrocities and go scot free due to the fact that their kinsman, Buhari, is the President. In the same vein, just as Bello raises accusation of discrimination against the Fulani in the North, Sunday Igboho’s call for secession of the Yoruba nation arose out of his experience resisting herdsmen invasion of farmlands in the South West and perception of discrimination by a federal government led by a Fulani President.
But neither Bello nor Igboho is right or wrong. Both see the situation and draws their conclusion from the point at which they experience the conflict – that is, from a one-sided point of view. Unlike them, Marxists must analyze and draw conclusion by considering all sides of the phenomenon. As a first step, we in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) condemn the violence on both sides while recognizing that the conflict is at root a product of fierce competition for land and water resources which is a product of capitalist failure. Despite the emergency situation which called for them, self-appointed vigilantes like Yan Sakai, Sunday Igboho or state appointed ones like Amotekun sometimes worsen the problem. Because they are not set up by communities, these vigilantes are not under anyone’s control and usually act in their own interests without accountability. In many cases, they become a menace.
In contrast to this, the DSM call for setting up of democratic united and non-sectarian defense committee to protect communities from attacks and raids. In mixed communities, these defense committees which must be accountable to the community should be populated by farmers and herders as well as people of all faith so far they all agree to community defense. We also call for the building of a movement to demand immediate steps to tackle climate change and desertification, adequate support for farmers and herdsmen affected by climate change, invasion of farmland, cattle rustling, artisanal mining and bad harvest, setting up of public ranches and end to open grazing. Above all, there is an urgent need for a heavily funded public works programme to rebuild the entire North by rebuilding schools and ensuring provision of free and functional public education at all levels, free and functional public healthcare, functioning public infrastructures, decent jobs and payment of living wage. These kind of policies are what can give renewed hope to the region’s population otherwise the millions in refugee camps and the many internally displaced will soon form the army of a new insurgency and insecurity.
In reality, all these crises demonstrate the convoluted character of Nigeria’s National Question. The brutality of IPOB, ESN and Unknown gunmen in the South East is reprehensible. Nevertheless, we condemn repression of ethnic agitators and demand the release of Nnamdi Kanu and all victims of state repression and political persecution. This includes the over 300 EndSARS activists still in detention. While not calling for separation, the DSM recognizes the rights of oppressed nationalities to self-determination including the right to succession. Nevertheless, we advocate for the united struggle of the Nigerian working people to end capitalism and enthrone a workers and poor people’s government armed with Socialist policies. Under Socialism, the democratic, social, cultural, linguistic and political rights of all minorities including their right to self-determination will be fully respected.
SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE URGENTLY NEEDED
With the violence and insecurity that currently envelopes it, the future of Nigeria as a corporate entity appears bleak. Insecurity and growth of radical Islamist militant groups in the Sahel has already contributed to coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Guinea. Is a domino effect likely or is Nigeria too big to fail? There is no “yes or no” answer to this. What we have to stress however is that Nigeria is in all respect already a failing state. Vast spaces in many parts of the country are already outside of governmental authority with armed militants of all hues either reigning supreme or fighting security forces for dominance. Tribal and religious divides are wider than they have ever been while tension and suspicion are rife. On top of this is added resentment and anger over economic inequality, inflation and poverty which can detonate frequent outbursts and riots.
If current trends continue and with the 2023 general elections not likely to offer any respite, a military coup or a violent disintegration can become likely. The Nigerian army already plays far more role in stabilizing internal security and takes a fat chunk of the country’s annual budget. It should not be difficult for the army to see itself as needed to enforce stability and discipline. This possibility is already echoed in Afe Babalola’s call for suspension of the 2023 general elections for a six months period during which an interim government takes over. The truth is that capitalist elite and imperialism look towards Nigeria’s future with trepidation. They fear the election itself could throw the country over the cliff. But this fear did not start now.
About 17 years ago, a team of “US experts on Africa”, in a March 5, 2005 discussion document titled “Mapping Sub-Saharan Africa’s Future” and issued by the United States National Intelligence Council on likely trends in Sub-Saharan Africa over the next 15 years, made the following telling observations: “Other potential developments might accelerate decline in Africa and reduce even our limited optimism. The most important would be the outright collapse of Nigeria.. The most important would be a junior officer coup that could destabilize the country to the extent that open warfare breaks out in many places in a sustained manner. If Nigeria were to become a failed state, it could drag down a large part of the West African region. Even state failure in small countries such as Liberia has the effect of destabilizing entire neighborhoods. If millions were to flee a collapsed Nigeria, the surrounding countries, up to and including Ghana, would be destabilized. Further, a failed Nigeria probably could not be reconstituted for many years—if ever—and not without massive international assistance”.
The events of the past one decade in Nigeria shows this prediction to be entirely plausible! There is already an outbreak of open and sustained warfare in many places; what is yet to happen is violent breakup of Nigeria. To prevent this doomsday scenario, it is urgent that the Nigerian working class organise to fight and build a mass political alternative to take power and enthrone a workers and poor people’s government armed with Socialist policies. Only this kind of government can prevent the apocalyptic prediction from materializing