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9 June 2017

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RISING ETHNIC TENSION: Labour Must Act Urgently to Prevent Anarchy

Only a programme of struggle can unite working people and youth across sectarian divide

The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) strongly condemns the 3-month ultimatum issued by a coalition of 16 so-called Northern youth groups to people of Igbo extraction to exit the North. This sort of sectarian and reactionary declaration is nothing but an open call for a pogrom.

The pretext for this ill-advised declaration was anchored on the agitations of some Igbo groups like MASSOB and IPOB for secession of the South East and a part of the South South from Nigeria and the formation of a Sovereign Biafra nation. In making their call, the so-called Northern youth groups claimed the Igbo people have been a persistent threat to national integration and as such they should be asked to leave.

We consider the groups behind this call, at best, misguided and deluded. Ordinary people whether they are Igbo, Northerners, Yoruba or from the South South are not the problem of Nigeria. The real problem of Nigeria is the inequitable capitalist system and the rival groupings within the irredeemably corrupt ruling elite who regularly stoke ethnic and religious tension in order to aid their self-serving struggle for political power and influence. However, when they conspire to loot Nigeria's wealth, their religious and tribal differences do not always prevent them joining together to enrich themselves

Whether these so-called Northern youth groups are capable of actually carrying out their threat is still unclear. What is unmistakable however is that they have succeeded in raising the temperature of the already tensed polity. In doing this they have, wittingly or unwittingly, played into the wider agenda of pro-Biafra secessionist groups. Not surprising, an overjoyed MASSOB immediately welcomed the declaration, giving it "100 percent support" (Punch, 7 June), while calling on Igbo people to defend themselves.

MASSOB is hoping that this development could help the Biafra cause. On May 30 2017 during the sit-at-home order declared by IPOB and other secessionist groups to mark the 50 years anniversary of the 1967-70 civil war, while the core South East states and a few South South states experienced varying degree of compliance, the Igbo people in Alaba international market and elsewhere in Lagos ignored the call and went about their businesses. Now it is possible that with the threats emanating from Northern groups, the Biafra cause will be further enhanced as many Igbo people, especially those living and running businesses outside the South East who for different reasons may not support the agitation for secession, would now have no choice but to identify under the Biafra identity for protection.

Working people and youth in the North should not offer these sectarian groups any support. Rather their planned programme of violence and dispossession against Igbo people should be resisted by independent mass actions. The Northern working people, just as the Igbo working people, must understand that the ethnic and religious argument is often used to divide ordinary people. Meanwhile when the capitalist ruling elite are looting our common patrimony, they do not always remember their tribal and religious differences. The only time they cry foul and remember their ethnic or religious identity is when they are shortchanged by their rival gangs of looters.

Alarmed at the declaration, several segments of the capitalist ruling elite are coming out to speak out against it. On its part, the Kaduna state government immediately ordered the arrest of the signatories to the declaration for incitement and there are media reports that police have launched a manhunt.

We urge the working people not to, for one single moment; exhibit any confidence in the capitalist ruling elite. And these are our reasons: One, no single member of the capitalist ruling elite in Nigeria is innocent of the crime of contributing to the visible role that sectarian divides plays in the polity and especially the palpable ethno-religious tension in the country today. All of them come to power by playing one sectarian card or the other and arming rival tribes and groups to aid their ambitions. Therefore all the comments emanating from these elements to condemn the action of the so-called Northern youth groups are mere crocodile tears. What they say in public is often different from what they do in practice. Infact what should be expected now is that each segment of the capitalist ruling elite will now begin to activate their own tribal and ethnic platforms, building private armies and stockpiling weapons so as not to be caught unawares in the event the current unstable situation develop into a conflagration or another civil war. In the given situation, organizations like the Odua People's Congress (OPC) may even enjoy a temporary resurgence.

Secondly, the law and order approach which the Kaduna state government has taken may turn out to strengthen ethno-religious tensions. For instance, it was the arrest and over 7 month-long detention of the originally little known IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, by the Buhari government using the DSS that turned him into a hero of a sort. Therefore, should the leaders of the so-called Northern youth groups also be similarly maltreated by the State in an attempt to forcibly put down their misguided agitations, it could lead to a situation where they begin to enjoy some sort of popularity among the Northern youth – something which would further complicate the entire situation.

As far as we are concerned, only the mass mobilization of the entire working people and youth can undermine divisions and defeat sectarianism. We therefore urge the labour movement to immediately and publicly condemn this declaration and to come up with a protracted campaign anchored on a programme of action that can unite the working masses and youth around a common struggle against the real source of mass poverty and underdevelopment which is capitalism. The demand for N56, 000 minimum wage, payment of salary and pension arrears alongside opposition to casualization, high cost of living, rising youth unemployment and anti-poor policies of privatization and deregulation are the major issues around which labour need to be actively fighting in order to unite ordinary Nigerians around a collective aspiration. Nature abhors vacuum. As the rise of Boko Haram amply demonstrates, it is when labour is shirking its responsibilities of leading mass struggle against anti-poor economic policies and attacks on masses' living standards that other forces, especially sectarian ones, germinate to take advantage of the vacuum.

As presently constituted, no other force exists that can save Nigeria from the catastrophe that the ensuing cacophonic agitations of competing nationalities portends than the forces of the working class. In a neo-colonial capitalist country ruled by irredeemably corrupt ruling elite and riven by innumerable artificial divides, the labour movement is the only platform that truly unites all working people in Nigeria regardless of their faith, tongue or tribe around common interests and objectives.

Therefore, it is urgent that the labour movement acts to save the working people and youth from the impending catastrophe. It is now more urgent than ever for labour to form and begin the rapid building of a mass workers' political alternative to bring into power a workers and poor people's government armed with socialist economic and political programme that can ensure that Nigeria's wealth is used to satisfy the needs of the mass majority. Only such a government, which does not benefit from ethnic and religious divide and does not require it for survival, can be in a position to convene a genuine, democratic and truly representative Sovereign National Conference (SNC) at which the working masses from all constituents parts of the country can meet to freely and democratically discuss whether Nigeria should continue to exist and if yes on what terms.

As Socialists we support the voluntary unity of the peoples of Nigeria but we firmly oppose the imposition of unity without providing any genuine solution to the feelings of domination and marginalization of ethnic minorities. That is why unity should be democratically negotiated by the working masses and their allies through the instrumentality of a sovereign national conference as we already canvassed above. Our ultimate objective as a party therefore is for a Nigeria ruled by a workers' and poor people's government and whose economy will be democratically run and managed to serve the real needs of the people and under which the democratic rights of ethnic minorities up to secession will be fully respected. No political party in the country today stands for this kind of programme. The ruling APC and PDP, APGA, LP etc with their neo-liberal consensus on implementing anti-poor policies of privatization, deregulation, underfunding of public education, healthcare and other vital social services are all guilty of dragging Nigeria to the edge of the precipice it is today. Only a new political alternative can prevent the looming catastrophe and chart a new path. We call on labour, working class, youth elements etc. to support the outlined positions of SPN in order to prevent possible ethno-religious violence or genocide.

Chinedu Bosah,
National Secretary, SPN