Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)

For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

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27 May 2004


DSM Statement:

The state of emergency in Plateau and the way forward

The ethno-religious crisis in Nigeria’s Middle-Belt state of Plateau that led to the declaration of a military-fashioned, but illegal, state of emergency reflects a familiar pattern of violence since the inception of civil rule in 1999, after prolonged military dictatorship. 

Under the emergency rule, which shows an increasingly authoritarian tendency of the Obasanjo regime, an un-elected former Army Chief now rules the state as sole-administrator while the elected state governor and House of Assembly (state parliament) are suspended.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), the Nigerian section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), has repeatedly warned that such sectarian violence could increasingly weaken the fledging civil rule with a possible return of the military not completely ruled out. It should be recalled that a similar state of emergency, though in different circumstances, imposed on the western region by the federal government during the first republic contributed largely to events that brought the army to power.

Indeed, barely one year after the return of Nigeria to civil rule, DSM in its September 2000 publication ‘Season of Struggles’ noted how such cycle of violence has become characteristic and common place: "Another major feature of the past one year has been the escalation of ethnic/religious crises. Thousands of people have been killed in Ife/Modakeke with property worth billions of naira lost between last year and this year alone while violent mayhem had taken place also in Warri, Aguleri/Umuleri, Kano, Shagamu, Ajegunle, Ilaje, Ketu, Akala in Mushin, amongst other places. By now, over 2000 people must have been massacred in Kaduna alone since clashes started in the city in February ostensibly over the attempt by the state government to introduce the Islamic Sharia law. Over 300 people were killed in Aba, Owerri Umuahia, Port-Harcourt, etc primarily in retaliation for the Kaduna massacre".

The violence in Plateau state and other places actually constitutes a set back to the united struggles of all oppressed working masses across nationalities/religions. It confirms, though, DSM’s prediction that such would be regular feature of life under capitalism, being a system that enriches the few elite to the detriment of the majority working class and poor. In contrast to what is now happening, only less than a year ago, the vast majority of Nigerians were united in an eight-day general strike against fuel price increase. But the failure of the NLC leaders to show a way to end the country’s continual crisis has resulted in the masses’ frustrations being misdirected against different ethnic or religious groups. As we also explained in ‘Season of Struggles’, "the upsurge of these ethnic and religious strife has been fuelled basically by the failure of the civilian regimes to improve the conditions of lives of the people in the past one year and the use of ethnicity and religion for political ends by different sections of the capitalist ruling class. For instance, in the Niger-Delta, North, South, West, East and other places, millions of youths are unemployed". A pan-Nigerian independent political organisation of the working people that could chart the right way forward for the country is urgently needed for a pattern has emerged that when the workers’ movement is not struggling, sectarian conflicts re-emerge. Hence, if the workers’ movement does not check this development, then there is the danger that parts of Nigeria could face the spectre of Rwanda.

Fundamentally, the above is the essence of the warning in "Time for System Change" another DSM Publication of 2003" that: "unless a pan-Nigerian working peoples party with sufficient strength and spread across the country comes to power and implement consistently beneficial socio-economic programmes/policies in favour of the entire masses of all nationalities and religious groups, Nigeria, in the medium time, might descend into an insoluble ethno-religious conflagrations that would make similar phenomenon in Africa and elsewhere look like children’s play"

The Plateau crisis and the state of emergency

The Plateau crisis, dating back to 2001, has its origins in the cycle of clashes between the majority Christian ‘indigenes’ who are farmers and the mainly Muslim minority and cattle-rearing Hausa/Fulani ‘settlers’. For both groups, land is central to survival hence, conflicts often tend to occur over access to pastoral and agricultural land. Differences in nationality and religion only compound these economic problems, making the conflicts to assume religious/ethnic dimensions. But another key factor in the crisis is the collapse of the once thriving mining industry in the state following the arrival of the petrol-dollar and the attendant economic dislocation and job losses. Indeed, apart from the nomadic pastoralists, some non-natives moved to the state from other parts of Nigeria to work in or trade around the mines. In the process, some ‘non-natives’ became landlords.

There was no doubt about the general sense of outrage and revulsion over the killings as thousands of people got displaced and became internal refugees. The reprisal killings in the predominantly Hausa/Fulani/Muslim dominated state of Kano, only served to aggravate the sense of "something must be done" on the part of the general populace. Many, especially those who lack the historical and class understanding of the nationality crisis in Northern Nigeria could not just comprehend what was amiss as they watched on the Television, heard on radio and see in newspapers and magazines pictures of maimed, injured and massacred children, youths, women, old men etc. Combined with the volatile situation elsewhere e.g. Benue state, the Niger-Delta, etc, there was a feeling of how long this madness would last.

It was this mood that General Olusegun Obasanjo partly exploited by imposing the emergency rule under dubious constitutional provisions. There was no actual break down of law and order as envisaged by the Nigerian bourgeois constitution before he took the authoritarian step, neither does the constitution provide for suspension of elected institutions. But that the constitution provides for emergency rule at all reflects that it was written by the military and accepted by the civilian wing of the capitalist ruling class. And if Obasanjo further has his way, there would be other emergency measures that forbid meetings and rallies, protests and allow detention without immediate trial much as the British and American ruling class have been doing in the name of fighting terrorism.

There could also be no doubt that General Obasanjo’s capitalist regime has been under the pressure of its Imperialist backers – the US, Britain and their multi national corporations especially in the volatile oil-rich Niger-Delta – to clamp down decisively on armed militia groups they see as potential threat to their investments and continued exploitation of Nigeria as a united country. Indeed, US imperialism in particular is anxious to secure its oil supplies because of the situation in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the emergency also aims to serve as warning to Labour, opposition political parties and civil rights groups that have of recent been organizing and proposing to organize mass rallies and strikes against policies like fuel price increase, rigged elections etc. Before the Plateau state emergency, police have actually used brute force to break up even the smallest of protests.

Sectarian reaction to emergency

The imposition of the state of emergency and the appointment of a retired army chief as sole administrator, though welcomed by some, has elicited wide spread condemnations, not least among Christian youths in the state and the rest of the north who felt that Obasanjo was acting according to the dictate of the powerful Hausa/Fulani political class and Islamic caste and class. They are particularly enraged that a similar emergency was not declared in Kano where at least 300 were killed in retaliatory attacks and where there has been more ethnic/religious strife. The Christian youths apparently followed the national leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) that demanded a similar emergency rule in the northern state of Kano. But it must be quickly pointed out that CAN has now been vociferous in attacking Obasanjo because it has been worsted in the present crisis. Otherwise, it is this same leadership that has been backing Obasanjo and its anti-poor policies simply because he is Christian. As a matter of fact, since the inception of the regime, notable Christian leaders have been organizing special prayers for him inside Aso rock (the seat of power) by specially selected prayer-warriors. Through these prayers and other means, they have earned financial or contract patronage from the Obasanjo regime just like their Muslim religious elite counterparts. Christian workers and youths should therefore not allow themselves to be used and dumped by such self-seeking leaders. They are not opposed to privatization, commercialization of education and health care, mass retrenchment etc that have compounded the miseries of not just Christian but Muslim masses as well. Instead, the Christians should seek a united course of action with their Muslim fellow workers, peasants and youths through fraternal discussions and solidarity to work out measures to end the crisis. Otherwise, the Christians call for state of emergency in Kano would merely add to sectarian tensions.

NLC’s wrong support for emergency rule

In the above context NLC’s support for the state of emergency is against the interest of the working class. It amounts to succumbing to authoritarianism while it could create the erroneous impression that only the use of force could bring about peace and stability in the affected areas. Moreover, such support could actually lead to further sectarian tensions, for example, among those Christians opposing the emergency. Yet, both Muslim and Christian workers have been killed in both Plateau and Kano according to the industrial unions. The position of the NLC leadership is informed by its lack of alternative to the capitalist economic and political policies brewing the crisis. But it is being short-sighted because Obasanjo’s policies will not produce a permanent settlement. The NLC needs to develop its own programme of ending sectarian violence by proposing a democratically controlled, mixed defence forces in troubled areas and advancing a working class alternative to the chaos in Nigeria. Only this way can there be a meaningful and successful campaign to end the use of workers as canon fodder by traditional rulers, ethnic warlords and capitalist politicians whose main interest is to continue to amass wealth, including land, to the detriment of the poor masses. But if NLC fails to provide the lead, sections of the working class and youth may be misled to believe that the solution to their desperate problems lies in conflicts against different religions and or ethnic groupings.

The emergency and the aftermath

Clashes and killings have, despite the emergency rule, continued in Plateau state while armed militias have grown more confident in neighbouring Benue state. Apparently, the warring factions have largely ignored the call by the sole administrator to lay down their arms in exchange for monetary reward. This is another confirmation of DSM’s warning that the use of military force and emergency powers cannot permanently resolve the problem posed by sectarian violence given its historical and class character. As a matter of fact, the invading armies usually become part of the problem, sometimes killing more people than the militias. They extort money from those they are supposed to protect and when bribed, fail to maintain peace. This also explains why militia clashes normally resume once the soldiers and policemen are withdrawn. As alternative to emergency rule and to end the killings, we call for the immediate constitution of a democratic self-defence force in Plateau and other troubled areas to be initiated by labour, farmers, students and youth, political and civil rights groups like NLC, NANS, NCP, Market Women association etc and also drawing together the rank and file among the warring groups.

Sectarian violence: a reflection of unresolved nationality question

Sectarian violence across Nigeria is equally an indication of the unresolved nationality question. British colonialists forcefully brought together nationalities that had existed under different political and religious authorities through the amalgamation of the Northern and southern protectorates to create Nigeria in 1914. The people did not make the choice themselves. In the past, political movements such as United Middle Belt Congress have emerged to challenge the dominance of the Hausa/Fulani in Plateau, Benue etc. Past and present movements for state creation also partly reflect efforts by minority tribes to break away from the influence of the majority groups in the North, West and East. The botched unilateral declaration of an independent state of the Niger-Delta by Isaac Adaka Boro, the Biafran declaration and the subsequent civil war, the Tiv revolt, the Ogoni self-determination movement could be understood in this context. Also, the emergence of the Yoruba ethnic militia - the Oodua Peoples Congress - following the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, won by MKO Abiola. The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra - MASSOB – still hopes to achieve a break-away of the Igbo east from Nigeria and the north has the Arewa Peoples Congress – APC – to defend Hausa/Fulani interest.

To further compound the religious and national question, capitalist rulers in nine northern states have introduced strict Sharia Islamic law. Besides that, they have done nothing fundamental to end poverty, illiteracy, lack of health care etc.

To resolve problems of ethno/religious crisis in Plateau and elsewhere therefore, raises the need to address the question of the right to self-determination, including the right to secede by the different nationalities, especially the minorities that constitute Nigeria. But as a socialist organization, DSM advocates as a vital step towards this, the unity of the working class to defeat their common enemy – the land owners and landlords as well as the capital owners who irrespective of race or religion, unite to exploit the working class majority. Ultimately, it is only under a Workers and peasants government that there can be a genuine basis to discuss the question of relations between and within the different national and religious groups. It is actually not ruled out that if the vastly abundant resources in Nigeria are used to create full employment and are massively invested in health, education, transportation, water provision, housing, etc all with a view to ending poverty, there could be less tendency towards the break up of the country.

Fresh demands for Sovereign National Conference (SNC)

Since the emergency, there have been renewed agitations for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). Civil rights and radical political groups are now joined by sections of the ruling class to demand it, under the slogan – "SNC, the only way forward". It means the SNC may be an option for the ruling regime, if it increasingly finds the country un-governable. But we do not accept that the SNC is the only way forward. We need to ask: way forward for whom and how? As a means to an end, it can only be a step forward for the working masses, if it is democratically elected and leads to the creation of a workers’ and peasants’ government. As we said before: "While SNC like civil rule, may open up a relatively more democratic environment, socialists, labour and youth activists must understand that unless the neo-capitalist system is upturned by the working people themselves, an SNC, "true federalism", confederation, secession and other forms of political restructuring being advocated will not relieve the masses of poverty and misery or bail the country out of its hydra-headed economic, social and political crises"

Labour must provide lead – No to government of national unity

We are confident that through a united action of organizations of the working class like the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), pro-workers political organizations like the National Conscience Party (NCP), Labour Party etc, the Civil rights groups, it is quite possible to put forward a working class alternative to ethno-religion strife and the economic problems facing Nigerian masses. This cannot be achieved on the platform of the Conference of Political Parties – CNPP or the Nigerians United for Democracy – NUD that have no alternative to the anti-poor policies of Obasanjo regime. Key allies in the CNPP and NUD, including the ANPP and AD whose governments are implementing similar capitalist policies like the PDP government. The ANPP members in the National Assembly actually voted in favour of the Plateau emergency rule. Labour should therefore not form a block with either the CNPP or NUD. The Government of National Unity being advocated by the groups would merely be an alliance of the elite across the nation and will therefore exist to protect interests of local millionaires and their imperialist backers.

More fundamentally, the crises and the continued imposition of anti-poor working policies – for example the proposed fresh increases in fuel prices – make it more urgent for the working class to demand and work towards a system change under a workers’ and peasants’ government. Such will be based on the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy so as to have resources to meet the basic needs of the people such as mass housing, mass transportation, accessible and qualitative education and health care etc. This will constitute a real alternative to the capitalist exploitative system that enriches the minority elite and pauperizes the working class majority. Nigeria cannot develop on a capitalist basis and as such, failure to develop poses the danger of continuing and deepening sectarian conflicts. For Nigeria to stay together on a voluntary basis, it will have to break with capitalism.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), allied with the pro-Labour political parties and civil rights bodies should therefore immediately spearhead a mass campaign that combines opposition to the state of emergency with other undemocratic and anti-poor policies of the Obasanjo regime. As a first step towards realizing this, we call on the NLC to quickly and urgently set aside a day of national mass action, rally or protest latest fuel price increase and demand an end to emergency rule. The one-day protest should be followed by other programmes of action leading to regime and system change.

DSM demands:

  • End to sectarian violence – for a united Nigeria on the basis of social justice and equal rights; at the same time, a recognition of the right to self-determination of all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria including their right to secede if that is the wish of the majority.

  • No to increment in the prices of petroleum products.

  • A genuine multi-party democracy with the right of every individual and group to organise political parties without registration by the government. The right to stand for elections as independent candidates.

  • An independent mass working people’s political party with a socialist programme to provide an alternative to the existing capitalist parties.

  • Convocation of a democratically-elected Sovereign National Conference (SNC) comprising elected representatives of social groups such as workers, peasant farmers, traders, rank-and-file of the armed forces and police, professionals and ethnic nationalities according to their numerical strength to deliberate and decide on the way forward for the country and draw up a new constitution.

  • Public ownership of the country’s vast resources and wealth under the democratic management and control of the working people.

  • Democratic management and control of public companies and parastatals by committees comprising elected representatives of workers, consumers, trade unions, NLC and the government.

  • Open declaration of assets by public officials with the right of the public to investigate and initiate prosecution of officials found to have illegally acquired assets in excess of their legal income.

  • A workers’ and poor peasants’ government based on a socialist programme.

  • A socialist federation of Africa as a step towards a world socialist federation to put an end to hunger, poverty, war and environment destruction.