Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Can Solution to Boko Haram Insurgency Be Found Under Capitalism?

By Hassan Taiwo Soweto

The abduction on April 14 by Boko Haram of over 200 girls from a public secondary school in Chibok – a small town in Borno State – has sparked global outrage. Widespread condemnation has come from far and near and almost the entire world is following the horrendous situation in Nigeria as a result of daily coverage by the international media. Together with a big campaign that has taken off on social media sites (twitter and facebook) under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, protests and demonstrations have been held in several cities within and outside Nigeria and they still continue.

While the most audible demand so far is for the return of the abducted girls, there is no doubt that many people are seriously angry and seek an immediate end to the Boko Haram insurgency whose deadly attacks have continued non-stop since April 14.

The Democratic Socialist Movement wholeheartedly supports the demand for the return of the abducted girls. The pain and anguish of the parents and families of the girls can only be imagined especially as they cannot even take solace in the assurance that the government is effective enough to obtain their rescue.

The Origin of Boko Haram

Truly, this latest crisis has again highlighted the failure, weakness and ineffectiveness of President Jonathan’s government. However the working masses and youths must not for a moment make the mistake that all it takes to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency is a strong President. In reality, President Jonathan’s failure and weaknesses are reflections of the failure and weaknesses of Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalism just as the Boko Haram insurgency is itself a creation of the capitalist-engendered conditions of mass misery, hopelessness, joblessness and poverty in the midst of abundance.

Perhaps the first time most Nigerians became aware of Boko Haram was in 2009 after its leader Yusuf Mohammed was captured by the army and handed over to the police who, after parading him on television, summarily executed him without trial. Before then, the group had existed as a fundamentalist religious sect largely tolerated by the rest of the Muslim community and the people. The group’s official name is “Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad”, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. But just like the history of most fundamentalist religious groups, Boko Haram offered much more than religious vitriol. The group also condemned social and economic injustice and the corruption especially of members of the Northern ruling oligarchy that the group often bitterly regards as “infidels”.

Behind Nigeria’s corrupt capitalist ruling elites of course are often Western imperialist countries of the US and Europe and their global financial institutions of the IMF and World Bank who, for their own strategic and economic gains, prop up corrupt regimes in Nigeria, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Now the western powers, worried that the combination of social crisis and a corrupt, incompetent government will destabilize the whole of West Africa, are using Chibok as an excuse to intervene. Already small numbers of US troops have reportedly been on the ground both in Abuja and in Borno. Some may welcome them as being more efficient than Nigerian forces but, despite the propaganda, they are not here on a humanitarian mission. The western powers’ humanitarian concerns are always linked to their strategic interests, thus because they were then backing Obasanjo’s presidency, they did not complain about the November 1999 massacre of the Odi villagers in Bayelsa. But now they see Nigeria as being in a more precarious state.

For some years US governments have been concerned about Nigeria, believing “that Nigerian governments were inherently unstable because of the country’s economic and religious division. In 2008, the army war college in Pennsylvania carried out a war game in which the Nigerian government is on the brink of collapse and the US intervenes to protect the oil supply.” (Guardian, London, 9 May 2014). This crisis has shown again the weakness of both the PDP Federal and the APC led Borno governments. Against this background the western powers want to strengthen their presence in Nigeria. This is the reason why already there are reports that “the Americans and other foreign troops are expected to remain in the country till after the 2015 elections” (Punch, 10 May 2014).

Boko Haram’s solution of course was introduction of Sharia. Without an alternative working class ideology on offer, this kind of religious fundamentalist teachings tinged with some form of radicalism, is bound to draw support among the huge swathe of poor and mostly uneducated youth in the North who feel left out of the proclaimed prosperity of the country. Besides, the sect also offered shelter, food and sustenance to the poor and dispossessed youths who flocked to it. It soon rapidly grew to become a big sect with a large youth following that politicians in Borno State could not ignore in their bid to win political power.

In 2002, the former Governor of Borno State Ali Modu Sheriff reportedly approached Boko Haram for electoral support exchange for implementation of the Islamic Law of Sharia as the law of the State. Although this story has been vigorously denied, the reality is that it was the State that literally lit the fire of Boko Haram insurgency when in the 2009 it started a clampdown on the sect in order to clip its wings. The extrajudicial murder of Yusuf Muhammed and the arrest and detention of the wives and relatives of those who escaped became the rallying cry for jihad thereafter. Very soon, the group fell under the leadership of more hardcore fundamentalists like Shekau and afterwards splintered into Ansaru and several cells which maintain some relative independence in initiatives and activities.

A Creation of Capitalist-Engendered Mass Misery

Boko Haram is a testament to the failure of capitalism to develop Nigeria and provide a future for the Nation’s youth. The ruling elites of the northern extraction have ruled Nigeria for more than half of its history since the Independence from Britain. Yet while little has been done to develop formal education, healthcare and job creation in the whole of Nigeria, even less has been done in the North. It is against this background that a movement emerged from the North questioning the legitimacy of western education both from a religious standpoint and because the corrupt elite is itself largely western educated. This paradox is only possible as a result of the decades of looting of Nigeria’s wealth by the local capitalist ruling elites from the different ethnic and religious groups and their imperialist masters.

Despite that Nigeria is endowed with stupendous natural and human resources, the for-profit system of capitalism has ensured that over 80% of Nigeria’s oil wealth is cornered by a few while the vast majority are condemned to struggling to benefit from the remaining 20%. According to latest statistics, Nigeria is now the biggest economy in Africa. In addition; the richest person in Africa is a Nigerian while Nigeria is home to hundreds of private jets to support the exotic lifestyle of the rich. Yet over 100 million Nigerians (about 70%) are said to be poor. Over 50 million youths are unemployed and the number of homeless is unknown. On March 15 2014, over half a million graduates turned up at test centers all over the country to seek employment for less than 5,000 advertised vacancies at the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). Over 20 died in the process.

It is all these conditions of alienation and mass misery that have come together to create the conditions under which Boko Haram and other violent insurgent groups thrive. Insurgencies like Boko Haram will not end unless their root cause, which is the exploitative system of capitalism and the mass misery and hopelessness engendered by the poverty and joblessness of the mass majority, is tackled.

No Solution under Capitalism

Examined against this background, the responses of so-called opposition political parties and the labour movement are not only shocking. They also go to show that the Boko Haram menace can actually degenerate further giving the lack of clear and effective alternatives either from the bourgeois opposition or the labour movement. For instance after the second Nyanya bomb blast the Nigeria Labour Congress could only use a bland statement reeking in fatalism titled “We shall Overcome” that appealed to the government to provide more security. Without being able to provide a working class alterative and leadership the NLC leadership appears as clueless as the rotten ruling elite. As we go to press the NLC has not rejected the imperialist military intervention but it has in the past endorsed increasing military expedition in the North East.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) affirms that increased militarization will not solve the problem. Neither will the intervention of security experts and troops from Western imperialist countries of the US, UK and France.

In the first instance, despite the State of emergency declared in three states in the North East and the billions of Naira already spent on procuring military hardwares, trainings, deployments etc, the Boko Haram insurgency has only waxed stronger. Not only has the sect’s attacks and killings continued largely unabated, the sect has also been able to carry out some attacks outside of its territory in the North East. Right from the highway linking Lokoja with Abuja, there are several checkpoints manned by fierce looking soldiers. This is aside the several checkpoints, patrol and surveillance teams inside Abuja itself. Yet this did not stop Boko Haram from embarking on successful attacks inside the Federal Capital Territory.

This is because military strategy without the active support of the people is on its own incapable of rooting out an insurgency of this character. Meanwhile due to the characteristic brutality and atrocities of the military in the North Eastern States where they have been posted, the government cannot hope to rely on the sympathy of the people to provide the information required to locate and engage the Boko Haram insurgents. This is because many people in the North East largely feel caught up in the violence of both the army and Boko Haram and feel no shred of sympathy for neither. In March Amnesty International claimed that 600 mostly unarmed detainees had been extrajudicially executed by the army in a single day. And even in situations where the ordinary people have had cause to alert the military and security forces of impending or on-going raids by Boko Haram, they have been alarmed at the ineffectiveness of the military despite the grandstanding of President Jonathan in the media.

So far, all that militarization has achieved is the empowerment of the repressive capabilities of the State and clampdown on the democratic rights of the working masses. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the Federal Government now routinely bans protest and breaks up any “unauthorized gathering”. Encouraging further militarization as the Labour bureaucrats are doing would have terrible consequences for the labour movement and the working masses in the coming period.

Imperialist Intervention

In the second instance, the countries of US, UK, France and other imperialist capitalist countries are actually responsible for the growth and spread of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism across the world as a result of brutal wars orchestrated in order to control the crude oil and mineral reserves of countries in the Middle East. In the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks on Pentagon and World Trade Centre, the United States invaded Afghanistan to crush “terrorism” and thereafter Iraq under the guise of seeking to locate Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). This imperialist aggression became the tipping point for the growth of feeling of repression among Muslims all over the world which in turn strengthened the Al Qaeda and led to the further spread of Islamic fundamentalism and splinters of Al Qaeda beyond the Middle East into Africa. The killing of Osama Bin Laden by the Obama administration in 2012 has not halted the chain reaction which the imperialist military aggression of the US set off in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. If the imperialist countries of the US, UK and France are part of the problems of the rise of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, then it is illogical on the part of the advocate of imperialist intervention in Nigeria to expect them to be part of the solution.

In the third instance, the history of the intervention of Western imperialist countries in the domestic situations of other countries is very instructive for Nigeria. From Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia and thereafter to Libya, imperialism has always contributed more problems than solution. None of the countries mentioned above have regained stability since Western imperialist troops intervened ostensibly to maintain law and order. This is because the imperialist countries are ultimately only out to protect their own economic interests and the profit of their multinational companies. As a columnist with the Guardian (London) aptly put it the “Western intervention will turn Nigeria into an African Afghanistan”.

The only assistance that the working people of Nigeria should accept in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency is the international solidarity of the working class and youths of other countries. But the acceptance of any so-called assistance from the capitalist governments of other countries will, no sooner than later, contribute to the festering of the crisis beyond the imaginable.

For a Socialist Solution

However what those who invest hope in militaristic strategy and imperialism fail to understand is that even if somehow the Boko Haram insurgency subsides, driven underground or crushed today, so long as the terrible condition of mass misery and desperation occasioned by capitalism exist, more deadly forms of religious or tribal insurgency and barbarism will arise in the nearest future. This is because as the exploitation and poverty of the vast majority becomes more acute and without the labour movement providing a clear revolutionary way out, all forms of barbarism will be on the rise.

We are already seeing signs of this. In the past few weeks Plateau and Zamfara States have seen hundreds die in what are called tribal clashes. Presently in the Southwest Nigeria, a menace has resurfaced – that of kidnappers and ritual killers. In Ibadan in Oyo State, a den of kidnappers and ritual killers was unearthed at Soka located in the earth of the city. Not only were rotten and mutilated bodies discovered, a few victims in different stage of emaciation were rescued alive. Ever since then, newspapers and televisions have been awash with almost daily gory reports of the setting ablaze or lynching of alleged kidnappers and ritualists by mass of people and youths across the region.

The act of kidnapping for money ritual is a voodoo solution concocted by desperate minds to get rich in an unjust capitalist system. Also the act of setting alleged kidnappers ablaze on the street in broad daylight while it shows the breakdown of the authority of the state is a very barbaric act that can only be perpetrated by increasingly desperate people. This should serve as a warning that more brutality and barbarism can quickly envelope the whole country or any part of it if the condition of mass misery in the midst of abundance continues.

This experience confirms that it is only by ending capitalism and putting in place a democratic socialist system that can guarantee the use of Nigeria’s stupendous wealth to end poverty and create jobs for the millions of unemployed youth that the Boko Haram menace and other form of barbarism abate.

The only effective strategy that the labour movement can proffer is to begin to mobilize the workers and the oppressed masses to take their destinies in their hands. There is no army or terrorist group greater than the entire people. To start with, a one-day general strike and mass protest called by the labour movement can send the right signal to both the corrupt capitalist ruling elite and Boko Haram that the organized people are prepared to defend themselves against the onslaughts of both principalities. Through the general strike and mass protest, the labour movement will be able to demonstrate the point that it is capable of fighting for the social and economic issues of poverty, joblessness and homelessness that may have pushed some youths into the ranks of Boko Haram and other devious forces. This is crucial to begin to undermine the support base of the sect. During the January 2012 general strike and mass protest against fuel subsidy removal and hike in fuel price, not a single bomb exploded.

In the North Eastern States threatened by Boko Haram raids as well as other areas where there is sufficient reason to fear a raid or some forms of attacks, the labour movement has to take the lead in mobilizing workers, masses and the youth to begin to take up the responsibility of securing their neighborhoods and communities. This can only be possible by setting up democratic multi-tribal and multi-religious self-defense committees. These committees which will be subjected to the control of the entire people in the community will have duty and responsibility of patrol, gathering information, defense and cooperation with security agencies which themselves must be placed under democratic control. But for such steps to have a lasting effect they would need to be linked to the building of a united campaign of working people, the poor and youth across Nigeria that would struggle to end the economic and social crises bred by capitalism. Only this could begin to undermine whatever popular support Boko Haram has and also prevent working people fighting amongst themselves over resources like land or water.

Unfortunately the present Labour leaders are not prepared to take this course of action because they have no vision of a better society beyond capitalism. Many of them are currently looking towards supporting Jonathan’s re-election next year, as the leaders of the misnamed Labour Party have already said they will do. These bureaucrats, happily enjoying a privileged lifestyle, refrain in trepidation from taking any step or course of action which can undermine the current corrupt ruling elite and threaten a revolutionary situation. They are afraid that the working masses and youth could take control of their destiny and bring about the destruction of capitalist rule. The fact is that the Labour leaders were scared by the huge support for the January 2012 strike and protest; they feared that the working people and poor could move in the direction of sweeping away this rotten system.

In opposition to the current Labour leaders this is exactly what we in the DSM are striving for. We fully support a social revolution to bring an end to the Nigeria’s corrupt capitalist system because that is what is fundamentally responsible for the condition of mass misery in the midst of abundance which is the basis upon which Boko Haram insurgency emerged and now thrives. We believe that only a new government formed by the working class and armed with correct socialist policies can begin to restructure Nigeria and ensure that the huge wealth of the country is used judiciously to better the lots of the mass majority.

To achieve this, members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) have consistently called for a mass working class people political party on socialist program. As a step towards this we have at the same begun the process of seeking the registration of a Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) so that Nigerian working masses and youth can have a platform to organize around and step up the fight to take political power from the corrupt capitalist ruling elite whose continuous stay in power can only continue to invite more adversities and peril on the entire people of this country.