Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM





The reported killing of about nine (9) pro-Biafra protesters and injuring of about 18 others on December 1st, 2015 in Onitsha, Anambra State by men of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) is highly condemnable. These killings are premeditated as the army high command had just a few weeks ago issued a stern warning to deal mercilessly with agitators and protesters.

The killings will further reinforce the feeling of persecution, discrimination and neglect which is driving the pro-Biafra agitation. The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) therefore strongly condemns these killings and demands that the perpetrators be fished out and brought to justice. We also demand the unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu and the 137 pro-Biafra protesters who are being prosecuted on different charges including treason.

By these actions however, President Buhari has confirmed the fears of many that, his civilian attires notwithstanding, he remains the same oppressor who during his first time at the head of government between 1983 and 1985 jailed journalists at will for simply writing articles critical of government.

The 9 protesters had joined others in a protest on Tuesday December 1st, 2015 to express their desire to secede from Nigeria and form a Sovereign state of Biafra. They blocked the River Niger Bridge Head – the gateway into the South east causing traffic to back-up on both sides. This protest, coming after weeks of massive protests across the 5 South East states, is part of the renewed effort by the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to drum support for the unconditional release of their detained leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Kanu who operated a pirate radio from London, was arrested in Lagos, Nigeria, on Saturday 17 October 2015 and, despite securing a court bail, has been in the custody of the Department of State Security (DSS) since then.

We call on the working masses and youths across the country, regardless of their ethnic affiliation, to unite to condemn the Buhari government for the killings and clampdown on protests. Most especially the labour movement must not be silent on this emerging crisis as it did during a similar situation involving Boko Haram in 2009. It should be recalled that it was a similar clampdown in 2009 which involved the use of excessive police force, indiscriminate killings and arrest of sect members and the extra-judicial murder of Muhammed Yusuf in police custody that escalated the Boko Haram crisis into a terrorist insurgency that has now raged for six years and claimed thousands of lives while displacing 2.1 million people. A new report by the Institute of Economics and Peace now rates Boko Haram as the deadliest terror group in the world taking 6, 644 innocent lives last year alone – more than the far sophisticated IS.

Nigeria’s capitalist ruling elites have no sense of history. Like the proverbial hunter’s dogs, they are doomed to ignore the hunters whistle and get lost in the process. For instance, feeling not even an iota of remorse after the killings, the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, simply ordered the use of “maximum force” which means more protesters could be killed in the coming period thus contributing to a possible radicalization of the movement towards the direction of armed conflict.

If the police and the army are allowed to get away with this kind of barbaric action in a so-called democracy, it is the Nigerian workers and youths that would eventually become victims of mindless police attacks whenever they protest for their rights including for the upward review of national minimum wage. It is not an accident that just as Buhari is killing protesters on the street, a bill has been tabled at the Senate by Senator Ibn Na’Allah, an All Progressives Congress (APC) senator from Kebbi State, asking for a 2 year jail term for anyone that abuses and criticizes government and political office holders on social media. All of these point to the fact that despite the mantra of change, Buhari and his APC compatriots are prepared to take authoritarian and repressive measures to secure their rule. And the aim is to ensure that the working masses and youth are so frightened into a state of submission so much that they will be unable to raise a finger when government eventually launches its neo-liberal austerity onslaught next year.

In equal measure, we condemn the reported killing of 2 policemen and the burning of properties and vehicles including the Onitsha Central Mosque. The SPN does not see vandalism and terrorism as methods of struggle. Neither do we agree with the idea of attacking members of other ethnic groups as a way of expressing the legitimate anger of Igbos or any other ethnicity. Instead of advancing the struggle and interest of Igbo people, this sort of ill-thought actions will only contribute to the already dangerous ethnic and religious divide, make the Biafra cause to lose support and sympathy and strengthen the hand of the State in further clamping down on the agitation.

We note that both MASSOB and IPOB have come out to dissociate themselves from the arson and damage to properties that occurred and blamed it on hoodlums allegedly sponsored by the Federal government to infiltrate what was hitherto a peaceful movement. However this excuse does not fully address the danger that some pro-Biafra agitators may erroneously see violence and particularly attacks directed against people of other ethnic groups, even when they had no hand in the sufferings of the Igbo people, as justifiable in their quest for self-determination. All of these point to the danger that the agitation for self-determination can easily degenerate into an ethnic violence between the North and the South East especially going by the hate-filled rhetoric that some leaders and agitators of the movement, including the detained Nnamdi Kanu, have reportedly used.

While the SPN does not share the simplistic view that separation is an automatic solution to the socio-economic deprivations, lack of development and discrimination that ethnic Igbo people feel and for which they are demanding secession, yet we fully recognize the right to self-determination as a globally-recognized and inalienable right. No one deserves to be killed for simply asking for the recognition of their right to decide whether to live together with others or exist as a separate nation.

We however believe that all of the sufferings that Igbo working people and youth undergo and which is driving the present agitation are equally felt by the working masses and youth from different parts of the country and these sufferings are caused by the inequitable capitalist system which enriches a few at the expense of the mass majority. This perspective can be verified from the reality that despite the fact that members of the Northern ruling elite have occupied the position of president longer than any other ethnic group, yet this has not positively reflected on their own people as the North has one of the highest rate of poverty, destitution, polio and other preventable diseases, child and maternal mortality and out-of-school children in the country. Similarly, ordinary Yoruba people did not benefit anything from the 8 years of Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency. Also, the fact that Nigeria has never had an Igbo president has not prevented many Igbo politicians and office holders from becoming overnight billionaires after enriching themselves from the positions they have had the opportunity of occupying. The 5 states in the South East have from inception being ruled by Igbo politicians, not Hausa, Igala or Yoruba politicians. Yet this fact has not led to any real improvement in the conditions of Igbo people.

Nigeria cannot be held together by force, it will only be genuinely united if the working people and poor act together to improve their lot and to take control of the country out of the hands of the thieving elite. Such real unity could only be based upon respecting the rights of all nationalities, ethnicities and religions while also breaking with capitalism. But, if labour is not able to lead such a struggle, divisions and break-ups can be posed and exploited by the rival groupings within Nigeria’s ruling class.

At the same time Igbo workers and youth must ensure that their anger is not being exploited by Igbo leaders angered by their loss of influence, in the aftermath of the 2015 elections, after the end of their alliance with parts of the Hausa elite who now have formed a bloc with the Yoruba elite. Labour has a responsibility to act to prevent ethnic or sectarian attacks, like the way Christians protected Muslims and Muslims protected Christians during the January 2012 mass protests and general strike. It is not accidental that this happened because, at that time, the vast majority of Nigerians were united in a common battle against a threatened fuel price hike. Today, when the Labour leaders are doing nothing more than blowing hot air, frustration and anger can be directed at false enemies, namely other ethnicities or religions, instead of against the ruling class.

Rather than direct our anger at people from other ethnic groups, the real solution to these problems lies in a class struggle to end capitalism and enthrone a workers and poor people’s government armed with socialist policies that can begin to ensure that society’s resources is used rationally in the interests of the mass majority. This is also true for any nationality which wants its own state. On a capitalist basis, a Sovereign State of Biafra will not lead to any fundamental improvement or change in the living conditions of ordinary Igbo people compared to their conditions in Nigeria. Working people themselves have to decide the exact shape of the relations between peoples of Nigeria, but labour also has to make clear that only by breaking with the capitalist system of exploitation can all forms of oppression and poverty be ended.

Segun Sango
National Chairperson, SPN