Nationalist and Religious Options
The rapid growth in nationalism and religion is caused by the desperate search for solution to the problem of mass poverty, hunger, diseases, unemployment, crimes and insecurity by the masses, especially given the failure of the labor leadership to provide an alternative on how the crises could be permanently resolved. Also, various sections of the ruling class have continued to play ethnic and religious cards in order to maintain political control.
The past three years have been largely dominated by ethnic/religious strife and violence. In the core north, there has been a geometric rise in Islamic fundamentalism. This period has also witnessed an astronomical rise in Christian fundamentalism across the country, most especially in the south. Perhaps more than at any other time in Nigeria, both before and after independence, the past three years has witnessed a more widespread clamor for the restructuring of the country itself. Nationalist organizations of all hues and cries sprang up and almost instantly began to experience phenomenal growth and support of members of the different nationalities.
This is the period when the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Egbesu Boys, Bakassi Boys, Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, etc. began their fiery but phenomenal growth and activities. As at today intra/inter ethnic cum religions strife and violence have resulted in the premature death of tens of thousands of Nigerians. Their death were usually caused by the warring nationalist/religious groups themselves and very largely and usually too, by the capitalist state apparatus of coercion like the army and police.
At the moment, the nationalist/religions agitations seem to have gone to the back stage of politics. You no longer see vehicle convoys of the OPC, Bakassi Boys, and Egbesu boys going for rallies or any of their other assorted activities. The time now seemed so far away when the security of the country, particularly in the south, was virtually left in the hands of nationalist militias of the OPC, Bakassi Boys, etc. In some states, these groups have actually become private militias of the state governors, a dangerous phenomenon to the labor movement in particular and society in general.
Also, the fierce opposition which greeted the introduction of Sharia criminal code in the core North by Christians and the non-Muslim Nigerians has for now assumed a subtle feature of resignation. Even the politicians that introduced Sharia have had to take public feeling into consideration in the day-to-day execution of Sharia. Two instances should be given.
Mallam Jangbedi was the first victim of the new sharia criminal code. He had his right hand chopped off after he was tried by an Islamic court and found guilty for an offence of cow theft. Sensing the apparent apprehension and repulsion of the masses of even the Muslim dominated state of Zamfara, the government had to in fact turn Jangbedi into a celebrity. After Jangbedi’s hand had been chopped off, and subsequently discharged from hospital, he was lodged into an hotel for a week, with all expenses paid for by the government! Finally, when Jangbedi was to go back to his village, he received a cash gift of ₦10,000 from the government. In addition, a government-owned 504 station wagon car took him and the provisions bought for him to his village!
Another prominent victim of the new sharia criminal code was Safiyat, a 32-year-old lady from Sokoto State. Her own offence was getting pregnant without having a husband. Tried by an Islamic court, she was found guilty and sentenced to death by stoning. Faced with massive waves of opposition both home and abroad, another sharia court of appeal has set Safiyat free, on some technical legal grounds.
Do all these suggest that the various nationalist groups have abandoned their goals. Have we seen the worst of religious strife and violence? Do Christian and Islamic fundamentalism have a correct scientific appreciation of the origin and solution to the problems of mass poverty and political repression which dominate the lives of the vast majority of their adherents and the working masses as a whole? Anytime there is an outbreak/escalation of intra, inter ethnic/religious strife and violence, the standard practice of the capitalist government is to send around police and soldiers to quell what is usually seen as “disturbance” or “riot”. Is it this “fire for fire” philosophy that is behind the relative quietness of the present period?
There can be no doubt now that nationalist agitations have taken the back stage of politics. However, it is very important to note that none of the basic issues that gave rise to these movements, in the first instance, have been posed, let alone resolved.
The fundamental problem of mass poverty and destitution which is making the masses of the different nationalities to feel that their material and cultural conditions will be better if their destines are in the hands of their own nationalities, is not even being admitted by PDP, APP and AD. Daily, the governments formed by these pro-rich parties bombard the masses with paid adverts claiming fantastic achievements in all aspects of social life and economy. Again, just like in the past, the current capitalist governments across the country have heedlessly continued with the fruitless counter productive policy of suppressing agitations with superior firepower instead of that of honest inquiry and resolution. Needless to stress, nationalist agitations that presently seem to have receded will come back to front stage of polity with greater fury than was witnessed in our recent past.
Of course, as has been demonstrated in the recent past, this will not necessarily make it possible for nationalist aims to be achieved. The past period has shown what important role bravery can play in struggle. Within a very short period of time, the legendary bravery of the OPC, Bakassi Boys, Egbesu Boys, Arewa Consultative Forum, etc. shot these organizations into national and international limelight. They were the talk of the town. You were either for or against them. In any event, no worthwhile political trend could ignore their goals and methodologies.
But notwithstanding this legendary bravery, the activities of these organizations have presently declined without any of their objectives being realized. The country is still run as a feudal, divine fiefdom in which nobody can do anything to alter, either in forms or contents. For sometime now there has been a serious agitation for what is variously called “restructuring”, “true federalism”, “resource control”, etc. Starting from the Abacha era and up till now, there has been a demand for the division of the country into six geo-political zones, in which these zones will control presidency in turn.
So far none of the topical demands and agitations of the nationalists have been accepted as valid by the powers-that-be and as things stand, this is likely to be the position for sometime to come. The reasons for this little or no alteration of the status quo, despite brave and self-sacrificing struggles and battles by the various nationalist groups, are socialists must thoroughly understand.
First and foremost, socialists have a duty to warn the working masses that the justness of a cause on its own cannot automatically guarantee massive support or victory. As ever, socialists support the democratic right of nations to self- determination including secession if that is the democratic wish of people of a given nation or group of nations from within Nigeria.
However, socialists must not shy away from frankly telling the nationalists that simply breaking Nigeria into whatever number of structures or independent units will not primarily address the problem of mass poverty which is primarily caused by the global capitalist system. Socialists must warn the working masses that it is possible to have a Nigeria broken into several independent national or geographical components and still have widespread poverty in these respective new entitles / republics / empires.
Therefore, socialists have to always pose the national question in both cultural and social dimensions. Take the clamor for the Oodua Republic as an example. On its own, this is a very legitimate and democratic objective. But situated within the realm of concrete historical features of today’s Nigeria, it becomes obvious that only with a democratic socialist agenda can ensure that such a republic brings meaningful changes to the well-being and political rights of the Yoruba masses, as well as safeguarding the rights of non-Yoruba minorities living within the region. The same condition is applicable to agitation for Biafra in the South East and demands for autonomy or separation in South-South and other geo-political zones in Nigeria.
In the past three years at least Lagos has been the centre of OPC’s agitations and activities. Although historically a predominantly Yoruba city, Lagos is easily the most cosmopolitan of Nigerian cities. Any nationalist trend or agitation that fails to take this factor into consideration is therefore doomed to create more problems for the working masses of even the Yoruba extraction than the envisaged benefits of separation.
The OPC rallying call is that all Yoruba sons and daughters should come back home to establish an Oodua Republic. Implicit in this slogan is a demand that all non-Yoruba origin people should go back to their own “homes”. Needless to stress this bourgeois way of posing the question will always encounter lukewarm if not outright hostilities of non- Yoruba people of the envisaged Oduduwa Republic. Even elements of Yoruba extraction who live and work in other parts of Nigeria and as such have no other practical homes and means of livelihood cannot be expected to sincerely and enthusiastically support this kind of political agenda.
As shown by the experience of the past three years, the vast majority of the Yoruba masses living and working in the envisaged geographical entity of the Oodua Republic themselves at best have been very lukewarm to the OPC’s campaigns and activities. This, in no small measure, is largely due to the bourgeois and undemocratic manner with which the OPC’s objectives are being pursued.
Without any attempt at convoking a democratic conference or organizing referendum of the people of the Yoruba race, different Yoruba nationalist groups have sprung up, many with intolerable, anti-democratic constitutions. Instead of an approach which seeks to systematically mobilize the different strata of the Yoruba working masses, you have one that places emphasis on supernatural forces. Myths are spread about ancient “powers” possessed by the Yoruba race which can make people invulnerable to gun shots and machete attacks. Like every reductionist bourgeois trend, the OPC and many other Yoruba nationalist trends present the mass poverty of the Yoruba masses as something peculiar to the race, and not a phenomenon prevalent amongst the working masses of the diverse nationalities that make up Nigeria. The same unscientific approach is used by MASSOB and many other nationalist groups.
But in their day-to-day existence, the working masses are able to see that their class enemies cut across tribes, nations and countries. This is partly the reason behind the huge successes achieved by the two general strikes called by the NLC in the past three years. Therefore, to the extent that the various nationalist groups fail to emphasize collective struggles for democracy and social emancipation of the entire and divergent working class masses of Nigeria, to the same extent are they denied the crucial support of their respective working masses. And if it should be stressed, it is this organic weakness that is responsible for the palpable triumph of government perspective of suppression of nationalist agitations.
But if the working class movement is defeated, or shows no way out of the crisis, then the nationalist organizations can win working class support. This is the danger facing the labor movement. Labor has to fight this danger by both seriously fighting capitalism and putting forward demands that meet the national aspirations of the different nationalities. But for socialists, even if we come to the conclusion that the time had come for us to call for the break-up of Nigeria, we would do so on class lines. For example, as the socialists in Britain, members of the CWI, advocate for a socialist independent Scotland and a socialist federation of the British Isles. Even if calling for a break-up, we would still call for common workers’ struggles and explain the internationalist approach essential for the victory of socialism.
The 1999 constitution has a provision that not less than 13% of revenues generated from natural resources of any given area must be paid to the area concerned by the central government. This very minimal provision has now even been sidetracked by the Obasanjo capitalist government. This has been done via the artificial demarcation between revenues generated from onshore and offshore oil exploration. Regrettably, though not unexpectedly, the Supreme Court has given a ridiculous judgment to sabotage this modest constitutional provision. According to this ruling, the oil found within the territory of a state, including its neighboring shallow water, is onshore and the respective state is entitled to be paid 13% derivation revenues, whereas oil sourced from deep water belongs to no states but Nigeria as a whole.
Hence for the selfish capitalist/nationalist interests of the elites of the major Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo nationalities that dominate the economy and polity of Nigeria, logic must be overturned. We are now being told that if Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta States, etc. do not form part of the geographical entity called Nigeria, somebody from Sokoto, Kano, Ibadan, Ilorin, Minna etc can come to the deep sea of the states bordering on the Atlantic in southern Nigeria to claim ownership of oil or any other material thing for that matter.
The attitudes of the working masses to the agitation for resource control differ from one part of the country to the other. The masses in the non-oil producing states are either apathetic towards it or opposed to it. To this layer, the whole demand is seen as something which would reduce the revenue being earned by Nigeria with the attendant negative effects this is likely to have on their own living standards. On the other hand, the masses in the oil producing states support or have sympathy for the agitation for resource control. To them, this is the only way out of the prevailing endemic mass poverty in the oil-producing areas.
Socialists supports the democratic aspiration of the masses in the oil-producing areas to have control over the resources which are being presently exploited and looted by the multinational corporations and the Nigerian capitalist elite. However, in its present conception and articulation, the “resource control” agitation is largely a bourgeois phenomenon. Under the present arrangement, increase in revenues to the oil producing states will bring little or no material benefit to the lives of the masses. Instead, more millionaires will be created from amongst the friends and families of the capitalist elites in power in the oil producing areas.
In essence, it is only if the agitation for resource control is posed in the context of making the working masses to fully and democratically control the natural resources of nature and the commanding heights of the economy with a view to satisfy and guarantee the basic needs of every body as opposed to the prevailing capitalist system whose central goal is the generation of profits to a few insatiable capitalist sharks that it can have a meaningful impact in the lives of the masses.
But as it is written above, the re-emergence of nationalist agitations on a greater scale is a very likely development in the coming period. However, unless these agitations are given working class orientation and the activities of the nationalist movements are thoroughly democratized, they will merely serve to deepen the suffering and agonies of the working masses vis-à-vis their quest for social and political emancipation.
As socialists, we call for the democratization of all struggles and we oppose undemocratic organizations. We also advocate the need for an orientation towards the working class and struggle for socialism by oppressed nationalities, students, etc. But a vital necessity is rebuilding a fighting workers movement that can take up these national issues, but not showing any signs of nationalism. Our attitude to nationalist organizations depends on whether they are splitting the workers’ movement or representing the first steps of a new movement. For example, we would oppose an attempt to split NANS along nationalist lines or the creation of an Oodua Students Association. But if an OSA did emerge as the major student body in the south-west then we may be forced to work with it in at least a united front fashion.
The experience of the past three years has shown that nationalist groups can be as deadly against the working masses of their own nationality in the same way they behave towards those from other nationalities. For instance factional crisis within the OPC alone has resulted in the premature deaths of hundreds of persons in the past three years. This sectarian approach has only succeeded in alienating the mass of the Yoruba working masses from the OPC phenomenon and this makes them easier targets of physical attack by the state.
Instead of the agenda which seek to exclusively resolve the economic and political plights of the working masses of a given nation or country, socialists must develop one which seeks to combine the struggle for the cultural and democratic rights of the working masses of a given nation or country with that of the masses of the other nationalities and the world working masses as a whole. Only this kind of approach can successfully defeat the exploitative and oppressive rule of imperialism and finance capital world wide.
If this approach is not followed, nationalist agitations will always succumb to the divide and rule antics of the capitalist state. While it will always be easier for the capitalist state to out shoot isolated armed nationalist groups, same cannot be successfully contemplated against a well-mobilized, democratically-controlled movement of the working masses, especially one which will not hesitate to use arms to defend its interest, against the selfish and undemocratic interests of the capitalist class, whenever such situation arises.
However, unless the working class stamps its outlook and authority on the polity, more determined nationalist groups will develop or re-emerge in the not too distant future, whose motto will be violence unlimited. Similarly, the current retreat on the stoning of Safiyat for adultery must not be interpreted to mean that Sharia no longer constitutes a serious obstacle to the building of a virile, pan-Nigeria working class movement.
As socialists, we have always advocated the complete separation of the state from religion. We have always advocated against state religion. We regard religion as a personal question and defend the rights of believers to carry out their religions. For years DSM has been demanding immediate stoppage of the practice where government uses public money to build churches and mosques, and sends or subsidies pilgrimages to Mecca, Rome or Jerusalem. Our reasons are based on two broad, related premises. One, religion generally gives the impression that riches and wretchedness are the way God, the creator, orders things. However, this scientifically, is a fallacious theory. The earth and the universe as a whole are endowed with inexhaustible resources and potentials. As things are today, the human race has the resources and technical capacity to rid the world of hunger, homelessness, curable diseases, illiteracy, isolation (occasioned by restricted transportation and communication services), national narrowness, etc, which presently constitute the essence of capitalist civilization. The main reason why this is not the case and not likely to become the case is that there are out there a few capitalist elements and corporations who feel that the world resources must be used not to satisfy the needs of the people of the world but be left for the capricious and selfish goals of the capitalists.
Socialists must make it abundantly clear that this is not the making of any God or Creator. We must stress the fact that on the basis of the existing resources and techniques, our earth can conveniently support ten times the present population of the world.
Of course, a layer of the masses within and outside the Sharia states innocently believes that the Islamic penal code is the solution to crimes and corruption. But Sharia, as it is, is not only a political adventure; it constitutes a serious breach of the democratic rights of Muslim and non-Muslim Nigerians. As a rule, whoever pays the piper, dictates the tune. Thus, Sharia, as it is a government creation, will only be interpreted on the basis of the fancies of whichever faction or creed of Islam that is at anytime in control of state power. Under the Sharia criminal code, two women are required to give evidence to be equivalent of one given by an adult male Muslim. If a Muslim and a Christian are jointly accused of committing an offence, an adult, male Muslim co-accused may be left off the hook and acquitted if he is prepared to swear his innocence on Koran. Similar option is however not given to a Christian or somebody who holds a different belief. Under Sharia someone who steals a cow gets his or her hand chopped off but members of the capitalist ruling class who steal millions and billions of naira of public money are never punished because, according to the present authors of political Sharia, the first is a crime while the second category represents a breach of trust.
At a stage sooner than anticipated by political Sharia advocates, the working masses across national, religious and class divides will wake up and fight these blatant discriminations embodied in the Sharia criminal code. But unless socialists and the working masses in general are able to come up with viable political alternative and platform, which is capable and prepared to mobilise the entire energy and resources of the masses along the struggle for genuine social and political emancipation a new, more virulent Sharia movement is inevitable in Nigeria.
If, as is most likely, the prevailing global capitalist crisis goes deeper and or its negative effects lasted longer, and if the labor movement is not able to positively use the generalized, transnational mass poverty, which this is having on the living standard of the working masses, of the diverse nations that make up Nigeria, then the emergence of a more vicious, right-wing political Sharia is an inevitability. That is the kind of time you would encounter Islamic clerics who are going to argue that a more ruthless implement action of Sharia criminal code is the way forward for mankind. However, if it must be stressed, this will be nothing but the continuation of mass poverty and political repression for the working masses. As opposed to a religious struggle which tends to divide the working masses along sectarian lines, what is needed is a pan-Nigerian internationalist working class movement whose central objectives will be the struggle to replace the current man-eats-man, individualist capitalist system with a humane, democratic socialist ideals where the satisfaction of all the economic and political needs of every person on earth will be the sole and primary yardstick of economic management and governance.
SNC or NC
In contrast to this approach, there are those who simply hold the view that the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) or National Conference (NC) will automatically straighten out any socio-political problems faced by the working masses. A truly democratically elected Sovereign National Conference may address some of the critical questions ravaging the country today. But if the country or its new fashion or units remain within the framework of global capitalist network, it will mean that little or nothing can be positively done to better the material well-being and democratic rights of the masses by such an SNC.
Therefore, the SNC must not be about sovereignty where the masses are only allowed to choose between one set of exploiters and tyrants or the other. For an SNC to be meaningful to the masses, it must be capable of raising and taking measures which are capable of enforcing the democratic, working class control and management of all resources and technical manpower of the society in the interest of all as opposed to that of a few as it is under capitalism. This is why all the various sections of the capitalist ruling class including its Afenifere AD extraction have not been able to consistently champion the convocation of an SNC, or an NC. Not even the south-south bourgeois, who is supposed to be more radical, given the fact that most revenues come from his area while little development ever occurs, is prepared to risk his prevailing privileges for an uncertain and very difficult ideal. Their reasons are not far fetched. Their present luxury and privileges are reality while the outcome of an SNC or even NC is a gamble.
For one, they are not prepared to propose to the conference that privatization must stop and that the commanding heights of the economy be placed under democratic and public ownership of the working people where production will be planned for the use of all and not profits for a few as it is the case under capitalist dispensation.
Yes, each faction of the ruling class is ready to support an SNC/NC if it is certain that its class interest will eventually be better protected. The south-south bourgeois for instance will want to have exclusive control of the oil wealth of the Delta region, to the exclusion of his counterparts across the country. But if making an immediate move in this direction will risk provoking a situation where he stands to lose his personal material wealth, a southern bourgeois or any bourgeois from other nationalities will rather band together with other fellow, capitalist partners-in-crime, to sabotage the genuine national and economic aspirations of the Deltan masses.
For this reason, neither Afenifere nor its south-south bourgeois counterparts can consistently fight for “true federalism” or “resource control.” This is because to do this will of necessity demand the involvement of the working masses in the aims and implementation of such an SNC agendum. But if the truth must be told, this (i.e. involving the masses in aims and implementation of any crusade by members of the capitalist class) will be the last, voluntary option that any bourgeois movement will ever take. Only the working masses who are the victims of mass poverty and destitution can be consistently interested in any genuine, democratic agenda which seeks to truly democratize the economy and politics of society.
This is why labor and youth activists and socialists should canvass for a truly democratically-elected Sovereign National Conference (SNC). This type of conference should be dominated by elected representatives of the working people as its composition should be according to the numerical strength of the various social groups in the country. It will among other things, decide on the way forward for the country and agree on a new constitution. Even then, while such an SNC may represent a step forward from the present military-imposed arrangement, the working masses and labor activists need to struggle for a workers’ and poor farmers’ government that will implement a socialist and anti-capitalist program. It is only this type of government that can guarantee lasting improvements in the political rights and economic and social conditions of the masses.