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30 July 2016

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Militants Attacks on Lagos and Ogun Communities

Against Ethnic Division, for Working Class Unity across Ethnic and Religious Lines to Defend our Communities

H.T Soweto

This week armed attacks by suspected Niger Delta militants on Yoruba communities in Lagos and Ogun states, and the military’s response, have the potential to provoke ethnic reprisals and a bloody crisis. Attacks by those described by the media as militants have occurred in Ijebu-Mushin down to Igbo-Lomighun in Ikorodu. These militants appear to be made up of criminals and bunkerers who make a living from stealing oil by blowing pipelines that crisscross riverine communities in Ogun and Lagos states.

In the early hours of Tuesday 26 July 2016, the militants reportedly launched attacks on Pacific Estate, Ikejiobi Avenue, Ewedogbon, in the Igando area of Lagos state. They engaged policemen in a shootout lasting hours and in the process injured at least three officers. This was following on the heels of the abduction of a traditional ruler in Lagos state, Oniba of Iba, by suspected militants and also armed attacks in communities in Arepo in Ogun state and Ikorodu, Lagos state.

Whatever is the intention of the attackers; these brazen and repeated attacks must be condemned by the labour movement, socialists and activists. But while condemning it, we must emphasize that only united actions of the working masses cutting across ethnic and religious divides to defend their communities can prevent the imminent disaster. Attempts to interpret these attacks narrowly as Niger Delta people's attacks on Yoruba people must be rejected. The so-called militants are criminals who represent no one but themselves. Except in a few cases where there are genuine militant groups, many of these elements only hide under resource control agitations to perpetrate crime and oil bunkering.

These attackers are defending bunkering

In any case, the particular militants that have been terrorizing and Ogun and Lagos communities in recent weeks have made no such agitations or demands. This means they are not freedom fighters but criminals fighting to protect their illegal business of oil bunkering. However the military and police's often brutal response is no answer, especially when generally the tops of the state machine are hand in glove with the looters who are stealing the nation's wealth. Therefore in communities suffering attacks from militants and other violent groups, democratic and collective defence committees cutting across members from diverse ethnic and religious affiliations should be set up to defend the communities, with arms if necessary, against attacks. The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) urges the working people to stand together regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations. As working people, we are members of the same class similarly oppressed and exploited by the capitalist system. Only our united actions can undermine hate and ethnic crashes as well as end the inequitable capitalist system that allows ethnic and religious crisis to fester.

Regrettably, this development provides opportunities for reactionary and divisive groups like the Oodua People's Congress (OPC) and other ethnic-jingoist group to re-launch themselves. By exploiting the legitimate fears and concerns of Yoruba people, they can launch an ethnic pogrom under the false banner of defending the territorial integrity of the Yoruba nation against incursion. Because of the economic crisis and the collapse of the living standards of the mass majority in recent time, desperation and hopelessness have increased in society. In such a desperate situation, divisive ethnic and religious rhetoric can sell thus throwing wind into the sails of groups like the OPC or any other similar organization, especially in a situation where the leadership of the labour movement has displayed utter incapacity to put up any serious fight in defence of the collective interests of the working masses since the inception of the Buhari/APC administration.

But this is why it is important now that the labour movement immediately steps in by building a mass movement to fight energetically and uncompromisingly for the collective socio-economic interests of the working people. Already, about 500,000 jobs were lost in the first quarter of the year. With the negative growth in two consecutive quarters, technically a recession, already recorded, more jobs will go. Wages and pensions are unpaid in 27 states and where they are paid, they have been seriously encroached by currency devaluation and the highest inflation in eleven years. Unfortunately instead of calling for a serious struggle, backed by general strikes and mass protests, on all of these issues that unites the working masses regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations, the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have limited themselves to only issuing occasional press statements in which they merely blow hot air while repeatedly assuring the Buhari/APC government of their solidarity. Unless the labour movement abandons this barren and bankrupt approach by endeavouring to provide a decisive leadership by uniting the working masses under a programme to fight for their collective socio-economic and political interests, ethnic and religious crisis will continue to loom with disastrous consequences.

Dangers of ethnic based opposition to Buhari regime

Indeed, the suspected militant attacks on Yoruba territory can further complicate the already tense atmosphere in the country at the moment and can take the country nearer to the edge of a precipice. While the Buhari/APC regime prides itself to have put down the deadly Boko Haram insurgent group, something which is not entirely true, an ethnic and religious conflagration already looms as a direct result of the failure of the economic program of capitalism that this government embraces and its provocative politics. An indication of this is that since President Buhari – a Northern Muslim - and the All Progressive Congress (APC) came to power last year, ethnic and religious agitations have increased. Agitations for resource control immediately erupted as political elites from the oil-producing communities of the South South fear their interests would be undermined under the new regime. So also did calls for secession and recognition of the republic of Biafra by some groups in the East. At the moment, Kanu (leader of the IPOB) and many MASSOB, BZM and many other secessionists have been incarcerated for several months.

Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) clearly foresaw this development over 14 months ago. On 4 April, 2015, a week after the March 28, 2015 general elections in which President Buhari and the APC defeated the then incumbent Jonathan/PDP regime, we predicted that "Even if muted for now partly because of President Jonathan's immediate and publicized concession to the defeat in a phone call to Buhari even while the votes were still been collated, ethnic disaffection would inevitably come to the surface at some point. This is because capitalism - which Buhari and the opposition APC hope to continue once in power - is an inherently unjust system which does not permit equal distribution of wealth but instead concentrates it in a few hands. Only decisive action by the labour movement can lead united struggles of the working people, but in the absence of such united struggles discontent can take an ethnic or religious character. Rival factions within the ruling class can try to exploit ethnic divisions. It was not accidental that in his outburst during INEC's announcement of the elections results the PDP National Agent, the ex-minister Godsdey Orubebe, accused Jaga, the INEC chairman, of being 'tribalist'.

"This could mean that at some point, the people of the oil-producing Niger Delta in the South will again start feeling marginalized and edged out of the scheme of things, despite the fact that the lot of the common peoples in the region did not improve for the better under Jonathan". (2015 ELECTIONS: RULING PARTY CRUMBLES IN HISTORIC ELECTION)

Military's brute force no answer

Another complicating factor is that in response to all of these, the Buhari/APC government has embraced a disastrous tactics of treating every demand or agitation, no matter how innocuous, as a seditious crime that must be put down with the force of arms. As the recent reports of efforts by the Federal government to dialogue with the Niger Delta militants after over 10 months of military engagements portrays, the Buhari regime's tactics appear to follow that of the mythical armed robber Shina Rambo which is "shoot first, ask questions later". This has made the Buhari/APC regime to lean more and more on the military by ratcheting up military spending. The 2016 budget earmarked a whopping sum of N428bn for the defence (more than allocation to education). As a result, the military has become more arrogant and above the law. An example is the brazen manner soldiers on the entourage of the Chief of Army Staff Buratai opened fire and massacred hundreds of Shiite Muslim youths last year December for allegedly blocking the road against the convoy of the army chief. The sect's leader remains incarcerated since last year and calls for public probe of the incident have been blocked. To be sure, all of these will further sow the seed of future conflagration of unimaginable proportion.

The DSM strongly believes that increased militaristic action will neither stop the violence nor bring peace to Nigeria. Instead it will only exacerbate the situation. But assuming without conceding that this even happens, the unresolved national question and the deepening inequality caused by capitalism will ensure that new violent crises and theatres of war open up soon after.

Above all of these is that as a result of the worsening living conditions of the mass majority, a social crisis has broken out in society and it is increasing. Nigeria's population is extremely youthful. Its demographic is very dynamic. About 70 percent of the population is under age 30. This is set to increase in a number of years. Unfortunately, the capitalist system has provided no education and no jobs to absorb this huge numbers of energetic young people bustling with energy. Huge billions of dollars realized from the decade-long oil boom were looted by both PDP and APC/ACN/AC/AD politicians in power over the last 16 years. This has left this youthful population virtually nothing. A result is the calamity daily in communities and streets in Lagos and other cities across the country. Gangs have returned to the streets and every single day, the media reports occurrence of all kinds of violence and crises possible. Increasing the number of police by 10, 000 through a now bungled recruitment process and expanding arms spending will not be able to successfully tackle this kind of social menace.

Only a programme that ensures that Nigeria's wealth is taken from the minority few and devoted to rebuilding the collapsing economy and satisfying the socio-economic interests of the working people regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliations can guarantee peace. No doubt, this is not what capitalism, a profit system that promotes inequality, can achieve. Only socialism, which recognises the rights of minority groups up to and including self-determination, can provide the economic and political basis for unity and peaceful co-existence of all people. To realize this, the working masses must unite in collective actions to struggle for improvement alongside with building an alternative political party to overthrow capitalism and bring into political power a workers and poor peasant's government that will implement a socialist programme.