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Socialist Democracy August September 2017


17 July 2017

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BIAFRA 50 YEARS AFTER: Socialists and the Struggle for Self-Determination

By Chinedu Agbebire

After 50 years of civil war which consumed nothing less than 3 million lives and properties worth billions of naira, the agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra has resumed with much vigor and echo. This campaign with its consequent tension was heightened on June 7, 2017 following the quit notice issued by 16 Northern Youth Coalitions to the Igbos resident in the North to vacate Northern Nigeria on or before October 1, 2017. Apparently the quit notice is a response to the activities of the pro-Biafran groups in recent times and most especially the sit-at-home order of 30 May 2017 in commemoration of 50th Biafra anniversary which was widely observed in the Eastern part of the country.

However, the already tensed polity was further worsened by the counter quit notice issued by some Niger Deltan groups to the Northerners resident in Niger Delta to vacate the region on or before the same date. All these are pointers to the fact that Nigeria is again moving towards dismemberment due to years of unresolved nationality question. However the quit notice and the counter quit notice are both reactionary and counterintuitive. It is a display of ignorance on the modus operandi of a capitalist society like Nigeria and the machination of its local champions against the poor which despite their failure always attempt to divert the blame of their mis-governance on the shoulders of the working and suffering masses.

HOLD THE FAILED SYSTEM AND ITS OPERATIVES RESPONSIBLE

Understandably all this tension can be traced to the mass anger, disenchantment and frustration by the masses occasioned by the failures of the capitalist system which has made life impossible for millions of Nigerian people. The ruling elites and their devilish capitalist system should be held responsible and not ordinary innocent Nigerians irrespective of their tribe or religion. They are all helpless victims of the same monster. All the 250 major ethnic groups and more than 200 languages in Nigeria are substantially reducible into two; the ruling elites and the suffering Nigerians - the oppressor and the oppressed.

Therefore, this well-deserved anger should be directed at the capitalist system and its operatives which has only enriched few to the detriment of majority. Given their ploy to perpetually keep the mass of people in servitude the ruling class keep on stoking up one ethnic group against the other and dividing people on religious line. It is pathetic and not accidental that 50 years after Biafra war the ruling elites have not demonstrated any willingness to address the fundamental issues that gave rise to the civil war.

In other words the Nigerian elites are no different from our colonial masters who forcefully lumped people of different background, belief system, culture and orientation and christened them Nigeria without any democratic consultation whatsoever. The Nigerian ruling elites; their local representatives have continued in the same direction despite unabated agitations from different sections of the country calling for a balanced and reasonable basis for unity. The ruling elites popular maxim "Nigeria's unity is non-negotiable" is fraudulent and dubious. Unity cannot be enforced. Unity is only possible on the basis of mutual agreement anchored on the basis of social and economic justice and mutual respect for the rights of all nationality and ethnic minorities.

It is therefore not an accident that a disenchanted section based on perceived marginalization and other reasons has decided to pull out of the federation. Regardless of the limitation of their perspectives, the pro-Biafra agitators are simply exercising their inalienable and undeniable constitutional right of freedom of speech and self-determination. In this wise, the clampdown on these separatist groups by military forces is condemnable. At the same time we condemn the unnecessary killings, arrest and illegitimate detention of pro-Biafra agitators. We demand the release of all pro-Biafra agitators rotting in jail.

However, we are quick to warn that automatic economic salvation does lie in Biafra independence. Without breaking loose from this capitalist economy that has rendered Nigeria comatose despite its natural and human resources, the condition of people of Biafra may be worse off than their present condition in Nigeria federation. However Igbo working people, and all others considering leaving Nigeria, must be wary of and oppose leaders amongst them who support separation as a way to breakaway from capitalist rivals and for themselves to become the ruling class in a new state. The evil of capitalism respects no tribe, nation or race. It is class-oriented. That is the evil that has arrested Nigerian working masses whether Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa for years.

NNAMDI KANU AND ECONOMIC MASTER PLAN

Unfortunately Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and other pro-Biafra groups have not demonstrated any willingness or preparedness to embrace an anti-capitalist not to talk of a socialist programme as the ground norm of the economic system of the envisaged Biafra nation. A Biafra nation without a working people and the poor government anchored on a socialist plan of the economy can only be as good as the change of power between two anti-poor capitalist parties that occurred in Nigeria in 2015. Two years down today our condition is more pitiable than ever before. South Sudan and other young nations of the world that just got flag independence without independence from capitalism are today enmeshed in nightmarish conditions.

The bottom line of the foregoing is that capitalism is the source of our misery and not ethnic nationality. The sorry state of Abia; a state that has been governed by Igbo men right from 1999 is a clear evidence of the fact that even with Biafra nation and with capitalism in place no improvement will happen to the masses. Abia is one of the richest of the 36 states of federation with different mineral resources and yet the state is as backward as Somalia. The import of this is that there is no hope in the government of the few rich over the poor irrespective of the resources in place.

The same thing is applicable to Northern Nigeria whose political elite has ruled longer than any other section in Nigeria. The balance sheet is the same vast poverty, misery and hunger for vast majority of the Northern people. The condition of average Igbo man in Aba is not that different from that of Hausa man in Kano. It is heart blowing and in total consternation that this same people has the highest number of out of school children in Nigeria. Kano state alone has nothing less than 3 million beggars while the total number of out of school children is put at 10million. According to UNDP, 92 per cent of Northern Nigerians are living below the poverty line. Out of the 65 million Nigerian which are illiterates, 55 million of them are from the north.

SOCIALIST APPROACH

On the basis of the above, socialists believe there is still a basis for joint and united struggle of the working people of Nigeria to fight for improvement in living conditions, mass employment and against neo-liberal policies like privatization, deregulation, education underfunding etc. For instance, the struggle for N56, 000 new national minimum wage is one that can provide another opportunity for the labour movement to unite working people regardless of faith and tongue around a common programme of struggle. Such a struggle would have a big impact on mass consciousness, similar to January 2012 general strike against fuel subsidy removal, showing the working people they have more in common as a class.

If this kind of struggle were to be linked with a strategy to fight to defeat capitalism and enthrone a workers and poor people's government, it would provide for the first time a real opportunity for genuine and long-lasting solutions to be found to the nationality question. As we have variously argued, no genuine solution of any kind can be found to the nationality question on the basis of capitalism. This is why Socialists even while supporting the call for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) dominated by elected, and not handpicked, representatives of workers and the masses have always anchored this on the need for an independent working class programme to overthrow the capitalist system without which real liberation is impossible. For us, the capitalist system is the principal source and reinforcement for poverty as well as sectarian divisions of all kinds and only a victorious struggle against it can permit real and genuine solutions both to the economic crisis as well as the nationality question.

Nonetheless, in the event that a majority of a people are hell-bent on the demand for separation, Socialists can and will support this call while pointing out all the limitations and what the working people need to do. Thus we would argue, if Igbo people democratically decide to secede, that the Igbo working class, peasants and youth have to link the struggle for secession with a movement to end capitalism. Otherwise the situation would be a jump from the frying pan into fire. As long as capitalism remains the system of governance, the ocean of poverty in the midst of abundance ravaging the whole Nigeria will continue to exist even with the emergence of a Biafra nation.

In canvassing this argument, we would also urge the Igbo working people and youth not to kowtow to the pro-Biafra bourgeoisie in the leadership of the separatist movement who want an independent Biafra for their own class interests. Rather the working masses should develop their own independent class programme and march under their own banners with a view to creating a Sovereign Biafra not ruled by corrupt looters but by a workers and poor people's government. This would have to include guarantees and protection for any tribal or religious minorities in any new state.

We would also on the Nigerian side, campaign among the working masses and youth not to offer any support whatsoever to the Nigerian ruling elite who will want to raise a patriotic hysteria with a view to levy war against the pro-Biafra aspiration as they did in 1967. Fundamentally, we would maintain a position that will try to forge solidarity between the working people of both sides in opposition to the ruling capitalist elites of both sides and fight, with support and solidarity of working class people internationally, for the enthronement of socialist states in both Nigeria and Biafra. This is with the aim of a building a confederation/alliance of West African socialist states, setting an example to the rest of Africa and the whole world.

THE BETRAYAL OF LABOUR LEADERSHIP

Fortunately, there is still time for a bloody dismemberment of Nigeria to be avoided if the labour movement acts. Despite the ethnic and religious division that pervades Nigeria, the labour movement has been the only real force uniting all the working and poor people across the country in joint struggle to fight against oppression and for improvement in living conditions. Without the struggles waged by the labour movement since 1999 against fuel price hike, anti-poor policies and on issues of minimum wage, perhaps the conditions of the working masses could have been worse than it is now. Unfortunately the present and deepening rottenness in labour leadership and its failure to harness mass anger over issues of poverty, unemployment and suffering has now led to the working masses and the poor to increasingly to channel their anger and disenchantment through ethnic and secessionist agitation.

Perhaps more than ever, the labour movement now has a responsibility to act to prevent ethnic or sectarian attacks. This means that the labour movement must now pick up the gauntlet and build a common struggle uniting the working masses and youth across the country to fight on issues of poverty, poor living conditions, unemployment, minimum wage and to end capitalism. This will require that the labour movement builds a new mass workers party that can offer the vision of a democratic socialist alternative to capitalism.