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3 March 2018

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H.T Soweto

On 20th February 2018, Nigerians woke up to a news they least expected: the abduction the night before of 110 female students of Government Science and Technical Girls College, Dapchi, Yobe State. A few days before, the Military had yet again announced that Boko Haram had been defeated, Sambisa forest secured and Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau on whom they have placed a three million naira bounty on the run disguised in a Muslim woman's clothing.

So far, Boko Haram has not released any official video, as it usually does, to confirm it is in possession of the girls. This may however be due to many reasons. Boko Haram is now factionalized and any other faction or armed group may have been responsible for the abduction. Whatever is the case, what is not in doubt is that 110 girls are missing since Monday 19 February 2018 after gunmen suspected to be Boko haram militants attacked their school.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) condemns the abduction. We demand an immediate rescue of the abducted Dapchi girls as well as the remaining Chibok girls and all those young boys and girls who are victims in a series of underreported cases of abduction. We also call for the setting up of non-sectarian democratic defense committees under the control of communities to provide protection for schools and prevent new attacks.

We ask: what happened to all the funds (about $30 million) donated to the Safe School initiative launched with fanfare by the Goodluck Jonathan government together with former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown, Nigerian businesses, donors and humanitarian agencies in the aftermath of the Chibok girls kidnap in 2014 to fortify schools in the North East? The Government Science and Technical Girls College in Dapchi does not seem to have had any real fortification and security. We demand a public probe comprising elected representatives of labour, communities in the North East and members of the public to investigate how these monies were spent and prescribe punishment for anyone who may have unjustly enriched themselves from the resources donated to prevent such abductions from taking happening in the first place.

A Programme for the Labour Movement

We call on the labour movement to equally condemn the attack and rally the working masses together in a united movement to undermine sectarianism and build a fight-back against anti-poor policies that create the conditions for sectarian and fundamentalist ideas like those of Boko Haram to germinate and thrive.

This is urgent especially in the wake of the Dapchi abduction and also considering the sharpening ethno-religious tension in the country. Therefore, we call on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress ULC) at national and state levels to organize mass rallies and demonstrations to show that the Nigerian working class stands with Dapchi and all people in the North East who are bearing the heat of Boko Haram insurgency as well as people of Benue, Taraba, Delta etc who are equally bearing the heat of the herdsmen versus farmers clashes as well as the brutal religious clashes including the one that broke out on Monday 26 February 2018 in Kaduna leading to the death of over 20 people with properties worth millions destroyed.

This step will be essential in not only beginning to counter rising ethno-religious tension. If such steps are seriously prepared and mobilized for it will also begin to unite the working masses around a collective programme to fight for immediate improvements in life and also against the common enemy which is the capitalist system that is responsible for anti-poor policies like hike of petrol price, fee hike in schools, victimization of students and workers activists, unemployment and the condition of mass misery in the midst of plenty.

Another Chibok in the making?

It is disheartening how in the next first 24 hours after the abduction, police, military and civil authorities first maintained silence perhaps hoping to cover up the story. This was to be followed by a deluge of confusion as different branches of government, military and police gave conflicting accounts. First the Yobe State Commissioner of Police denied any abduction took place only to be followed by a statement credited to an official of the Yobe State government claiming the girls had been rescued by gallant troops. On Thursday 22nd February 2018, the Yobe state Governor, Ibrahim Gaidam, in a trip to Dapchi admitted that no girls had been rescued enraging expectant parents and residents. They pelted the Governor's convoy with projectiles thereby smashing the glass of two vehicles.

Recall that this was almost the same way the then PDP government reacted to the kidnap of 276 girls from a boarding school in Chibok, Borno state on the night of 14-15, April 2014 under the President Jonathan presidency. The only difference is that it took the Buhari government only a matter of days instead of weeks before admitting, through the information Minister, Lai Muhammed, that 110 girls were "unaccounted for" (Note: not abducted) after a raid by suspected Boko Haram militants on a girls-only boarding school in Dapchi, Yobe State.

Now information has emerged that the abduction of the Dapchi girls may have been caused by the bungling of the government and security forces. A week before the abduction, the military was said to have moved troops from the town to reinforce another location. This was the opportunity the insurgents seized. They simply waltzed into Dapchi, shot their way into the school, abducted the girls and drove out again without a challenge. The police and other security forces that are supposed to hold liberated territories in the absence of the military appeared to have melted away in fear. The Yobe State Commissioner of Police has denied the military handed security of the town to him when troops were moved. But if this were true, then upon what evidence or authority did the Commissioner deny that any attack occurred in Dapchi on Monday 19 February 2018? These and many more are the questions that distraught parents of the abducted girls and concerned Nigerians are asking.

An Insurgency Proving Hard to Defeat

While it is true that Boko Haram has now being severely degraded by relentless campaign of aerial bombing and assault by ground troops, the Dapchi attacks confirms that it still possesses the capacity to spring surprises. Furthermore, the attack also shows that while losing their heavily protected fortress in Sambisa forest as well as several cache of ammunitions, vehicles, grains, valuable supply lines etc over the past few months have inflicted a substantial setback on the insurgents, there are still several blind spots and unguarded territories especially around the borders of Nigeria with Cameroon and Chad that can serve as hiding places and staging posts for them to re-group, re-arm and launch new attacks.

In this instance, the abduction of the Dapchi girls is possibly a tactic by Boko Haram to gain respite from continuous aerial bombing using the girls as cover. It also could be an opportunity for the group to acquire valuable assets to use for trade off with the government for the release of detained commanders and expert bomb makers or to raise money to buy much-needed ammunition and equipment recently lost to Nigerian troops in Sambisa operation. To secure freedom for some of the abducted Chibok girls, ransom is rumored to have been paid alongside the release of notable Boko Haram commanders.

More so, the group is conscious of the power of its propaganda. Staging large-scale abduction in an electoral campaign year is one of the worst things that can happen to a government hoping to bank on its military successes in the North East to win a new term in office.

Boko Haram May Be Defeated but new Violent Crises Will Rise

Apart from heavy losses, the joint operations of Nigerian, Cameroonian and Nigerian troops is seriously narrowing the geographical space within which the group can maneuver. The frustration that has beset the insurgents was clearly expressed by Abubakar Shekau in his last video. It should therefore not be surprising if at some point the militant major leaders including Abubaka Shekau are killed or arrested and the insurgency put down.

But if this happens, society will only gain a brief respite before another violent insurgency and violence engulfs that region or other parts of the country. This is because the conditions that laid the basis for the rise of Boko Haram continue to exist and they have even worsened. As we have repeatedly pointed out, the foundation for the seed of Boko Haram to grow in the North East was the endemic poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and general low standard of living and lack of opportunities that pervades that region as a result of capitalism and decades of looting of public resources by the capitalist elite. Boko Haram was not the first and is likely not to be the last such insurgency. So far these conditions exist, a defeat of Boko Haram will only mean an end to one phase of crisis and the beginning of another.

System Change Required

Now the terrible conditions that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the camps are subjected to and the absence of any prospect that they will be properly resettled and reintegrated into society through provision of farmlands, decent accommodation and gainful employment could be another basis for discontent to grow.

Also the question of how to disarm the Civilian JTF and reintegrate them into society could prove to be a thorny issue for the government. Without any assurance that a better future of gainful employment and a better life awaits them, many of these former government-supported vigilantes accustomed to being in control and having access to government material support could turn out to become armed bandits or even form new militant groups to foment trouble. This is why it is so essential that genuine, democratically controlled, self-defense forces are created, rather than government or self-appointed ones.

There is also the case of many young men and women falsely arrested by the military and who are now being acquitted and released after spending years in detention on false charges of being Boko haram militants. Many of these have had their homes raided, burnt and their families slaughtered either by the military or militants and are therefore returning to nothing. They will further swell the army of discontent. The Northeast still account for the highest poverty level and lowest enrollment in schools. If this is the fate of those unaffected by the insurgency, how can IDPs or even members of the civilian JTF entertain any hope their lives will be better after the insurgency?

The existence of the profit-first capitalist system will continue to constitute an impediment to any genuine solution to end the violence and ensure that the war-torn region is rebuilt and IDPs, former Boko Haram militants and Civilian JTFs resettled and reintegrated. Only the coming to power of a workers and poor people's government based on a socialist plan of public ownership of key sectors of the economy under public democratic control and management can begin to ensure that Nigeria's immense wealth and natural resources are deployed primarily to meeting people's needs instead of the profit-interest of a few. Also only this kind of government can guarantee lasting peace and stability for Nigeria by ensuring the rights of ethnic and religious minorities are respected on the basis of a voluntary union.