Ethnic conflicts in Nigeria - Only the working class can offer a way out

The National Question in Nigeria is probably one of the most complicated in the world - with over 120 languages spoken, three main ethnic groups, none of which constitutes a majority of the population, and the religious divide between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north. Over the past few years thousands of people have been killed in ethnic clashes. Unless the working class can offer a way out, Nigeria could be dragged into a bloodbath of barbaric proportions. Here we are publishing a collection of articles from the Nigerian Marxist journal, the Workers' Alternative, concerning this question.

The National Question in Nigeria is probably one of the most complicated in the world, with 120 different languages spoken in the country. The main groups are the Yorubas, Hausar-Fulani and the Igbos, none of whom constitute a majority of the population. On top of the ethnic and linguistic divide there is also the religious divide, mainly between Muslims (who dominate in the North) and Christians (who dominate in the South). Over the past few years thousands of people have been killed in ethnic clashes. Behind these conflicts lie the interests of the elite in each state.

Unless the working class can offer a way out, Nigeria could be dragged into a bloodbath of barbaric proportions. We are publishing a collection of articles from the Nigerian Marxist journal, Workers' Alternative, written between 1999 and 2002 concerning this question.


Ethnic clashes in Nigeria

A nightmare vision of what capitalism has to offer

By Gaye D. C.

Lagos, Nigeria (December 1999)

A spectre haunts Nigeria: the spectre of ethnic cleansing. It has already signalled its approach. This takes form in ever-increasing acts of violence between diverse ethnic groups. What gives rise to this? And what is the way forward? This article examines the problem.

Clashes

It looked like a scene from a horror movie. The only thing missing was weird music. There was the disembowelled body of a pregnant woman, headless body of a man; the list goes on. But, this wasn't fiction. This was for real. It was war.

The ancient oil town of Warri had exploded in violence between hitherto co-existing communities. This explosion has left scars, visible and invisible. Some of the visible scars were corpses, burnt out houses that were no more than hollow shells. The streets had a desolate look as business closed down and people fled the town in panic. This was the outcome of clashes between the three ethnic groups that makeup Warri - the Ijaws and Urhobos on one hand and the Itsekiris on the other. The scale and ferocity of the destruction are quite alarming-with hundreds of lives and properties lost. The antagonism among these ethnic groups is not new; it is a festering sore; it is merely increasing in frequency.

In spite of the government's deploying of troops to maintain peace and order, violence keeps breaking out. On the surface, the present clash began in 1997 over the creation of local councils, but on a more fundamental level deeper socio-economic factors strain ethnic relations. The past two years has been an uninterrupted process of violence-killings, maiming, destruction of property, etc.

In the ensuing mayhem, life has become extremely difficult. People are homeless and starving; there is no way of selling or buying needed commodities as people have had to run and leave their jobs, business, etc. Communication with the outside is becoming impossible; all commercial activities have virtually come to a halt and hospitals do not function as health workers have all run away for safety.

In Ondo State, it was a replay of the Warri mayhem as the Ijaws and Ilajes, went for each other‚s throat with the consequent loss of hundreds of lives and property. In most cases, whole villages were razed.

Nor is conflict confined to the riverine areas. In the farming communities of Aguleri and Umuleri in Anambra State, the story is the same. The conflict, over land, is not new. It happened in 1933, 1964 and 1995. But, this recent one in 1999 assumed dangerous proportions with thousands of lives and properties destroyed, as more sophisticated weapons were used.

Apart from these, however, are the long-term economic implications of the current war; it came at the peak of the farming season and so prevented people from farming. Situated across the river (Niger) the land where the people farms normally gets flooded and hence never allows for late farming. More so, in the course of fighting, tons of yam seedlings, corn, etc., intended for planting, were destroyed. The economic consequences will be famine and wide spread starvation.

All across Nigeria there is an ever-lengthening thread of ethnic violence: Ife/Modakeke, Ogoni and Andonis, Sagamu, Kano, Zango-Kataf, Jukons/Tivs, etc.

These are not isolated events but are interconnected. What is more, they do not drop from the sky; powerful social and economic factors give rise to them.

Poverty

One such factor, the most powerful, is the ever-increasing level of poverty-typified in joblessness, deteriorating infrastructures, etc. All these clashes are due to the fundamental crisis of underdevelopment; there is widespread poverty and this gives rise to a scramble for limited resources. Most of these communities are no better than slums. Industries are shutting down with the attendant consequences of job losses; most families find it difficult to feed themselves. There are no potable water, no good roads, proper medical facilities, social infrastructures, and no good schools. Environments such as these generate fear distrust hatred, frustrations, anger, etc. Under such circumstances, it is easy to believe that if the other ethnic group(s) go away there will be enough.

According to the multiple indicator cluster survey published by the federal office of statistics in 1996, only one in every ten Nigerian can be described as non-poor. The other 90 percent are described as either "core poor" or "moderately poor". Taken in context, what one sees is the harsh reality of a nation where less than 11 million people can be described as "living people", while the remaining 99 million people are best described as the "living dead".

In addition, the UNDP in Nigeria, in its debut Human Development Report on Nigeria graphically depicts the nation‚s Human Development rank. Nigeria was ranked 137th out of 174 nations behind other low human development countries. The graph shows Nigeria‚s human development index (HDI) value as 0.400. Countries with HDI value below 0.5 are considered to have low human development.

Dr. Ibrahima Fall, former UNICEF representative in Nigeria, wrote in the partnership magazine (a UN publication) "poverty in Nigeria has been a long standing issue. It‚s reality manifests in incidences and severity over the years, despite vast human and material resources and economic and development potential that the country is blessed with. In less than a decade, Nigeria has slipped from a middle-income status nation to a low-income category, and is currently regarded as one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It should be noted that sub-Saharan Africa, along with Latin America, houses the world‚s poorest nations."

Fall also wrote, "with 34 million Nigerians, representing 70 percent of households, officially recognised as poor, the extent of Nigeria‚s poverty strikes one as you walk the streets of the nation."

Dr. Fall declared the overwhelming percentage of Nigerians as poor.

The United Bank for Africa‚s monthly business and economic digest for Match/April 1996 noted that poverty manifests itself in "prostitution, exposure to risks, corruption, robbery, street life, increased unemployment, living in squalor, shanties, shackles, high infant mortality, acute malnutrition, short life expectancy, human degradation, living in overcrowded and often poorly ventilated homes".

Oronto Douglas, Head of the Publicity Bureau of the Chicoco movement, a Pan Niger-Delta consciousness group lays the blame for the abject poverty being experienced in the Niger-Delta on the Federal Government and transnational oil companies. He sees the increase in the incidence of prostitution with the attendant rise in cases of unmarried mothers and abandoned babies with mixed racial parentage (Nigerian girls and Caucasian fathers), and inter-ethnic warfare (usually over control of oil rich areas and fishing zones) as prominent evidences of poverty in the area. This arises out of the refusal to re-channel some of the profits to improve the lot of the communities as well as rebuild the environment that suffers from their operations.

Nigeria‚s child poverty is equally alarming. In the words of Michael Hansenne of the ILO, "child labour is one of the faces of poverty". Hunger (a constant companion of most Nigerian children) was described by Mr. Ismail Sevagelding, World Bank vice-president for environmentally sustainable Development (ESD) in 1994, as the manifestation of the extreme forms of poverty and destitution.

The gap between the rich and the poor has never been greater. While the rich got richer, the condition of the majority has deteriorated with the income of single individuals equalling and surpassing the combined income of millions of Nigerians.

Manipulations

These factors provide classic hot beds for ethnic clashes. Recognising this the ruling class consciously exploits the poison of ethnicism as a means of keeping the working class permanently divided and diverting their attention away from the real problems confronting them - the crisis of Nigerian capitalism. Nor is this policy of "divide and rule" an exclusive phenomenon. It is the resort of the ruling class internationally. It is a conscious policy of the ruling class that allows for their continuing oppression and exploitation of the poor working masses, their continuing hold onto power.

The manipulation of ethnic differences reflects the fear of the ruling class of the potentials of the Nigerian working class and it‚s capacity for unity - a unity that cuts across ethnic lines.

The conscious manipulation of ethnic consciousness under terrible social conditions gives rise to periodic explosions of ethnic clashes.

This is also a reflection of the inability of the ruling class to foster genuine unity among the masses. It confirms the fact that capitalism and ethnic violence are interlinked; you cannot have the former without the latter.

However, the working masses of the various ethnic groups know that the same forces are oppressing them. Were the workers that marched with Adams Oshiomhole to protest the 3.5 and 2.5 million Naira furniture allowance for Senators and legislators respectively, ethnically homogeneous? Did their population not cut across diverse ethnic groups?

The same forces oppressing the Niger-Delta working masses are the same oppressing the Hausa-Fulani, the Ibo, Yoruba, Itsekiri, Ijaw, Ilaje, etc working masses.

This is not to say that there is nothing like the subjugation of smaller ethnic groups by dominant ethnic groups. It is rooted in the subjugation of backward nations by advanced nations. Both are rooted in the class structure of society-in the capitalist system.

The call for self-determination by the ruling class of some ethnic groups is intended merely to strengthen their position. It will not better the condition of the working class in those regions under capitalism. It will merely provide the ruling class of this group with a "country" to fleece. The promise of paradise if all groups go their separate ways is no less as cruel a hoax as the one made by the early nationalists during the struggle for independence.

Self Determination

The Aguleri-Umuleri internecine war is being waged by communities with the same history, culture, language, etc. who live and farm together and answer the same name. They are culturally homogeneous. Had Biafra been a reality they would have occupied the same nation.

The same holds true for the Ife-Modakeke war. They, too, would have been part of an Odu‚a republic. Yet, these "brother" communities have been waging wars of extermination for years now.

This is only one of the complex aspects of the demands for self-determination.

Another is the integration of various ethnic groups. People are no longer living in homogenous regions. They are not separated one from the other by a "Great Wall of China". Diverse ethnic groups are dispersed all over the cities of Nigeria, absorbed in the work force, commercial activities, owning houses and business in these places, inter-marrying, etc.

These population movements have further given the national question a complex character. Consequently, the issue of self-determination should be handled cautiously. How, for instance, does one link the various riverside shanties of Ajegunle, Arogbo, Warri, etc., into an Ijaw republic? This idea is untenable under the present conditions, i.e. under capitalism. Attempts at self-determination will only lead to ethnic cleansing of horrendous proportions, if it is confined within the narrow limits of capitalist society.

This is no argument for a forced union of peoples but rather an attempt to combat all bourgeois national influence on the workers movement, all attempts to split the workers movement on ethnic lines, uniting the exploited and their exploiters. In fact, Marxists would defend the rights of all nations, linguistic and cultural groups, to autonomy and self-determination. That is only possible within the context of a struggle for the abolition of capitalism and for the socialist transformation of society.

The only way to defeat capitalism is through the united struggle of the workers and youth of all Nigeria's ethnic groups, a united struggle of the Ijaw, Itsekiri, Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo, etc. workers against their common enemy-the capitalist class of all ethnic groups. The struggles of the Ijaw, Itsekiri, etc, masses are not separate from the struggle of the Nigerian workers, and can achieve victory only when linked together. A united working class struggling against the capitalist class would include in its programme the RIGHT of different ethnic groups to self-determination within a Socialist Federation of the peoples of Nigeria.

The struggles taking place are the direct result of the crisis of capitalism. They reflect the determination of the oppressed layers to find a solution to their problems. The problems of the working class, however, cannot be solved by a capitalist Odu'a republic, a capitalist Ijaw republic, etc. in the face of deepening capitalist crisis.

Deepening Crisis

Experience proves a correlation between the class struggles and ethnic clashes. When the class struggle is on the ascendant class-consciousness overrides ethnic consciousness.

The current capitalist crisis is bound to worsen. As usual, the Nigerian working class will continue to bear the burdens of this crisis. There is no way out of the prison house of poor wages, unemployment, ethnic clashes, etc., under the regime of capital. This deepening crisis will affect workers of all ethnic groups and will increasingly pose class issues to the mass of workers. Neither the proposed Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC (the latest in the string of failed commissions), nor the establishment Local Government councils on every street will solve the basic problems of modern Nigeria under a capitalist set-up.

Capitalism is at a dead end. It has no beacon ahead. No 'ideology' capable of uniting and inspiring the people. It eats away at their hearts and souls and seeks to corrupt, divide and weaken them with ethnic consciousness. Only the working class can lead humanity out of this dark night of capitalist barbarism. To do this it needs a party capable of uniting the workers and oppressed layers of the different ethnic groups in the struggle to transform society on socialist lines. Now more than ever the options posed to humanity are socialism or barbarism.

The various ethnic clashes are nightmare visions of what capitalism has to offer if it is not overthrown.


Nigeria: OPC/Egbesu clash

Labour must stand against senseless sectarian ethnic violence

An eye witness comment (December 1999)

Aftermath of the OPC/Egbesu Youths clash, Ajegunle has become an armed enclave-armed gangs have taken over the streets. There is a palpable feeling of fear and insecurity in the air.

The impression one got was of having entered a war zone. There was an unending line of people fleeing the battle zone with their meagre belongings on their head; there was a lost looking old woman who had lost her senses having witnessed the brutal killing of her only son. A middle aged pregnant woman collapsed under the heavy burden she was carrying. Some couple of streets further an almost naked man clad in underpants was trying without much success with his children to put out the fire consuming their home. Here and there burnt out hollow shells, which were once people's homes; everywhere destitute peoples-whose communities have been sacked by armed bands; markets have been razed, groups of children were scattered in the streets crying for their parents. Now and then tongues of flames shooting up into the skies signify a new burning house; the skies were darkened by thick spiralling smokes. Meanwhile, as Ajegunle burns armed gangs continue to terrorise the streets.

Particularly striking is the seemingly ‘helpless’‚ attitude of the people. This seems to give an aura of invincibility on the band of thugs. In the face of increasing threat to the masses by these sectarian and tribalist groups, we must not lose all perspective. We must not forget the conditions that strengthened them. The ruling class funds and organises these groups, with the sole aim of dividing the ranks of the working people via raising reactionary ethnic sentiments. Pseudo-leftist and human rights groups further swell their ranks. The responsibility for the violence meted out to the masses rest with these group.

Various myths are promoted by these sectarian tribalists that they possess supernatural ‘power’: that they can burn down houses with eggs, cannot be harmed by bullets, etc. All these are lies consciously being promoted to give the impression that these organisations are invincible.

It is not true that this is a clash between the Yoruba and Ijaws; this is a clash between the two sectarian tribal groups with the masses caught in the line of fire.

Here in Ajegunle people are poor, hungry and tired. They only ask for one thing-peace. Will it come?

The representatives of these warring groups have met with the Lagos State governor to sign a ‘peace’ treaty‚, after carrying out such mayhem. Will this treaty assure lasting peace? Will it bring back the lives that have been lost and the properties that were destroyed?

We must not trust in this brokered peace made by those who should be tried for crimes against humanity nor in a police force whose deliberate powerlessness has been revealed.

Only an armed working class community defence can assure lasting peace and protect the lives of all within the community irrespective of tribe or religion. Workers and other poor strata of the society constitute 95% of those staying in Ajegunle.

It is rather very unfortunate, that the leadership of labour did not act when these clashes took place. A mobilisation of workers by the leadership against these human-dusts would have saved the lives and properties of many in Ajegunle. It would have united Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw, etc, workers against these sponsored thugs of the ruling class.

The sectarian clashes pose an enormous threat to the workers‚ movement, as it threatens to split workers and youth on ethnic lines.

The time to act is now. The leadership of labour must painstaking mobilise workers nationally against sectarian violence.


Sharia Law controversy in Nigeria

Labour must stand against the policy of Divide and Rule

No to the division of the Working masses along ethnic and religious lines

(December 1999)

The launching of Sharia law and the declaration of Zamfara State as an Islamic state on 27 October 1999 poses a major threat to the Nigerian Labour movement. For one, these laws, just like the Christian Canon laws, are very reactionary and were written in the Middle Ages. They are not divine laws, they were written by men - just like the reactionary Christian Canon laws. These laws violate all aspects of the fundamental human rights and are aimed at reversing the various gains of the working class movement.

Secondly, the actions of the Zamfara State government are clearly an attempt to divert attention from the main issues at stake. The regime cannot pay the workers a decent wage, provide free and qualitative education and health, develop the industries, provide accommodation, end poverty, etc. What the regime wants to do is to split workers and peasant farmers along religious lines, in order to divert their attention away from the main issues.

Thirdly, the other sections of the Nigerian ruling class are trying to use this action to split the working masses nationally on religious lines. The actions of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, are not geared towards the defence of democratic rights in Zamfara State but towards the further promotion of their own interests.

The Christian Canon laws are as equally reactionary as the Sharia laws. In addition, the CAN are also opposed to many of the rights workers had won as a result of years of struggle. The CAN are still opposed to the right to abortion, separating the State from religion, the use of contraceptives, gender equality, freedom of speech and belief, etc. The intentions of the CAN is to use the issue as a means of expanding their influence by trying to give the impression that they are more humane or democratic.

The impression is also being given that the British "Common law" are Christian Laws; both factions give this impression. This is false; the human rights enshrined in the "Common Law" are not Christian. They are rights won by the Working masses nationally and internationally as a result of their struggles for change. The freedom of speech, association, equal rights for women, etc. were won after bitter struggles by workers. The Church was opposed to these rights.

The bourgeois press also give the impression that it is a Muslim versus Christian thing, i.e. an entirely religious issue. The main issues are not whether Sharia is for Muslims alone or not, but that the fundamental human rights of the working people in Zamfara State are about to be grossly violated.

The Sharia law just like the 1999 Constitution is being imposed on the people of Zamfara. There were no public debates or a referendum of the people of Zamfara before these laws were adopted.

Contrary to the public statements of the Zamfara State government the laws apply to everybody. Alcohol had been banned; fornication and adultery are capital crimes, eating pork is a crime, women and men can no longer travel together in the same bus, there is now segregation between men and women in all areas of life, the list goes on.

The laws clearly violate the fundamental human rights of everybody whether Muslim or Christian; women and children are going to be grossly discriminated against. Brutal punishment awaits anybody who violates anyone of the conditions.

In addition, the amputation of an arm of a thief will definitely not stop armed robbery contrary to the claims of the supporters of Sharia. Armed robbers have been killed over the years it has not stopped robbery in anyway. Poverty creates crime.

Labour must stand up against this step backwards with a clear programme; the dirty intention of the Nigerian ruling class is to split the working masses using religion. Religion is a private affair of every individual; the State must not have any religion. The link of religion to the State must be broken, as religion is a product of ignorance.

The 1999 Constitution is grossly inadequate in this regard, as it is secular only on the part that talks about secularity. The Sharia, the reactionary customary laws, and other anti-working class laws are enshrined in that constitution.

The struggle against this reactionary laws must be led by workers relying solely on their organisations and leadership and not on the CAN or any other religious organisation of the ruling class. The struggle must be linked with all the other class issues and the need for unity of the working class.


Oppose the invasion of the Niger Delta

(December 1999)

The invasion of parts of Bayelsa State by over 2,000 soldiers, under the orders of the Obasanjo regime, on November 21 reveals the true nature of the current civilian regime. The town of Odi has now been confirmed destroyed and over 200 innocent people have been killed, including women and children. Many have been forced to run for their lives. Many more towns are under attack and the Army has blacked out news coming up from that area; they have sealed up the area. A Chechnya situation now exists in the Niger-Delta.

This brutal and criminal action confirms the fact that this regime cannot solve the Niger-Delta crisis. And that the regime is only interested in the defence of oil profits and is not interested in the plights of the poor masses of the Niger-Delta.

The Lies of the Obasanjo regime

In its criminal attempt to cover up the crimes of this regime in the Niger-Delta, the regime claims that it is not responsible for the attack and it shifts the responsible on the head of the Bayelsa State government. No troop deployment can take place without the orders of the federal government.

On November 10, Obasanjo gave a 14-day ultimatum to the Bayelsa State to "restore order" or its would declare a state of emergency in the area. This follows the growing agitation of the masses of that area; it is very important to note that the police and soldiers had earlier killed scores of youth. Since then, there had been news of massive troop movement.

It is a lie that the current invasion is to find the killers of the 12 police officers. It is irrational logic; i.e. to find the killers of 12 you kill 200 and destroy the entire town.

The Obasanjo regime earlier absolved the army of the crimes committed in Choba, the raping of 65 women and the killing of scores of youth. However, independent reports confirmed that the action took place.

The attack on Choba was sponsored by Wilbros Nigeria Limited, an American multinational, against the protesting masses of Choba.

The main reason why the regime launched this brutal attack on the masses of the Niger-Delta is defend the profits from oil. There had been many mass protests by the youths in the Niger-Delta in the pass weeks. This led to the occupation of some oil facilities by the youths. Some cases of kidnapping and other individual terrorist acts did take place.

Obasanjo is simply using the individual terrorist acts to justify the killing of hundreds of innocent people; the intention of the regime is to repress the movement that has developed against the oil companies. A minority carried out these isolated individual terrorist actions. The real terrorists in the Niger-Delta are the oil companies and the Nigerian ruling class.

The attempt by the Obasanjo regime to cover up its crime in the Niger-Delta is similar to a man trying to hide behind his fingers.

The claim by the regime that $50 million has been released towards executing projects in the Niger-Delta is nothing but an attempt to save face. In addition, it would not go anyway towards solving the Niger-Delta crisis, as it is mere peanuts and it would go into the pocket of the contractors. Julius Berger would benefit from the funds as it has been given the contract to contract some roads.

Individual terrorism and self-determination

Events in the Niger-Delta confirm the fact that acts of individual terrorism are counterproductive; it only strengthens the repressive arm of the State and this would be used against the mass movement. The Niger-Delta area of Nigeria can never be liberated on the basis of urban and rural guerrilla struggle.

In addition, the Niger-Delta can never be liberated in a situation where Nigeria remains under the bondage of capitalism; i.e. the right to self-determination can never be granted to the masses of the Niger-Delta under capitalism (under the current dispensation). It would lead to a bloody and barbaric ethnic civil war that would throw the society further backwards.

The numerous ethnic clashes in the Niger-Delta go a long way to show how bloody the move towards self-determination would be in the Niger-Delta. It would lead to ethnic cleansing, as the numerous ethnic nationalities have been integrated over the years.

The only way out remains a united struggle of the working masses and youth, of all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, against capitalism. With the programmes of nationalising the oil multinationals that are responsible for the crisis and the commanding heights of the economy under democratic control of the workers.

Labour must oppose this brutal repression

The barbaric actions of the Obasanjo regime in the Niger-Delta is an eye-opener to what the regime can do to defend the interests of the rich against that of the working masses. The invasion of Bayelsa is only the beginning of a massive deployment of troops in the Niger-Delta. However, the repression would worsen the fragile situation in the Niger-Delta, as more will take to arms.

In addition, reprisals against other ethnic nationalities perceived as benefiting from the exploitation of the Niger-Delta are on the agenda. This would lay the basis for more ethnic clashes.

Labour has the historical role of uniting the entire working masses in the Niger-Delta with all other workers in the country to fight for a common course that for the socialist transformation of the society.

Labour must therefore stand up actively against these attacks; a general strike called in solidarity with the masses of the Niger-Delta would go a long way towards halting the barbaric actions of the Nigerian ruling class. And it would go a long way towards uniting Nigerian workers.


National Question in Nigeria:

Ethnic cleansing or Socialist Revolution

By Oke Ogunde (May 2002)

Call it by any name: inter-ethnic hostilities, tribal warfare or national question, it has become a serious dangerous signal in Nigeria, with its attendant barbaric acts.

It is not uncommon to hear that during the numerous inter-ethnic (as well as intra-ethnic) clashes, all kinds of barbaric activities take place, including countless burning of houses and rampant killings, in various styles. For example, it is not uncommon for babies, as young as seven days old to get their heads cut off or for older ones to get their stomachs ripped open in the course of such clashes.

It is particularly worthy of note, that the number of such clashes in the past five years is clearly much higher than those that had occurred in all the previous history of the country.

The recent episodes of inter-ethnic warfare in Nigeria, exemplified by the carnage and rabid killings in the 2001 Jos riot, the 2000 Kano/Kaduna Sharia riots, the countless Tiv-Jukun clashes in Benue and Taraba states, the 2001 Tiv-Hausa riot in Nassarawa state, including the numerous OPC (the Yoruba sectarian group) - Hausa clashes, the Aguleri/Umuleri war and the Ijaw-Itsekiri riots, among others, were indications of how terrible the situation has suddenly become in Nigeria.

As said earlier, it has not always been this terrible in Nigeria. Many years back, particularly after the end of the 1967-70 civil war, Nigerians had it easier than today, living together relatively harmoniously in any part of the country. The situation at the moment is such that, nowhere in the country can be said to be safe from inter-ethnic/religious hostilities. Previously safe havens from secular clashes, like Jos and most parts of southern Nigeria are now regular battlegrounds.

There is however an inverse relationship between the rise in secular violence and the fall in the economic indices and general well being of the people.

The Nigerian economy has been in a state of collapse since the late 1970s through the 80s and the 90s, up till the present day. For example, the per capita income for the country in the earlier period mentioned was about $1000 per annum; whereas the per capita income for the later period averages around $200. The above is an indication of the fact that, far less resources are now available to take care of far more people. Nigeria's main source of income comes from the sale of crude oil, the real price of which has fallen by about half of what it used to be some twenty five years ago; whereas the country's population has doubled during the same period.

In the same vein, over the same period, industry collapsed. The average industrial capacity utilisation has fallen from over 80% to a miserable less than 30%. The implication of this is that since industrial production has dwindled, so has the work force - a clear indicator for the massive increase in the unemployment rate.

The overall implication of the above, is that as the crisis of capitalism deepens, locally and globally, a syndrome that is reflected in the lower income from crude oil sales, industrial collapse etc., a parallel increase in human population has further compounded the problem. Thus bringing to the fore the fact that far fewer resources are now available to take care of far more people. This underlines the material basis for the escalation of inter-ethnic clashes and hostilities. It is only on this basis that the national question can be approached objectively and unsentimentally.

It is this material want, that pervades every segment of the political entity called Nigeria, that is responsible for the palpable hostilities among the various ethnic/religious groupings.

Such a confused response to the crisis of the capitalist system, in the form of ethnic clashes, leads those involved to the false belief that their problem of want is due to the existence of non-indigenes in their local region, as the case may be.

Meanwhile, unavailability of necessary resources to satisfy human basic needs, is a direct failure of the reigning capitalist system.

The system long ago reached its peak for the development of humanity. Rather than make society better for the vast majority of the populace, it has turned life into misery for them. This is particularly the case in the under-developed countries, including Nigeria.

It is noteworthy that, the ruling capitalist class has consistently been promoting ethnic/religious chauvinism as a basis to divide and rule us to their exploitative convenience. Their aim is to prevent the mass of workers and the poor layers from escaping from their common plight of impoverishment, towards forming a political bloc to fight the oppressive and corrupt ruling class.

Meanwhile, the labour bureaucracy, at the leadership of the working class, have not helped the situation either. Consistently, they have been preventing the workers and indeed the rest of the poor from arriving at an independent class political conclusion against the continual rule of capital.

The way forward towards resolving the recurrent sectarian violence, is the uprooting of the system that is creating the conditions that promote such hostilities.

The resolution of the crises does not lie in shortcuts, such as federal character/quota system which was an attempt in the past by the ruling class to maintain a seemingly regional balance in the polity.

Sovereign National Conference is not the answer

Similarly, the Sovereign National Conference (SNC), a proposed organ to take decisions on the national question, cannot serve as a panacea to resolve the issues in contention. The situation has passed beyond the possibility of resolving the national question in Nigeria at the round table. It is not likely, for instance, that the various hostile ethnic groups will suddenly agree to quietly move out of their present places of abodes to their “lands of origin”. Such beliefs are no doubt a fantasy in the minds of the proponents of the SNC, as recent experiences have shown.

What happened in South West Lagos in February 2002, during the Idi-Araba ethnic violence, between the OPC and the so-called Hausa settlers, pushed to the fore the limitations of the thinking of the SNC activists. The Hausa settlers had came out clearly to say that Idi-Araba belongs to them as it belongs to all other Lagosians. To this extent, they will only leave their present abodes over their dead bodies.

The above enumeration is the general thinking in the country: the Igbos in the north will not abandon their wares except death do them part; just as the Modakekes (a Yoruba sub-group) have not abandoned Modakeke for their Ife “landlords” (another Yoruba sub-group), they will rather fight to the finish.

Moreover, it needs to be mentioned that, as the crisis of capitalism deepens in Nigeria and a revolutionary situation develops in the future, the ruling elites will definitely toy with the idea of the SNC. This is with the intent of using it as a reactionary bait to divert the revolutionary movement to the SNC talk-shop. This will concretely resolve nothing but will only serve as an avenue for the ruling class to defeat the revolutionary movement.

The national question in Nigeria is intrinsically linked to the question of replacing the oppressive capitalist system, with a socialist society where the needs of the masses will be appropriately satisfied.

The tasks of the class-conscious working class activists are to pursue the above agenda purposely. We must come out to expose the deceit of the ruling elites and their petty-bourgeois apologists organised around the various potentially dangerous shortcut formulae.

Such tasks must start with the campaign within the ranks of labour for the emergence of an independent, mass-based workers' political party, that will be based on the trade unions and the other poor layers in society. The party must subsequently develop a revolutionary socialist agenda for the resolution of the national question, as enumerated above. Only then, will people of various ethnic extractions stop being suspicious of one another and live together harmoniously.