We publish here an article by Musa Atiku, a Marxist in northern Nigeria, who provides an overview and an analysis of the activities and origins of Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organisation who are responsible – amongst other atrocities – for the recent abduction of 300 schoolgirls.
The dramatic events that have unfolded in this country in the past few weeks – among them the abduction of over 300 schoolgirls by Boko Haram – confirm more than ever the complete impotence of the inept and extremely corrupt Nigerian ruling class, and also the rottenness of the country’s armed forces, in the face of the insurgency.
Despite the billions of Naira voted for security annually, the spate of insecurity in the country is highly alarming. The case of the Nyanya bomb blast in the federal capital territory of Abuja and the abduction of the girls of Chibok Secondary School are a serious embarrassment and show clearly how rotten the Nigerian state has become.
On April 14 this year, men in military uniforms parked a car full of explosives in a motor park in Nyanya, a suburb of Nigeria’s capital Abuja. The car exploded killing at least 72 people and injuring more than 100. Less than 24 hours later, hundreds of gunmen in cars, trucks and motorcycles invaded the school in Chibok, a small village-community in North-eastern state of Borno and abducted 300 girls aged 16 to 18.
Boko Haram claimed responsibility for both attacks and the sect’s leader, Shekau, pledged to sell the abducted girls as slaves. What is the meaning of this intensification of the spate of Boko Haram attacks? And what are the tasks before the Nigerian workers? To properly address these questions we have to consider the recent evolution of the insurgency.
Civilian JTF and the Evolution of the Insurgency
Boko Haram started as a legal organisation and was in fact an integral tendency of the wider 2000/2001 Shari’a movement in northern Nigeria representing the latter’s extremist fundamentalist wing. This wing had always been in conflict with moderate Islamism (i.e. Liberal Muslims), which pays lip service to a theocratic state and is itself very dependent on modern property relations and political forms. This moderate bourgeois Islamism aims at dividing the Nigerian workers and youth along religious lines in order to defend the interests of a section of the northern Nigerian bourgeoisie.
Fundamentalist Islamists like Boko Haram’s founder are reactionary in a different way; theirs is a petty bourgeois idealism devoted to either total destruction of the modern productive forces or limiting their scope within the old property relations. This conflict between moderate and extremist wings of the Shari’a movement exploded in the bloody suppression of Boko Haram and the summary execution of the sect’s leaders including the sect’s founder, Muhammad Yusuf and a former Borno state commissioner. This ended what was until that time the accommodating attitude of the Nigerian state towards the sect; and the latter went underground.
As an underground organisation and funding itself through bank robberies, extortions and kidnappings for ransom, Boko Haram adopted the strategy of urban guerrilla warfare; melting into local Muslim communities and launching attacks on government targets. To create a base of support among Muslim communities, the sect threw itself into the old Muslim/Christian and indigene/settler communal clashes, especially in the North-central region of the country by launching suicide attacks on churches packed with worshippers on Sundays. The Operational success of predictable attacks on police stations and Sunday churches are understandably subject to the law of diminishing returns, as the security forces went through a learning curve. But this was not where the biggest blow against Boko Haram came from.
The rise of self-defence committees of youth vigilantes in May last year was a remarkable development; armed with the most primitive of weapons such as clubs and machetes, the so-called Civilian JTF, in alliance with rank and file security forces, drove the AK47-weilding Boko Haram fighters out of Borno into the forests. This development directly threatened the core urban guerrilla warfare strategy of the insurgents, i.e. melting into the local communities. Not only this, the Civilian JTF, just like the rank and file security forces they formed an alliance with, was/is inescapably multi-religious, shattering the core message of Boko Haram’s propaganda, which is hate and religious division.
What was the sect’s response to this strategic defeat? They immediately broadened their targets to include Muslim civilians. This manifested itself as indiscriminate killings of motorists and passengers along highways, attacks on markets, ransacking of villages and, recently, the Nyanya motor park bombing and abduction of 300 school girls in Chibok. In the coming period, we can expect Boko Haram attacks to go for softer targets and be more indiscriminate. But this heightened operational activity is a manifestation of a strategic defeat the sect suffered with the rise of Borno Civilian JTF.
Attitude of the various bourgeois parties towards the insurgency
Immediately after the Nyanya bomb blast which killed dozens and injured many more, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) released a statement blaming the main opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC). Days later, a chieftain of the opposition APC, the governor of Adamawa State, Murtala Nyako, released a memo blaming the PDP-led Federal Government for planning genocide in the northern region.
These blames and counter-blames were attempts by both bourgeois parties to politically exploit the insurgency. This is not an accidental behaviour of some elements within the two major bourgeois parties: it is actually a stereotypical behaviour. Many elements within the PDP have repeatedly said that Boko Haram was a Muslim conspiracy to frustrate a minority Christian President out of office. On the other side, many APC elements repeatedly mentioned that the insurgency was a Christian-led Federal Government’s plot to depopulate the north. Of course, there are elements within both the PDP and APC that call for national unity in the face of the insurgency. However, these “saner” and “nationalistic” voices reveal their hypocrisy by their accommodating attitude towards their divisive colleagues.
Many petty bourgeois elements are getting extremely frustrated with this behaviour of APC and PDP and are demanding a united approach similar to what happened in the United States in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. What these de-classed elements forget is that our bourgeoisie is extremely belated and backward and is politically heavily dependent on the very ethno-religious sentiments Boko Haram attacks create and in the recent time, events have revealed how much more rotten and degenerate they have further become.
Civilian JTF and the state of the standing army
The rise of the Civilian JTF has had a dual effect on Nigeria’s standing army. On one hand, the youth vigilantes had formed, spontaneously and out of necessity, a close alliance with the rank and file members of the security forces. But on the other hand, and by driving the insurgents out of Borno city, the Civilian JTF had exposed the incompetence and massive capability defects of the Nigerian armed forces, which is a glaring reflection of the general rottenness in society as a whole. The Nigerian security forces had earlier explained away their failure to crush the insurgency, using the guerrilla tactics of the latter as an excuse; that the insurgents operated from among the civilian population in an asymmetric warfare seriously hampering the Nigerian army’s ability to respond for fear of massive civilian casualties. With the rise of the Civilian JTF, this excuse no longer holds water; the insurgents now operate out in the open moving in convoys of hundreds of fighters attacking satellite villages and army barracks! Not only this; the fact that the insurgents have camps in Sambisa forest is common knowledge. Yet the Nigerian army has failed to crush the insurgents. We also have cases of soldiers running away from the scene even before the insurgents arrive as was the case with the abducted girls.
What explains this gross incompetence of a hitherto respected military apparatus? There are many media reports, both local and international, about the rank and file military being outgunned by the insurgents. The rank and file also complains that their allowances are not reaching them. This is despite the billions of dollars earmarked for security. The truth of the matter is that the security chiefs are growing fat on the funds budgeted for security at the expense of the welfare of the rank and file and the fight against the insurgency. This corruption of the security chiefs has created a lot of resentment among rank and file security members. So side by side with gross incompetence of the security forces, there are tensions between the security chiefs and the rank and file as well as a tendency towards an alliance between the latter and Civilian JTF.
Boko Haram, class struggle and the role of conspiracy
The eagerness of the major bourgeois parties (PDP and APC) to politically exploit the insurgency and of the security chiefs to feed fat on the security budget, contrasts sharply with the tendency of the Civilian JTF to form an alliance with the rank and file of the security forces. This is not surprising, since the members of the first bloc (bourgeois politicians and security chiefs) are nowhere close to the gunfire and bombs of the insurgents, whereas members of the second bloc (the Civilian JTF and rank and file security) have to confront the terrorists’ fire on a daily basis. But on closer examination, these two blocs represent two classes of the oppressors and the oppressed. The law of class contradictions here concretely, spontaneously and unconsciously manifested itself.
This brings us to the question of spontaneity and conspiracy with regards to the Boko Haram insurgency. For many petty bourgeois elements, Boko Haram was created to embarrass the Federal Government, and it means the insurgency is consciously planned by the President’s opponents, especially from the northern section of the ruling elites. On the other side, there is also the claim that the militarization of Nigerian society, which the insurgency promoted, is proof that the latter is consciously supported by the Federal Government to suppress opposition, especially in the northern part of the country.
This kind of thinking abstracts from two crucial facts; one, there is actually a bloody conflict between the Nigerian state and ruling classes on the one hand and the insurgents on the other; that the Nigerian state actually wiped out the sect’s leadership in 2009 and continues to kill members of the sect. This totally excludes the possibility of state sponsorship of Boko Haram, although some members of the ruling elite can still privately and secretly support the insurgency. Secondly, if truly there was a strong operational support of the insurgents by any section of the ruling classes, at the expense of the lives of the rank and file of the security forces, there would have been mutiny of the latter and possibly civil war.
But does this mean that the Boko Haram attacks do not politically benefit both the ruling and opposition parties? No. The kind of ethno-religious sentiments the Boko Haram attacks generate help both parties in their quest to divide the Nigerian workers and youth along religious and ethnic lines. Additionally, Boko Haram by weakening Jonathan helps the opposition, just as militarization of society helps the President.
What we are saying is: this bourgeois opportunism is an expression not of a conscious conspiracy, but of exploitation of the spontaneity which unfortunately is a nightmare for the Nigerian working class and poor. The conspiracy theorists are subjectivists who are incapable of working with unconscious laws that govern human societies; for them, everything must be willed and planned; no allowance is made for objective laws, which in this case can only be explained as class struggle.
However, it must be said that the fact that spontaneity could easily be mistaken for conspiracy is a reflection of how easily one turns into another. The possibility, at some stage, of civil war arising from the Boko Haram insurgency is real unless a socialist revolution takes place in Nigeria. The conspiracy is the logical outcome of capitalist contradictions in Nigeria unless the country’s proletariat rises to its historical responsibility.
The way forward: Imperialist intervention or international working class solidarity?
The impotence of both this inept regime and the opposition wing of the Nigerian ruling class, in the face of the insurgency and the incompetence of the country’s armed forces, is the main reason why most Nigerians are not opposed to imperialist intervention, since the Nigerian ruling elite has demonstrated its complete incapacity to deal with the insurgency. The calls for imperialist intervention became especially loud after the barbaric abduction of the 300 school girls to be sold for sex slavery by Boko Haram.
For the petty bourgeois activist, imperialism is the answer to the gross incompetence and obvious rottenness of the Nigerian government and military. This kind of person abstracts from the fact that American imperialism has failed to crush the Islamic insurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq.
To fully grasp the implications of this, one needs to understand some peculiarities about northern Nigeria. There are grassroots Islamic fundamentalist movements of both the Shiite and Sunni/Wahhabist varieties with deep ties to Middle East politics. There were violent protests in many northern Nigerian cities in response to America’s occupation of faraway Afghanistan and Iraq. Any significant American military presence in the north would flare up and further radicalize these movements. We are also aware that neither Al-Qaeda nor Hezbollah are short of international fighters willing to engage American troops anywhere in the world. Thus, a significant American military presence would lead to the internationalization of the fundamentalist terror and its reproduction on a more devastating scale.
Thus imperialism is no more effective in finding a lasting solution to the insurgency than the Nigerian government. But is the option really limited to one of choosing between an inept indigenous bourgeoisie and a monstrous imperialism? Marxists do not think so. The spontaneous emergence of the Civilian JTF and its alliance with the rank and file members of the security forces, as well as the growing resentment the rank and file soldiers feel towards the security chiefs; all these are pointers to the way forward, i.e. armed self-defence committees of workers and peasants in the neighbourhoods, workplaces and villages, organized at local, state and national levels, coupled with the international solidarity of our comrades, brothers and sisters, the workers of the world.
Organized labour, that is, the NLC and TUC, must step forward and assume responsibility for organizing these self-defence committees. The Civilian JTF has shown both what the masses are capable of and the limitations of spontaneity in defeating an organized banditry like Boko Haram, with sticks and clubs. Although the Civilian JTF has driven Boko Haram out of Borno’s main city of Maiduguri, we can only drive them out of Nigeria and the world over throughorganized resistance with modern weapons, voluntary military training for the youths and workers, democratic elections and the right of removal of the military officers.
- For Armed Self-Defence Committees of Workers and Peasants under the Leadership of the Working Class.
- No to Imperialist Intervention in Nigeria, forward to International solidarity of the working class all over the world.
- For the Socialist Reconstruction of Nigerian Society, as a step towards United Socialist States of Africa and the World.