|A scene of protest in Nigeria|
By Jaye Gaskia
The present moment in the history of Nigeria is a very dicey one, characterised by systemic crisis, of such a proportion that it seems to have engendered a situation of permanent crises – crisis of entrenched instability, crisis of rampant excruciating poverty, crisis of rampaging endemic insecurity, and crisis of near catastrophic degradation of human life; all of which pose an existential threat, not only to the country, but also more significantly to our humanity.
It is for this reason, that I have chosen to pose the Nigeria question, as opposed to the National Question. The Nigeria question is the question of the survival of humanity and human civilisation within the space called Nigeria. Inherent within, and subsumed by the Nigeria Question, are the National, Religious, Ethno-Religious [and other mutually exclusive identity driven] questions; as well as the Class question that underpins, and cuts across and right through all the other related questions, including the overarching Nigeria question.
For the radical left, Revolutionary Socialist, and Internationalist Marxist currents, in Nigeria, the Nigeria question poses some very serious challenge. For inherent in the Nigeria question are a number of apparently contradictory contradictions, which can only be effectively navigated through the understanding of, and consequent utilisation of the dialectical [materialist dialectical] approach.
We are internationalists; hence our frame of reference is the class, not the nation, the class not the race, the class not the culture, the class not the religious faith, etc. Yet we are internationalists who live within a certain country, the citizenship or residency of which we acquire as a constitutional right.
How should we respond to, and intervene in the resolution of the crisis that is engendering the increasingly mutually antagonistic separatist agitations across the country; as well as to the crisis being engendered by the separatist agitations?
For to be sure, there is a crisis that has led to the emergence, evolution, and nurturing of separatism and the separatist narratives and agitations, including their increasing tendency towards mutually exclusive antagonism. And this crisis is rooted in class exploitation, repression and oppression, that is leading to intensification of mass poverty and misery, endemic insecurity, pervasive exclusion and marginalisation of significant sections of the populace, hopelessness and effusive anger on a widespread scale.
With more than one in two persons out of job [55% unemployment rate] in the general population, and two in three young persons out of job [63% youth unemployment rate]; With more than 40.1% [more than 92 million people] living in abject poverty. The largest concentration of poor people in any one country in the world; With such a incredulously wide, and widening gap between the rich and the poor – The richest African and black man is a Nigerian; five of the richest Africans are Nigerians; yet the nation also has the largest number of poor peoples in the world; - It is little wonder that there will be mass anger, and various expressions of mass dissent. Where there is mass excruciating exploitation, there will be mass dissent, engendering mass resistance; and where there is resistance, there will be repression. When the gross mismanagement of the country’s diversity by an incompetent ruling class, one that lacks agency, is added to this mix, then skewed expressions of access to the limited opportunities, become the basis for the development of narratives of group exclusions based on ethnic and religious identities, and thus the mobilisation of grievances in the mold of identity exclusion.
It is in this sense that the crisis of mutually exclusive and antagonistic separatist agitations, driving the expression of the national question, is itself engendered by the systemic socioeconomic crisis of the capitalist system, compounded by the crisis of the failure of the class leadership of the capitalist ruling class in Nigeria.
But, the crisis of separatist agitations, or the crisis of ethnic nationalism, because it is inherently one driven by mutual exclusivism [the ethnic nation, includes those culturally defined as historically belonging to that ethnic nation, and excludes those who do not], that has tendency to become increasingly more mutually antagonistic, as the narratives compete for living space [that is the space to agitate, as well as the space to locate the ethnic nation]; itself engenders other fallout crises; the most significant of which is the breeding of mutual enmity between peoples and neighbours, the transformation of mobilised grievance into mobilised group hatred, the demonization of the other, making it easy and possible to embrace the active dehumanization [including mass killings, massacre, and genocide] of the other, who is after all the enemy, the devil, and so is not human, and thus can be dispensed with in any manner.
In this context, it becomes difficult for dissent to be permitted, and any opposing narrative becomes a threat, that must be suppressed by the emerging dominant [separatist] ethnic nationality [or religious identity], by any means necessary [including in particular by the use of force and fear], within the designated space of the ethnic nation.
To oppose the narrative of separatism is to be a traitor, to be a traitor, is to be an outcast and outlaw. And we all know the punishment for being a traitor. In this atmosphere, fear reigns, dissent is suppressed, opposition is repressed, and those who dare to be different are subjected to the same treatment as the others, the ethnic enemies. You are human only if you are a member of the rising ethnic nation, and only when you conform to the dominant separatist narrative of the emergent nation at the apogee of its nationalism; Conversely, you are not human, if you are not part of the nation, and if you do not subscribe to its dominant narrative.
The development and evolution of the ethnic nationalist mobilisation, and of the irridentist and ultra nationalist variant of the nationalism of the ascendant ethnic nationality separatist agitation, is embedded in and aided by the spurious narrative and dangerously fallacious notion of the homogenous community, that is of the ethnic nation, or religious group as an homogenous community.
Thus is a community bis homogenous, then there should be no dissent, the lot of each member is supposedly the same as that of other members of the homogenous group. The rich and the poor are the same and equal. The property owner and the propertyless, are equal and the same; the big business owner and employer of labour, and the workers and labourers who toil for them are the same; men and women, boy and girl within this homogenous community are the same. Thus by one wave of the magic wand of a mythical fairy [or wizard or witch, or Dibia or Babalawo as the case maybe; class differences and the ruthless exploitation of workers and the labourers are banished; patriarchy and the exploitation of women are disappeared; the ostentatious and even illegitimate wealth of the filthy rich, in the midst of the ocean of mass misery and drowning poverty do not exist; All these are the figments of the imagination of those who live these realities or who point them out!
On the back of these, it is easy to see why rising triumphal ethnic nationalism, as well as besieged and retreating ethnic nationalism, in the context of adversity and hardships, and riding on the notion of the homogenous community can become and often becomes quite dangerous, and catastrophically devastating not just for humanity as a whole, but even for the ethnic nation as well. I will only reference Hitler, Nazism, and the theory of the homogenous and superior Aryan Nation; and the Rwandan genocide of 1994. With the former, not only were Jews and non-Aryans candidates for slaughter, but also imperfect and dissident Aryans were also to be exterminated as a blurt on the purity of the homogenous Aryan Race and the community of the third Reich. And with the later, Tutsis were slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands, as well as moderate Hutus who dared to be different within the supposedly homogenous community of the Hutu Nationalism.
To be sure though, not even classes are homogenous. The working class is made up of men and women, exists in a patriarchal society, just as within the class there are differences of type and nature of work, and thence differences of relative levels of comfort and affluence, even within the class. It is why Marxists insist on workers democracy, on the space for the organised political contestation of visions, as well as organised mobilisation of competing interests within the class and among its allies in the broader population. This tendency to suppress dissent by an appeal to a spurious homogeneity of a group or class is what led to the historical disaster of Stalinism.
It is for all of these reasons that there is an inherent danger to the current moment in Nigeria. The left, and the working class can no longer afford to be spectators, on the sidelines, condemned to looking on, and raising umbrage at the violations of the rights of people and the sanctity of human dignity by the state or by the ethnic separatist agitators.
When we self consciously limit our role to protesting and condemning the atrocities visited on agitators by the state, or even the atrocities of the ethnic separatists and ethnic nationalist agitators on non-members of their ethnic groups, or non-conforming members of their respective groups; then we unconsciously help to create the enabling environment for the consolidation of the ethnic narrative over the class narrative, and the consolidation of the dangerous fallacy of homogenous communities upon which it is founded, over and above the reality of class exploitation and repression within every national group.
When, we fail to as vigorously as we defend those whose rights are violated or being violated, promote our own class narrative, and proactively undertake our own class mobilisations [mobilisation of class grievances]; then we make it more possible for the ethnic narratives to emerge dominant, to become dominant, and in its triumphalism, become even more emboldened to suppress our narrative and class mobilisation as subversive of the nationalist cause, and thus a threat to the ethnic nation, that must be repressed and exterminated. In short, we make it possible for us, for the left, for our current to become caught in a debilitating and devastating wedge between the repressive Nigeria state and its intolerant ethnic nationalist opposition.
The only possible endpoint or outcome for this course of action will be the decimation of the potency of the class, the stripping bare of our current, with our collective humanity subdued and laid prostrate.
This is why it is incumbent on us, on the radical left, on the revolutionary socialist and Marxist Internationalist currents to step boldly into the breech, make the class case, intensify our class mobilisation, as well as our ability to organise, strike and act together – our ability to take collectively organised action. This will require the working class, the labouring masses, and their allies to organise and take increasingly collective Pan Nigeria Class actions.
On the face of it, this shouldn’t be difficult to undertake, given that every serious organised action, from meetings through political education forums to protests and rallies, always triggers the call for left unity and for the left to come together.
However, the more left groups come together either to take common action around a specific issue, or within the organisational bounds of wider and broader coalitions [or movements], embracing increasing number of groups and political platforms; the more strident the call for left unity! Surprisingly, Sometimes, even groups and platforms that were either not organised within the same organisational modes, and who have only recently come together to establish broader coalitions embracing all them; and who are supposedly involved in and committed to building the new coalitions and movements of which they are members; also tend to end up continuing to make the call for left unity, for left groups to come together, etc as the basis and prerequisite for us to intervene in any decisive manner politically.
It thus seems that at this very precarious moment in our collective history, the left has become paralysed in this perpetual quest for left unity; one that seems not to have any bearing to any practical activities or actions they are currently taking; and one that is almost becoming the excuse for not doing anything, the refuge for taking limited action.
It is as if left unity is not a process, as if it is a destination that you arrive at without traveling, without moving; as if the coalition of coalitions that left platforms are currently a part of establishing and building, are not part of the process towards left unity; and as if the more calls we make for left unity and the less practical actions we take [given our precarious commitments to building joint platforms that we are consciously a part of], the more likely Left Unity will materialize out of the blues.
If the broad array of left organisations and political platforms involved in The Peoples Alternative Political Movement [TPAP-M] continue to work together, prioritise building the movement, actively engage in canvassing support and membership for the movement; then we stand the chance through this effort not only to realise Left Unity in practice And in reality, but also to stem the tide towards catastrophic ethnic based disintegration of Nigeria, and the consequent decimation of the class. If we do this, we would stand the chance to achieve our immediate ultimate objective – the emergence of a Mass Workers Party and the Socialist Transformation of Nigeria, in the first instance.
Only the collective, proactive, conscious and deliberate interventions of the left can ensure the dominance of the Nigeria question over the National Question, and the Class Narrative and mobilisation over Ethnic narrative and mobilisation. Only when we mobilise class grievance and organise and take class political action, can we explode the dangers inherent in the myth of the Homogenous Community, and prevent the catastrophic consequence of the mutually exclusive and antagonistic ethnic mobilisations engendered by it.
The Working Class And Labouring Masses Of Nigeria; Unite!
Workers of the World; Unite!!
ORGANISE NOW! MOBILISE NOW!! ACT NOW!!!
(Jaye Gaskia is a member of the Secretariat of The Peoples Alternative Political Movement [TPAP-M])