Issue 259 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review
Leo Zeilig talked to Nigerian socialist Femi Aborisade
Can you explain what has been happening in Nigeria since 11 September?
Are religious and ethnic divisions often used like this?
President Obasanjo sought to denounce and criminalise the anti-war protests in Kano as purely religious and assert that Nigerian Muslims have no business being involved in an event taking place 'in far away Afghanistan'. Obasanjo claims that the cause of the crisis is 'un-Nigerian' and does not concern northerners. The president has also introduced anti-terrorist legislation, using the war as a figleaf.
What do these protests tell us about Nigeria today?
This situation has given rise to the spate of ethnic violence which to a certain extent has been a feature of Nigerian politics since independence. Nigeria was left with an unworkable system by the British, which set region against region. But the crippling economic picture has caused despair and has fuelled the violence, spurred on by politicians, religious leaders and others seeking a share of the country's oil wealth.
As a consequence Nigeria is sitting on several time bombs that are ready to explode. There is the religious situation. Several northern states have introduced 'sharia' law in recent years, which has exacerbated religious tensions in the region. Recently the president of the supreme council for sharia in Nigeria indicted President Obasanjo for his 'hasty' support for the US. During the Kano demonstrations, the effigy of the minister of foreign affairs, a Muslim, whose base of support is--or at least was--in Kano and Jigawa States was publicly burnt. That shows both a deep-seated hatred for the stand of the federal government on the war.
There is also the ethnic time bomb. A week or so after the Kano violence, over 500 Nigerians, mainly men but including children and women were massacred by the military in seven villages in Benue state in the middle belt of Nigeria, to avenge the alleged killing of 19 soldiers. There has also been a spate of politically motivated assassinations and attacks. State governors are building private armies. The existing three main political parties have not delivered what is popularly known as 'dividends of democracy' since the end of military rule two years ago. Yet the existing parties were imposed by the military, and are divided and bitterly fractionalised.
What are the possibilities for radical social change?
The anti-capitalist movement is a great opportunity for seeing through this radical change. Interest in the protests that have gripped several cities in the north, Seattle and Genoa for example, is enormous. I have been showing the film of the Seattle protests to groups of trade unionists and socialists. I have also been involved in anti-privatisation groups, and in Africa we have had our own anti-IMF and World Bank protests since the 1980s.
More and more people can see that the current war against Afghanistan is neither against terrorism nor to avenge the killing of Americans on 11 September, but to guarantee economic interests through the imposition of political and economic hegemony in the entire region. Victory for the coalition will give them the freedom to impose their hegemony anywhere in the world, and in the short term in Africa. It will increase the feelings of frustration and impotence on the part of the exploited. We therefore have a duty to play a role in stopping the imperialist slaughter and preventing the spread of the war to other Arab countries.
Femi was sacked from his lecturing job at Ibadan Polytechnic last year for leading a successful strike. To help the campaign contact: email@example.com
The crippling economic picture has caused despair and fuelled violence