Volume , Number 0
Silja j.a. Talvi
Silja j.a. Talvi
Stephen R. Shalom
Nonviolence Versus Capitalism
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Trajectory of Change
Jan knippers Black
Eleanor J. Bader
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Many federal politicians in Nigeria are bothered by the entrenchment of fundamentalist Sharia in the criminal codes of the countrys northern states. What annoys them even more is yet another prediction that the country is about to slip into the abyss unless it is thoroughly reorganized.
Most recent signs of the imminent and bloody collapse of this state of 120 million people included fierce fighting between Ogoni communities in the southern oil region in May. Deaths were considerably higher in a series of disturbances in the Middle Zone in late 2001 when Tiv militia clashed with members of other ethnic groups. Subsequently, in retaliation for the killing of 19 soldiers, the army slaughtered hundreds in a rampage against the Tiv in Benue State. Meanwhile, bloody battles between Muslims and Christians in Lagos have become commonplace.
Last December, Attorney General and Minister of Justice Bola Ige, a prominent Yoruba, was assassinated. It was suggested that rival elements from the same ethnic group were the most likely authors of the crime. Muslims from the North with army connections were inevitably blamed in other quarters.
As it stands, Nigeria, OPECs seventh most prolific exporter, has constitutionally been a federation since prior to the countrys independence in 1960. In practice, it has long been a highly centralized state. Since the 1970s, crude oil sales have supplied the bulk of government revenue and oil resources are owned and controlled by the central administration. The myriad small states (36 at last count) that make up the federation, along with local government areas, thus depend for the most part on federal transfers. In fact, in the 1990s only Lagos state was able to meet the bulk of its expenditures through internally raised revenue. Oil comes from the Delta area, but money flows via Abuja, the shiny new capital.
So those Nigerians who call themselves federalists includes, and is even dominated by, powerful interests favorable to todays centralized arrangement. One influential member of this group is current President Olusegun Obasanjo. A convinced anti-tribalist, Obasanjo believes in a country whose citizens are loyal to a constitution rather than to an ethnic group. Regional nationalism, in his view, is a witchs brew cooked up by Igbo, Yoruba, and Ijaw, intellectuals (the worst peddlers of tribalism) who use this ideology as a ticket to personal prominence. To counter tribalism, the federal authority, representing all citizens of the country, must be pre-eminent and financially endowed.
Sani Abacha salted away billions of dollars of government money during his reign (1993-1998). Under his predecessor, Ibrahim Babangida (1985-93), a 12-billion dollar windfall in earnings from high Gulf War petroleum prices mysteriously vanished from government accounts. These sorts of practices apparently disgusted Obasanjo and motivated his return to politics. But he has always shared an important assumption with these more personally corrupt military dictators. When General Obasanjo was chief executive in the latter half of the 1970s, federal government ownership of the oil (and other industries) was regarded as the necessary means through which regionally balanced development was to be achieved.
But it is old news that this system did not serve most Nigerian citizens well. No welfare state was built during the boom years of the 1970s and the education system was soon in tatters. As endless newspaper reports have testified, and residents of the Delta states know too well, oil extraction brought little development to South-South towns and villages even as spills and gas flaring poisoned their water and air.
Today, Obasanjo and other leading lights in his Peoples Democratic Party are no longer interested in state management of most strategic sectors. Privatization and greater openings for foreign capital is the approach. But central government title to oil and gas is convenient for multinational exploitation, through joint ventures or fully privatized operations.
Meanwhile, alternatives presented by Delta activists, which would see local communities own and control energy wealth through publicly accountable bodies, is opposed by all elements that currently benefit from Nigerian oil. Multinationals could still make a profit under this scheme, and thus might be convinced to accept it under particular circumstances. But corrupt Nigerian elites who live far from the oil areas, while growing rich from their links to the bureaucracy, will certainly resist such a change with all the force at their disposal.
Three years of civilian rule in Nigeria have demonstrated that terror is far from being a governing tool particular to military administration. In the fall of 1999, armed youths operating near the Bayelsa village of Odi killed several police officers, representatives, in their eyes, of the state that had despoiled their region. The armys response was to level the town and slaughter the population. Mass intimidation, not apprehension of suspects, was the method adopted by an ostensibly liberal democratic state.
The federal government also pursues legal channels to keep oil resources and earnings in central hands. It resists proposals for a sovereign national conference that might redefine the polity and strip the center of many of its powers. Minister Ige sought shortly before his death to have the Supreme Court pronounce in favor of the federal governments exclusive claim to offshore oil. (The significance of this is that, according to the current constitution, no less than 13 percent of revenue derived from natural resources must be returned to their states of origin. But if offshore fields arent part of states, then the federal government doesnt have to include earnings from those sites in its transfer calculations.) This spring, that august body pronounced in favor of the feds.
But activists in the oil areas arent only demanding more cash from the center, although they want that too. The Niger Delta Youth Movement has described the 13 percent, along with the federal governments much touted Niger Delta Development Commission, as crumbs dropping from our stolen property. They want to decide and control, even decide to produce less oil if thats what polluted communities want. That calls into question the purpose of Nigeria, as understood by those who rule it.
Nigerians, like people everywhere, have complex identities. Individuals regard themselves as women or men, Christians or Muslims, as workers or farmers or traders, and as citizens of the federal state. Obasanjo and others are quite correct that a national consciousness exists. Young Ijaw women from the Delta city of Port Harcourt working in bars in the capital cite their right to move freely around their country. Were Nigerians, arent we? they ask, if queried about being so far from home. Muslim business- people with northern origins proudly declare Christian Lagos to be their city.
But most members of the population also strongly identify with the ethnicity from which they spring. What exacerbates social tensions and resentments is the way in which state and economic organization constantly reinforces the notion that some ethnic groups live at the expense of others. On a small scale, this might involve a decision to set up the headquarters of a local government area in a town inhabited primarily by one ethnicity. The result: more scarce jobs and money for the lucky community.
At a Nigeria-wide level, this phenomenon is illustrated by the Hausa Fulani elites well-known success in occupying top jobs in the cabinet, bureaucracy, and armed forces, permitting numerous northern families to grow fabulously rich through graft. The bustling, more commercial South then makes the charge that the lazy Muslims from Sokoto and Kanothe ignorant Hausa Fulanilive off everyone else.
This approach obscures the fact that the overwhelming bulk of northerners are the poorest people in the country and that the elites of all the leading ethnic groups (Yoruba, Hausa Fulani, and even Igbo, losers of the Biafran War) have participated in the personal enrichment bonanza. Sani Abachas dictatorship might have been described as the reign of the North, but a great many southerners helped rule and loot the country in the 1990s and then backed Abachas plan to remain in power as an elected, civilian head of statea scheme aborted when he suddenly expired.
So of course it suits southern elites to talk in terms of ethnic oppressors rather than rich exploiters. Herein lies a crucial problem in the Nigerian battle of ideas. There is not enough discussion of class, either as a means of seeking solutions (albeit partial) to economic problems or to moderate and balance the ethnic discourse in the interest of civil peace. To an extent, the Nigeria Labor Congress addresses this matter. Drawing members from every group in the country, the congress stresses the poverty issues that Nigerian workers have in common. In January 2002, for example, it called its members into the streets for a general strike to protest higher fuel prices, as it had in a substantially more successful action in the summer of 2001. The NLC has fought hard for minimum wage hikes.
But class perspectives are increasingly drowned out. Bola Ige, a fighter against military rule, a former political prisoner, and a progressive individual in the eyes of many, described the Fulani as the Tutsi of Nigeria, meaning they were a minority that had taken over dominant positions in the state and economy. Knowing what happened to the Tutsi in Rwanda when National Socialist Hutus got their opportunity, it is little wonder that some took umbrage at Iges analysis.
In the wake of the ministers death, members of the Yoruba Leaders Forum began talking about secret plans afoot in the country to eliminate prominent members of their ethnic group. By alluding to unidentified forces and recalling the death of MKO Abiola (winner of the annulled 1993 elections), the message was clear: northerners, the criminals of always, are on the offensive. Be ready to fight, Yoruba men. This despite the fact that evidence pointed to internal Yoruba feuding as the cause for the killing.
In fact, local, democratic control of resources in Nigeria does not have to be confused with ethnic nationalism. Oil and gas would not be Ijaw or Ogoni or Igbo or Christian property under a system of radical de-centralization and self-management; gold and copper mined in Jigawa State would not belong to Hausa Fulani or Kanuri people as such. Resources would be controlled by those whose land and lives exploitation directly affects, which is a different assertion. Residents of a municipal area or region in this country of internal immigration and ethnic mix would be owners with corresponding rights, regardless of their background.
That, ultimately, is the only way to combine local, democratic power with cosmopolitan, universal values. In Nigeria and elsewhere. Z
Marc Young is a freelance writer living in Spain.