WSF (1998): “Nigeria: Death of a tyrant, death of a democrat – but no freedom until capitalism is dead too!”

WSF (1998): “Nigeria: Death of a tyrant, death of a democrat – but no freedom until capitalism is dead too!”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

Ordinary Nigerian people took to the streets in celebration on June 8 after hearing that murderous dictator General Sani Abacha, 54, had died of a heart attack. Abacha’s death brought to an end a four-year iron-fisted reign that saw the hanging in 1995 of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others who had dared to speak out against the oppression of the workers and the poor by wealthy western oil drilling companies exploiting Nigeria.

ABIOLA

But Abacha was swiftly replaced by Nigeria’s ninth military dictator, Abdusalam Abubakar, a career soldier trained in the United States and Britain like so many Third World strongmen, who immediately ordered seven days of national mourning for Abacha. Abubakar then appeased the regime’s critics by releasing several jailed unionists and activists. Then on July 7, Social Democratic Party leader Chief Moshood Abiola, 60, who was jailed after apparently winning the 1993 presidential election, conveniently died of a heart attack during a visit by American officials. Abiola was no angel: a multimillionaire shipping tycoon who used his military friends to try for the presidency, he boasted four wives and 19 girlfriends and was widely believed to have stolen millions intended to upgrade Nigeria’s telephone system. Supporters of the corrupt Nigerian state claimed that Abiola was the only leader able to unite a country deeply divided between the largely Christian Yoruba and the mostly Muslim Hausa. But Nigeria does not need more robber-baron leaders. It needs a strong workers movement to organise, rise up and throw off the yoke of capitalist-sponsored terrorist dictatorship.

GOVERNMENTS LIE – PEOPLE DIE

At the Organisation for African Unity summit in Burkina Faso shortly after the dictator’s death, his cronies who oppress other African countries underlined exactly what they had in mind with their vision of an “African Renaissance” when they paid their respects to the man who ordered the detention without trial of pro-democracy activists, jailed newspaper editors for reporting the truth, and whose police shot dead at least 10 workers dead during May Day celebrations earlier this year.

The Nigerian regime earlier this year tried to whitewash its image by sending armed forces to Sierra Leone on the West Coast to oust another military junta and install United States- approved “democracy” (i.e. protection of western mining interests).

ABUSES OF THE NIGERIAN DICTATORSHIP

Abacha the Butcher was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by his sipporters, but the opposition United Action for Democracy – an umbrella of 26 human rights and pro-democracy groups in Nigeria – strongly opposed this stupid suggestion. The UAD listed Abacha’s crimes as:

1. The arrest and detention without trial of Abiola.
2. The arrest and secret military trials of pro-democracy activists.
3. The hangings of Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni activists.
4. The closing of newspapers and secret military trials of journalists for “plotting to overthrow the state”.
5. The banning of some unions and the detention of union leaders following a strike in the oil industry to protest the political crisis.
6. The expulsion of student activists and the imposition of military- appointed administrators in the universities.
7. The death in prison of ousted General Shehu Musa Yar’adua and the sentencing to death of other opponents.
8. The overruling of the courts and the law by the army.
9. The promotion of conflict between tribes and between the Muslim north and Christian south.
10. The plundering of national resources and the collapse of social services due to officially tolerated corruption.

Amnesty International notes that there are “scores of prisoners held in life-threatening conditions in Nigeria’s jails” and has urged Abubaker to release Nigeria’s 250-plus prisoners of conscience – those jailed simply for their beliefs like so many South Africans were under apartheid.

BIG INTERNATIONAL COMPANIES SUPPORT NIGERIAN DICTATORSHIP

Nigeria’s military dictatorships have all drawn strength from the international oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Mobil whose operations earn the country 80% of its national budget (about R51,5-billion a year). The wealth of the dictators and of the American, British and French oil companies is directly derived from the continued class inequality of the Nigerian social economy.

Despite all their rhetoric about democracy, the big capitalist powers like the USA are desperate to ensure that this oil exploitation does not falter, and so have never taken up the obvious weapon of sanctions to force the army to quit. It would be all so easy, but the profits are just too fat and the capitalists fear that the power vacuum created by the removal of a strongman will cause the country to split in half. The US, which imports half of Nigeria’s oil production, has not banned the sale of arms to Nigeria’s fascist military either: profits before people is their motto.

Abacha’s corrupt regime allowed Nigeria’s once vibrant agricultural sector to decay. What was once the world’s biggest palm oil industry has collapsed. Cocoa output halved since the 1960s, rubber production has fallen.

Abacha’s legacy has is a country pinched between demands by the capitalist overlord International Monetary Fund that Nigeria slash its already threadbare social services and public sector- which will lead to more popular unrest – and the threat of a coup by fat-cat army officers terrified of any challenge to their power and looting of the country.

REAL DEMOCRACY FOR NIGERIA NOW!

This is the country that Abubakar takes control of. He has signalled his readiness to comply with the US’s and European Union’s insistence that there be “a genuine transition to civilian rule” by October 1.Of course, what the US and the EU really want is a civilian ruler installed in Nigeria to prevent the world’s seventh-largest oil export industry from being disrupted by those who want an end to oppression. They don’t care that the oil industry is the main exploiter of poor and working class Nigerians. The Western capitalist governments want democracy in name only: continued rule of the chiefs, military brass and company bosses – not real control of Nigeria’s assets by the Nigerian workers. And already, the local strongmen and robber barons have been scrambling to create new “democratic” political parties.

In August, Abubakar flew to South Africa where he was honoured at a state dinner. But his change from military uniform to a flowing white robe for the cameras should not fool anyone. He is no angel and his backers remain the brutish armed forces and the capitalist exploiters.

We support a move from military government to parliamentary rule. This will create better conditions for the working class and peasants to organise for further struggle.

In the end, however, only free socialism (anarcho-syndicalism) can redistribute wealth and power in Nigeria- and across the world. The solution is not a “good” government but workers power.

WORKERS: WHAT YOU CAN DO

WORKERS OF SOUTH AFRICA! We cannot allow the tragedy befalling our fellow workers in Nigeria to continue! We cannot stand by and ignore our comrades’ pain, we cannot be silent.

IN YOUR COMMUNITIES: Support Nigerians who are genuine refugees of oppression against attacks by police. The cops are oppressing these visitors on behalf of the ruling class, falsely blaming all Nigerian immigrants for our country’s problems.

IN YOUR UNIONS: Tell your shop stewards, your leaders: “We demand justice for Nigeria. We boycotts of Shell and Mobil until Abubakar’s regime is toppled and democracy comes to Nigeria!”

OUR COMRADES: THE AWARENESS LEAGUE OF NIGERIA

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, with 104 million people, has only had 10 years of civilian rule since independence from Britain in 1960. It is hardly surprising that here we find the biggest anarcho-syndicalist organisation in Africa: the Awareness League. From its roots as a radical student’s group, the League has become directly involved in the Nigerian workers’ struggle, and now has more than 1000 members across Nigeria.

Some members are rotting in Nigeria’s inhumane prisons. Others have written a book, African Anarchism- the history of a movement, that clearly shows a way out of Africa’s sad, battered love affair with brutal military dictatorships, cruel capitalism and so-called “socialist” exploitation: libertarian socialism. The League is an affiliate of the International Workers’ Association, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation formed to fight capitalism through revolutionary trade union activism worldwide.

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).