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Nigeria declares state of emergency

Published Jan 9, 2012 8:32 PM

A state of emergency was declared by Federal Republic of Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan on Jan. 1 in the aftermath of a series of bomb attacks on various Christian churches on Christmas. Initial reports indicate that 49 people were killed and scores injured.

The attacks, which have been claimed by the Boko Haram religious organization, follow a pattern of escalating conflict in Africa’s most populous and oil-rich state. The attacks began with a government crackdown on the Islamic group in 2009, when the leader of the organization was killed extrajudiciously by security forces. The Nigerian government and others claim that Boko Haram is linked to al-Qaeda.

The state of emergency has taken effect in the northern state of Bornu, where Boko Haram is said to have its strongest base of support. Most of the nation’s Muslim population is based in the north, with more Christians in the south and east. Other areas impacted include 15 local councils spread out within the Yobe, Niger and Plateau states.

Military units have entered these areas, and in some cases the army has taken over police stations and local government offices. Although many political parties and civil organizations have reportedly supported the state of emergency, others have been more cautious and some are highly critical.

In response to the declaration, the Boko Haram group has reportedly issued an ultimatum for Christians in the northern states to leave the region within 72 hours. The organization has said that it will confront any military operations carried out by the army during the state of emergency.

Boko Haram spokesperson Abul Qaqa told reporters by telephone that “soldiers will only kill innocent Muslims in the local government areas where the state of emergency was declared. We would confront them squarely to protect our brothers.” (Nigerian Vanguard, Jan. 2) During the press briefing the Boko Haram representative spoke in the Hausa language common throughout the north.

History of regional conflict in Nigeria

Regional conflict exists in Nigeria due to the legacy of British imperialism and the current role of the oil industry. A system of indirect rule was enacted when Nigeria was colonized in the late 19th century. This system was designed by the British ruling class to perpetuate colonial, and eventually neocolonial, control over the oil-producing nation. The country won national independence in 1960.

Dating back to the pre-independence period, the Nigerian military has been heavily dominated by people from the north. Between 1966 and 1993, there were successive military coups, with only one four-year period of civilian rule between 1966 and 1999. A civil war took place between 1967 and 1970, when the eastern region attempted to break away and form an independent state known as Biafra. After the defeat of the secessionist movement, the military maintained control until 1979, when the civilian regime took power for four brief years.

The oil industry, which became prominent in the national economy after 1956, saw a surge in production and profitability during the 1970s. Nonetheless, most of the profits from the production and export of oil have not benefited the population as a whole.

With the lack of equitable distribution of resources from the oil industry, unrest has flared in the petroleum-producing regions in the south. Tremendous environmental problems have had a devastating impact in oil-producing areas, particularly the recent Bongo oil spill involving Royal Dutch Shell.

Labor threatens unrest
over removal of fuel subsidies

With the worsening worldwide economic crisis intensifying a growing national deficit, the Nigerian government recently canceled fuel subsidies enacted to provide lower prices for personal use of petroleum. Gasoline prices at the pump immediately increased by 116 percent.

Public anger during the New Year holiday prompted the two major labor federations, the Nigerian Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress, to threaten action against the Jonathan administration.

The Nigerian Vanguard reports that in a joint statement the federations “rejected the increase and asked the public to enforce the N65 per liter price that obtained until yesterday as it promised what it claimed would be a long drawn-out battle with the Goodluck Jonathan administration.” (Jan. 2) The statement asserted that the subsidy cancellation, which coincided with the escalation in regional violence, represented a high degree of insensitivity by the federal government.

According to the Nigerian Vanguard, the labor federations were backed by such civil organizations as the Nigeria Bar Association, the Civil Liberties Organisation, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties and the Congress for Progressive Change. In addition, a group called the Joint Action Force has called for mass demonstrations beginning Jan. 3.

U.S. imperialism & Nigerian oil

An increasing amount of oil is being imported from Nigeria and other West African states into the U.S. More than 20 percent of U.S. imports are from the African continent, exceeding the amount imported from the Middle East.

Consequently, the U.S. ruling class is very concerned about developments in the region. In 2008, war games were conducted by the U.S. military that simulated possible instability in Nigeria.

In 2009 during the early days of the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Nigeria and pledged Washington’s commitment to Nigeria’s national security. This move coincided with the increasing role of U.S. Africa Command (Africom), which engaged in its first-ever military operations in Libya.

Over the last two months reports have surfaced of an enhanced U.S. military role in Nigeria. On Nov. 8 the London Guardian reported that the Pentagon had trained Nigerian military forces in counterinsurgency operations.

Internal developments in Nigeria can only be resolved through a national reconciliation process inside the country. The involvement of the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department in the internal affairs of Nigeria will only escalate the conflict and emphasize military solutions.

Economic and regional problems in Nigeria stem from the country’s total integration in the world capitalist system. The only real solution to the underdevelopment and exploitation of Nigerian workers and farmers will come from a formal break with U.S. and Western imperialism as a whole.