May 12 — A video purportedly released today by the armed Boko Haram sect based in northeast Nigeria shows what are said to be schoolgirls held for a month by the group. The group’s leader says that the young women could be released in exchange for members of Boko Haram imprisoned by the Nigerian government.
Beginning May 5, the World Economic Forum for Africa (WEFA) has been meeting in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, and international media attention has been focused on this most populous African country. Two deadly bombs detonated in Abuja during a three-week period have resulted in the deaths of over 80 people.
The missing high school students are from the northeast, which has been under a government-imposed state of emergency for months. Their capture has been used by Washington, London, Paris and Tel Aviv to intervene with military and intelligence personnel.
Five years of crisis
The problem of the Boko Haram insurgency has existed since 2009, when the government deployed police and soldiers to attack the headquarters and residences of the group. Before that it had functioned for several years with the public support of some prominent northern-based politicians.
The plight of the missing students is part and parcel of an overall security crisis that started in the northeast region of the country and is spreading to Abuja and other areas. Thousands have been killed in fighting over the past five years, and many more have been displaced.
While Nigeria is described by Western-based financial publications as the largest economy in Africa, it has tremendous poverty and unemployment. Wealth generated in the recent period has obviously not trickled down to the working class, youth and poor. Over the last two years Nigeria has seen strikes in the oil, education, medical and public service sectors.
At the opening reception of the WEFA, President Goodluck Jonathan welcomed intervention by the imperialist states to facilitate the return of the students and stated that “terrorism” would not interfere with the current political trajectory of the government.
Nigeria is the largest exporter of African crude oil to the U.S. Since 1956, the petroleum industry has been dominated by Britain, Europe and the U.S.
Imperialism and legacy of colonialism
The Boko Haram group is a manifestation of regional conflicts that were inherited from the British colonial system and continue as U.S. political dominance grows in the foreign and internal affairs of this oil-rich state.
A system of indirect British rule for decades left the country divided at the time of national independence in 1960. Two military coups in 1966 led to a civil war during 1967-70, when a section of the national bourgeoisie in the southeast attempted to form a separate nation in Biafra.
Since the 1970s, the government has been largely dominated by military interests, most of whom come from the north. Nigeria’s oil wealth is largely found in the southeast and increasingly offshore in the Gulf of Guinea.
Adding to this regional situation, the Muslim population of Nigeria is heavily based in the northern region. Under British colonialism, many people from the north were recruited into the military and utilized to suppress resistance to imperialism throughout the country.
During the 1990s, an insurgent group called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta demanded adequate compensation for the southern region where oil is exploited. MEND engaged in sabotage operations against the oil industry and used an effective public relations campaign that accompanied its actions. Its efforts were coupled with mass demonstrations by women and youth also demanding that large Western-based oil firms such as Shell-BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil clean up the environmental damage in the southern region and invest profits in the structural development of the Niger Delta including jobs for Nigerian youth.
MEND was later offered an amnesty that included monetary compensation, scholarships and other amenities. Armed actions in the southern region have declined significantly, but security remains a serious concern. The group has condemned the abductions of the high school students.
The Boko Haram campaigns, on the other hand, have targeted civilians and Christian churches. They also claim responsibility for bombing United Nations offices in Abuja during 2011.
These regional differences permeate the political parties and governing structures of the country, making a cohesive administrative strategy elusive.
A May 7 editorial published by the Guardian, a leading Nigerian newspaper, said that “insecurity in the land is transforming into a hydra-headed monster. That the President does not appear to grasp the gravity of the problem his administration and the country face is daily advertised by his sometimes frivolous words and deeds. … Many Nigerians now find no reason to believe that this government has their ‘security and welfare’ as its primary job.”
Jonathan, who comes from the Ijaw ethnic group based in the south, faces re-election in 2015 amid the worst security crisis since the 1960s.
‘Terrorism’ and imperialism in Africa
Many questions have been raised about the origins of Boko Haram and where it gets support. Some informed Nigerians claim that the group still gets support from sections of the northern political and economic elites.
The tactics of the group have shifted since 2009. An alliance with Al-Qaeda has been suggested, and violence carried out in the northeast and other areas is strikingly similar to bombing operations in other countries, such as Iraq.
Interestingly enough, the U.S. administration has refused to label Boko Haram a terrorist group, even after the U.N. bombing. Hillary Clinton has made statements of concern about the missing schoolgirls, but during her tenure as Obama’s secretary of state she would not categorize Boko Haram as a terrorist organization.
The actions by Boko Haram and the failure of the Jonathan administration to effectively respond have provided the imperialist states, led by the U.S., an opportunity to deepen their involvement inside the country.
Recently, the Pentagon and several West African states, including Nigeria, conducted joint naval operations in the Gulf of Guinea as part of the U.S. Africa Command and European Union Forces.
An upsurge in demonstrations of outrage and shock has become a justification for imperialist military intervention in Nigeria.
However, recent interventions by the U.S., France and other NATO states, along with Israel, have not brought about peace and security in Mali, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Libya or other regions.
The problems of internal security in Nigeria must be viewed within the context of the inherited capitalist relations of production, burgeoning class divisions within the society fostered by imperialism, and the need for a genuine national democratic revolution and socialist economic construction.
The imperialist states are motivated by the drive for economic domination. Anti-war, social justice, women’s and human rights organizations must take into consideration the potential impact of deeper, longer-term military and intelligence intervention in Nigeria.
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